Malaysia’s Pioneer Pointe Shoe Fitter: Michelle Wong

Did you know that a pointe shoe fitter is a job, and an important one at that? If you’re living in a country where ballet is fairly “a thing” and is taken rather seriously, you might have heard of a pointe shoe fitter, or even engaged in the services of one. However, in Malaysia, ballet dancing is still largely considered as a “hobby”, or an activity to mould a child into becoming “all-rounded”. Not many in Malaysia have heard of a pointe shoe fitter, much less knowing what it is. Luckily for us, we managed to track down one of Malaysia’s first (if not the very first) pointe shoe fitters, Michelle Wong from Chacott & Freed of London, and secured an exclusive interview with her.

Michelle Wong’s Fast Facts & Personal Accomplishments:

  • A ballerina herself, having danced since the age of 7
  • 2011: Won the 1st Prize (Category 2) and a full scholarship to Australia’s Cechetti Ballet Summer School in The Dance Society (TDS) Competition [Variation: Second Odalisque, Le Corsaire]
  • 2012: Won the 2nd Prize (Category 1) and the Sansha Award in The Dance Society (TDS) Competition [Variation: Kitri Act 3 Variation, Don Quixote]
  • 2012: Finalist at Hong Kong Asian Grand Prix (AGP) [Variation: Kitri Act 3 Variation, Don Quixote]
  • 2013: Successfully completed the Royal Academy of Dance’s (RAD) Advanced 2
  • 2015: Won the 2nd Prize (Category 1) in The Dance Society (TDS) Competition [Variation: Gulnare Variation, Le Corsaire]
  • Has taken on soloist/principal roles in past productions before, in which the most notable were Giselle in Giselle (2015) and Princess Florine in Sleeping Beauty (2018), both of which are productions of Dance Space Sdn Bhd
  • All-time favourite ballet: Don Quixote
  • All-time favourite role in any ballet: Any solo in Paquita
Giselle
Michelle on a fun photoshoot in Putrajaya

As a Pointe Shoe Fitter from Chacott & Freed of London…

Q: What exactly is a “pointe shoe fitter”?
A: Basically, to determine correctly what kind of pointe shoes a dancer should wear at first glance. Everyone’s feet is different, and it’s my job to help them select suitable shoes for them. I also teach them (students, beginners especially) a little about the correct way to go en pointe, how to take care of their pointe shoes, and also to educate parents and teachers about what a “correct fit” is.

Q: How did you start off becoming a pointe shoe fitter?
A: Through contacts, I somehow heard of Chacott & Freed of London, and decided to apply for the job. I was just about to start college, but then I decided not to go down the conventional road of tertiary education, and now here I am. I’ve been very lucky to be trained by Edna Dawn Luah, the first pointe shoe fitter in all of Southeast Asia, and she taught me all there is to know about shoe fitting – she’s been guiding me for around 5 years now! (*Note: Read on to find out more about Edna!)

Q: Why is your job important (for dancers)?
A: A lot of teachers themselves don’t actually know what’s suitable for their students, so that’s where I come in. With a suitable pair of shoes, injuries could be minimised, and the students’ strength can be built up properly.

Q: How do you determine what’s “suitable” for a dancer?
A: First, I’ll get the dancer to do rises on demi-pointe, to check out her ankle strength. Then I’ll also press on the metatarsal phalanges to determine if her feet are compressible. After that, I’ll get an idea of what shoes are suitable for her, and ask her to try the shoes on, pair by pair. With each pair, the dancer performs a series of basic movements such as parallel rises and pliés. I’ll ask the dancer how she feels as she goes through the movements. Coupled with my own observations about how the feet look like wearing the shoes, I decide there and then which pair is most suitable for the dancer.

Q: How many types of shoes does Chacott & Freed of London have, and how are they different?
A: (laughs) Many! Chacott is usually for beginners, so I’m going to quickly walk you through Freed shoes instead. For Freed, we have the Classic Series and the Studio Series. Shoes of the Classic Series are all hand-made, which means that you can actually custom-make your shoes to perfectly fit your feet. Within the Classic Series there are many makers, each of which are shaped differently and have different hardness levels. On the other hand, the Studio Series shoes are machine-made, which makes the shoes more consistent, and also harder than the Classic in general. Studio Series have three different categories: Studio Professional, Studio I, and Studio II.

Q: But what makes Freed shoes different from the others?
A: Freed shoes are actually really suitable for the Asian market, as its toe boxes are high enough for Asian feet, which tend to be bigger and broader. Furthermore, as explained previously, (Chacott &) Freed has various models and makes to cater for different feet types and strengths. Another thing is that Freed shoes only has three-quarter shank and full shank, which, in my personal opinion, helps dancers to build up their strength better. I feel like with half-shank shoes, dancers tend to “sit”.

