How do I evaluate dancers before fitting their pointe shoes?
Before you reach for the first pair of pointe shoes, evaluate the dancer’s feet and dance experience and technique.
Look at the dancer’s bare feet from all angles. Take note of the overall shape, fullness, and length and taper of the toes.
Ask experienced dancers to bring their old shoes to their fittings, so that you can observe the appearance, fit and possible problems. Ask the dancer to hold onto the barre and stop onto pointe. This will help you gauge her strength and placement. If the shoes are adequately supportive, ask her to releve while holding onto the barre. This will help you understand her technical style and preferences (rising or springing to pointe).
Preferably in bare feet, assess the strength and flexibility of the dancer’s feet and ankles. Ask her to extend her foot to tendu to the side going through demi-pointe, rise to demi-pointe in first position, and plie in first or second position. Take these observations into account especially when choosing shanks. Weaker feet and ankles will need a shank light enough to allow the dancer to reach full pointe and build foot strength, but strong enough to support her safely while she builds strength. Less flexible feet will need a softer shank and a model and vamp that help the dancer get onto pointe. More flexible feet may need a stronger shank and a model and vamp that give extra support.
Also watch the dancer’s alignment. When she stands on flat and rises to demi-pointe, does she maintain proper alignment? Could you draw an imaginary vertical line from her head to her toes? Does she let her abdomen or bottom stick out? Does she raise her shoulders or hold them tightly? Dancers without adequate core strength will have difficulty on pointe. Although the decision to allow a dancer to start pointe is the teacher’s, if you believe that she has inadequate core strength and alignment, you can advise the parents to help her add strengthening exercises to her training.
Ask questions that will help you assess the dancer’s experience. As you proceed through the fitting, explain how her answers have affected your choices and point out the features of the shoes that may answer her needs. Remember that individual dancers have different comfort levels about answering questions. Try not to make them feel pressured or “put on the spot.” With patience, you can still get the answers you need for a productive fitting.
Learn about a beginner’s pointe readiness, technical development and how much explanation she will need during the fitting process, by asking questions including these: How long have you taken ballet classes? How many days do you dance each week? Have you had special pre-pointe training? What has your teacher told you about pointe shoes and dancing on pointe?
Learn about an intermediate or advanced dancer’s needs with questions including these: How long have you been on pointe? (Feet and technique usually develop and change fastest in the first few years on pointe.) What pointe shoes have you worn before? What pointe shoes are you currently wearing? What do you like about these shoes? What do you dislike? (Consider both of these as you choose and problem-solve with new shoes.) How long did they last? (Consider how fast she wears out shoes, and focus on durability if she wears them out quickly.)