Updated: Jan 22
That 'Cinderella' moment when you find the perfect pointe, shoe but what considerations should we be thinking about when it comes to commencing pointe work in our young ballet students and is there really a perfect shoe?
Our own Miss Ava has been dancing on pointe for nearly 30 years, she has many a story to tell of breaking in shoes, tricks and hacks to make them comfortable, trying different brands fixing with gaffa tape, dental floss and Kleer floor polish. None of these techniques were taught to her she just worked it out and made do with what she had. However, as a Dance Scientist and ballet teacher of children asking 'When will I start Pointe work' Ava found it imperative to educate herself and improve young dancers experiences of first starting pointe work.
So this weekend Miss Ava and Shop Manager Miss Laura embarked on a little adventure, a quest to find the perfect shoe and become qualified pointe shoe fitters!
This story starts many moons ago when Miss Ava was sent by her teacher to get her first pair of pointe shoes aged 11. Ava was dancing classical ballet five days a week and just about to start her major exams so already a very different environment to the recreational once a week dancers here at DanSci. Upon arriving at the the little dance shop in Reading she was ushered to the back where floor to ceiling shelves housed hundreds of pretty pink satin pointe shoes. It is such a
special moment in a young dancers life that they will remember it forever. As a serious ballet student all your dreams focus on getting 'en pointe'
Pointe shoes are the stiffened slippers worn by ballerinas enabling them to appear sylph like and weightless as they dance. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointe_shoe)
However, pointe work is not the sole aspect of a successful ballet dancer and certainly not an all round employable dancer. As a Dance Scientist Ava says that it is important teachers are not swayed by students or parental pressure to put children onto pointe that are not in serious training and do not have the mental and physical maturity to cope with the strain pointe work puts a developing body.
Miss Ava's experience highlights this. She was given a pair of shoes in the same size as her school shoes, shown how to darn the tips and attach her ribbons and was sent on her way. Over the years she visited various shops. Specific manufacturers based in London and local smaller dance shops supplying a mixture of brands and styles. Ava even visited the famous Freed factory to discover how these beautiful torture contraptions are created (It's not by magical fairy dust and certainly didn't smell very nice!) Not once did she receive the information or fitting she did this weekend at the Ballet Pro Pointe Fitting workshop.
The workshop commenced with in depth anatomy of the foot and lower leg. Nothing new to a Dance Scientist or that should be to a qualified teacher. Miss Laura managed really well analysing x-rays, studying muscles, ligaments and tendons not to mention touching lots of different peoples feet. She really should have mentioned her dislike of feet before the course! As well as feet, the anatomy of the shoe itself was also discussed. But the epiphany moment for Miss Ava was discovering the questions asked by the fitter to the models.
(After a lovely lunch) Amanda Hill, Managing Director of Ballet Pro clearly explained all the steps to include in a dancers first (and subsequent) fittings. The depth of knowledge required from where the dancer is along their adolescent growth spurts, nutritional levels, training regime, hopes and dreams for the future were all communicated, before shoes were even discussed. The fitter then did a physical exam of the students, feet and legs, stability, and strength before bringing the shoes out. One of our very core values as DanSci Dance Studio is Scientific knowledge. We know knowledge is power. By being fully informed about the dancer the fitter could make more informed choice of the shoe required. Even if that meant that the dancer was not ready at this time.
This article will not bore you with a analysis of every shoe tried (nor disclose any trade secrets!) but there was probably 10 pairs per model. Many times it seemed a shoe had been found but a different pair was then used for comparison, wider, longer, softer, harder, different style, each time standing and siting in various positions until that Eureka moment was reached....shown simply by the expression of the dancer.
For you see, pointe work shouldn't hurt, shoes should support and enhance a dancers performance, not be a hindrance on the end of their feet to simply tolerate. The shoe should not merely be an extension but a part of their foot. There is no need to cripple young dancers, suffer blistered and bleeding toes or run the risk of more serious injury from ill fitting shoes. These are just the traditional myths of the ballet world we have grown up with and therefore do not question. Dancers just suck it up and learn to cope...or as Miss Ava did, create a multitude of hacks to alleviate her sore feet!
So after these revelations, Miss Ava and Miss Laura are super excited to be armed with loads of scientific information and knowledge on how to properly and professionally fit the perfect pointe shoe. As a bonus Miss Ava may have finally found her Cinderella shoes!
As the case stands for our dancers at DanSci we currently do not run enough weekly classical ballet classes to enable our young dancers to get to a technical standard to commence pointe work. As our youngest age we would love to offer more sessions if that is what you guys require (Don't worry Miss Ava already has the timetable slots greyed out in preparation!) However, please remember we are qualified instructors (and fitters!) we appreciate your support when we tell your little girl (or boy) that pointe work is not for them right now. Our dancers health and safety will always be a priority at the studio. We will continue to offer a bookable fitting session for outside customers. You can book either online HERE
or call us on: 01392 41 22 22
Well done to Miss Laura and Miss Ava for completing the pointe shoe fitting course and thank you to Amanda Hill of Ballet Pro for making it her mission to ensure that quality shoes are available and that fitters, shops, teachers and parents are fully educated on the importance of safe, correct foot wear. More blog posts to follow on the safety of training our young dancers.
Check out Ballet Pro HERE