At the end of last school year Natalie’s ballet teacher, Miss Lori, told her that she was ready to go en pointe. That is, she had reached sufficient musculoskeletal maturity to beginning dancing on her toes. Natalie had been enrolled in the beginner pointe class for several months, although in regular shoes. Before that she took several years of pre-pointe classes in addition to her regular ballet classes. Prior to Miss Lori’s announcement I had no real idea of her progress, especially when it came to subtleties in strength and flexibility. She had long since outpaced my dance knowledge base. So I was surprised and proud when I heard the news. It was a great lesson in hard work and dedication over time having a tangible payoff. There wasn’t anything magic to the formula. She showed up, worked hard, and made progress. And now she was ready for the coveted pointe shoes!
I learned that buying one’s first pair of pointe shoes isn’t something that can be done online, or even casually at the studio where other types of dance shoes are normally purchased. It is a lengthy process of trial and error to find the right shoe, something liker Ollivander’s wand shop. Only instead of a magically gifted wizard, there are knowledgeable employees. Students from Next Step Dance Studio are fitted at Ballera in Brookfield.
Natalie, along with two of her classmates, were scheduled along with their ballet teacher, Miss Lori. Unfortunately on the day, Miss Lori was sick and couldn’t come along to approve the final selection. However, we’d already had to delay due to schedules, and she was confident in their fitting and sent the girls with their parents to be fitted.
When we arrived, I was surprised at the number of girls being fitted for pointe shoes! I learned that the shop’s work is seasonal, with a big rush during September to mid-October, coinciding with the beginning of a new dance year. Natalie’s friend, Scarlett, had already been fitted, and she hung around to browse the leotards while her friends went through the process. The store keeps a detailed binder on all dancers who they’ve fitted, as well as information on the general requirements for the dancers’ studios. NSDS prefers several American-made brands, which is nice as they are slightly less expensive than some of the European models. Rachel, the young woman fitting Natalie, measured her feet, examined them, and began pulling likely models.
Natalie was fitted with a toe pad that dancers wear under the shoes, and was advised as to what a good fit would feel like. Long story short: it would be more tolerably uncomfortable than a less well fitting shoe. Sometimes dancers need additional supports for their toes like lambs’ wool or toe spacers, but Natalie’s feet were standard enough to require only the basics. Rachel pulled out the first pair, nestled in a box. They were so shiny and pristine, the toes as yet unscuffed. Unlike pointe shoes that you might see on ballerinas or in pictures, they are sold without ribbons. She slipped her feet into the first pair and Rachel had her perform several maneuvers. Then she held her hands and assisted her en pointe. It must have felt so weird the first time!
Rachel wasn’t happy with the fit of the very first pair of shoes, and she pulled out a pair of Capezios. She went through the same maneuvers, and Rachel just sat back and said “Wow. We’ll try on more, but I really think that these are the ones!” And her prediction was correct. She had Natalie try on about five more pairs, but they kept going back to the Capezios. Lucky Natalie. Her other friend, Abby, took over an hour to be fitted, due to her unique feet–size 10 ½ narrow! She ended up needing a Russian-made pair, and her fitter thanked her for providing a fun challenge.
With the winning pair established, Rachel led her to a small barre in front of a mirror and go up en pointe to see herself, for one last inspection. She then had her go into sous-sus for me to get a picture. Natalie reluctantly took her shoes off, and I reminded her that she couldn’t wear them around until Miss Lori had a chance to approve them in class on Monday. I was instructed on how to sew on ribbons and elastic, and Natalie was instructed on care of the shoes. The toes are made firm through layers of cardboard and glue, kind of like papier-mache, but with the final product being like a block of wood. Her shoes would need to dry thoroughly after every use. To help with this we bought a small mesh bag to store them, and when we got home she made two sachets out of rice and old tights to put in the toes. We’ll see how the fastidious care lasts on the rush of leaving the dance studio after several hours of class.
Finally, we rang up. I asked the cashier for a picture, and she obliged. I wanted to document the fact that these shoes are not cheap. Luckily Natalie fit well in an American brand. The shoes and storage bag ended up costing in the neighborhood of $100. A quick online search suggests that I will be buying more pairs on the order of months versus years.
In the end, the cost of the shoes and the years of dance are more than worth it for our family. Natalie has learned discipline and the reward of hard work through dance. She has made lifelong friends, and I always know that an hour spent at the studio is an hour well spent. I look forward to watching this next stage of development in her dance life.