Oh, you know, Just a little Shopping Trip

Gentle Reader, I’m about to totally nerd-out on some shoe shopping, so if this is not your bag, baby, skip to the bottom for the tl;dr.

Ok, here’s how it went down:
Got to dance store at 1:30 sharp. Lé assistant de la Smirnoff was already there, I recognized the ballet themed vanity-plate on one of the two cars in the lot. Dork!
This store is locally owned and operated, which is how I like to roll, but it has some kind of relationship with Capezio. Like, store carries many brands, but maybe the pointe shoe fitter was trained by Capezio? Not totally sure how that breaks down.
So! I gave lé assistant a hug, was introduced to the fitting guy- he had that kind of tatoo-ed, handsome, calm assuredness that let me know he had all the time in the world for me.
We went to the fitting area. A hardwood floor surrounded by two long benches, and a central pillar with barres all around.
Lé assistant and Mr. Fit start talking shanks and boxes while I remove my sneakers and socks and converted my leggings into tights. Really glad lé assistant is there. Adult Beginner don’t know nothing ’bout no shanks and boxes.
Did catch the phrases “strong feet” and “wide”. And “her first pair”.
Mr. Fit handed me a pack of gel-pouches. “This is our most popular padding, put them on your foot, then pull your tights over top,” he said, and headed to the back room for shoes.
They are clear and squishy. A little cup for the toes. Pulled them on. Didn’t catch the band name. A bit narrow in the toe, didn’t seem like they were going up far enough to fully protect ‘the bunion area’ as lé assistant called it. Not that I have bunions. Guess that’s just the easiest way to label that area. Better than saying ‘the knuckle of the big toe and pinkie toe’.
So I’m padded up, we try the first pair. Bloch.
Smirnoff is partial to Russian Pointe. I’m assuming because it has the word Russian and the word Pointe and what more could you need? But store is fazing them out. Not very popular in this market.
All I try on are Bloch and Capezio. And for some reason, I cannot for the life of me recall the names of the Bloch shoes. They just did not stick. Capezio names stuck just fine. Bloch, idk.
No right or left in point shoes. Just like slippers. I know ’cause I asked.
Bloch pair #1 too big. We don’t even tie the little cord in the front. Bloch pair #2 too long. We tie cord, and I put the pointe on the floor while sitting on the bench. Massive amounts of extra fabric at the back of the right heel. Slightly less massive at back of the left heel. This foot is a tiny bit bigger. Who knew? Lé assistant mentions that some people have two buy different sizes, one for each foot. We agree that that would be a drag and way expensive, luckily mine is not a major difference.
Bloch #3 looking better, we tighten the cord and I’m allowed to stand up and walk to the barre. Walking is very awkward. Almost like wearing flip-flops, heels keep coming out and the shoe doesn’t want to bend with my foot. We decide this one is too long also. I go back to bench.
Bloch #4 I tie the cord myself. Mr. Fit seems impressed. Lé assistant is proud. “She’s a quick study!” I go to the barre. Lé assistant stands beside me and says to Mr. Fit, “let’s have her go up on these.”
“Ok,” she says, “face the barre, feet parallel, hold with both hands. Now plié aaaaaaaand up!”
And I’m up! It does not feel weird. Which is very very weird. It’s just like, ok, the box holds the toes, it’s flat on the bottom, makes sense. She asks me how it feels. I notice abruptly that the big toe on my left foot is carrying the weight of the world. I mean, I’ve heard of feeling the floor, but this is more like the floor is feeling me. And not in the good way. I come down, take off shoes, switch left-to-right. Big toe says no. They agree that I’m fighting the shank and not properly situated on the box.
Bloch#5 I begin to loose count. But that’s ok, Mr. Fit is still calm, lé assistant gung-ho. I am super relieved that they’re not getting bored.
We try different widths, even 3x, the widest size of all. We try smaller sizes and larger sizes. It’s all about the big toe on the left foot. Feels like there is nothing under it at all, like the floor is rushing up to meet it. And the outer ‘bunion area’ of the left foot is feeling pressure from the top edge of the box. This means lots of permutations: Wider box, shorter length? Narrower box with longer length? Wider box with creepy gel-sleeve around big toe? Lambswool? Full shank? 3/4shank?
We talk about how less is better, how the more extra stuff I have inside the shoe the hotter and tighter it will be.
Lé assistant adds that in her day it was sterile cotton, lambs wool, or nothing. She says in Smirnoff’s day, in the Former Soviet Union, they would just be given shoes. Which may or may not be the right size. And were told to deal with it.
When I take the toe-sleeve off I can see that ‘outer bunion area’ is red. Seems like the edge of the gel pouch is lining up with the edge of the box, creating a ridge of hurt. I ask if there is any padding that comes up higher along the sides of the toes? We swap out the gel pocket thingy for an ouch pouch. Instantly better.
The ouch pouch is a thin cup of fabric imbedded with gel. I’m able to pull it up much higher along the sides of my feet, and it’s nice and thin. No edges.
Try on another pair, plié and up! Side of foot much better. Big toe worse. Because ouch pouch not as thick under toe.
Bloch#? The European Balance. A 3/4 shank. Wide box, tapered interior. Put it on, walk around. They both say it looks very nice. Feet look good. Plié and up! There is a marshmallow under my big toe where the battering ram used to be. Lé assistant says it’s working my arch nicely. It looks good. I’m over the box. I step-step-step, bend, plié, still good. I mean, ‘outer bunion area’ giving me a little trouble because apparently it is sensitized now after all the shoe-trying. Ok. We set this one aside.
Capezio #1 The Aria. A lotta noise out of this one! Clomp clomp clomp around the floor. Lé assistant says, “see, these just always look clunky to me.” Even I can see that the whole thing does not look elegant, something about the high vamp and the wide box. I plié and up anyway. Toe. Ow. And they both tell me I’m not on the box. I can’t tell what they mean about the box, but this one is clearly not the winner.
Capezio #2 The Tendu II. Tapered box, looks nice. My feet look correct walking, plié and up! And I’m not quite situated correctly, it’s a much narrower box, which means a smaller contact with the floor, but it’s agreed that this might be a good shoe for a future, more experienced me.
It’s now 3:00. We try the European Balance again. Pink, 6, 2X. It’s the winner. We all high-five each other and go out for a drink.

