Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.
Pointe Shoe Fit Basics
Fitting pointe shoes is a skill that takes years of experience! So don't expect to fit your own pointe shoes after reading this article. However, it will help you understand what your fitter is talking about, and help you narrow down a shortlist of shoes which might suit your feet.
There are three basic foot shapes, each of which is defined by a different configuration of the toes.
Three Basic Foot Shapes
Grecian (Somewhat Tapered)
The Grecian or Morton's foot is one where the second metatarsal is longer than the first metatarsal—which simply means your second toe is longer than your big toe.
The solution is to fit your shoe to suit your second toe. You can fill the gap under your big toe with padding. A toe separator may also help.
The good news is that most pointe shoemakers offer at least one shoe suitable for the Grecian foot, so there's quite a wide range to choose from. Probably the best starting point is the best-selling Grishko 2007 shoe. Capezio's Contempora and Aerial shoes are also worth considering.
Egyptian (Tapered Foot)
An Egyptian foot has a big toe that's longer than all the other toes.
The pressure on the big toe means that girls with Egyptian feet can be at greater risk of bunions, especially if their shoes aren't well fitted. The good news is that if you have an Egyptian foot, the pointe shoes that suit you will be among the prettiest, with a beautifully shaped box. The bad news is that the range of shoes for Egyptian feet is much more limited than for Grecian or Giselle foot shapes.
Bloch is unusual in having three models: the Bloch Suprima, Sylphide and Axis.
It may not sound very glamorous to have a Peasant foot, but if you have, you're lucky. It's the easiest to fit and the best suited to pointe work, with the first three toes all the same length so the load is evenly spread.
Some people call this the Giselle foot, which sounds more elegant!
The negative is that you need a square box, so you're not going to be able to wear those beautiful tapered pointe shoes. Sorry!
The runaway best-seller in this category is the Capezio Glisse. Bloch has several good models for Giselle feet, including the Balance European and the Serenade Mk II with its new generation heat-activated paste.
Additional Pointe Shoe Considerations
All these factors allow the fitter to choose a shortlist of shoes that may suit you—but there's more!
You must also consider whether you have a low or high arch; how long your toes are; whether your foot is highly compressible or not; and what your foot profile is. Armed with all that information, a good pointe shoe fitter can narrow down the list of suitable shoes even more—but it's not over yet. The next phase is the actual pointe shoe fitting—trying on the shoes and assessing their fit at all the key points, both while you're on the flat and on pointe.
Eventually, you'll arrive at a shoe that seems to tick all the boxes, but you still won't be sure until you dance in it. The search for a pointe shoe is something every ballet dancer goes through—some may strike it lucky with their first pair, whereas others never find the perfect shoes. Even some professional dancers still swap from one brand to another!
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on May 01, 2012:
Thanks for your post, Sue, it sent me off on an interesting research quest!
I'd never heard of metal-shanked shoes but it seems that some German brands did indeed have steel shanks at one time. Obviously they're good for longevity, but they're no longer used.
The reason is that it's too strong - the student doesn't need to build strength to get up on pointe or support her own foot, but relies on the shoe instead. If a student dances for years with her foot sinking into the shoe - which is possible with a steel shank - the pressure will damage her feet, more so than a student who is taught proper technique.
I've also read some suggestions that if the shoe broke, the steel shank could cause some nasty injuries - but I couldn't find any specifics. I'd love to know more about the shoes if you'd care to share - if you'd like to write a guest post on your experience for my pointe shoe blog, I'd be thrilled!
Juliette Kando FI Chor from Andalusia on May 01, 2012:
I always used the German "Zubiller" type of pointe shoe, with a metal bar built into the sole for greater strength and longevity. While it is a great feeling to be on top of yourself in decently fitting pointe shoes, the sacrifice is that feet do get permanently damaged by them.
livi on November 05, 2011:
i am getting my first point shose thise on coming monday and this website has really bosted my confurdence because i am just ten and i am nevus.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on May 30, 2011:
Some dancers never do find the right shoe, Ellen! In the olden days (when I was dancing ballet), there weren't so many shoes to choose from. So we just had to "make do" and used to do all kinds of awful things to our shoes to try to make them fit, like ripping bits out and sticking bits on. A lot of dancers still do that, rather than go through the tedious process of trying on lots and lots of shoes.
Ellen on May 30, 2011:
wow I never knew you had to do all that! it must be really hard to find the right shoe!
Kaylee on April 28, 2011:
Thank you this helps a lot considering i am taking my first pointe class next year! i'm really excited!
Stefana on April 09, 2011:
This helped a lot! I am going to buy my first pointe shoes & this really narrows things down.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on February 07, 2011:
@thanks cupcake! When you get your shoes, remember to check out my website http://pointeshoesonline.com, for all the information on how to sew on the ribbons, padding, and how to care for your shoes.
cupcakelover on February 07, 2011:
Wow this is so so so cool! Thank you so much for taking the trouble to create this website! This has helped me so much to find tips about stretching, bar exercises, and most of all stretches that will help strengthen my feet for point shoes! (I am hoping to get them some time next year)!! :-) Anyway i am going to recommend this to any dancers I see and meet! Thank you so so so so so much!!!
cupcakegirl on February 06, 2011:
I think that my foot is a Giselle!! Thanks for this hub, it was very usful and know I know what sort of pointe shoes i should look for :)
kdancer on May 28, 2010:
Thank You for designing this website, it was very nice and useful. I thought it was very thoughtful to personally share information about each individual foot type. I am very eager to go on pointe, and when I do I'll be sure to refer back to this website or any other websites you created. Wish me Luck in my dancing!!!
Simon on May 15, 2010:
Very interesting. My daughter will love this, she's into ballet and will find this very useful.
David on April 21, 2010:
Pretty interesting to read about types of feet and the shoe selection criteria. Very informative and "sole"ful! The ballet shoes look very elegant.
billyaustindillon on April 04, 2010:
mmm I wonder what my feet are like?
Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on April 04, 2010:
I never knew the shape mattered. Nice hub
msorensson on April 03, 2010:
Lovely and informative hub. Thank you!!