Pointework Basics

A lot of excitement goes along with getting your pointe shoes – including new experiences, new shoes, new problems, and a lot of pain!  But, regardless of the chaos, it’s a very important and notable experience and…milestone, if you will, in your dancing career.  Keep reading to learn more about my tips and advice for newbies to pointework.

Starting slow

If there’s one thing that you should remember about pointework….it is that you need to take it slow.  The faster you go, the greater the risk of injury and the more bad habits that you will develop.  If you take it slow and hone in on the specific techniques that you must master, you will be much better off in the long run.

There are a few milestones that I recommend as far as timing.  I’ve listed them below for your reference as far as selecting a ballet school:

Relevés on 1 leg en pointe: 3-4 weeks en pointe

Adagio en pointe: 1/2 years en pointe

Pirouettes en pointe: 1/2 – 3/4 years en pointe

Hops en pointe: 1 year en pointe

Double pirouettes en pointe: 1 1/2 years en pointe

Fouettés en pointe: 2 1/2 years en pointe

The shoe debate

There is a major debate regarding what hardness level of pointe shoe newbies to pointe should wear.  In my opinion, a medium-strength shank is a good starting point.  If arches are excessive or feet are excessively strong, a hard shank is okay.  If feet are very stiff, a soft shank should be worn.  A super-soft shank should only be worn after an entire year en pointe.  Without the ankle strength, and inflexible ankle won’t succeed on a super soft shank and the shoes will entail an increased risk of injury.

The reason I recommend a medium shank for pointe newbies is in the department of balance.  A soft shank makes it very easy to get on to pointe but difficult to hold your foot in the plantar-flexed position.  On the other hand, a harder shank makes it very difficult to get on pointe, but it’s a breeze holding your leg over your box once you’re there.

So, according to myself, going with a medium shank for your first pair is your best bet for the dancer with average feet.

Your fitting

There are a few things that go along with a pointe shoe fitting.  Below are some things that you can do to be prepared:

  • Wear tights: Tights change the fitting of the shoe, so make sure you bring then along with you.
  • Wear fitting pants (leggings, shorts, etc.): This ensures that you can see the line of your leg and ankle when you’re en pointe.
  • Do a few warm up exercises: Make sure that your feet and legs are warm before you go ahead and go up en pointe.

When you can arrive, expect to tell her about your foot strength and flexibility as well as foot shape.  I recommend writing a few specifications about your feet down before arriving and then bring your notes with you for reference.  The fitter will then select a few pointe shoes for you, make sure they fit nicely, and then have you try them out!  You will probably try on 1-4 pairs of shoes at your first fitting before finding what works best.

A quick anatomy lesson

Before you can start sewing, adjusting, breaking in, and wearing your shoes, you have to know the names of the parts of pointe shoes.

Here’s a quick diagram before we describe each part in more detail:


1 (block or box): The box is one of the two vital parts of the pointe shoe.  It is the support around your toes that supports the lower part of your foot en pointe.

2 (vamp): This is the third most important parts of your shoe.  It is the part that “holds you inside” of your shoe.  If there was no front, you would fall right through!  Vamp height is an important part of your shoe selection in regards to foot flexibility and instep height.

3 (platform): The part of the shoe that you stand on.  It is made of material to support your foot and make everything (a little) less painful.

4 (side seam): This seam is designed to pull upwards on your arch to increase the line and curvature of the bottom of the foot.  It is often a reference point for ribbon placement.

5 (binding): The binding is the socket/tube for the drawstring.  This adjusts the tightness throughout the mid-foot.  It’s important to prevent gapping in the shoes, especially on demi pointe.

6 (wings): The wings is where the shoe transitions from the hard box to the soft side quarters.  It is often where the bunion rests.  If the wings are too hard, they can often be softened with water and hammering for comfort.

7 (outer sole): The outer sole is the back of the shoe.  The color and protrusion of the outer sole is important for the line the shoe makes.  Many professional dancers prefer to shave down the sides of the shoe with a knife to make a cleaner line and promote successful balancing.

8 (side quarters): This is an important part of the shoe because the amount of fabric that is in the side quarters can effect the bagging and fit of the pointe shoe.  Lots of bagging and creasing of the side quarters can ruin the line of the shoe.  The fit of the side quarters can be adjusted with the drawstring, but the appearance cannot be.

9 (insole or shank): The other most important part of the pointe shoe!  The shank supports your arch en pointe and allows you to stand in that position.  The strength and flexibility of the shank can have a significant effect on the alignment and safety of a dancer en pointe.

10 (profile): Often called the profile height, this is what adjusts the roominess of the box.  The higher the height, the taller your toes are from the side view.  A proper profile height is important for comfort, blister prevention, and box support.

Pointe homework?

In my opinion, newbies to pointe should be playing it very safe when it comes to pointework at home.  For the first 1/2 year of pointework, relevés on one leg and prances are the only pointework exercises that are okay to be completed at home.  After 3/4 of a year en pointe, relevés on one leg are okay as well as basic échappé and pas de bourrée exercises.  After a full year, exercises with one hand on the barre are okay.  Center work should not be done unless in a professional studio area.  Center work should never be performed at home.  Pointework should never be done without a proper or supplementary flooring.

So, after writing my paragraph of rules above, I’m going to explain my reasoning.  The first reason is because of safety!  There is a large risk of injury doing difficult steps at home.  Number two is because without the safety watch of a teacher, bad habits are very easy to develop.  Once you’ve done something once, you will probably do it again!

I hope you enjoyed this pointework blog post!  Expect informational blog posts here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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