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Careers-in-Art

How to dance en pointe

How Old is too Old to Start Pointe Work?

The “How Old Is Too Old To Start Pointe Work?” question comes up often in forums and discussion groups centered around pointe training, and it is an issue that not many teachers/therapists/authors address. Technically, there is less risk to adult feet when beginning en pointe as their growth plates are fully fused. However, very few adults who have not danced for several years in their youth will possess a foot of suitable shape or strength for dancing en pointe. “The Perfect Pointe Book”, a downloadable e-book designed to help girls get strong enough for pointe work, has details on exactly how to measure the range of motion in various parts of the foot and ankle required for pointe training.

T he issue of flexibility is the main area that will hinder most mature students from achieving a fully pointed position of the ankle, as this often requires some gentle stretching of the ligaments that is much easier when we are young. The range possible at the ankle also depends significantly on the natural mobility of the ligaments in general. Therefore, in a ‘hypermobile’ individual (general laxity in all ligaments of the body), this will be easier to achieve. However, if there is a real desire to put the work in to improve this, I have seen some drastic improvements in foot and ankle range in the adult clients.

The strength requirements for an older ballet student to progress onto pointe actually exceed the requirements for a young dancer. This is due to the fact that most adult dancers are significantly heavier than the average 12-year-old! The dancer must be able to control the feet well for all of the tests, especially when en fondu, and during petit allegro, as the increase in body weight will create much stronger forces through the joints in the foot while jumping. Lack of control of the arch when en fondu, especially on the slightly rounded sole of a pointe shoe, will put the knees under great strain when dancing. Turnout strength, range, and control are also very important areas to assess.

How to dance en pointe

If an adult has been taking ballet classes for some time and working their feet well in class, the required strength in the forefoot will not take long to develop. However, for the complete newcomer to ballet, learning how to isolate certain muscles in the feet may take some time. Our bodies develop ‘motor patterns’ of movements that we do regularly, and it is important for this isolated foot control to become second nature to the dancer before commencing pointe work. There are so many other things to think about while en pointe, that the dancer must be able to easily control the position of the toes in the shoe to have optimum control and therefore safety en pointe.

The coordination required to control the feet en pointe is something that is developed over years of dancing, and, as for any student, I would expect an adult to be dancing at least 3 classes a week for a year, and ideally regular classes for several years before considering pointe work.

All the points discussed in “The Perfect Pointe Book” should be addressed for anyone of any age (men included!) before progressing onto pointe. It gives guidelines and tests for range and strength that are so important to prevent injury. It is not impossible for an adult ballet dancer to progress onto pointe, but it will usually require a lot of work and dedication to achieve this safely.

If you are looking to delve deeper into this topic, check out the following programs:

  • The Perfect Pointe Book: This course was originally designed to help students and dance teachers safely prepare for pointe work. The four stages of tests and exercises within the book are ideal for pre-pointe preparation classes, students close to achieving pointe shoes and students already en pointe looking for extra strength and technique training.
  • Pointe Range: This online program comprises of 41 clear and concise videos, totalling just under 2 hours play time, this course begins with a series of assessments to establish exactly what structures are restricting your pointe range. It then explores a diverse array of massage techniques, joint mobility exercises and fascial mobilisers to safely improve your pointe range. This is followed by an in depth look at retraining all of the muscles that stabilise the foot and ankle to allow you to actually use your new found pointe range in class.
  • Pointe Intensive: This online virtual workshop is designed for both Dance Teachers & Health Professionals working with dancers. This three day Intensive will give you the most up-to-date advice in the industry to help you understand your students’ needs, analyze their differences, and them you the tools to help your students become the best dancer they can be.

4. What can happen if my students are put en pointe too early?

There are many photos online of older dancers with bunions, deformed toes and blisters from starting pointe either too early, or without the strength to maintain good foot control en pointe. Correct preparation and constant revision of basic technique en pointe can help avoid most, if not all of these issues.

Common injuries that can occur from not articulating and strengthening the feel correctly can include:

  • Bunions
  • Achilles Tendinopathy
  • FHL Tendinopathy
  • Ankle Sprains
  • Pain Across the Front of the Foot
  • Posterior Impingement
  • Stress Fractures

Injuries from weaknesses or imbalances around the hips and back include:

  • Lumbar Stress Fractures
  • Tight Hip Flexors
  • Anterior Hip Impingement
  • Snapping Hip Syndrome
  • Groin Strains

All of the dance conditioning programs that we have developed have been created due to the injuries that we see in our clinic, and are based upon correcting the issues and weaknesses that lead to these injuries, before they develop!

5. Is there any other advice you would offer to teachers preparing their students for pointe?

Don’t rush it. Making sure that every student has all of the strength and mobility requirements (especially pointe range) to start en pointe does make it a lot easier to work with them en pointe. I also run all students through some preparatory exercises in their new shoes (on flat) before they even start rising (as shown in the My Beginner Pointe Program). This really helps them develop the proprioception and control needed to master control of their pointe shoes.Regular reviews of the “Pre-pointe Assessment” are also helpful to maintain a strong focus on their alignment and control. Please do not be scared to pull a child back off pointe if they have lost strength due to time off or an injury, as this will help them get back to full strength faster. It is a great motivator for other students to keep up with their exercises!

I am also very strict with the rule of spending at least 3 months at the barre when first en pointe, and believe that a student should have her pointe shoes for at least a year before attempting any solos en pointe. Far too often I hear stories of students getting their shoes so that they can dance en pointe in their end of year concert. This is NOT a good idea and not only makes the child’s performance suffer, but can encourage incorrect motor patterning to be developed that can be very hard to break.

If you would like more information regarding how to best prepare yourself or your students for pointe click on ‘The Perfect Pointe Book’ banner below. Purchasing the online edition will give you access to the online videos and Ebook. If you would like to purchase the hardcopy edition, please do this through our Amazon store. If you are a dance teacher or health professional who would like to master the art of a pre-pointe assessment, learn how to prevent injuries on pointe and more, take a look at our Pointe Intensive Workshop!