If you’re a dancer and are at a level where you’re searching for the best pointe shoes, chances are you’ve already given yourself the heebie jeebies by checking out photos of dancers’ feet online.
Getting the right shoes, then, is one way to minimize the chances that your feet will end up looking like that! Pointe shoes allow dancers to achieve physical feats which were impossible before their invention more than a hundred years ago.
They’re designed to give your feet the maximum possible support as you work through the dancers’ en pointe repertoire of jumping, hopping, balancing and gliding on the tips of your toes.
How can the right ballet shoes make a difference to your dancing?
Perhaps we should turn this question on its head and ask how the wrong shoes could affect your performance? Worse still, it’s not just the way you perform but the crippling damage that could be sustained by the feet if shoes are ill-fitting or not fit for purpose.
It’s not hard to imagine just how important it is to choose the best ballet shoes for the type of dancing you are doing. Neither is it hard to appreciate that ‘fit’ is everything for these specialist shoes, which encase, protect and support your feet as you achieve the seemingly impossible.
Things to consider when choosing pointe shoes
A shoes heel is the back section of the shoe, encasing the back of the foot. The heel must reach high enough up the back of the dancer's foot – approximately the 7/8 mark on the heel bone - to prevent the foot from slipping out of the shoe, but not so high that the heel wrinkles.
The heel should not be completely covered as that would cause injury to the Achilles tendon. On the other hand, it should not sit too low because the heel could possibly slip off when rising en pointe with predictable consequences.
Toe Box – Tapered, Slightly Tapered, Square
A toe box is found in the front part of the shoe and encases the dancer's toes. The flat area on the front of the box forms a platform for the dancer to stand and balance on.
A toe box is usually made of layers of paper and fabrics stiffened with glue and covered with pretty satin. The boxes of some brands of pointe shoes these days are made with plastic. More modern designs of pointe shoe feature a thermo-sensitive paste compound in the toe box which forms to the dancer’s particular foot shape.
The shape of the box differs according to toe alignment: tapered, slightly tapered or square. Toe boxes may be more or less stiff. They may be shallow and barely cover the tops of the toes or deep. Some types have extended sides called wings to provide extra support along the sides of the foot. Your toes should be flat, without any scrunching or pressure.
You should be able to fit the tip of your finger in the shoe over your toes and your skin should not bunch over the shoe.
The sole is made of a thin piece of leather attached to the bottom of the shoe by glueing and stitching. The sole is deliberately cut smaller than the bottom of the shoe to keep it hidden from sight. Scoring the soles with scissors is considered useful by some dancers to create more traction.
Favored by some dancers for the more elegant and pronounced arch they allow when en pointe. The problem, though, is that they lack the solidity of support in the shank which assists the dancer to stay up in pointe position. Thus, they’re only recommended for experienced dancers with very strong feet and a highly developed technique.
The way to check that the length of the shoe is correct is as follows: stand in a wide 2nd position and perform a plie. Your toes need to have enough room to lengthen in this position, just touching the end of the shoe. Be sure to take any padding you plan on using with the shoes into consideration when assessing if shoes are the correct length.
The vamp is the top part of the shoe covering the top of the toes. It contributes to the shoe’s overall supportiveness by holding the foot against the shank.
The vamp reaches from the drawstring to the platform of the box. Along with the size of the box and the strength of the shank, getting the correct length of the vamp is critical in properly fitting pointe shoes.
The vamp length is determined by the length of the dancer's toes. If the vamp is too long, going through demi-pointe will be impossible; if it’s too short, there is a danger of going too far over the platform.
Wings should cover the big toe joint. Lower than that and there’s a risk of developing bunions. A higher position, though, would prevent rolling through demi-pointe.
The platform is the flat tip of the box that the dancer balances on. The size of the platform varies considerably among pointe shoes, since dancers have individual preferences. Some dancers darn the platform of the box to help give extra traction. This also prevents the delicate satin tips from becoming frayed.
The shank is the part of the pointe shoe that supports the dancer's foot when it’s en pointe and keeps it there. It adds a degree of stiffness to the sole by layering materials such as leather or canvas and, more recently, plastic and helps to create the required elegant arch to the foot.
Shanks may run from one end of the shoe to the other or only part of the way and the level of flexibility varies. Dancers with stronger feet tend to wear pointe shoes with softer shanks, whereas those with weaker feet find softer shanks more beneficial. When the foot is in the en pointe position, it’s important that the shank is in line with the foot.
