Am I being realistic with my dreams to study pointe work?
The prospect of pointe work requires a quick reality check. Do you want pointe shoes because you’ve attended a few beginner classes and think pointe shoes look pretty? Or have you been studying ballet for a few years now and interested in exploring your unique pointe journey?
Starting pointe work is an extremely exciting period for any young dancer or adult ballerina. However there are many things to consider before slipping on that first pair of pointe shoes. Students need to be realistic about the amount of time they can dedicate to their practice of ballet. Pointe shoes aren’t for a ‘casual’ ballerina (1 x hour long class per week) and better suited to someone who can participate in multiple, regular classes on a consistent weekly basis.
There are many steps that will help you clarify if you really want to study pointe work and a conversation with your teacher is the first step. Students require their ballet teachers blessing before beginning pointe work and your teacher will explain that every students pointe journey is unique and how to begin that journey…
Am I willing to have a professional pre-pointe assessment and pointe shoe fitting?
Patience is imperative for pointe work and your ‘pointe journey’ starts many months (often years) before you even purchase your first pair. After having a conversation with your teacher, they should recommend a pre-pointe assessment with a physiotherapist that specialises in dancers. If you’re not willing to travel for a fitting or book dance health appointments then please step back from the pointe shoes…
Your body is your tool! I wish all students (wether they start pointe work or not) would have regular anatomical assessments and body conditioning classes throughout their regular training. However it becomes imperative if you want to begin pointe work. Like a piano player having their piano tuned for optimal sound quality, you’re essentially doing the same with your body for optimal function.
Pointe range is tested and students require 170 degrees minimum (180 degrees ideally). You also need to be able to stack the metatarsals and ankle joints to withstand the forces of pointe work which is up to 12 times your body weight on those toes!
The physiotherapist will also check that your toes are long and straight with well aligned ankles, an engaged arch and strong foot intrinsics. The intrinsic foot muscles in the arch work 3 times harder than the muscles crossing the ankle joint during the transition from demi-pointe to full point!
Once you’ve passed your pre-pointe assessment and been given the green light to commence pointe work, it’s important to book in a professional fitting with a pointe shoe fitter. Call your local (and reputable) dance wear store and they will be able to assist. It’s never a good idea to purchase pointe shoes online! A pointe shoe fitting is a special art and should only be completed by a professional that specialises in this area.
Am I going to be okay if I don’t get the green light for pointe shoes?
I don’t know. Are you? We all have to be realistic when it comes to pointe shoes. Unfortunately some students anatomy makes pointe work almost impossible to participate in. Your teacher will have an idea wether this might be the case for you or if you require a longer pre-pointe period than the regular student.
It’s really important to listen to the professionals (your teacher, dance specific physiotherapist, professional pointe shoe fitter) and absorb what they’re saying. Going from teacher to teacher (or physio to physio) until you get the answer you want is not a wise move. Listen with a beginners mindset and believe that everyone has your best interests at heart – because we do!
Am I willing to run my own race and listen to my teacher?
Your teacher will often have rules about pointe work in the classroom. For example, many teachers (myself included) won’t allow students to attempt centre work until six months of barre work first. The barre is a wonderful tool during the initial stages of your pointe journey and you need to become best friends with it for at least six months.
Whenever a student expresses an interest in pointe work, I highly recommend they begin taking my pointe classes in their flat shoes. It’s a fantastic warm up or cool down (depending on when the class is in the timetable) and wether you continue to a pre-pointe assessment and pointe work or not, you’ll benefit from the additional strengthening exercises that will improve your technique. It’s also a fabulous way to get a taste for pointe exercises before committing to the expensive pointe work journey.
Am I ready to dedicate a huge amount of energy and effort to this endeavour?
You’ll need to continue maintaining 25-30 calf rises on a single leg with perfect technique (eg. no scrunching toes, no sickling, full height, knee maintained vertical, one second up and one second to come down…)
You will also be required to maintain ankle strength which consists of excellent balances on one leg without gripping the toes. Your goal should be 30 seconds with your eyes open and another 30 seconds with your eyes closed! You’ll also need to maintain excellent ability to balance on demi-pointe with correct alignment of your feet and body. And finally, show strength in both flexed and pointed positions against resistance (eg. a human hand that’s not your own, theraband or soft pilates ball).
So how do we maintain this strength and flexibility in the feet? During your pre-pointe assessment (another reason why this part of the process is important) you’ll be introduced to toe swapping, doming, toe push ups, pointing into a ball, theraband exercises and all the variations of calf rises. Your teacher will also remind you to complete your exercises and when time permits complete them in class.
It’s important to remember that no one said pointe work would be easy and if you don’t consider ballet part of your lifestyle then pointe work is probably not for you. However if you’re on board with all the information expressed in this blog post then I can’t wait for you to explore this challenging but rewarding journey!
You can read more about the concept of each pointe journey being unique in a previous blog I wrote here…
I’d like to thank Sarah Kiely from the Living Well Studio who conducts the majority of my students pre-pointe assessments. Sarah is a constant source of inspiration and wealth of knowledge and I have pulled information from her teachings for this blog post. Thanks Sarah!