For a professional ballerina, it’s not uncommon to dance through multiple pairs of pointe shoes in just one rehearsal week. But for most female dancers, their first pair of pointe shoes is one set that they’ll always remember.
Last week, a group of 21 students from PBT School’s Level II marked this significant rite of passage for the aspiring ballerina when they stepped into their first pair of pointe shoes at a class fitting.
“What I tell [students] is that ballet is not necessarily a competitive art or sport where we win something, whether it be a trophy, a prize, a place, a medal, a game… Really one of the most important achievements is that step into pointe shoes. In a way it’s our trophy,” said PBT School Principal Anastasia Wovchko, who guided the pointe shoe fitting.
In ballet, advancing from ballet slippers to pointe shoes symbolizes an important turning point in the training of a young dancer, and requires years of discipline, dedication and training to achieve the necessary level of muscle strength and control. At PBT School, the initiation to pointe happens only once a year to a group of 20 to 25 female students at an average age of 10 years old.
The expectation in the air was palpable last week at The Dancer’s Pointe in the Strip District, where the class met as a group to mark the milestone together. Surrounded by family members, dancers patiently waited to step up to the full-length mirror – and the store’s small barre – and go up on pointe for the first time. Pointe shoe fittings are an incredibly individualized process with numerous brands and styles to choose from, so Wovchko and staff of The Dancer’s Pointe evaluated each dancer’s fit before determining the final pair of shoes.
“It has to be to perfection. When they get that beautiful, shiny new shoe….it becomes part of our body,” Wovchko said. I guess that’s one of the most important things, it’s meant to look as though we’re floating. That we can things with such speed and accuracy on our toes…and look so airy….It’s really such a special tool.”
Level II student Natalie Beattie, 12, tried seven styles of pointe shoes until she arrived at the right fit.
“It felt really good,” Beattie said of her first experience on pointe. “It’s a big accomplishment for ballet dancers to get them. All the older girls wear them to dance; it’s just telling you that you made it that far.”
Beattie said she’s looking forward to the difference pointe shoes make in her dancing (especially her pirouettes), adding that it’s special “just how graceful [ballerinas] look in them…how beautiful the steps look when you use them.”
Following this first fitting, students will receive detailed guidance from Wovchko and other PBT School faculty for the best methods to sew ribbons and elastic to their shoes, break them in properly, and of course, their first class exercises on pointe.
At the end of the evening of pointe shoe fittings, Wovchko reached into her bag to show the Level II girls her own first pair of pointe shoes that she saved as a memento from the time she was their age.
“We have the most special tool, this pointe shoe. I always tell them, this first pair, you can never throw away. You just have to keep them,” Wovchko said. “I still have that first pair….it’s just such a special piece of art itself.”