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 It is hard to tell an eager young dancer that she is not yet ready for pointe shoes. Students — and parents — must realize that teachers have to be firm: there is a risk of serious injury in introducing pointe work too soon. Starting pointework is not just a question of age or physical maturity; readiness depends on strength, technique, attitude, and commitment.

     The bones of the foot are not fully developed until sometime in the late teens or early twenties. Of course, there is a great deal of individual variation. If a young dancer attempts pointe work without proper strength and technique, the significant forces created by the combination of body weight and momentum can permanently damage those not-fully-developed bones.


Pointe shoes enable the dancer to balance, spin, hop, pounce, slide, and linger on the tips of her toes. Before the advent of the modern reinforced pointe shoe, around 1900, ballerinas wore soft slippers and could not perform the steps, turns, and sustained balances on pointe that we expect of today’s dancers. Pointe shoes provide the necessary support for toe dancing by allowing the dancer to transfer her some of her weight to the shoe in two critical places, under the arch and around the toes.


A stiff midsole, called the shank, presses snugly along the bottom of the foot. Shanks may run the entire length of the shoe or only part way, and they have varying degrees of flexibility. The fabric that extends back from the toe box to the cover the top of foot is called the vamp. It contributes to the shoe’s overall supportiveness by holding the foot against the shank.


The toe box tightly encases the toes, so that the dancer stands on an oval-shaped platform at the tip. Toe boxes may be more or less stiff; they may be shallow and barely cover the tops of the toes, or deep; some have extended sides called wings to provide extra support along the sides of the foot. Most pointe shoes will fit either foot; there is usually no left or right.


But pointe shoes alone are not enough. Although the shoe helps the dancer to stand on tiptoe for long periods of time, it is her strength and technique that bring her from the normal standing position through a mid-position, “demi-pointe”, to the full-pointe position. Once en pointe she continues to work hard, maintaining a contraction of the muscles of the feet, ankles, legs and torso to pull herself up out of the shoe. No one lacking proper technique and adequate strength should attempt toe-dancing. Furthermore the introduction to pointe work must be gradual. Dancers should train for several years in soft slippers before they wear pointe shoes. 

  • Binding: the fabric channel through which the drawstring runs

  • Box or Block: the stiff toe cup that encases the toes

  • Box Liner: the soft fabric that lines the inside of the box

  • Girth: the measurement around the widest part of the foot, at the metatarsals at the ball of the foot

  • High Profile: a pointe shoe box, often cylindrical, with a relatively large space between the outer sole and the top of the foot

  • Low Profile: a pointe shoe box with a generally flat shape and a relatively small space between the outer sole and the top of the box

  • Metatarsals: the five bones between the ankle and the toes. Pointe shoe fitting is especially concerned with the area near the ball of the foot

  • Outer Sole: the bottom part of the shoe, usually made of synthetic or leather, which is in contact with the floor when the dancer stands in the normal flat position

  • Platform: the part of the pointe shoe on which the dancer stands when en pointe

  • Pronation: the rolling inward of the foot so that when standing flat, more weight is on the ball of the foot than on the outside

  • Quarter: the part of the shoe covering the sides and heel of the foot

  • Shank: the stiff insole that provides support

  • Sockliner: the soft fabric that lies directly underneath the foot and runs the length of the shoe

  • Supination: the rolling outward of the foot so that when standing flat, more weight is on the outside of the foot than on the ball of the foot

  • Throat: the opening of the shoe nearest the toes

  • Vamp: the part of the shoe that covers the tops of the toes and the foot

  • Vamp Elastic: wide, firm elastic sewn at the throat of the shoe to extend the vamp and cover the top of the foot

  • Winged Box: a box with extra-long, stiff sides

Source: Gaynor Minden
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