The Denver Post
The Denver Post surprised us in September of 2015 with a very thorough report on our very own Noel Amend, master pointe shoe fitter!
One of our customers from Cleveland, Ohio sent the Denver Post a note about our shop and what we do. The next day, The Denver Post contacted us to set up a time for a reporter to visit our Castle Rock shop.
Emilie Rusch, a journalist for the Denver Post, was in our store the very next day. She spent over 8 hours watching Noel fit many of our customers. The following day, videographer Lindsay Pierce took footage of our customers for over 6 hours. Finally, photographer Cyrus McCrimmon arrived the next day and took photos for over 4 hours. We had only same-day notice that they would arrive, and all the customers that were featured in the video and article were already scheduled for fittings on those three days.
We were thrilled when the article and the video were posted on September 23, 2015. We invite you to watch the video and read the article! Both the video and the article are below.
If you haven’t already been our location for a professional fitting, we encourage you to call us right away! You can reach us in Castle Rock at 303.663.2066
Click HERE for the Article
Click HERE for the Video
Ballerinas from around the U.S. find perfect pointe shoes in Castle Rock
Shoes are a critical component of a ballerina's success and burly Noel Amend puts a fine point on fit
Ballerinas come to Castle Rock from all over the U.S. to have Noel Amend look at their feet and select the perfect pointe shoes for them. The right size box, a properly placed ribbon, that "good pinch" on the sides — those are the trademarks of Amend's work.
"If you don't get the shoe fit properly, the least of your worries would be blistering," Amend said as he rolled around on a stool, selecting from the hundreds of pointe shoes lining the walls of his shop. "It progresses from there — you can get hammer toe, a bruised Achilles, corns, bunions, ankle issues, knee issues. As in any sport, having good equipment is critical."
From the "pit" of Assemblé Dancewear, an otherwise nondescript storefront in a nondescript Castle Rock strip mall, Amend has fit thousands of ballerinas in their first pointe shoes, a rite of passage for any dancer.
He stays with them, too, finding that perfect shoe as their feet grow, their skill level progresses, the choreography becomes more complex, until they they go pro or say goodbye to ballet for good.
Since opening his first shop in Laramie in 1978 with his wife, Ginger, a skilled fitter in her own right, at least 80 of their clients have made it to the highest levels of professional dance, he said, joining such companies as American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
"In the world, there are only so many ballet dancers, and there are only so many people who know shoes," said Anisa Scott, a professional ballerina who grew up in Parker and got her first pair of pointe shoes from Amend. "It's such a small number. And to have someone in Colorado who knows so much, it's rare. He's so good."
Melanie Doskocil, director of The School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, sends all of her girls down the mountain to see the Amends. "I've never seen a bad fit come out of his shop," Doskocil said. "I've had students who go to other places return their pointe shoes because they're too baggy or they're too wide or they're too small."
"He has students who come from all over the country," she said. "He's pretty exceptional."
Feet and fit
With a physique more football player than ballerina, Amend knows he isn't always what dancers expect when they first walk in the door.
He's never been a dancer — as a young man he played sports and did theater. He was studying forestry at the University of Wyoming when he fell in love with Ginger, who was a ballerina. "I never would have guessed I'd be doing this for a living," the 240-pound Amend said. " My life course just took a different direction," he said.
Today, Noel, 62, runs the small Assemblé store in Castle Rock, while Ginger heads the 4,000-square-foot flagship in Colorado Springs. Between the two, they fit about 700 new students each year. Their daughter Kellie, 33, is learning pointe fitting from her folks and fits customers for the other types of dance shoes sold in the shops.
Amend learned the craft as he went with the help of female mentors, including his wife and other dance teachers. "There's no substitution for time in the pit, just working with feet and learning as you go," Amend said. "It's something that's tactile. You just need to get a hold of feet and go."
Over the years, he's become an expert in every aspect of the 30 styles of pointe shoes across nine brands that Assemblé carries. Many stores, by comparison, carry only a brand or two.
All of the shoes he sells are traditional paste-box construction, meaning the box in the toe that helps support the dancer is made of dense layers of fabric or paper and paste. Sweat molds the paste to the dancer's foot, "casting" the box to the correct shape.
