6 Ballerinas Share Their First Pointe Shoe Memories

Colorado Ballet principal dancer Dana Benton's first pair of pointe shoes, kid's size 12—with all the darning worn off from dancing around on the carpet at home (courtesy Benton)

The mark of a truly skilled ballerina is her ability to make the pointe shoe look like a part of her body, an extension of her beautifully S-curved leg. It's hard to believe the shoe was ever foreign to her, or that she ever had that awkward first time on pointe. We asked six professional ballerinas to reminisce about that very first pair, and the memories—and photos—they shared are sure to make you smile.


Dana Benton

Principal Dancer, Colorado Ballet

Benton in "The Sleeping Beauty" (Mike Watson, courtesy Colorado Ballet)

"I was 10 when I got my first pair of pointe shoes, training with Deborah Bowes at The National Ballet School in Toronto, Canada. My fitter was Carol Beevers, and I'm still in touch with her. All the company dancers at The National Ballet of Canada wore one type of shoe—I don't remember it now, but I of course wanted that. Unfortunately, my feet were too small—I was a kid's size 12. (I still have small feet. My Suffolks are only a 1.5 XXX!) I was so disappointed and also began to worry they wouldn't have any shoes that fit me. But we found a Gamba pair that fit. I was on cloud nine."

Benton as a student (courtesy Benton)

Lia Cirio

Principal Dancer, Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio in "The Sleeping Beauty" (Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet)

"I got my first pair of pointe shoes when I was 12, training with Lori Ardis at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. I was so excited about going to my fitting for my first pair. My teacher made us go through a series of toe-strength tests before we were allowed in the shoes themselves. When you passed the test in her eyes, she would personally take you to pick out your first pair. One of my ballet friends passed at the same time as I did, so Mrs. Ardis took us together. I don't remember the exact shoe, but I ended up with a pair of Capezios. I remember thinking how beautiful they were, and I loved the color of the satin. I was very nervous that I might not be able to actually go on my toes in the shoes."

Cirio as a 13-year-old student (courtesy Cirio)

"My first pointe classes feel like a lifetime ago. I felt stronger than I thought I would be (probably because of that strength test my teacher put me through). However, I was really sad at how fast my feet and toenails were bruised. I remember feeling as if my feet would never be the same again!"

Lillian DiPiazza

Principal Dancer, Pennsylvania Ballet

Lillian DiPiazza in "Romeo and Juliet" (Arian Molina, courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet)

"I remember when I was in Preparation for Pointe (a level at my ballet school, Maryland Youth Ballet), the founder of the school, Tensia Fonseca, brought me into her office for me to try on a small pair of pointe shoes. She thought I might be too small at age 10 to fit them. But they fit! I was elated. And sure enough, that year, I got my first pair of pointe shoes: Capezio Nicolini, size 1.5. I had my fitting at our local dance store, Artistic Dance, with two friends from ballet, and our teacher, Tensia Fonseca. We were so excited to see what brand we would get."

(here and below) Getting fitted for her first pair of pointe shoes (courtesy DiPiazza)

"We had to leave our pointe shoes at the ballet studio for the first few weeks as we learned the proper technique for pointework. I guess they didn't want us trying pirouettes at home the first day! It seemed like a bummer at the time but now I can see the importance for young dancers."

Isabella DeVivo

Soloist, San Francisco Ballet

Isabella DeVivo in "The Nutcracker" (Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet)

"I grew up dancing at the School of American Ballet. There, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the New York City Ballet productions. As a child, it was a special experience to dance on the same stage as so many of the company dancers I admired so much. After performances, I would leave little notes for my ballet idols, and ask if I could receive a pair of their signed pointe shoes. I'd wear them as my slippers at home, using hair ties around my arches to keep them from coming off. Many hours were spent in front of my mom's full-length mirror attempting the steps I'd seen the dancers perform. When I was finally old enough to have a pair of my own, I tried to keep in mind all of those ballerinas who inspired me, whose shoes I had already tested, whose presence I had dreamed to re-create. To this day, the moment I first knotted the ribbons of my own pointe shoes remains a very precious memory to me. It was that instant when I truly began to write my own story."

DeVivo as a student (courtesy DeVivo)

Daphne Lee

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Raphael Baker, courtesy Collage Dance Collective

"My first pair of pointe shoes were Grishko NovaFlex. The wide box fit my wide, flat feet and short toes. I trained at the Rahway Dance Theatre in Rahway, NJ, and my mother, Jay Skeete-Lee, was the owner. Therefore, I got the honor of having my mommy teach my first pointe class. She's certified from the Royal Academy of Dance and trained at English National Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. I remember the class went better than I thought because my mother started everyone off in demi-pointe shoes from Sansha. They're like pointe shoes without the shank, so you can't go on pointe, but it gets you prepared for pointework by working on your relevé. I was very turned in, and it was hard to balance, and my toes and feet were swollen by the end of the class. My mother would give us 5 minutes before class was over to take off the shoes and jump to get the blood circulating back to our feet. What a relief."