Q: What do you find most challenging about your job?
A: When a dancer has an odd foot shape, which makes it really difficult to find a correct fit. Or, when dancers are a little on the heavier side. I mean, I understand that people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but weight does play an important role when you’re a dancer. The heavier you are, the quicker the shoes wear out, because the shoes have to take on so much more weight. I’ve had parents call me up, demanding to know why their daughters’ shoes could not support them anymore after wearing them for only once or twice, and I can’t exactly tell them “it’s because your daughter is heavy”. This is probably the most difficult thing to deal with in my career.

Q: And the most enjoyable thing about your job?
A: Oh, when the shoes fit the dancer perfectly. It’s like, the shoes complement the dancer just nicely, and the dancer dances so beautifully in those shoes – so much satisfaction!

Q: Any future plans regarding your job in general?
A: Yes, actually. In October/November this year (2019), I’ll be planning to take a shoe fitter exam in Japan. (That’s where Asia’s Chacott & Freed of London is based.)

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us about your job?
A: Yes! Get in touch with me if you’d like to know more about pointe shoes; it’s important for you as a dancer! Together with Edna, we’ve given presentations and fitting sessions not only in Malaysia, but also in Singapore, Bangkok, and the Philippines. It’s all about education with us, and we encourage you to learn more about your own feet, and finding the right pair of shoes along the way!

Q: Last but not least, why did you choose to be a pointe shoe fitter?
A: (chuckles) Because I love ballet.

Get to Know Michelle Better!

Q: What makes you so passionate about dancing?
A: I absolutely love the feeling of performing on stage, whether as a soloist, or with my friends – we’re building something and having fun together.

Q: What do you feel is your greatest achievement in dance so far?
A: (thinks for a while) The opportunity to compete overseas, to expose myself on an international level. There are so many people out there who are better than you, and it serves as a reminder to always work harder, and to be humble.

Q: What was your biggest setback as a dancer, and how did you overcome it?
A: I was training for the role of Odette back in 2012, and I sprained my ankle just one week before the performance. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. What was even more frustrating was that I lost it all after resting. How did I overcome it? Slowly. I had to start training from zero again.

Q: If there was one thing you could change about your dance technique, what would it be and why?
A: Just one thing? I have so many things I want to change! (laughs)
Q: (laughs) Just one thing.
A: If it’s just one thing, I guess I’ll say everything on the left side. My right side is my stronger side, and my left side pales in comparison.

Q: What do you think about the future of dance in Malaysia – what’s the market like?
A: (raises eyebrows) To be honest, I think that the future of gymnastics is brighter than dance (Chacott & Freed of London deals with gymnastic equipment as well) – it’s all about the recognition of the country. You see, gymnastics is categorised as a sport and therefore receives more funding and all that, while dance is still firmly in the “arts” section, more or less left to fend for itself.

Q: Any advice you have for the younger dancers out there?
A: (gives a long-suffering sigh) Don’t be lazy, girls. Go for your classes regularly, and please, please warm up properly before you go en pointe. You really don’t want to get injured.

Q: Based on your “Glance at Dance”, how has dance impacted your life?
A: First of all, discipline. Every ballet dancer knows this: from punctuality to neat hair and practicing on your own – if you don’t have discipline, you won’t make it far. That discipline has leaked over into all aspects of my life. The next thing is patience. A lot of dance moves can’t be perfected in a day or two, and so dance has taught me patience. Oh, and also maturity and resilience. I feel like as dancers, we’re more mature and resilient compared to the rest of our peers, simply because of the path we’re taking. Dancers are competitive and perfectionistic to a fault, our teachers even more so. We encounter criticism and comparison on a regular basis, and we don’t let emotions and failures get in our way. We bounce back quickly because we have to. Last but not least, my diet? (laughs) I’m not saying I control everything I eat, but I choose to eat healthy whenever I can, though I definitely splurge on dessert as well!

Michelle as the third fairy, Sleeping Beauty 2018.

About Edna Dawn Luah

Edna studied ballet with the Royal Academy of Dance and later took her Diploma in Dance at then LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts where she was trained with Classical Ballet under Ravenna Tucker, former principal dance of Royal Birmingham Ballet and Contemporary Dance under Jaime Redfem, from Australia’s award winning Dance Theatre Company, Expressions Dance Company. She amalgamated her passion for dance with her academic studies in Asia Pacific marketing through National University of Singapore. This allowed her to effectively exert her pursuit for education and outreach in dance as well as business expertise.

As a certified professional fitter by Chacott & Freed of London, Edna works with dance theatres, professional dance schools and Royal Academy of Dance in Southeast Asia, providing fitting and training sessions for dance professionals in the region.

Michelle & Edna

To get in touch with Michelle for pointe shoe fitting, call 016-7162586, or email her at michelle@beautydirect.com.sg!

Also, would you like to see Michelle & Edna conduct a presentation on a larger scale, perhaps publicly? Let us know your thoughts in the comment below, and we’ll try to work something out with our lovely pointe shoe fitters!

All images courtesy of Michelle Wong.

Author

Yiing Zhi

Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through dance.

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