Too long; didn’t read: Adult Beginner tried on every shoe in the house, they were all suckas except the Bloch European Balance.

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Ballerina Class, and other pointe-y stuff, OMG outfits you guys! and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Oh, you know, Just a little Shopping Trip

  1. amy says:

    Hooray for you! Can’t wait to read about your first pointe class.

    I read the whole thing btw – ballet nerd that I am. Just one question – is your big toe bigger than your other toes? If it is, it’s like mine and I can commiserate about Big Toe Agony until I found the right padding. Sounds like the shoes work for you though!

    So exciting for you!

  2. Anna says:

    If your big toe is the longest, you will need a shoe with a tapered box to distribute the weight among all the toes. The Bloch Balance European has a square box. You need a square box if your toes are all roughly the same length, or at least the first three toes.
    A 3/4 sole is not suitable for beginners because it can encourage you to “sit” in the shoes. This can cause achilles tendinitis among other problems.
    So many people don’t know enough about pointe shoes: teachers, shop assistants, professionals… And so the myth continues that pointe HAS to hurt, and students fill their shoes with padding to compensate for the wrong fit.
    I’m not saying that is the case with you! It’s just sad to see you rush into this without learning about it first.

  3. odile says:

    Expect that your next pair of shoes will NOT be European Balances, as your feet will get stronger and the configuration will change slightly with actual pointework. Are both your feet shaped identically (mine, and a lot of peoples’, aren’t,) meaning are they both tapered? Once that big square box starts softening a little, watch out! Watch particularly for sickling. You’ve got a lot of room in there, and filling it up with padding is only going to isolate the shoe from your foot.