If there is any sign of misalignment, perhaps a wider toe box is needed. Any such misalignment can sometimes be improved with breaking in the heel area.
Ribbons and Elastic
Ribbons are a crucial part of the shoe, although they’re not always supplied with the shoe. Apart from being aesthetically pleasing, the ribbons keep pointe shoes securely on the foot.
Correct positioning is vital and varies according to an individual’s unique foot shape – they need to be sewn in the position which will pull the shank closely to the arch. Elastics are used to get a snugger, more secure fit and to minimize the possibility of the heel slipping.
Dancers sometimes sew elastics on the outside of the shoe so as not to affect the fit and cause any chaffing on the inside.
8 Best Ballet Shoes Reviewed
1. Wendy Wu Pointe Shoes
These may not be the most durable shoes we’ve reviewed, nor are they suitable for professional use, but they do have some USPs which meant we had to include them on our list.
Their relatively low price tag makes them an ideal choice if you’re trying out pointe work for the first time. In fact, they’re quite possibly the best pointe shoes for beginners.
They come with gel pads included, giving the toes more support and protection when en pointe. The plastic shank is strong, giving good support to the arch.
The pre-sewn ribbons are an additional feature – one less thing to do before you get to work at the barre.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
2. Kukome Satin Pointe Shoes
These high quality pink satin pointe shoes are ideal for daily practice but are also some of the best ballet shoes for beginners on the market.
Better yet, they’re so much less expensive than many pointe shoes. Like most pointe shoes, they’re not very durable because of the satin covering but at this price it’s possible to buy a couple of pairs and break them both in, so you won’t find yourself without a decent and comfortable pair when you need them.
They come with ribbons (not pre-sewn) and gel toe pads to help protect your toes. The sizing tends to be on the small side, so it’s a good idea to order one whole size bigger than your true size.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
3. Stelle Canvas Ballet Slippers
These very economically priced ballet shoes are ideal for beginners, designed by brand leader Stelle.
If you’re looking for the best ballet shoes for toddlers or children, then these reasonably priced shoes won’t break the bank. They come in a full range of sizes to fit toddlers, little kids, older kids and women.
The breathable canvas uppers tend to be longer lasting than traditional satin and are machine washable, which will keep them looking smart. The leather split soles are durable and the insole is designed to give strengthening to the foot.
The shoes are very comfortable and come with crossed elastics pre-attached over the instep to ensure a close fit.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
4. Bloch Bunnyhop Leather Girls Ballet Shoes
These ballet slippers are another great option for children who are aspiring ballerinas, though they are a little more expensive due to their leather construction.
Bloch are market leaders, though, who’ve been in the ballet business for the longest time and so you can be sure that the design features are optimal.
The leather uppers are hardwearing and the full leather soles give good grip which is ideal for beginners. The pre-sewn elastic over the instep will keep feet securely in place while dancing.
If you’re searching for the best ballet shoes for narrow feet or even the best ballet shoes for wide feet, these could be what you’re looking for, as there is a full range of widths available.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
5. Bloch Dance Women’s Eclipse Canvas Contemporary Ballet Shoe
These ballet shoes are just the thing for contemporary dancers. The uppers are made from soft canvas with cotton terry lining under the foot for comfort.
The sole is leather; to help with grip and the traditional ballet shoe pleating around the outsole is also designed with the need for traction in mind.
You’ll find that the elastic straps are lined with silicone to prevent rubbing or slipping. The vamp cut hugs the foot but doesn’t hamper movement.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
6. Capezio Love Ballet Shoes for Toddlers/Little Kids
These cute little ballet shoes for young children are designed and engineered by tried and trusted manufacturer, Capezio, to grow with the child.
They have a unique ‘hybrid’ two-part suede sole so the shoe functions both as a full sole and split sole. The uppers are 100% leather, so they’re pretty durable and the suede sole helps to give good grip on super-smooth floors of dance studios.
There’s no fiddly drawstring and the print cotton lining features a charming print of hearts, flowers, ladybugs and butterflies – just the thing for a child with aspirations to be a ballerina.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
7. Barerun Women’s Bellarina Shoes
We included these funky-looking contemporary dance shoes from Barerun because they’re high performing, foot-kind and also versatile as they’re just as useful in the yoga studio as they are for barre exercises or modern dance routines.
