There’s no single, easy way to learn pointe shoe fitting—a lot of it, in the end, comes down to fitting, refitting, then doing it all over again. Today, retail fitters have to be precise, right down to knowing various styles and fits (which differ brand to brand), the fine points of padding, how the shoe feels on a dancer’s feet and how it works with her entire body. Storeowners may tap into their own background in dance, a mentor, teachers, education on new manufacturing techniques and design, or just good old, hands-on fitting—even some cobbling—to learn to fit their customers. Here, four retailers share how they learned (and continue to learn) the ever-evolving craft of pointe shoe fitting.
My mom, Janet Marie Groom, bought The Dancer’s Pointe in 1998. She learned pointe shoe fitting over many years of fitting and ordering custom pointe shoes for the dancers at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre [where she is costumier]. She would bring me to work with her at the store, and I would watch her fit pointe shoes—and learn. By the time I started working there, I already had a deep knowledge of pointe shoes and how to properly fit them.
Each year, Freed of London has my mom work with company members of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to help fit them into their custom pointe shoes. Freed has asked me to come watch and help her and learn from her over three days each year for the past six years. Paul Plesh, from Capezio, has also come to our store and educated us on its new pointe shoes and proper fitting of them. We also attend the Atlantic Dance Retail show, where we have the opportunity to learn more from many companies, like Suffolk and Só Dança, by going to the different learning sessions.
I love when studio owners and teachers come to our store with their students to have them fitted, because you get a deeper look at the dancer you are fitting. Over the years, I have learned how to properly fit and what to look for when fitting, but teachers know their students in ways that you don’t and can help you fit by knowing their students’ strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve been at The Hip Joint since January 2012 and began my pointe shoe fitting training late that year. I have been dancing since 2005 (I started in college), although I’ve never done pointe. But even before I started officially training, I was pulling shoes out of boxes, comparing styles and asking questions.
The most useful thing, aside from the training I initially received [from store managers and manufacturers], has been the years of practice at actually fitting shoes. I’ve attended several pointe shoe seminars at the dance trade shows, and I feel like I’ve accumulated a mental book on tips and tricks for fitting that I can now share with other fitters at the store. We frequently share pointe shoe fitting experiences with each other and go over how we solved a particular issue.
We’ve had training sessions with Gaynor Minden at the shop and touched on some techniques for general fit troubleshooting, using some of their accessories, which I encourage fitters to do if necessary, even with another brand’s shoes.
While in college at CU Boulder, I began working at Boulder Body Wear the first year it began. Having danced myself, I quickly became interested in learning to fit pointe shoes. In the late ’80s, we carried only Capezio pointe shoes (Nicolini, Contempora, Infinita and Pavlova). By the early ’90s we were looking for new styles and had ideas about what our dancers’ feet needed, which led us to Bloch and Grishko. From there we continued learning. Training by manufacturers is a relatively new concept, one that I wholeheartedly embrace. We’ve invited Russian Pointe, Capezio, Grishko and Gaynor Minden for fitting days in our store, using this time to also learn more about products and the fitting techniques they endorse. Bloch, Capezio, Suffolk and Gaynor Minden have also had seminars we have attended for fitting education.
We also invite teachers to view our stock and go over sizing, fitting and padding. This not only helps fitters and teachers be on the same page, but it also gives us insight into holes in our inventory, as well as where we need to buy deeper. I’ve learned so much working closely with area instructors.
I started working at Ellman’s when I was in high school. At the time, I learned everything from the managers at the store. Back then, we only had Capezio and Freed pointe shoes. Capezio had three or four pointe models and Freed had one, so options for fittings then were very different from what they are now. Over the last 35-plus years, the technology of pointe shoes, the manufacturers, the models and the construction have become so advanced that it does take a lot longer to do a fitting, because you have more precise shoes and a variety of padding. Thirty-five years ago, you just had loose lambswool.
For me, fitting has always been a matter of working with the manufacturers, talking to other retailers and having a history as a dance major at VCU. It’s not just about fitting the shoe. It’s understanding how the foot, the ankle, the legs and the body work as a whole. I’ve found that some of the best assistance and understanding of pointe shoes comes from the dancers, especially those who are very keen on how a pointe shoe is supposed to work. Their ability to articulate what isn’t working with the shoes helps in understanding how we need to move forward in a fitting.
I am still learning. When I talk with other dance retailers, there may be certain aspects of the shoe that they are looking at that I might not. Also, when dance teachers come in and take part in the fittings, they can give feedback based on how the individual dancers are performing in class.
A bunch of us have also jumped on the cobbling bandwagon, actually taking the insole [of a pointe shoe] out, popping out the tacks and either making the shoe softer for the dancer or making it stronger. There are a lot of things now—if you are really considering yourself to be a top retailer for pointe shoes—that we [retailers] are doing on our own to help the dancer enhance their shoes.
Tina Benitez-Eves has worked as a reporter with Dance Retailer News since 2013. Her work has appeared in Wine Spectator, Men’s Fitness, AOL and local New York City newspapers.