    I’m not too worried at this point as you will kill these shoes before you get away from the barre. But next time, you’re going to have a much better idea of what really fits your feet. I’m not a fan of 3/4 shanks until you know what you’re doing, they tend to encourage beginners to sit back on the shank, and make it impossible to get your balance and do anything assuming you can struggle up there in the first place. I have to agree with Anna–these don’t sound like the shoe of your dreams. That’s not unusual. If you’ve never worn a pointe shoe before you have no idea of what to really expect from their feel in the store. And trust me, there’s a big difference between a plie to eleve in the store and the actual dynamics of the shoe once you are doing a little more than that, even at the barre. Frequently, shoes that feel great in the store feel like medieval torture devices in class.

    From your foot description I thought a Grishko Vaganova would have worked out well for you, and kept Smirnoff smiling. Russian shoe, you know.

    Me? I’m either a Grishko Ulanova II or a Freed Classic WB Bell (when I can get my paws on ’em.) The Ulanovas are cheaper, and easier to find. But my feet are somewhat more square than yours are.

    • It’s probably not the shoe of my dreams.
      When are we ever right the first time?
      True, I had no idea what to expect from the feel in the store. Hard to even describe things. Like, it feels…weird? Painful in this spot and this spot but generally weird all over? And I don’t know if it’s weird-ok or weird-bad?
      It’s like, if only I had an older sister/girlfriend en pointe, and I could stand in her shoes to practice saying where it felt bad.
      Ah well. Next time will be easier. I like the idea of wearing a Vaganova.

  4. Acacia says:

    Being more than a year behind you, I don’t know enough to join the buzzkill parade, and I’d rather share your excitement that second-guess Smirnoff’s assistant. So I will just say congratulations on your first pointe shoe purchase!

  5. Laura says:

    Oh, the Big Toe Problem. I have literally felt your pain. My toes are very tapered, but because my metatarsals are a good bit wider than my heels and my feet seem to cramp if compressed, I am wearing Bloch Serenades as my first pointe shoes (well, first in 25 years, which might as well be the same thing). Another big-square-box shoe. Pointe Comfort gel toe pads have saved me–when I went en pointe at my fitting with just regular Ouch Pouches, I thought I would die, or at least rush out of the store in tears. After dancing in the Serenades for about 6 months, I know they are not the perfect shoe for me, but neither are they totally wrong. I’m a little nervous about trying a tapered box next, because it’s a smaller target, so to speak, but I’m also, as Odile said, a lot stronger Now than I was Then.

    Total ballet nerd/creepy Internet stalker question: would you be willing to post a pic of your bare feet? I’m curious whether they are similar to mine.

  6. roriroars says:

    No buzz kill here, either. For one thing, you’re dealing with a store (and every store is like this) where there’s a limited supply of shoes. You have to find the best out of that pile even if it isn’t The Best. Secondly, even if you had researched every possible thing there is to know about pointe shoe fitting, at the end of the day you’re the one whose feet are in the damned things and there’s a lot to say for the whole, This is NOT RIGHT, and Hmmm… Much Better. “Much Better” doesn’t mean perfect shoe, but will hopefully mean good shoe that will get you through the first few months of your new adventure and next time you can try a different store that carries a different selection and see what you end up with (with the stronger feet and mad pointe skillz you will have no doubt acquired by then).

    However, if you’re looking for a good book for future reference, The Pointe Book is pretty good at explaining differences among pointe shoes, how to fit them, care for them, etc. It’s from 2004, so the specific info re: brands, styles, etc. obviously isn’t up-to-date, but it’s good for basics and Amazon has it listed for about $13, so not too bad price-wise.

  7. Natalie Long says:

    Dear Adult Beginner,

    I am SOOO excited for you!!! I want to hear all about the journey. Feel free to “nerd out.” I’m also assuming that the flesh and blood experts who fit you know your needs better than someone merely reading about it over the intranets. YouTube is also plagued with naysayers. Watch any beautiful ballet video and read about how “her winging makes me cringe” and the like. Whatevs.

    I also have the curse of the Left Big Toe. After trying a muriad of items I found that the purple Leo’s gel pads work best for me, but it sounds like the Ouch Pouches work best for you. And yeah, the single toe sleeve thingies are kinda weird. ;D

  8. Pingback: O hai pointe shoes | Adult Beginner

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