What Shape is My Foot?
You may have heard the names Grecian, Egyptian and Giselle (or peasant) bandied around when discussing pointe shoes. These are all foot shapes - or to be more strictly accurate, toe configurations. They're very important, because they are the first step in determining what shoes will fit you, and what (if any) padding you need to wear.
The Grecian (Morton) Foot
The Grecian foot is described as "somewhat tapered". It's the easiest foot type to identify - if your second toe is longer than your first toe, you have a Grecian foot.
If this is your foot, it's bad news. Feet aren't supposed to be this shape! Your strong big toe is meant to take the brunt of things, but your longer second toe means it has to take more weight than it's designed for - especially en pointe. You may be inclined to sickle on demi-pointe, and it can be quite a challenge to get your toes comfortable in a pointe shoe.
Some dancers make the mistake of choosing a shoe that fits the big toe, so the second toe is bent when en pointe. You may get away with that as a beginner, but it's asking for trouble in the long term - the bent second toe will cause pain and problems eventually.
The trick is to fit your pointe shoe to the length of your second toe, and fill the space under your first toe with padding, or by gluing a small piece of cardboard inside the platform. Some girls find a toe separator between the big toe and second toe helps, too.
The Egyptian Foot
The Egyptian foot has a big toe that's longer than all the others. Although the big toe is stronger than the other toes and designed to do most of the work, the pressure from being on pointe is much greater than when you're walking or running.
This can be a problematic foot to fit, because a tapered box can bend the big toe, eventually causing a bunion - whereas a square box won't make contact with the small toes, leaving the big toe to bear all the weight. A properly fitted shoe will work rather like a hip belt on a backpack - it will transfer some of the weight off the toes on to the rest of the foot.
The good news is that your foot will look absolutely gorgeous in a pointe shoe, because it's so beautifully tapered - unfortunately there isn't a huge range of shoes made to suit Egyptian feet, so your choice will be limited.
The Giselle Foot
This is also called the Peasant foot. I suspect that's its original name, and someone thought up "Giselle" just because "Peasant" sounds so unflattering! Giselle feet are often described as having toes "all the same length", but that's not strictly true. I've yet to meet anyone whose little toe isn't small, and usually the fourth toe is slightly shorter too. So a Giselle foot is one where the first three toes are more or less the same length.
OK, so it doesn't sound romantic, but in fact, dancers with Giselle feet are lucky. They may not have the most beautiful feet in the world, but they're ideal for dancing en pointe - those three even toes means they have a much better platform than their Grecian or Egyptian sisters. It also means they can't wear pretty pointe shoes with tapered boxes, but you can't have everything!
This foot spreads out wide when the foot is flat on the floor, but narrows when on pointe. If you choose a shoe that fits on the flat, the foot will just slide straight into the box, putting all the pressure on the toes and leaving an empty heel! That's why it's important to always check the fit of a pointe shoe on your toes as well as on the flat.
High or Low Arch?
The foot in this photograph looks gorgeous, doesn't it? I'm sure she is leaning on the toe of her shoe to produce that beautiful arch - if this was her natural stance when she stood on pointe, she'd be too far "over the box" for stability. A dancer with a high arch usually needs a longer vamp to stop her foot "going over", and a stiffer shank to support her foot.
Of course, those of us with lower arches would love to have that problem! If you have a low arch, you're more likely to feel you can't get over the box enough, and your arch never looks beautiful. If the toes are short enough, a low vamp can help, plus a more flexible shank that will conform closely to whatever arch you do have.
This one is easy. Stand with your foot flat on the floor. Measure the height (the distance from the floor to the top) of your big toe joint. 1 inch is a medium profile. More than an inch is a high profile. Less than an inch is a low profile.
This may seem like a minor thing, but it can make a big difference to the fit of your shoes.