Pointe Shoe Anatomy

Learn the Parts of a Pointe Shoe

A pointe shoe is an amazing apparatus that allows a ballet dancer to literally dance on her toes. Several companies manufacture pointe shoes, each with their own unique designs. Because no two feet are exactly the same, pointe shoes are available in many different shapes and styles. Even though many variations exist between each pair of pointe shoes, the basic construction remains similar. If a pointe shoe fitting is in your near future, it's a good idea to learn about the major parts of the pointe shoe.

  • Box: The box lies within the front part of the shoe and encases the dancer's toes. The box is flat on the front end, forming a platform for which the dancer to stand and balance on. It 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 are made with plastic.
  • Shank: The shank is the part of the pointe shoe that supports the dancer's foot. It adds a degree of stiffness to the sole, helping to create a beautiful arch. Dancers with weaker feet tend to wear pointe shoes with stiffer shanks, and those with stronger feet benefit from softer shanks.
  • Vamp: The vamp refers to the top part of the shoe that covers the top of the toes. 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, the length of the vamp is critical in properly fitting pointe shoes. Generally, the vamp length is determined by the length of the dancer's toes.
  • Platform: The platform is the flat tip of the box that the dancer balances all of her weight on. The size of the platform varies greatly among pointe shoes, as all dancers have individual preferences. Some dancers darn the platform of the box to provide extra traction and prevent the satin tips from fraying.
  • Sole: The sole is attached to the bottom of the shoe. It is made of a thin piece of leather that is glued and then stitched around the edges. The sole is cut smaller than the bottom of the shoe so that it is hidden from sight. Some dancers score the soles of their shoes with a scissor in order to create more traction.
  • Heel: The heel is the back section of the shoe that encases the back of the dancer's foot. The heel must reach high enough up the back of the dancer's foot that the foot does not slip out of the shoe, but not so high that the satin of the heal wrinkles.

Fitting pointe shoes correctly is a challenge. It is critical for pointe shoes to fit a dancer's feet precisely. Because so many small factors can make huge differences in how a shoe fits, it may take a lot of trial and error before finally finding the perfect pointe shoes.

It is highly recommended that all beginning pointe ballet dancers have a professional point shoe fitting. During the fitting, the shape of your feet will be determined, along with the height of your feet (profile) and the width. The fitter will make a few notes then begin a process of trial and error. Several shoes will be fitted onto your feet. You will be asked to perform simple steps such as eleve and plie to determine how your feet react in the shoes. Finally, you will leave the fitting with a comfortable (well, maybe) pair of well-fitted pointe shoes.