A young Lee in class with her mom (courtesy Lee)

"My dance studio was ethnically mixed and everyone had to learn how to pancake their shoes to match their tights. My mother taught everyone how to do it, and she also had a little song about tying ribbons. What I loved about my mom is that she knew at the time that dance was recreational for me, but still exposed me to the possibilities of what being a professional dancer could be like. As we can see, I went for it!"

Tricia Albertson

Principal Dancer, Miami City Ballet

Tricia Albertson in George Balanchine's "La Valse" (Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet)

"I was 10 years old when I got my first pointe shoes. Salespeople gave my mom a hard time and said I was too young, but my feet were surprisingly strong for that age. I ended up with a pair of Capezio Contemporas. I was giddy about my first fitting. I remember feeling really mature, like this was some sign of growing up, of being an adult dancer."

Albertson performing as a student (courtesy Albertson)

"I was training at a small school in Santa Cruz, CA. Vicki Bergland, a wonderful teacher and still a great friend, was my first pointe teacher. I was, of course, excited for my first class, until I strapped those things on my feet and really tried to stand on them. I was taught to use lambswool in my shoes, which doesn't really stay in place. I remember feeling the hard inside of the shoe rubbing on my toes. We did very simple things in that class: just stepping up into parallel and rolling down. I could barely get all the way on pointe with my knees straight. I left the class having lost that feeling of maturity! Ballerinas made it look so easy. I had in my mind that I'd be able to do so much more so much faster. I wonder sometimes what made me want to keep trying after the blisters, the toenails that felt like someone had whacked them with a hammer, and what looked like such a long road to get to really dance on them. My first teacher was very encouraging, and even at that age, even when I felt discouraged, I never wanted to walk away from ballet. I loved it too much."


A version of this story appeared in the March 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "My First Pair."

Ballet
Kendra Oyesanya, Marcus Mitchell, and Carlito Olivero (courtesy YouTube/Lionsgate)

Happy "Step Up: High Water" eve, y'all! Everyone's favorite internet dance show makes its triumphant Season 2 return tomorrow, March 20th, on YouTube. In anticipation of the premiere, we turned to Kendra Oyesanya (Poppy), Marcus Mitchell (Dondre), and Carlito Olivero (Davis) for the scoop on all things "Step Up"—from on-set shenanigans, to embarrassing stories, to scenes to watch out for this season (hint: Episode 2's dance battle, and the season finale's final number!).

Keep Reading Show less
Dance News
Rochelle Mendoza-Axle, Courtesy Stiskin

In today's dance world, versatility is key. It's not enough to be a master of one style—even when they specialize in one area, dancers are frequently asked to fuse multiple genres, or step out of their comfort zone for specific projects. With their wide variety of summer programs, Joffrey Ballet School aims to prepare dancers for the demands of a professional career. We asked five faculty members to share how they do this:

Keep Reading Show less
Sponsored by Joffrey Ballet School
The cast of "Oklahoma!" during last year's run at St. Ann's Warehouse (Teddy Wolff, courtesy DKC/O&M)

You may think you know Oklahoma!, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that made history when it first opened in 1943 and is best known for Agnes de Mille's groundbreaking dream ballet. But the latest Broadway iteration of the musical isn't your average trip to the frontier. Opening April 7, the revival features new choreography by Mark Morris alum John Heginbotham, and swaps the traditional windswept-prairie set and full orchestra for an intimate, minimalistic staging and a bluegrass band. Coming fresh off an acclaimed run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, the daring, unconventional production is sure to turn heads when it begins previews on Broadway tonight. Dance Spirit caught up with Heginbotham to get all the details on the dancing, and what it was like choreographing his first Broadway show.

Keep Reading Show less
BLACKPINK has worked with A-list choreographers, including Kyle Hanagami and Parris Goebel.

K-pop is in the middle of a stateside takeover. South Korea's boy bands and girl groups can always be counted on to produce catchy, upbeat songs—and, most importantly for us dance fans, to feature colorful choreography prominently in their music videos. Over the past few years, the K-pop machine has been churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented groups with choreography worth watching on repeat, and some of them are starting to make names for themselves in the U.S. Check out our list of the dancetastic K-pop bands you need to know.

Keep Reading Show less
Commercial
Briar Nolet did NOT come to play. (NBC)

Have you ever felt that the Duels round on NBC's "World of Dance" was a bit unfair? During the Duels, each act's success hinges not on how objectively good they are, but on how good they are relative to a single challenger. Which means that mediocre acts can move forward if they best slightly-more-mediocre opponents, while frontrunners who're given tougher matchups end up knocked out.

Newly-engaged goddess J.Lo and her team get that. Which is why, last night, "WOD" introduced a twist designed to make the Duels more just: a redemption round. Formerly, five acts were eliminated in each division during the Duels. But from here out, the two highest scorers of those five will go head-to-head to earn a wild card spot. And that made last night's Upper Division Duels significantly more exciting.

Who just dueled it? Who was redeemed? Who made Derek Hough scream like a teenage girl? Onward to the episode highlights!

