Is your child ready to go on pointe?
Advice from a professional dancer … to dancers and mothers
Whilst it is the dream of many a young dancer to leap on to pointe, and become the next Marianella Nunez or Darcey Bussel, it's becoming increasing apparent that going on to pointe too early could do more harm than good.
"The decision to start pointe work should be made only by a skilled and knowledgeable ballet teacher."
J .La Cava, All About Pointe 'TO THE BALLET STUDENT AND PARENT'
Dr. William Hamilton, writing in Dance Magazine (Feb 1978), relays to us the delightfully simple viewpoint of Balanchine.
"Children should not be put on pointe until they have the strength and training to do something when they get up there."
Let's get to the pointe ... (pun intended)
Many dancers are ready to begin pointework between the ages of 9 and 12 but in my opinion, the age should not define the transition.
Things to consider ...
1. Honestly, not everyone is made for pointe work
In the same way that a 4ft athlete would probably not be found playing on an NBA team, your future en pointe may be restricted by your anatomy.
Pointe requires flexibility of the ankle joint and the range to fully extend the front of your foot. Ordinarily this position puts a huge strain on the tiny bones and muscles in your feet. If your range is limited then, instead of being over the center of your shoe, you sit with your weight back and this can easily lead to a multitude of injuries that I am not prepared to list here!
"Performers with inflexible ankles, overly long big toes and heavier builds may never be able to dance en pointe." - Hallie Engel on The Disadvantages of Pointe shoes, Livestrong.com
I've always been a firm believer that ballet should be all-inclusive. It's there to be enjoyed. by both dancer and audience.
I've attached a link for SAFE stretches for your arches
2. Pointe work requires strength - Don't underestimate it!
Understand the importance of strength and stability before going en pointe.
Most dancers should have at least 4-5 years dancing experience before even thinking of going out and buying pointe shoes. If you don't have strong ankles and toes when you are in flat shoes then the minute you go onto pointe your entire body weight will crush your teeny tiny little foot bones.
(REMEMBER - your shoe doesn't hold you up. You hold your shoes up.)
If you want to go on to pointe but don't yet feel ready, I've attached some links to youtube videos showing excercises to help you strengthen your feet and stabilise your ankles.
Claudia Dean Pre Pointe Tutorial
Strengthening your Feet for Pointe
3. You MUST have a teacher that you can trust!
You are putting your or your child's welfare and future career in the hands of another human being. This is a great responsibility.
For this reason you MUST be sure of your teacher's ability to teach pointe work.
Do they have suitable experience in pointework themselves?
If not they probably won't be able to teach. It's that simple.
Do they think that my child is strong enough to dance safely?
A lazy teacher will want to get every child in their class on pointe in one foul swoop. This also exhibits a very limited knowledge of the process that leads to pointe work. While the top dancers in the class may be fine, weaker members may be left behind and risk damaging themselves from poor technique.
FINALLY, A VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE!!!
There is no shame in waiting. A dancer who starts pointe work a year later than her classmates will catch up! In fact she might be better equipped than her peers having had the extra year to work on her technique.
Countless little girls have been put off and given up ballet by the addition of pointe shoes to their weekly ballet classes (my mother included). Either because they have gone up too soon, because they had bad teaching or maybe they just weren't made for pointe work.
No one should be forced to endure the pain of balancing on the ends of their toes if it means they no longer enjoy dancing because of it.
So dancers, please, keep dancing. Maybe one day you'll be ready to try again.
I was 10 years old when I started pointe work (lovely picture included) and I had a private lesson with my ballet teacher for 15 minutes at the end of each class. Slowly this increased to 30 minutes and then hour long classes with solos etc. My advice is be patient. Nothing good happens overnight! - these things will take time but they will be worth it I promise!