Patricia Catizzone literally holds dancers’ health in her hands. In her many years as pointe shoe fitter at the Shoe Room, located within Canada’s National Ballet School, Catizzone has fitted countless dancers, using her expertise to make the exact right match between dancer and shoe. Catizzone is a fitter who not only has years of experience, but has participated in unprecedented research into keeping dancers healthy and safe.

Few people know about the difference a professional, experienced fitter can make to a dancer’s well-being. Pointe shoes come in a dizzying variety of lengths, widths, shapes, and brands in order to meet the needs of individual dancers. The fit of shoes is so important that dancers at large professional companies like the National Ballet of Canada have their shoes custom-made to each dancer’s unique specifications, ensuring the fit’s precision. Students at Canada’s National Ballet School enjoy the benefit of highly trained experts like Catizzone, who serve not only the elite students at the school, but also dancers who come from across the GTA and even across the country to be fitted by some of the country’s leading experts.

Artists of the Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo by Bruce Zinger, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.

Catizzone came to fitting as a dancer. As a teen, she took road trips with other dancers from her hometown of Hamilton to be fitted at the Shoe Room. Catizzone launched into fitting full-time when health issues prevented her from dancing professionally.  Says Catizzone, “I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer, but then I realised that it didn’t mean that I had to stop having dance in my life. Ballet is my passion and my joy. [At Canada’s National Ballet School and The Shoe Room] I’m deeply immersed in the ballet world and being helpful to the next generation of dancers. I’ve been here for 10.5 years, there are girls whom I’ve fit who now dance with [The National Ballet of Canada] and I go to ballets and see them on stage. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

As Catizzone began to blossom as a fitter, she became concerned that some dancers didn’t have access to the latest knowledge about pointe shoes and foot health: “It seemed to me that there was a big divide between the elite students and the recreational students. I wanted to create a resource for anyone to access with the knowledge that I was learning at the school and at the store. So I drafted a website.” Catizzone went further, coming on board in a pioneering study that tracked all the school’s lower leg injuries for a year.

“We were trying to make connections between whether they were changing shoes too often, if they weren’t changing shoes enough, what kind of shoes they were wearing, and tracking all of those notes for the physio departments and the ballet teachers. They were more aware of when a dancer was changing shoes and why, and then I would get the physio reports about when a dancer was injured and why, and I was putting them together.”

Greta Hodgkinson and Guillaume Côté in A Month in the Country. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.

“There’s a lot of interesting websites about pointe shoes online; not all of them are actually founded in research. There were resources on common dance injuries that I found on Amazon that were twenty, thirty years out of date. I found a book by a doctor who was writing about how to wrap and tape your toes and how to prevent bunions. [His information] was so out of date. There’s so many more things now to help and aid the dancer. [It was] helpful info, but it was definitely the beginning. No-one was following through on that.”

Today is a bittersweet day for Catizzone; it’s her second last as an employee of The Shoe Room. The intimate relationships she has built up with young dancers and teachers are at an end. Tears spring to her eyes as I ask her if she’s going to miss it. “A lot,” she says, “It’s been hard. One of the ballet staff was quite devastated.  They said “Who am I supposed to trust now?” The staff [at the Shoe Room] are phenomenal, and I’m sure that whoever comes after me will be just as wonderful, but it’s definitely a sad goodbye.”

What’s next for one of Toronto’s leading pointe shoe fitters? “I don’t know yet. A couple options I’m not at liberty to talk about. I don’t want to jinx it.”

Swan Lake returns to The Four Seasons Centre from March 8-16! Buy your tickets now.