Their minimalist styling gives a natural ‘barefoot’ feeling when dancing. They come in a range of 10 different fun colorways, to suit the most zany of tastes.
The leather sole is embellished with silicone patterning to enhance grip and they’re foldable, so they tuck away neatly into a bag after practice.
You can pop them into the washing machine and even put them in the dryer and they’ll come out as good as new and smelling fresh as a daisy!
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
8. Capezio Men’s 2020 Romeo Ballet Shoe
We think you may find that these are some of the best men’s ballet shoes out there. They’re designed specially for men and shaped on a men’s last by top ballet shoe designer, Capezio, and are made from soft, durable, sheepskin glove leather.
The durable chrome-tanned suede split soles are contoured to give good grip during turns and lifts, while the precision-trimmed forefoot padding ensures the shoe is flat.
Capezio’s patented diamond gusset creates a seamless, sculpted arc. They have a moisture-absorbent brushed polyester cotton lining to give a great floor feel. Supplied with elastics to be sewn in the optimal position to suit unique foot shape.
Will These Shoes Fit Me?
Getting the Right Fit
Wide Feet vs Narrow Feet
Oh that it were as simple as just discussing the difference between wide feet and narrow feet for dancers. Foot shape, especially for those who want to dance en pointe, is not just about width but also about how toes are aligned. The number of combinations is too huge to break down when you consider the three main foot types (Egyptian, Grecian and Giselle – see below) and then consider the implications of width.
Suffice to say, that it’s 100% essential for you to understand your own precise foot shape before starting along the road to buying the best ballet shoes for pointe. Luckily, if you are at this stage in your dancing career, you will have the ear and guidance of a professional dance teacher. They’ll be best placed to understand your particular needs and make sure that you get the most secure fit possible.
- 1Grecian - this foot shape is described as ‘somewhat tapered’ and it’s the easiest type to identify: if your second toe is longer than your first toe, you have a Grecian foot. Sadly, if this is what you see, it’s not such good news. Why, you rightly ask? Your strong big toe is designed to take most weight, but since a ‘Grecian’s’ second toe is longer it takes all the weight - especially when dancing en pointe. As a result, it can be a tad tricky to get your toes comfortable in a pointe shoe.
Don’t make the mistake of choosing a shoe that fits the big toe, as that will mean your second toe is bent when en pointe. Although you might just get through the beginner stage like that, it's asking for trouble in the long term. The pressure on the second toe will cause pain and problems in due course.
The answer is to fit your pointe shoe to the length of your second toe and pad out the space under your big toe, or glue a small piece of cardboard inside the platform. Some dancers find a toe separator between the big toe and second toe helps, too.
- 2Egyptian - the Egyptian foot has a big toe that's longer than all the others. Although the big toe is the strongest digit, it was never intended to carry all your weight. The trick, then, is to ensure that your shoes are well fitted to ensure that it doesn’t. That’s not easy, though, because a tapered box can bend the big toe and eventually cause a bunion. A square box, on the other hand, won't make contact with the small toes and that leaves the big toe to bear all the weight.
But here’s the good news for those with Egyptian feet: its beautifully tapered shape will look absolutely gorgeous in a pointe shoe!
- 3Giselle (also called the Peasant or Roman foot) – The first three toes on Giselle feet are pretty much all the same length, although the little toe and the fourth toe are always shorter. Dancers with Giselle feet are the lucky ones! Although they may not be the most aesthetically pleasing feet, they're ideal for dancing en pointe. That’s because the three even toes gives them a much better platform to dance on than Grecian or Egyptian feet.
Profile and Arch
The profile of the foot is measured at the metatarsal joint (where a bunion would be if you had one). It’s important to measure this accurately because the difference between a high, medium and low profile is not great although can be crucial in getting the right fit.
Low – 1 inch or less
Medium - 1 inch and 1.25 inches
High - over 1.25 inches
Most pointe shoes are made to suit low or medium profiles. If you have a high profile, it's important to seek out the few shoes that have the extra space you need in the box because the lower profile shoes will squash your foot.
The shape of your arch determines the correct profile position and the support needed. The arch helps to find your correct shank strength, profile height and vamp length. Dancers aim to create a deep and flexible arch and the best pointe shoes will show this off.
