So, what is holding you back from getting over your box in your pointe shoes? The immediate answer that most will assume is a lack of good or flexible feet. It is true that flexible ankles are important to pointework, yet it might be the type of shoe that you’re wearing and other fine criteria that are really making the difference between an extended or shortened line.
The Type of Shoe
Many readers ask me this question: “What kind of pointe shoes should I get, because my feet are [x], [y], and [z].” My answer is always… ”I don’t know!” I direct them immediately to a professional pointe shoe fitter. It’s much more difficult to get a correct shoe that will fit you well and at the same time avoid injury if you have not been professionally fitted.
Once you have acknowledged the need for professional advice, you can start thinking about the quality of your shoes. If your feet are weaker or less flexible than you think they should be, it is okay to ask for a softer shank to start out. If you don’t know where to start, check out this blog post. I can help you find the origin of your problem.
First, if the vamp (or the box height) is too high, it could prevent your instep from fully getting up onto your box and into the correct position. This can be corrected with a refitting of the pointe shoe. Often Russian brands are made with higher vamps, and European shoes with lower ones. If you think that might be the problem, it probably is.
Second, a harder shoe in the box and shank area will be much more difficult for a dancer with weak or inflexible feet to bend. It’s important to have a shoe that allows you to get the full potential out of it.
But, the best shoe is always the one that “feels right.” If it is uncomfortable, or it feels unnatural to be up en pointe, it is probably the wrong shoe for you.1 It is not always necessarily the strongest or most durable shoe that you should be aiming for.
Pointe Shoe Hacks
While it is important that your shoe fits perfectly, which is a major component in your ability to reach your foot’s fullest potential, there are a few “hacks” or tricks that you can use to help you get over your box.
The first is stretch ribbons. I like using the Bloch Stretch Pointe Shoe Ribbon. It gives you more flexibility in your ankle and instep. Use this instead of a stiff ribbon, which will keep you from pushing up onto your box. The flexibility also prevents the snapping of your sewing, because the pressure on the ribbon is distributed equally. Additionally, the elasticity of the material will hold the shape of your foot and make a cleaner line in your pointe shoe.
If the shank is the problem, it can be helpful to 3/4 the shank. Simply take a sharp tool (scissors if you have a thinner shank), and cut off the top quarter of the shank. But, don’t eyeball this one: put on your shoe with the heel off and measure where the shank hits your arch. Mark it in the shoe, and then cut slightly above that line. If there is too much material left, go ahead and cut off a little more until it is just right. Remember that you can always cut off more, but you can never add more on.
Pre-molding the shank may also help with this problem. Go ahead and use a door or just simply your hands to bring the shank to the shape that will mold to your foot properly. I always do this to my shoes before I wear them, because it makes it easier to get over them and the shank will create a better shape that matches the line of your leg.
Going Old School
On the other hand, the main problem in dancers is typically a lack of strength and flexibility in the ankle, toes and arch. Make sure you are doing plenty of ankle and foot strengthening exercises, and stretching. The Theraband is always the best way to go.
My last tip is to try out demi pointe shoes before you go to full pointe hard shoes. Demi pointe shoes are made to help you strengthen your feet for pointework and practice how it feels in pointe shoes. Research has shown that you are less likely to get an injury related directly to the pointe shoe if you have worn demi pointe shoes.2 Furthermore, a lack of injury is often owing to increased ankle strength, and it can help you get over your box.
I hope this helps you get some information, and remember to keep doing your foot exercises even when you have your pointe shoes! See you next week.
- Cunningham BW et. al. “A comparative mechanical analysis of the pointe shoe toe box.”
- Pearson SJ, Whitaker AF. “Footwear in classical ballet: a study of pressure distribution and related foot injury in the adolescent dancer.”