Pointe work…it can be beautiful, graceful, and elegant…or it can be difficult and dangerous. How do you make it a positive experience for you or your child? There is no magic age, no perfect number of years of training, it is a combination of physical strength, control and technique. Two students of the same age may take the exact same classes each year, yet one may be ready to progress en pointe before the other. This may be due to a variety of factors. For instance, if a child’s foot has not slowed or stopped growing, there is significant risk of injury. Body weight times momentum creates a great deal of force. Also, if a student does not possess the physical strength to manipulate the pointe shoe or have strong and consistent technique, she will find pointe work to be very discouraging.
One of the most challenging jobs as a dance educator is to tell a young, eager student she is not ready for pointe. But there are times when that is the only responsible decision to make. We carefully evaluate students, after they have trained twice a week for a full season, to assess their readiness for pointe work. If a student shows they are ready to begin pointe work, they are then required to take classes three times a week. Many parents wonder why this is necessary. Let me explain. A ballet student’s progress in soft shoe should not end when they begin pointe work. We continue to build their technique, knowledge and experience during their weekly Ballet and Ballet Enrichment classes. Pointe work should begin as a slow, supervised process. No student should just jump into a 90 minute ballet class in pointe shoes. Students instead join a Friday technique class and gradually introduce their bodies to pointe. After all, they are learning how to manipulate new shoes to support their entire body weight on a very small area. Additionally, a student will not have the necessary strength if they are only training once-a-week. You wouldn’t expect a basketball player to excel if they only picked up their basketball one day a week, ballet is no different.
Students must first learn the proper way to prepare their shoes, sew their elastics and ribbons, tie their ribbons, etc. The holiday season always makes me cringe a little bit when I think of this part of the process. I love how many dance themed gifts are now available, but when I see a music box with a dancer en pointe that is parallel, or a poster of a ballerina whose ribbons are tied on their Achilles tendon or in bows, it does make me bristle. Worse yet are social media photos of children that clearly do not have the technique to know how to dance en pointe, cannot get over their box, or have on ill-fitting shoes. Online options to order pointe shoes are great for properly trained students, but are a nightmare for teachers when other students buy them without knowing how to use them.
Laura Rodriguez, manager of Standing Ovation Performance Apparel shares, “Pointe shoe fit is very personalized. The fit depends on the proportions of the foot, how much the foot compresses when en pointe, the relative strength of the dancer’s feet and legs, weight, and more. This is why it is so important to have them professionally fit. The dancer’s teacher can be a vital tool in this process, as they are often the best judge of the dancer’s strengths, weaknesses, and technique. The bones of the foot are not fully developed, strengthened, or hardened until sometime in the teenage years. The growth rate of girls from ages 11-14 vary widely. If a young dancer attempts pointe work without proper strength and technique, there is a chance she will permanently damage those not fully developed bones.”
So what is a parent to do? First off, make sure your child is training with a certified, experienced teacher. Then trust them. We only have your child’s best interest in mind. We want to help them attain their goals in a safe and positive way. Below are a few key points and photos to help you understand things to look for and to help your child through this aspect of their dance journey. Above all, if you ever have any questions about your child’s progress ask their teacher. We see them every week and know their strengths and weaknesses. Let us help you navigate the world of ballet.
- Students should not begin pointe work until their feet are no longer rapidly growing.
- A pointe program should require a student to train multiple times a week to gain proper strength and technique.
- A student’s foot must be able to sustain a position that will allow them to stay “over the box” of a pointe shoe.
There is a correct way to attach and tie pointe shoe ribbons. Ribbons should never be tied on the Achilles tendon or in a bow.