Nadia Randall performing a pointe shoe fitting at The Shoe Room. Photo by Sonja Seiler, Courtesy Randall.

For many dancers, the quest for the perfect pointe shoe is a long one, littered with years' worth of rejected makes and models. With countless options out there, how should you navigate the many brands and trends to find your ideal pair? We spoke with Nadia Randall, general manager and fitting specialist at The Shoe Room—the official store of Canada's National Ballet School—about everything from online ordering to DIY customization.

What are some of the top mistakes dancers make in finding the right shoe?

Prioritizing the aesthetic of the pointe shoe over the functionality. The shoe's support should be foremost. Dancers may disagree, especially when they have been told by teachers that the shoes should look a certain way. But an ill-fitting shoe will look worse on a dancer's foot as she breaks it in incorrectly. It's about making your feet look the best that they can based on their shape. You can't change anatomy.

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You’ve dreamed of the day when you put on your first pair of satin pointe shoes and glide across the dance floor, but it takes years to build up the strength to be able to make the transition from soft shoe to pointe shoe. Now that you’re about to take your very first pointe class, remember to begin slowly and pay close attention to the teacher.

You may not begin pointe work at the same age and stage of training as your friends. Most teachers agree that you need to have a good ballet foundation before you strap on those shoes. Kate Thomas, director of New York City’s School at Steps, says girls age 10 to 12 with good alignment and placement in soft shoes are allowed to begin prepointe lessons, which lead to pointe classes. Teachers closely monitor students’ progress, and students must take at least three technique classes per week before adding pointe classes.

Your first hour-long pointe class will begin slowly at the barre. Most of the work will be done with both feet on the ground—lots of plié relevés and bourrées. Teachers will look to be sure your feet are placed correctly in the shoes.
When you relevé in any position, focus on rolling through demi-pointe up to pointe, rather than popping up. (Tendu and Thera-Band exercises will also help you build this strength.) Don’t rely too much on the barre. It’s there to assist you, but you’ve got to teach your legs and upper body to do the work! You may not do combinations away from the barre until the end of the first year.

Ally Brodsky, an 11-year-old student at the School at Steps, took her first class in September and is still in her first pair of pointe shoes. She says the hardest part about pointe work for her is “getting up on relevé on pointe, especially from two legs to one leg, because my right foot is a lot weaker than my left foot.”

Every student is different, so don’t get frustrated or compare yourself to others in class. A good teacher will give everyone the individual attention she needs in order to progress.

Though it’s natural to try out a few twirls, Thomas stresses that pointe shoes shouldn’t be worn outside of class. “Placement is so tentative and elusive at this age,” she says. “Center of gravity changes as you grow, and you need to be monitored closely.”  

Laura Di Orio dances and writes in New York City.

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