I got my first pointe shoes when I was 27.
And as more adults discover the enjoyment and benefits of ballet, the number of mature dancers going for their first pointe shoe fitting is increasing.
But we’re not their market. The main demographic for new pointe shoes has, and will always been teenagers.
This can make that first pointe shoe fitting intimidating.
When you’re the age of someone who would, presumably, have gone through hundreds of pairs it takes a deep breath just to make the appointment.
Dancing en pointe was never a childhood dream of mine – ballet wasn’t even on my radar – but as soon as I fell in love with ballet as a beginner adult, the conclusion was obvious: I want a goal to work towards? It’s pointe.
I got there.
But as an adult with a full concept of pain and none of the glorious dreams and aspirations of a teenager, taking up pointe was a scary prospect.
Walking into the shops to try on the shoes was a scary prospect.
I sought advice from a friend with a wealth of dance experience who said it was a case of trying on as many shoes as possible until I found some that were comfortable.
Comfortable? Pointe shoes?
It was also embarrassing.
Hi, I’m 27 and I want to buy my first pair of pointe shoes because I think I can dance.
The first shop I went do did nothing to allay my fears.
Despite an appointment, the pointe shoe fitter was curt and seemed uninterested in fitting my properly, adopting more of a “she’ll be right” attitude.
Is it me? Is it because I’m some kinda wannabe adult dancer that I’m not worth fitting properly?
Nothing felt comfortable, nothing felt right. Shouldn’t I be trying shoes on until I found some that were comfortable, as was the advice of my trusted friend?
“Some people put the fear of God into you when you buy your first pair of pointe shoes,” was her response.
That may be true but my instincts told me that her “near enough is good enough” attitude wasn’t right either.
Was she this dismissive with teenagers buying their first pair of shoes? Or was the lack of care reserved for adults who she’d never be able to declare proudly that she had fitted their first pointes?
Not understanding how pointe shoes could possibly feel comfortable, but knowing that every pair I had tried on there wasn’t right, I said thanks but no thanks.
Clearly not happy to hear that, she wrote out an order for a style and size of shoe I hadn’t even tried on.
And the fitting would cost me $10.
Yes, an unsuccessful fitting would cost me.
I refused to pay and didn’t return their calls when they said the pair of shoes I (hadn’t) ordered had come in.
It was overwhelming but I tried again. This time with my trusted dancer friend for moral support.
The first fit
I made the appointment for Shop No.2 in person.
“I’d like to make an appointment on Monday for a first pair of pointe shoes, please.”
“No worries, we’ll see her on Monday.”
Do I look old enough to have a daughter starting pointe?
I felt like it was a good idea I had my dancer friend along for support. I didn’t need a repeat of Round One.
But I had nothing to worry about. My experience couldn’t have been more different.
The fitter was attentive, thorough and in no way made me feel like a silly little adult acting out a little girl’s dream.
In the first shop, I was told to plié and that was all.
Here, she checked my tendu in bare feet and even took note of the length of my toes before putting me in a pair of shoes.
She not only tried different pairs on me but explained why she was trying different pairs; How the vamp was better suited to my foot on one pair versus another pair and which box was best for me.
She checked how the fared in a plié, a demi-pointe and finally full pointe – as I clutched desperately to the barre, lacking confidence with this strange new feeling.
She let me go back to previous pairs to compare and get my head around what she was explaining to me.
I finally understood how pointe shoes could be “comfortable” even if I struggled to believe how I could ever possibly wear them in.
The second fit
I recently bought my second pair of pointe shoes.
I didn’t need them. But I was in France and thought I’d line up something different for my next pair.
But with no appointment and only limited pointe shoe vocabulary in French, I was almost as nervous as I had been when I bought my first pair. And was adult ballet as popular in France as it was in Australia, or would I look like some over-enthusiastic balletomane?
I walked into the shop and said I was looking for new pointe shoes.
I thought she’d tell me to come back with an appointment, look down at me for being a wannabe dancer, almost certainly she’d laugh at my French.
She didn’t do any of that.
She asked how many hours per week I danced and showed me to the barre.
Armed with the knowledge that pointe shoes could actually feel comfortable and the confidence to stand en pointe, it was easy.
She checked my pointed bare foot, asked my normal shoe size and gave me a pair.
“Is the block ok?”
They felt right. Because I knew what right felt like.
I understood when I was asked about the block. I understood the what she was looking for when she assessed the shank.
I had gone from feeling like a scolded little girl at my misfit to having the confidence to purchase a pair in a foreign language at my second fit.
Nothing will stop the apprehension buying a first pair as an adult; the feeling of being an imposter as you worry the fitter is going to judge you and your adult ankles.
But you’re there because you have a goal and your teacher gave you the green light.
You just might not realise that you’ve succeeded until the second pair.