The transition to dancing on pointe is an important one for a ballet dancer, and one that requires preparation and involvement from teachers, students and parents. While some young dancers foresee their transition to pointe being an instant one, teachers know that it is important to take the time required to approach this milestone safely.
A dancer’s age, level of experience and frequency of training are important factors in determining when she is ready to start pointe work. It is generally recommended that a student not begin pointe work before age twelve. A student who attends ballet class only once per week is likely not ready to go on pointe; a minimum of two classes weekly is recommended in order to build an adequate technical base.
Once you’ve determined that your students are ready for pointe work, it will be helpful to discuss the process with them and provide some guidelines and a checklist, including preparatory exercises, what to expect at a shoe fitting, steps in shoe care and approaches to foot care.
To make a successful transition to pointe work a dancer must develop a strong back and abdomen to support her body weight in the correct manner. A dancer must also build the requisite strength and flexibility in her feet and ankles by diligently and consistently practicing a variety of specific exercises both in the studio and on her own time. Prior to commencing pointe work, a dancer should begin such exercises in soft shoes, as the same strengthening benefits result from working on demi-pointe.
Getting a proper pointe shoe fitting is vital for a ballet dancer. Unlike most other types of shoes, pointe shoes need to fit the foot snugly immediately upon purchase. Leaving room for growth or stretching can lead to injury and improper positioning. This is a key point to articulate to parents, who sometimes wish to buy pointe shoes that will “last the whole year” and thus aim for a size that is slightly too large. Children’s feet grow quickly and pointe shoes are expensive, but a proper fitting done with a fitting expert is essential and buying the appropriate size is equally important.
It is worth taking the time to demonstrate the work a dancer must do to individualize her shoes. Because some student dancers have only worn shoes with elastics, teaching the proper technique to align and secure ribbons is essential. Once a student owns pointe shoes, she should start to break them in – but slowly. Students and parents should exercise caution when pointe shoes are worn around the house: kitchen floors can be slippery and throw rugs can unexpectedly slide out from underfoot.
Student dancers are excited the first time they go on pointe, as this is a big transition in their dance training. Be sure to prepare them for the physical sensations they will experience. It’s important to explain that while initial discomfort is to be expected, ongoing intense pain must be addressed, as this may indicate ill-fitting shoes, an injury or a progression that is moving too quickly.
Above all, remember to be supportive and encouraging. A dancer’s first shoe fitting and class on pointe are milestones in her career. By taking the time to prepare her, you can ensure she has a positive experience.