Getting the first pair of pointe shoes for any dancer is a wonderful rite of passage. However, there are many factors that a student must consider when preparing for pointe work. Some of these factors are more technical such as strength, flexibility of feet and ankles, center of balance, posture, and alignment. Other factors include age, attitude, training, physique and proper pointe shoe fitting.
It is important to understand that pointe technique is the balance between the technical and artistic components of classical ballet. It involves body alignment, feet placement, weight distribution, and the transitions from demi-pointe to full pointe. Proper technique includes consistent application, mastery of leg rotation, alignment, aplomb (posture), placement, and épaulement (head and shoulders).
It is important for dancers to have the strength needed to be able to support themselves while en pointe. The muscles that need to be strong including the core muscle groups, back, rotators, quads, hamstrings, calves, ankles, feet, arches and insteps. All of these muscles need to work together when en pointe to ensure that the dancer does not injure themselves.
Center of Balance
Centre of balance is extremely important for pointe preparation. A student must have the ability to find their center of balance while maintaining proper technique both by the barre and during center combinations. The student should also have an ability to balance on demi-pointe in various ballet positions such as relevé in first position, and passé in fifth position.
Posture and Alignment
Posture and alignment are when the body is held properly while maintaining correct placement both while standing as well as moving. What does this look like? Well, the student should be in a proper stance with core muscles held, shoulders down, chest lifted, rib cage closed, and a straight pelvis.
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The flexibility of feet and ankles are an important factor when en pointe. Sickled or pronation and winged or supination feet are indications that a student requires more strengthening and/or flexibility of the muscles in the feet. A Theraband may be used to strengthen and stretch muscles and ligaments. Ankles should be flexible enough so that when the foot is pointed, the toe, instep, and knee are all in alignment.
A good exercise to stretch the ankles is to sit on the floor with feet and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Have a teacher or parent hold your ankles down in a parallel position while you attempt to gently straighten your legs while moving the buttocks and shifting the body back a little at a time. Overstretched ankles and high insteps require special attention to build foot strength. A Theraband will aid students to build this strength by flexing and pointing the foot with the elasticized band.
“There is no reason to get a young dancer up on full pointe, if she cannot do anything when she gets up there.”- George Balanchine
When to Start Pointe
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It is very important that a young dancer not begin pointe work too soon. Pointe work usually begins when the student is 10 to 12 years old. The only exception may be if a dance teacher or a physician has determined that the bones in the feet have sufficiently developed. The student should have an ability to receive and apply corrections and work diligently to master proper technique. Furthermore, two to three years of serious ballet training is essential. This is the minimum time and preparation needed to develop sufficient technique and strength to prepare for pointe work.
The student’s individual physique must be carefully evaluated. She should have strong abdominal, pelvic, buttock, and back muscles which hold the torso in proper alignment.
Proper Pointe Shoe Fitting
Pointe shoe fittings are an absolute necessity to ensure the dancer receives a proper fit. When considering a pointe shoe fitting, always remember shape, support, style, and shank. The shape of a shoe must match the shape of the foot being fit just like the style of the shoe should complement the aesthetics of the student’s line and the natural extension of her foot and leg. The shank should provide ample support to the instep and conform to the arch.
Demi-pointes are suggested for pointe work preparation. They help to strengthen feet, familiarize the student with proper shape and fit, and aid in the transition to traditional pointe shoes.
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The team at DanceWear Corner are all trained and experienced Pointe Shoe Fitters. With the huge range of pointe shoe brands and styles available at the Orlando Superstore, you will surely find the perfect pointe shoe for you or your dancer. Our Pointe Shoe fitters are dedicated to taking the time to ensure that you get the right shoe for your foot, but be prepared as first-time fittings can take time so it is recommended that you call ahead and make an appointment.
Criteria for Pointe Work
Here are some criteria for knowing if you are ready. If you are ready for pointe you should:
- Be able to correctly hold turnout while dancing.
- Have a straight, pulled-up back while dancing, especially the lower back.
- Maintain correct placement (alignment) and stability (aplomb) on flat and in demi-pointe.
- Keep the heels forward toward big toe (no sickling) while on demi-pointe.
- Keep the weight evenly distributed over the balls of the feet.
- Be able to do continuous relevés in center-work without losing one’s balance.
- Be able to hold a passé balance on demi- pointe.
- Execute piqué passé with a straight leg.
- Possess flexible ankles so that the knee, instep, and toe are aligned when the foot is pointed.
- Relevé on one leg while maintaining balance and pulling up in the legs.
- Maintain proper technique while performing center combinations.
- A firm understanding of intermediate ballet.
Now that was a lot of information to take in. So here is a little checklist to make it a little easier.
- The student should be at least age 10-12 to begin pointe work.
- It is recommended that the student have at least two years of classical ballet training.
- It is recommended that the student is taking a minimum of three classes a week consistently.
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Moving to pointe is a huge step in any dancer’s career. The beauty and grace of a dancing en pointe is unsurpassed. You have to be ready though as it also places enormous strain on the feet and your body.
Because of this, we can’t stress enough how important it is for you to get the right shoe for you or your dancers’ feet.
Seek the expert help at DanceWear Corner and contact us today for assistance or to schedule your shoe fitting today.
*Information was provided by Capezio.