A well-fitting, properly laced shoe is integral to achieving correct technique and preventing injury on pointe. A shoe that is too short, too narrow, too long or too wide hampers a dancer's ability to get her body into alignment on pointe and can cause ailments ranging from blisters and tendonitis to a sprain or even stress fractures. Once they're professionals, dancers will make their own choices about how their shoes look and feel, but as teachers, you can guide students to prioritize safety over aesthetics, and to listen to the advice of experienced fitters.


Mary Carpenter, who has been fitting pointe shoes for 25 years, trained under a Repetto master fitter and has worked for Capezio and Gaynor Minden. She does fittings by appointment at the Chacott by Freed of London store in New York and teaches ballet and Pilates at Barnard College, The New School and The School at Steps. She started the YouTube channel “Dancewithmary NYC" in 2015 to offer tutorials for pointe shoe wearers, like custom cushioning and foot-strengthening exercises. Here is some of her best advice for pointe shoe safety.

#1 Get over the baggy heel.

Carpenter says everyone needs to calm down about seeing a little bunchy satin at the heel when a dancer is on pointe. Dancers' feet contract when they're on pointe, so it's a natural result—one nobody in the audience will notice. What's important is to make sure the feet don't scrunch when the dancer is on flat, especially for young students. “Someone 15 and under is still in the growth phase—we have to let go of the idea that the shoe has to be so pristine-looking on pointe," says Carpenter.

A dancer needs a box wide enough to accommodate her metatarsal and a shoe long enough that she can plié in second and lunge side to side without her toes cramming against the front of the box—even if that means there is a little extra material at the back of the shoe when the dancer is on pointe. For young students, Carpenter will push her palm against their fingertips and ask them to describe the pressure they feel against their longest toe (or toes). It should gently touch the front of the box in plié, but not so hard it hurts or causes the toes to bend. She also watches the satin at the heel when a dancer pliés and lunges. It shouldn't be so taut it strains the seams. If a dancer complains of pain in the heel on flat feet, that's another sign the shoe is too tight.

Carpenter also notes that a bulky toe pad can require a wider shoe, another reason why a teacher might see extra material at the heel. Some foot types need that extra padding, but if a dancer can find a thinner option—perhaps supplementing with makeup sponges in spots that need spacing or cushioning—it may give her a closer fit.

#2 A too-big shoe is just as bad as one that's too small.

It's easy for an expert like Carpenter to spot a shoe that's too large, but sometimes students or their parents will try to build in extra space on purpose. “I get asked a lot about growing room," Carpenter says. Not a good idea. “It has to be fitted snug. For the parents who don't quite understand, I say, 'Like a cast fits a broken limb.'" That snug fit, she says, is around the metatarsal—not the toes. It keeps toes from collapsing down into the box.

Without that firm support from the shoe, most dancers will struggle to get properly up on pointe. "They can't get their hips over their legs," Carpenter says. "They can't get into correct ballet alignment.

Other common problems with loose shoes are blisters and bruised toenails. Additionally, if the fit isn't secure enough, a dancer will instinctively tense her feet to keep them from slipping around. That increased tension can cause tendonitis.

A fitter for 25 years, Carpenter learned her craft under a Repetto master fitter. Photo courtesy of Carpenter

#3 Ribbons are more than just decoration.

Once a dancer has a correctly sized shoe, she has a couple more sources of support. Carpenter likens a ballet dancer's pointe shoe ribbons to laces on a basketball player's sneakers or an ice skater's skates. In other words, they are crucial, maybe even more so than other athletes', since pointe shoes cover less of the foot. “The ribbons are an important part of the support of the shoe," she says. “All you get is the fit, the elastic and the ribbons. You don't get laces."

Carpenter suggests crisscrossed elastics, particularly for dancers with high arches, narrow heels or ankle injuries. Some teachers don't like the look, she adds, but it's another detail that will be invisible to the audience.

Tie ribbons too loose, and you miss out on that extra support. Too tight, and you risk developing Achilles tendonitis from the pressure at the back of the ankle. Some dancers even prefer ribbons with an elastic insert for cushioning at the Achilles. Carpenter says that with a correctly fitted shoe, properly tied satin ribbons shouldn't cause a problem.

She recommends a specific approach to tying them. “Be cautious and respectful of how you're doing that very first cross of the ribbons," she says. The ribbons' X shape mimics the crisscross of ligaments across the front of the foot, which serve in part to provide the ankle lateral stability. She suggests pulling the inside ribbon across the top of the foot first, since most dancers have a tendency to pronate, especially those with high arches. “It gives you a cue to pull up on that side." She says even if you prefer the look of crossing the outside ribbon first, make sure the one on the inside gets a good, firm tug. Next, flex the foot to ensure you don't wrap too tightly as you pull the outside ribbon to complete the X across the foot and wrap both ribbons around behind the ankle. Then, point the foot as you tie the ribbons on the inside of the ankle between the anklebone and the Achilles. A knot directly on the tendon will irritate it.

Usually young dancers have more trouble with ribbons coming undone than being too tight. But you'll be able to tell if a student ties her ribbons too tightly, because you'll notice them cutting into the skin in demi-plié. Like the shoe, the ribbons should feel snug, not strangling. “Like a nice, friendly, familiar hug," Carpenter says. “It can't be a mean hug, like you're trying to hurt someone. And not a fake friend hug." She'll often give dancers an example by firmly squeezing their hand or foot.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox