Parents & Teachers > Parent FAQ > When to Start Pointework

 

 

It is so hard to tell an eager young dancer that she is not ready for pointework, but sometimes we must. Some teachers face tremendous pressure to put students en pointe very young. Parents demand it, or perhaps the other studio down the road allows pointework to begin early and the teacher fears that her student will defect.

What is the risk?
The bones of the foot are not fully-developed, strengthened and hardened until sometime in the teenage years. Naturally there is a great deal of individual variation. If a young dancer attempts pointework without proper strength and technique, there is a chance that she will permanently damage those not-fully developed bones. Body weight times momentum creates a great deal of force.

How to begin?
If she has strength and technique, and if the introduction to pointework is gradual and under total supervision, everything should be fine. For first year pointe students, careful teachers usually devote some time at the end of regular class to special exercises for the feet and toes; then the students put on their pointe shoes and perform a few very brief, and slow, exercises at the barre - and that's all. Often it is not until the second year of pointe training that dancers wear their pointe shoes for an entire class.

Exceptions?
Occasionally a supremely strong 8-year-old is ready for pointe, but this is very rare. Many adult beginners are not ready for pointe either, but there is much less risk in their using pointe shoes because their feet have fully grown. If parents have any concerns, they should consult a doctor who is knowledgeable about ballet.


A Teacher's Criteria for Starting Pointe

Based on criteria developed by Rima Cooke, Director, Pacific Ballet Academy, Mountain View, CA.

Students:

Should be 10 1/2 years or older.
Should have at least 2 years of training.
Should be taking at least 3 classes a week (4.5 hours minimum) and attends classes consistently.
Is responsible enough to bring all ballet equipment needed.
Is well-groomed, with hair out of the face and in a bun (no ponytails).
Is able to take the entire class.
Pays attention in class and works well.
Should be of normal weight.
Has enough of an arched instep to stand on pointe.
Has sufficient strength to do the following:
Holds turnout while dancing
Has a strong, straight back while dancing, especially the lower back
Keeps the heels forward towards the big toe (no sickling)
Uses plié while dancing
Points her feet while dancing
Piqué passé with straight leg
16 relevés in the center without stopping
Can hold a passé balance on half-pointe

Things to look for in class are:

Students should use (point) their feet while dancing because this uses the same muscles as pointe-work. These muscles need to be strong enough to support the student's body weight on the ends of her toes. If students are not in the habit of using these foot muscles, she will not be able to support herself en pointe and will probably knuckle over on her toes and increasing the chances of injury.

Students should have enough strength to push themselves on half-pointe. This step is harder to do en pointe and a bent leg is usually a sign of weakness or improper step preparation.

Student should be able to do 16 relevés in the center without stopping. Strength for pointe work is achieved by repetitive exercises. Relevés are excellent for building up calf muscle strength which is vital for pointe work. This exercise is more difficult to do en pointe because of the extra height, so strong relevés on half-pointe is a good sign of strength. The student should also go up as high on half-pointe as she can since pointe work demands this ability. A student who keeps her heels very low to the ground is not using and preparing her calf muscles and will not have the strength for pointe work.

Student should be able to hold a passé balance on half-pointe The student should be well-placed - hips square, straight back, legs turned-out and have the strength to balance on half-pointe. This pose is more difficult to correct en pointe as the balancing surface area is smaller and the strength requirements are greater.

DO NOT PRACTICE AT HOME! Pointework should be done in a space intended for dance and supervised by your teacher.

And when you are ready to go en pointe, congratulations! This is a special time for you! You have worked hard for this moment!