When a young girl enters ballet class for the first time, she has visions of pointe shoes dancing in her head. It’s only once she begins learning the basics that she realizes just how much hard work goes into getting those shoes. At least two years of consistent ballet lessons are required before pointe work is even considered, because it takes time to build up the balance, strength, and technique required to safely (and gracefully) dance en pointe.
Did You Know?In the early 1830s, the Swedish/Italian ballet dancer Marie Taglioni was the first ballerina to dance en pointe.
There are some dance classes that insist that the dancer be 11 years or older before she can dance en pointe. The instructor needs to ascertain that the young dancer's feet, legs, and ankles are strong enough to handle the stress of dancing on her toes.
Having said that, as a young dancer gets closer to graduating to pointe shoes, there are some things she can do to prepare. Her feet and ankles need to be strong, she must find perfect balance, and she must practice separating the movements of different parts of the body.
First of all, before any thought is given to pointe work, a dancer must be able to correctly point her foot. Her teacher has probably been stressing this from the first class, but it’s vital to get it down pat before moving on from flats. A correctly pointed foot will sit snugly in the box of a pointe shoe, whereas an incorrect point can lead to an incorrect fit, which will make pointe work even more painful. Also, everything’s connected―if the point isn’t right, the dancer will have a difficult time maintaining balance.
A correctly pointed foot should be straight down the inside of the calf, from knee to toe―no curving the foot inward, even though it makes it easier to point. Winging out to the side is fine for experienced dancers, but should not be the focus for intermediates. Toes should be flat, not curled, and the bottom of the foot should form a banana-like curve along the natural arch. Try pointing and flexing in a TheraBand to build strength.
Balance is essential for pointe work. Your teacher will start you off slowly, and it will be awhile before you even move away from the barre―but before you even get to that point, you must be very confident at demi-pointe. Practice holding retire in demi-pointe for two or three minutes at a time. Your demi-pointe should be high―the middle of your foot should be perpendicular to the floor, and your pinky toe may not even touch. Everything should be rock solid, and no noticeable adjustments should be necessary.
There are many jumps that occur from flat to point, or from flat to air, without the springboard of the plie beforehand―this means that the lift of the jump must come from the calves. These jumps are terrific practice for pointe, because you must learn to use your calf muscles without bunching them up or making them cramp. Try little hops in first position, moving only your feet―do this for about two minutes, then switch to the second position and repeat. Not only will this teach you how to get exceptional lift without noticeable effort, but it will strengthen both your calves and arches.
It is important in pointe work to be able to move one limb or section of the body without disturbing the balance or position of the whole body. Practice in front of a mirror―start small, and attempt to move your arm in a wave-like motion without moving anything beyond your shoulder. Then try Rond de Jambe without moving anything above the hip (a slight forward lean is okay when your leg is at the back). Now try your torso―put your hands on your hips and try to rotate your rib cage without moving anything above the shoulders, or below the waist. Then do the same with your pelvis, keeping everything above the waist and below the hips still. It’s harder than it sounds. Belly dancing videos may help with technique.
Eventually, the time will come when your teacher gives the okay for a fitting. It’s a huge day in a young ballerina’s life, and it’s made even better when she’s fully prepared and confident in her ability to learn.