How should I choose a pointe shoe shank?
Every Russian Pointe shank has two components: a lightly supportive full-length layer, and a stiffer layer for stronger support. Hard, medium and soft refer to the length of the stiffer layer. When that layer is shorter, the shank is stiffest behind the ball of the foot. A longer layer gives more support farther up the sole toward the heel. Standard and Flexible refer to whether the shank is solid or features a cutout behind the box.
Choosing the right shank isn’t just about its level of support. The shape of the dancer’s foot is just as important as her strength, flexibility and technique. For example, two dancers might both need moderate support. Should they get the same shanks? Possibly, but if their feet are shaped differently it is more likely that they will need different shanks.
When you are fitting Russian Pointe pointe shoes, you will typically choose the best possible shank toward the end of the fitting process, when the model and specifications have already been chosen. Sometimes, however, you will need to choose the shank earlier in the fitting. For example, with a dancer who has trouble getting all the way onto pointe, you may not see a good fit until she is wearing a lightweight shank (even if all the other specifications are well chosen). At the opposite extreme, a dancer who collapses on pointe may need a stronger shank from the beginning of the fitting.
- Your assessment of the dancer’s strength and flexibility.
- The dancer’s foot structure and technical skill and experience.
- The dancer’s style (springing to pointe or rolling through demi-pointe).
- The purpose of the particular pair of shoes. Some dancers choose more or less flexible shanks according to how they will be using a particular pair (class, rehearsal or performance).
Bear in mind that different teachers have different philosophies about shank strength, especially for beginners. Some prefer lighter shanks, so that dancers will build foot and body strength by not relying on pointe shoes as a prop. Others prefer stronger shanks, so that dancers will build strength by pushing against the shank. Take care to consider the teacher’s preferences, and then use your best judgment about each dancer’s needs.
Generally, a dancer should never wear a shank that is stronger than necessary for her individual technique and development. Stronger shanks should never be chosen because the dancer thinks they will make the shoes last longer. Instead, longevity will be best achieved with the right specifications for the dancer’s needs.
Pre-arched pointe models are especially useful for dancers with very high or very low arches and those who find it difficult to reach full pointe. Dancers with high arches may find that the shanks in pre-arched models last longer because there is less structural strain during break-in.
In a good shank choice: The dancer is able to reach full pointe with her weight centered on the platform. She is able to “work” the shank according to her style and technique. For example, if she passes through demi-pointe as she rises to pointe, the shank will have the necessary flexibility. If she springs to pointe or works her shoes very hard, the shank will be strong enough to support her.
If the shank is too strong: The dancer may fall backward off pointe or balance too far back on the platform. There may be a “break” at the ankle: an angle at the front of the ankle instead of a straight vertical line or graceful curve.
If the shank is too light: The dancer may roll too far forward on pointe or collapse when she relevés.
Russian Pointe Shanks
The stiffer layer of these shanks is solid throughout its length. This gives firmer support behind the toes, for the dancer who breaks her shoes low or wants maximum support for higher-impact movements such as springing to pointe or repeated relevés and turns.
Flexible (FS, FM, FH)
With Russian Pointe’s unique cutout design of the stiffer layer behind the toes, these shanks allow more flexibility through demi-pointe.