Much of the job is educating not only the dancer but also the parents writing checks for shoes that run about $100 a pair. Assuming a dancer's foot does not change size, a classroom pointe shoe should last for 20 hours of dancing, or about eight months dancing in class once a week. Prima ballerinas, on the other hand, may throw away a shoe after four hours.
Amend is not afraid to send girls home with no shoes at all if he feels they aren't ready for the physicality and responsibility of dancing en pointe. Each girl must have a teacher permission slip and no dancer younger than 10 will be fitted. "I want a student and her mom to understand I'm going to do everything that I possibly can to keep her daughter's feet healthy so she can do this, whether for the long-term or just a couple pairs of shoes, and not come out with damaged feet," Amend said. "Feet today have to last 100 years."
The full treatment
Knowledge like Amend's is vital , said Valerie Madonia, director of the Colorado Ballet Academy. "There are so many more brands and styles of pointe shoes than there were 30 years ago. When I grew up, everyone wore Capezios," said Madonia, who danced at American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet and National Ballet of Canada during her career. "Having a shoe fitter who knows the different brands and knows what each one is good for and what kind of foot it suits is really important."
Amend can be a bit of an acquired taste, she said. Many academy students go to another area dance shop, accompanied by a faculty member.
"Noel is a very strong personality," Madonia said. "Not everybody can work with him."
But Amend was exactly the balm Isabella Stevens, 13, and her mom, Holly, needed after getting a bad fit at a different shop.
A student at the Denver School of the Arts, Isabella trains six days a week at the Colorado Ballet Academy and hopes to dance professionally.
Her very first pointe shoe fitting went fine, but then she grew out of the shoes. "The second fitting was 10 minutes. They put on two different pairs, said, 'These look like the ones, bye bye,' " Stevens said. "It just didn't feel right. The shoes didn't fit right. Her teacher noticed right away."
Within a week, she had made an appointment at Assemblé, on the recommendation of another dance parent.
Amend gave them "the full treatment," a 60- to 90-minute session that included an examination of Isabella's feet, a lesson on how pointe shoes work, even a critique of how the young dancer cut her toenails. "It was huge," Stevens said. "I knew, probably within the first five minutes that this was going to be the thing that made it right." Isabella took a little more convincing. When her mom told her they'd be going back to Amend for her next pair of shoes, she almost started crying. "I'm so glad I'm there now," Isabella said.
"When you have the right pair of pointe shoes, it's pretty easy to tell," she said. "It's a lot easier to do more complicated steps or steps you're trying for the first time because (the shoe) feels like a regular part of your foot. When I had really bad pairs of shoes, it felt really boxy, like a big thing of wood on my feet."
Even now, Scott, 22, will not trust anyone but Amend to choose her shoes. She is dancing with Ballet West in Salt Lake City, but during the two years she danced in Dresden, Germany, the company chose shoes for her. " They didn't fit," Scott said. "I spent two years dancing in those shoes. It damaged my feet."
When she returned to the United States, Amend found her a new pair of shoes that actually fit.
"Without a good pair of shoes, you can't do anything. Ballet is hard enough already," Scott said. "You shouldn't have to worry about what your shoe feels like."
When fitting shoes, Amend takes into account much more than the length of the foot. Dancers are required to wear leotards and tights to fittings, and one of the first things he does is take the dancer's feet in his hands, gauging the taper, profile, elasticity, length of phalanges and compression in the Achilles tendon. Body weight, perspiration and experience level are also factors.
No final decision is made until Amend sees the shoe in action, with the client dancing at the barre on the wall of the fitting area. He then reads the marks the shoe has left behind on their feet.
For first-timers, Amend doubles as teacher, going into detail on how the shoes work, proper care, toenail maintenance and areas where flexibility and strength can be improved. On a recent Friday, his appointment book included dancers from Garden City, Kan.; Los Alamos, N.M.; Aurora; Highlands Ranch; and Aspen.
In the years since he started fitting, technology has improved drastically, particularly in the inserts and padding that go inside the shoes, he said. Gone are the days of loose lambs wool and "the BBC: blister, bleed and callus."
Still, a little discomfort is part of the process.
"If you fit comfortably here, your customer is going to be happy during the fitting. They'll walk out the door and go 'Wow, that was easy. That was amazing. It's not what I thought it would be,' " Amend said. "About four classes in, that box opens up and they're right on their toes, very painful and very unhappy.
"No one leaves our shop without the good pinch."
Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, firstname.lastname@example.org or @emilierusch