By Isabelle D'Hoine
By writing this article, I hope to inform other teachers of the different aspects associated with pointework, inspiring them to create their own evaluation method before allowing students to commence pointework, as well as sharing their experiences with others.
Pre-Pointe lesson as an evaluation
In my previous article, I had already touched upon the issues I found important before commencing pointework.
I have heard of schools offering a pre-pointe class as part of their curriculum, in which dancers can prepare themselves for pointework. Although I like the idea of extra training, our pre-pointe lesson is completely different.
The term ‘Pre-pointe Lesson’ was chosen, because ‘Testing’ tends to have a negative connotation. This separate class is focussed solely on evaluating the dancer. It is a single two or three hour lesson. There are several exercises that allow for a good evaluation of the dancer. These are not set in stone and are constantly evolving. Groups tend to be no more than 15 dancers and depending on size, extra teachers need to assist in the evaluation. It is important to repeat them multiple times. The dancers work on demi-pointe shoes or bare feet during this class.
Why is it important to evaluate the dancers?
Pointework with improper preparation or guidance entails several physical risks:
- Overstrain of the feet’s muscles
- Tearing of the Achillles tendon
- Stress on the knees
- Ligament injuries
- Hip issues
- Ankle injuries (sprains or even fractures, especially when the feet roll in or out)
- Misshapen feet, due to improper exercises performed by children whose feet are still developing and who are not ready for pointework.
Feedback is the most important aspect
Even students that know they are not ready for pointework yet, can attend the pre-pointe lesson, in order to receive advice so that they can be better prepared for pointework. But even those that are capable of doing pointework, they can still get some tips and extra exercises. Those may include:
- Resistance band trainings
- Using soft blocks during normal ballet lessons to make the feet work harder.
Constant supervision is of great importance.
Since dancers will have to get pointe shoes, an explanation concerning these is required:
- The names of the different parts of pointes
- Important issues for different foottypes, where to buy, etc.
- Foot care (to avoid things such as ingrown toenails) and pointe shoe accessories.
Pointe lessons should gradually build up in intensity and duration. Because of this our pointe lessons are separated from the standard ballet class.
Don’t lose sight of your students working points and keep giving them corrections.
Patience and hard work often pay off
Each year some dancers fail to achieve the Pre-pointe evaluation. If they have a minor working point, I usually let them start if they work hard to improve it. But if there are too many problems, they will have to wait at least one year to be evaluated again.
Although it would be very pleasant if all students could pass the evaluation, it makes me feel better knowing that I am doing the right thing by giving my students the best opportunities and trying to minimize the chances of injury.
Knowing what they need in order to improve and be able to get on pointe shoes one day, boost people to work for it.
About 4 years ago, one of my students had quite a lot shortcomings and I was doubting whether or not she could start pointework, while working on them. In the end, I decided that it would be better to fix some of those issues before starting pointework. The young woman took my advice and worked really hard in her standard ballet lesson. She also chose to wear soft blocks (demi-pointe shoes), while she exercised a lot at home. After one year she had a significant improvement. She keeps training by attending her third year of pointe lessons and I can honestly say that she has evolved to be one of the best pointe students of this class.
Unfortunately not all students agree with the evaluation. They quit it or go to a different dance studio where they can start pointework regardless of their capabilities. Although this is regrettable, I will continue to do the best for my dancers!!
Isabelle d'Hoine, Dansschool Favole , Gent, Belgium
Photos by: Mae Dance Art