Every dancer dreams of it... They watch in wonder as a dancer who is older than them balances ever so softly on top of their toes. The satin shoes with the beautiful ribbons attached tied so effortlessly around the dancers foot. It is so magical isn't it?
YES! It totally is!! What a magical day it is when you go to the store and try them on the first time. Learning how to sew them is hard but awesome, and looking at them in awe realizing they are YOURS is amazing!!! Then.... you walk into your first Pointe class and place your hand on the ballet barre... and realize the magic is gone in about 60 seconds .... WHY?
BECAUSE DANCING EN POINTE IS HARD YO!
It doesn't look like it, but correctly executing Pointe work is pain staking difficult. The amount of detail and self observation needed to execute and perform the intricate detail of simply rolling through your foot may take up 1 entire class to learn about!
So if the class moves that slowly, does that mean it is for everyone? Can I just start it at any age? Hey Miss Sheryl, I am just going to go to the dance store, buy a pair, and work at home without my teachers knowledge and I will be fine- RIGHT? Why do I need to go to the Doctor for? Who says I need permission to get a silly pair of shoes? It's just a pair of dance shoes!
OK..... LET'S JUST STOP RIGHT HERE!
There are many factors that go into a dancer's success in Pointe class. Many of these factors occur before the dancer even tries on her first pair! Let's talk about my 7 tips on how you know you are ready for Pointe class & how your ballet teacher plays a VERY intricate role in this process!
1. You need to get permission from your teacher. PERIOD.
This one is a BIGGIE! There are many decisions that are factored into the first pair of Pointe shoes, & your Ballet teacher has been watching you with a very careful and detailed eye. Getting that promotion to Pointe shoes takes a LONG time and it is something that is taken very seriously. Below we will go more into the WHY it takes so long, but for now, it is important that you understand that YOUR TEACHER is the only person who can decide if you are ready or not. Starting Pointe work can be dangerous and detrimental to your health and bone development if a dancer starts before she is ready, so really, we don't take this decision lightly.
2. Age and Training
Did you know that the long bones in your feet are not fully developed and hardened until age 14? It is crucial that you don't start too soon because a dancer can seriously injure themselves. Injuries can be as serious as growth plate fractures, which can cause foot deformities!!
The general rule of thumb is that you need to wait until AT LEAST age 11 or 12. Before that time your metatarsal structure is too weak to hold the entire weight of your body. By 12 the bones are still growing and fusing, but the development is closer to being complete and can handle the stress of the Pointe shoes.
Besides your age, achieving the appropriate amount of strength needed to stand on top on your toes, you must have at least 4 years of serious training under your belt. Taking class 1x a week is not sufficient amount of time to build your muscles correctly & create proper technique. Certain muscles around the ankle and up the leg into the hips and butt must be strong and developed. This does not happen overnight, but many years of training!
Let's take a closer look at strength. A dancer must have super strong turnout muscles as well as an amazingly strong core strength to help pull up and out of the shoes. These muscles are SO IMPORTANT to ease the pain that Pointe shoes naturally bring.
Also, there are certain exercises that a dancer can do at home such as a simple foot workouts with a resistant band. Ask to meet with your teacher privately before or after class to figure out what you can do at home to give yourself that extra edge to prepare for your first pair.
Looking for proper alignment in the body, especially in the feet and ankles, is a big factor in knowing if you are ready or not. Making sure that the line of the leg is straight from the hip, through the knee and ankle bone, placed over the toes. Everything must be placed properly one on top of the other. Dancers with less flexible ankles will struggle to get up and over the shoes box. It just may mean you need more time to prepare for Pointe shoes by trying to improve the range of motion if possible.
Alliteratively, dancers with hyper-mobile feet may also need more time, as this type of dancer tends to have very weak ankles and can go too far over the shoe.
5. Understanding the seriousness in which you can get injury.
When I was 11 years old, I came down into a Plie after executing an arabesque turn. The heal of my foot landed a bit harder than normal and instantly my ears filled with tears! I had injured myself and cracked my growth plate in my ankle without barely touching the floor. It took a very LONG 9 months in a boot to heal this ever changing bone like the growth plate. It was a fluke injury but it could have derailed my entire life had I not been supervised by my amazing mentor and ballet teacher. She knew instantly what had happened and called home to take me to the Doctor.
This is seriously business, and dancers are trained a certain way to prevent injury. Do fluke accidents happen? Of course they do! However, if your dancer is not aware (or cares enough to realize) that an dance ending injury can just happen anytime, especially when unsupervised in her shoes, then they are not mature enough for Pointe shoes. Period.
6. Flexible feet & The Big Toe.
Have you studied your Releve? Like really looked at with a critical eye? If the answer is no- then this tip is for you!
Your arch is not the be all end all decision on whether or not you can get shoes. How flexible is your ankle? What about the big toe? Did you know your big toe must make a 90 degree angle on its own to really be ready for Pointe work? Without that little sucker being that flexible, your feet will not be able to roll through the shoe correctly, nor will you be able to get entirely on your box.
Also, when standing, your feet must be able to press up and hold your heels in this "L" shaped position (the correct height of Releve). This is achieved through strong, flexible ankles. If your Releve is not there, you must work in technique class on your Tendus, and Degages. Speak to your teacher about strengthening and increasing flexibility in your ankle.
7. Finally, have you gotten permission from your teacher?
We are serious about this one. Has a trained professional assessed your body, ankles and feet and given you permission to go to the store and buy a pair? If not, DO NOT go out on your own and get the shoes to just play around in. It is not safe.
There it is... my 7 tips for knowing weather or not you may or may not be ready for Pointe work. What should I do if my friends get picked for Pointe shoes and I don't?
Keep focused in class and remember that your time will come! Every child progresses at different rates, and while others may be moving ahead now, you will catch up if you focus on yourself and your own technique. Plus the payoff of EARNING the shoes yourself is the most rewarding and prideful moment in your young career!!