Anyone who has ever attended a performance of "The Nutcracker" or "Swan Lake" has seen ballerinas dance in pointe shoes.
The satin, boxy-toed shoes derive their name from their use: standing "en pointe," French for "on your toes."
These shoes have been made the same way for about 150 years. They look delicate, but they're actually quite sturdy, made to support the ballerina as she gets up on her toes and balances on a surface about the size of silver dollar. It takes years of practice before a dancer graduates from soft ballet slippers to pointe shoes, also called toe shoes.
Pointe shoes are worn almost exclusively by female dancers. They have pink satin uppers, toe boxes made of paper and canvas stiffened with glue, and leather soles. Manufacturers include long lengths of ribbon for ties. You sew the ribbons on. Some dancers like the ties placed closer to their heel; others prefer them farther forward. Don't trim the ribbons before you sew them on. After you've tied your pointe shoes several times, you'll determine how much you need and can cut off the rest.
Buying Your First Pointe ShoesIt's important to have your first pair fitted by a salesperson trained in fitting pointe shoes. You should also ask your ballet instructor for advice before making a purchase.
A snug but not toe-numbing fit is important. Shoes that are too large or gape can contribute to dancing injuries.
Often, pointe shoe sizes run smaller than your regular shoe size. They also come in widths: B, C, D, E and EE. Some brands offer pointe shoes with soft, medium or hard shanks, or soles.
Like ballet slippers, pointe shoes have no left or right. At first, the shoes are interchangeable, but after you've worn them a few times, they will conform to the shape of your feet.
Brand names include Capezio, Bloch, Gaynor Minden and Grishko. Prices range from $30 to $75.
Caring for Your Pointe ShoesWhile sturdy, toe shoes are not durable. Professional ballerinas can go though more than one pair per performance; serious dancers go through a pair of pointe shoes every few weeks. Even beginning dancers will notice that the toe box, owing to the pressure it must withstand and also to the moisture and heat generated by the foot during vigorous exercise, eventually becomes too soft to provide support.
To prevent injury, replace your pointe shoes as soon as they begin to show wear. Purchasing two pairs at a time and rotating usage can extend the life of pointe shoes. Always let shoes dry out after wearing.