I am writing this article at the request of one of my “dance moms.” She mentioned that she did not have a clear idea of everything involved with her daughter starting pointe. Like many dance parents, she learned how to navigate this step in her daughter’s dancing through other parents, teachers, dance stores, and blogs. While all these resources are essential to the dance community, she asked if I could write an article from my experience, while including her insight from a parent perspective. My dance parents are some of the most generous people with sharing their insights, tips, and struggles, so it is with a special thanks to them that I write this article.
[As an aside, I have written this article using “she” to refer to the dancer en pointe with continuing the gender trend that women and girls are frequently placed en pointe, whereas this is not as common for male dancers. However, male dancers do participate in pointe work, as it builds balance and strength, and this article is equally applicable to their pointe process.]
Know before you go
Before you make your shoe fitting appointment, make sure the teacher and/or studio has cleared your daughter to advance en pointe. Each studio/teacher has different requirements for advancement, so just because a dancer was en pointe at one studio, does not necessarily mean she will be placed en pointe at another studio. Additionally, there may be many steps, such as a doctor’s evaluation, prior to your studio allowing her to progress to pointe.
Also, studios have different ideas about specific pointe shoes. Some teachers prefer certain brands, shank hardness, etc. Other teachers have no preference as long as the shoe fits well. Make sure you have asked ahead of time, as some stores will not allow you to return the shoe if the teacher does not approve.
If the shoe fits…
A pointe shoe fitting takes about an hour. This may be longer or shorter depending on the dancer’s foot shape, experience, and strength. A pointe shoe fitting is often made by appointment only, so call the dance store and plan ahead accordingly. Pointe shoes should be re-fitted a minimum of every 6 months while the dancer is still growing and every 2 years after growth has completed.
A pair of pointe shoes typically costs around $60-$100 per pair, not including the ribbons, toe pads, etc. New shoes need to be purchased whenever the old pair has worn out (known as “dead” as in, “Dad, I need new shoes because these are dead!”). The timing on new shoes is entirely dependent on how much she is dancing, the strength of her foot, and how well she cares for her shoes (see below). If she is just starting en pointe, the shoes may last several months since her foot is not as strong yet and she is likely not en pointe for much time. However, as she advances, new pointe shoes will need to be purchased more often. Some professional dancers will require a new pair of shoes for each performance. I cannot stress how important it is to avoid dancing on a dead pair of pointe shoes. Injuries, such as stress fractures, are more common while dancing in an unsupportive shoe, and can take a long time for recovery.
Now that you have the shoe, how do you care for it? Dancers should be responsible for sewing their own ribbons. It should be the dancer’s expectation that if she is mature enough to be placed en pointe, that she is also ready for the responsibility of sewing her own ribbons. Most dancers sew ribbons on in a square with an “X” through the square to avoid the ribbons fraying, but there are many ways to sew ribbons on. Many dancers either place an anti-fraying material on the end of the ribbon or burn the ends (obviously, with parent supervision) to prevent fraying.
After dancing, it is normal for the feet to sweat and the shoe to become sweaty as well. It is important to allow the shoe to dry completely before wearing again. This will help the shoe last longer and remain strong to support the foot. In the Florida humidity, drying can take longer. Therefore, dancers may have two pairs of the same shoe and alternate pairs between days.
Similarly, pointe shoes should not be left in the Florida heat for any length of time. The Florida heat can wear them out more quickly and cause them to be less supportive, so pay attention to the dance bag being left in the car.
Pointe work can be rewarding and fun, but it’s not for every dancer. The price of pointe can be high, and it is important to remember that a dancer can advance her career, including as a professional, without ever going en pointe. Follow your dreams, in whatever shoes (or lack thereof!) you need to get there.
by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.