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Parents & Teachers > Ask A Dance Teacher > Kathryn Sullivan's Response


Q: I am 12 years old and I just finished my 9th year of dancing. I took ballet from 3-9 years of age and stopped until I took it up again when I was 11. I would really like to go en pointe before I graduate high school. Do you have any ideas of when it would be suitable for me to go en pointe or any tips how I could become more capable of handling en pointe? Thanks!

Dear Dancer, 

Sincerely, your ballet teacher is the best person to evaluate your situation. Everyone is different in regards to being ready for pointe. It depends on your placement (support in your torso), an adequate arch in your foot, and enough understanding of your ballet technique.  

To be best prepared for pointe work, always work your feet and turn-out very strongly in your regular ballet class. This will make the transition from demi toe to pointe much easier. And strengthening the lower abdominal area is extremely important in supporting your weight off your feet.  Age -wise your bones should be solid enough for pointe, but your teacher could best tell you if your technique is sufficient.
Good luck to you!   
Kathy Sullivan

Q: My daughter is taking lessons with a russian ballet teacher, and has been for the last year. Before she has been with teachers doing the R.A.D. system. The teaching methods seem to be very different; is the Russian system considered  to be on par with the R.A.D.? Would my daughter find it difficult to go back to being taught the R.A.D. system if we could not find a russian teacher when we move from Oman?
Thank you for your help.

Dear Parent of a Dancer,

I do not think it will be difficult for her to change systems, especially since she is already familiar with the R.A.D. from her previous teachers. Actually it will be to her advantage long range to be exposed to different training methods, teachers, and styles of choreography. It will make her a more versatile dancer and performer.

However, there may be an awkward transitional period where she may feel that her Russian teacher was "wrong" because some terminology or approaches may differ or seem contradictory. But please encourage her to have an open mind. Any system, if taught well, will be reinforcing the same basic principles of ballet technique.and will have good results.   

Best to you and your daughter.   
Kathy Sullivan

Q: Hi. I'm 11 years old. I've taken dance two times a week since I was nine, I have a good ear for music (since I also sing and play the piano), and my teachers tell me I'm naturally graceful, even though I'm clumsy outside of dance class. I usually have some of the best jumps in class, but they've been getting smaller lately. Is there any way for me to get my jumps up to par again?

Dear Dancer,

My guess is that you are probably going through a growth spurt, which will affect your strength and timing.   At your age, your body and proportions may change while you are growing. Getting "longer" means that the muscle reponses and connections will be slower. Be patient. During these times, make sure that you eat healthy foods to keep your strength up.  At the barre, make sure that you really work those exercises that affect your jumping action such as dégagé, frappés, and beats. This will increase your quickness and give you a stronger push off for jumps.  Soon you'll be jumping up a storm again! 

Best to you, 
Kathy Sullivan

Q: I am 18 years old and have been dancing for about eight years. Only a year and a half ago did a dance camp teacher tell me that I was doing extensions wrong. I have been using my quads instead of my inner thighs. Since then I have been trying to improve but I don’t know how. In order to get past ninety degrees I need to use my inner thighs. What are some good exercises to build those muscles?

Dear Student,

Good extensions come from a combination of flexibility and strength. You must have both. Design yourself a daily stretching regime and stick to it in order to increase your flexibility. Particularly target those hamstrings and hips.  Learning to use the inner thighs, instead of grabbing quads takes time. An exercise I give in class involves going from passé (retiré) position to attitude repeatedly before going into the extension, in order to feel how to lift with the inner thighs. Remember to relax your hip flexors as you do this. Also important is to use your psoas (lower abdominal) muscles to lift, hold. and to lower an extension so the leg does not do all the work. A way to discover those inner thighs is to lay on your back and to do leg crosses. Cross/cross and open.  

In order to break the habit of using the quads for extensions, I suggest limiting the height your extensions when you feel the quads want to take over. Extensions do involve some use of the quads, but not exclusively. Continue to increase the height when you feel that you are lifting with the inner thighs, quads, and psoas.  And have patience! It takes more time to break a habit than to form one.

Best to you,
Kathy Sullivan

Q: The studio that my girls attend put girls on pointe as early as 8 years of age. The instructor has been teaching ballet for 42 years. Is this the norm?  Does her lengthy teaching record make her more qualified to make this decision?  Should my 11 year old who has been on pointe since 9 continue?

Usually the bones in the feet are not hard enough to support pointe work until the girls are 10-11 years old. Permanent deformity to the bones may occur if pointe work is introduced too soon, despite the technical level of the dancer. Having taught for 42 years may be a disadvantage in this case, as our medical and kinesthetic awareness in ballet training has come a long way in the last 20 years. If your daughter is 11 now, the issue is whether damage has been done. Alot depends on the frequency and intensity of the pointe work. 

Hopefully, no harm has been done, but if you want to be sure, have an x-ray done of her feet, if you intend to have her continue pointe.

Kathy Sullivan