The arch needs to fit securely and comfortably into the shoe. If it doesn’t, this can cause problems with overextension of the arch and even stress fractures. This is why having the correct profile height is crucial, though the fact that every dancer has a different level of flexibility makes it very selective. The higher the profile, the deeper the arch but if it’s too high you’ll find your foot bending incorrectly.
Finding the correct profile height is a matter of trial and error but an easy method to check the height is to try and insert your fingers under the throat of the shoe. If your fingers can fit underneath, the profile is too high and should be lowered.
This is an important measurement when it comes to getting the correct vamp length (that is the part of the shoe covering the front of the toes from the front edge of the platform to the drawstring). The length of vamp you need is governed by the length of your toes - your vamp needs to be just high enough to hide your toes completely (any ‘toe cleavage’ means that the fit is incorrect). Measure your big toe only:
Up to 1 inch long: short
Between 1 and 1.5 inches: medium
Over 1.5 inches: long
The length of your toes indicates the correct length of the vamp for most people.
Any type of foot can also be ‘compressible’, meaning that it spreads out wide when the foot is flat on the floor, but narrows when on pointe. If you choose a shoe that fits on the flat, you’ll find that the foot will slide straight down into the box, putting all the pressure on the toes and leaving a void at the heel.
There's no accurate way to measure for this, unfortunately, so you need to keep in mind that, if you have a compressible foot, even if you do all the other measurements carefully, the shoes may not fit.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are pointe shoes different to regular ballet shoes?
A ballet shoe or slipper is soft and lightweight and is made of either satin, canvas or soft leather, with a thin flexible sole. It has to fit snugly on the foot to ensure maximum flexibility and safety.
A pointe shoe, on the other hand, has two major features not found on soft ballet shoes: a box and a shank. A box is the squared front of the shoe that supports and encases the toes. A shank is a rigid object that stiffens the sole and serves as a support for the arch of the foot when pointed.
The box of a conventional pointe shoe is normally made from compactly wadded layers of cloth and paper that are glued together and flattened, forming a platform for the dancer to balance on.
Can I practice on my own in pointe shoes?
100% not! The technique for dancing en pointe is so specific and specialized that the only way to stay safe is to do so under the guidance of an experienced teacher. The teacher will start you off with slow exercises at the barre to show you how to get the correct placement. Without professional input, you’d be putting yourself in danger of serious and career-limiting or, worse still, career-ending injury.
How do I break in my pointe shoes?
The only way to break them is by wearing them and using them, but always under a teacher’s supervision, as explained above. Once you’ve become more experienced en pointe, you’ll know the places where you need to develop more bend and flex and you’ll able to work on this without the help of your teacher.
Can you get ballet shoes specifically for wide or narrow feet?
Yes, all types of foot shape are catered for, not just wide or narrow but high or low arches and to accommodate different toe alignment.
How often should you replace your shoes?
Considering the relatively high price tag of pointe shoes, one would hope that they’d have some longevity but you’d be wrong. The general rule is that pointe shoes will last for less than 20 hours of use. One tip for extending their life a little is to make sure that they’re thoroughly air dried between uses.
Should you have more than one pair of pointe shoes?
In view of the short lifespan of pointe shoes, having a second or even third pair on the go at any one time is a good idea. They can then be worn in rotation, which will help to extend their useful life and you’ll never find yourself without a comfortable pair, ready to use.
How do you tie ballet shoes?
We could fill a few paragraphs here with a detailed description of this knotty (pun intended) subject, but we’re believers in letting pictures to the talking for something as practical (and as important) as this. We suggest, therefore, checking out some YouTube videos which will demonstrate this tricky art way better than we can describe it.
Dancing en pointe is a very particular, technical and unique exercise which defies gravity and places exceptional demands on the human anatomy. That’s why finding the very best pointe shoes to fit your own unique foot shape and toe alignment is essential.
Your hardworking dancers’ feet need to be encased and supported as effectively as possible to make sure that damage to the musculature and to the foot itself is minimized. Most important of all, if you’re new to buying pointe shoes, be sure that you speak with a professional before making any purchase as they’ll be able to give invaluable advice and avoid potentially painful and expensive mistakes.
Remember that getting the wrong shoes for this particularly challenging purpose can cause permanent damage to feet and limbs, so it’s important to get it right first time.
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