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher (left) meeting with Bloch owner David Fox (right) in NYC. (Marius Bugge for Bloch)

For professional ballet dancers, the search for the perfect pointe shoe is a lifelong quest. Even the smallest adjustment in manufacturing can make the difference between a shoe that allows a ballerina to soar and a shoe that detracts from her dancing. So what goes into creating the perfect fit? A lot of hard work, patience, and masterful attention to detail. We got the inside scoop on how a Bloch pointe shoe is made from beginning to end, and went inside one of American Ballet Theatre principal Devon Teuscher's touch-up fittings with Bloch owner David Fox in NYC.

Keep Reading Show less
Ballet
Martina Sandionigi as Giselle

We updated your favorite story-ballet tutus with modern details that'll please any 21st-century prima ballerina. Who needs a cavalier, anyway?

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Fashion
Photo by Samantha Little

It's the fall of 2018. As the Brigham Young University Cougarettes step onto the field at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, UT, a crowd of nearly 64 thousand erupts into cheers. The dancers take their places, and a feeling of anticipation hangs in the air: Their reputation precedes them.

The music—Ciara's banger "Level Up"—begins, and unbelievable precision ensues. Eighteen dancers attack the highly technical choreography, which nods at viral social-dance sensations and continuously builds in energy. The school's mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, joins the team on the field, and the audience goes wild. As the piece ends, the sound in the stadium is deafening. The 16-time national-title-winning group has proved once again why they're the standard for college dance team success—they're just that good.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance Team
The ultimate dance mom: Debbie Allen with her daughter, Vivian Nixon (courtesy Nixon)

Dance moms: Where would we be without them? We all know how much support and help they give us—in addition to loads of love. Here are 10 reasons real-life dance moms are undeniably the best.

Keep Reading Show less
Dancer to Dancer
BLACKPINK has worked with A-list choreographers, including Kyle Hanagami and Parris Goebel.

K-pop is in the middle of a stateside takeover. South Korea's boy bands and girl groups can always be counted on to produce catchy, upbeat songs—and, most importantly for us dance fans, to feature colorful choreography prominently in their music videos. Over the past few years, the K-pop machine has been churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented groups with choreography worth watching on repeat, and some of them are starting to make names for themselves in the U.S. Check out our list of the dancetastic K-pop bands you need to know.

Keep Reading Show less
Commercial
Briar Nolet did NOT come to play. (NBC)

Have you ever felt that the Duels round on NBC's "World of Dance" was a bit unfair? During the Duels, each act's success hinges not on how objectively good they are, but on how good they are relative to a single challenger. Which means that mediocre acts can move forward if they best slightly-more-mediocre opponents, while frontrunners who're given tougher matchups end up knocked out.

Newly-engaged goddess J.Lo and her team get that. Which is why, last night, "WOD" introduced a twist designed to make the Duels more just: a redemption round. Formerly, five acts were eliminated in each division during the Duels. But from here out, the two highest scorers of those five will go head-to-head to earn a wild card spot. And that made last night's Upper Division Duels significantly more exciting.

Who just dueled it? Who was redeemed? Who made Derek Hough scream like a teenage girl? Onward to the episode highlights!

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
Paloma Garcia-Lee (center, in gold) and the cast of "Fosse/Verdon" (FX)

The extraordinary Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's danced in no fewer than five Broadway shows, can adapt to any choreographer's style. And before heading back to Broadway this spring in Moulin Rouge! (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), she's tackling the work of one of the most iconic choreographers of all time: Bob Fosse.

Garcia-Lee plays Adrienne in the new FX limited series "Fosse/Verdon," premiering April 9, which follows the romantic and creative relationship of Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his muse Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Steve Levenson, and Andy Blankenbuehler serve as executive producers, with Kail directing and Blankenbuehler choreographing.

With the exception of performing on The Tony Awards, "Fosse/Verdon" marks Garcia-Lee's TV debut. "I'm really setting my sights on more on-camera work," she says. "Getting the chance to flex my muscles as an actress in this different medium, but still have the dance part, is all really exciting." (She's got real acting chops, too: While a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she actually quit dance briefly to study acting instead.)

Dance Spirit spoke to Garcia-Lee about "Fosse/Verdon"'s epic final callback, how she got cast, and the transition from stage to screen.

Keep Reading Show less
Dance on TV
Delgado in George Balanchine's "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" (Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet)

Miami City Ballet principal Jeanette Delgado's dynamic, show-stopping presence and powerful, crisp technique have been wowing audiences for well over a decade. A Miami, FL, native, Delgado began training with Vivian Tobio, Liana Navarro, and Maria Victoria Gutierrez. At age 9, she received a scholarship to Miami City Ballet School and, in 2003, she earned the Princess Grace Award. That same year, Delgado became an apprentice with Miami City Ballet. In 2004 she was promoted to the corps, and in 2006 to soloist. She became a principal dancer in 2008. Catch her this month performing in the company's spring program. —Courtney Bowers

Keep Reading Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Giveaways