Starting to dance on pointes should not be taken for granted. There are a lot of criteria that define a dancers capability to dance on pointes. Students, parents and teachers should always bear in mind the dangers of commencing pointework without being properly prepared.
Isabelle D’Hoine is a dance studio owner, choreographer and ballet teacher, Belgium, Gent. We have established a long-term co-operation with her school, providing our Virtual pointe shoe ftting service to each of Isabelle's students.
Each time I get a pointe-work question that needs an answer from an experienced teacher, i ask Isabelle. She is one of the most passionate, strict (yes!) and devoted teachers I know... I asked her to share her experience about evaluating dancers before commencing pointework.
By Isabelle D'Hoine
Resisting the temptation to start too soon
As a ballet teacher, I mainly focus on adult ballet and pointe lessons. The past 5 years over 70 students of mine took up dancing on pointe shoes, after a positive evaluation during a pre-pointe class.
Every year I get several e-mails from people that have never danced before in their lives or just started adult ballet classes in the same year and want to sign-up for pointework.
While I regularly have to be a “bogeyman” that turns down their dream at first, I always clarify why.
My own students know that I am very strict regarding beginning pointework, seeing it holds many dangers. I know that there are other dance studios where students are put on pointes in their first year of dance class. Although this attracts customers, the same dancers often end up in my dance studio after one or more years.
Most of the time they realise themselves that they started too early, don’t have a good foundation or didn’t spend enough time practising the techniques.
As dance teacher you carry part of the responsibility. Not all dancers are capable of judging if they are ready to start pointework. They don’t know all the important criteria, nor the possible dangers.
Parents and shops are also partially responsible, as non-specialised businesses sometimes sell pointe shoes for all ages as well.
Dance experience, although important, is a relative concept. There are always exceptions. Some dancers can be ready for pointework after only one year, others will never be capable of dancing on points in a safe manner.
Concerning children, we generally choose not to let them dance on pointes before the age of 12, and each ballet teaching method has its own list of criteria. When it comes to an adult ballet beginner, the rules have not been developped in detail, yet. Below, I would like to share the rules I have created for my students - all based on my teaching experience.
More than strong feet
It is definitely possible to start dancing on pointes as an adult, although it may not be professionally. Not just age, dance experience or strong feet make you ready for pointework. Proper technique, correct weight placement and use of turn-out are significant to have a good foundation for pointework. Because it is important not to have to think about those things anymore when you put the pointe shoes on for the first time. This way, you can focus completely on your pointework!
When pointing the feet it is essential to work through demipointe and really extend the feet instead of curling the toes. Alignment of legs and feet is partly a body screening to see if the dancer is physically capable of forming the right lines, and also if he or she uses those lines intrinsically.
Jumps reveal a lot regarding readiness for pointework, as it tests strength, stamina, the ability to land correctly, keeping correct posture and alignment.
When it comes to balancing your whole body on a small platform, having an outstanding stability is essential. During the pre-pointe lesson it is important to see if the body is somehow compensating when balancing on demi-pointe or even on one leg with a flat foot.
The bridge and arch (and it’s mobility) will definitely affect the pointework and your choice of pointe shoes.
You can have the perfect body for pointework, but having control over it is just as important. For example, a slow, controlled descent when coming out of a rise on one leg.
Good motor skills are necessary. The person must be capable of activating all muscles of the foot. One of the most important criteria for determining readiness for starting with pointework is rolling the feet in or out (known in ballet as ‘sickling’). Dancers who do this have a significantly increased chance of injuries.
Having a decent core stability is mandatory to be able to stand properly on pointes. Don’t focus solely on the feet, if the rest of the body slumps in any direction, it will be impossible to remain standing on pointes. Also avoid ‘pulling up on shoulders’.
Regarding the ankles we are looking for enough stability, but also flexibility. The Achilles tendon should be long enough, the calves muscular and the knees steady.
Relevé 5th and échappé relevé are excellent exercises to include in your test, because these exercises are part of the pointework foundation. This exercise also tests technique, turn-out, high relevé, strength of the ankles and more.
Don’t forget to keep note of any medical conditions or previous injuries.
And last but definitely not least: attitude and commitment of the student. Regular attendance, focus, patience and dedication.
Isabelle d'Hoine, Dansschool Favole , Gent, Belgium
Photo by: Mae Dance Art