Guidelines for Starting a Student on Pointe

 

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Pointe work carries some risk of injury. Far too many students suffer injury in their first few years en pointe, sometimes because we, their teachers, expect too much too soon. Slow, gradual buildup of strength is the best way to ensure your students will be able to continue dancing en pointe for many years to come. Below are some guidelines that can help the ballet teacher who is working with students who are just starting pointe work.

Please note: Teachers must use their own judgment in applying these guidelines. When in doubt, or if problems occur, seek medical advice. Even the best rules have exceptions.

Planning

  1. The minimum age recommended by most authorities for starting pointe work is 12, with 13 strongly recommended and 16 listed as not too late to begin pointe, even for a professional career. Student should have had three to four years of weekly or bi-weekly ballet classes since the age of eight.
  1. Student must be able to maintain strong and equal turnout during all barre exercises and have the strength to land correctly from jumps with thighs well turned out and feet in perfect alignment with knees.
  1. Strength, coordination, and muscle tone must be good, and technical progress should be at about a Ballet Grade 3 or 4 (RAD, Cecchetti, or ISTD grades).
  1. Student must take at least two classes per week. Pointe will be included in the second weekly class only if the first weekly class was attended. No home practice for the first year. Shoes are worn only with teacher supervision.
  1. The teacher needs to keep a detailed record of each student’s attendance so the rule of not wearing pointe shoes when the first weekly ballet class was missed can be enforced.

Fitting the Pointe Shoes

Each student must get the style, shape, and brand of pointe shoe that is best for their foot structure. Find the one that is best. Help your students (and their parents) understand that no one shoe will work well for everyone.

The teacher should supervise the fitting. If desired, the very first pair can be fitted one to two widths wider and a half size longer* than for an advanced dancer. This allows the muscles, bones, and ligaments involved in pointe work to make the necessary increases in strength and size during the first three months.

The second pair is fit to the student’s comfort and ability to dance in them both flat and en pointe. The student decides (with the teacher’s approval) which size and style helps them stand correctly and dance comfortably. Pointe work that is comfortable will be more artistic and more correct.

Do the Shoes Fit?

  1. Toes must be able to lay perfectly flat in the pointe shoe when the student stands flat.
  1. The student must be able to stand on demi pointe (or nearly so) in the pointe shoes.
  1. There should be no “pressure points” of pain caused by the shoes when standing en pointe or flat, other than what is felt on the very ends of the toes. The pointe shoe should feel somewhat like a hand is holding the foot in place when it is en pointe.
  1. The student must be able to place their weight correctly onto the ends of the pads of the toes when en pointe, not on the nails. The toes must “feel the floor” through the shoes. At first there will be a feeling of “pins and needles” on the ends of the toes. This will go away in a few weeks when the nerves on the ends of the toes get used to being stood upon.

Using Pointe Shoes with the Teacher’s Supervision

  1. The phalanges (toe bones) need to be as perpendicular to the floor as possible when the student is en pointe:
This illustration shows correct bone placement en pointe.

This illustration shows correct bone placement en pointe.

This drawing is intended to show how the phalanges can be perpendicular to the floor when en pointe, regardless of the shape of the foot above them.

High arches will need to make a slight dorsiflexion (backward bend) at the metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint (note the arrow) in order to get the weight exactly on the ends of toes, and not over onto the nails, while stretching the ankle and arch of the foot. This will take more strengthening and conditioning time at the barre. (See “Weight Placement en Pointe” and “Conditioning Principles to Improve Pointe Work”)

  1. When en pointe, the ankles and arches must be fully stretched. The weight is placed on the ends of the toes, and never on the toenails or knuckles, and is never supported entirely by the shoes.
  1. Students must learn to roll up and down through the demi pointe position in first and second position. All rises go through the demi pointe and do not displace. The relevés to first and second go quickly through demi pointe and do not displace.
  1. It is quite all right to put considerable pressure straight down on the barre until the toes become used to being stood upon and the student gets used to the more careful posture control needed en pointe.
  1. For the first twelve weeks (see “The Twelve Week Rule”), the students leave their pointe shoes in a securely locked cupboard at the ballet studio, or with the teacher. Then they are not tempted to wear them at home!
  1. If the regular ballet class is missed, they do not wear pointe shoes in the next pointe class.  If several classes in a row are missed, they must take that many classes without pointe before wearing them again.
  1. A student showing unnecessary strain in the shoulders, neck, face; appearing to be in pain; or showing wobbly ankles or unsteadiness en pointe should remove their pointe shoes for the rest of that class.
  1. If the feet are uncomfortable, the shoes should be removed, and the student can finish the class on demi pointe. Shoes that are too small should not be worn, as damage to feet can occur.
  1. Pointe shoes should not be worn if the feet are injured or blistered, or if there is any slight injury to ankles or knees. Toenails need to be kept trimmed slightly shorter than the toes, and should be well groomed at all times. Students with ingrown toenails may need some medical advice on how to care for them.
  1. There is no need to deliberately create callouses on the toes. Gradual, correct training en pointe should gradually toughen the structures of the feet that need it.
  1. There should never be any need for a student to use “pain-deadening” medications on the toes. If this is needed, then the student needs to stay off pointe until whatever is wrong is fixed or healed.
  1. If correct weight placement is learned and the rules above are followed, students should not have difficulty or extreme discomfort with their pointe work. If they do, there is a problem that needs to be found and fixed.

The first twelve weeks are very important. This is when the initial buildup of strength and endurance at the cellular level in bones, ligaments, and muscles should take place. The skeletal structures involved must not be overstressed before the strength is there if the best results are to happen.

*Early teens will need the half-size growing room because the first pair will probably last six months to one year. If this extra room is not provided, the toes will begin to buckle and curl under as the feet grow. Students whose feet are fully grown will not need the extra length. This method of fitting is appropriate for the method of teaching beginning pointe outlined in the “Pointe 1: An Introduction to Pointe Work” curriculum book, but may not be appropriate for other methods. If you fit the shoes this way, you may want to stick to this teaching program as well.

Related Articles:

*Work cited: “Pointe 1: An Introduction to Pointe Work” by Ruth H. Brinkherhoff, © The Ballet Source, 2016.

Pointe 1 Curriculum

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Guidelines for Starting a Student on Pointe

2 Responses

  1. Interesting. What are your views on Demi pointe shoes? I make my students wear them for a minimum of 12 months before starting gentle pointe work.

    Rjsballet July 19, 2015 at 5:02 AM #
    • Rjsballet,
      I would definitely recommend it. It gives the teacher a good idea of what the student is capable of doing. If you predict your student will be starting their pointe work next year, give them something to look forward doing by inviting them to a pre-pointe class in which they work on pointe exercises in their demi pointe shoes. I’ve learned a great deal about my students with this approach. It helps me to see what they still need to work on before getting their pointe shoes. Perhaps have them try it for the whole year, if not, at least 6 months. Good luck!

      Kim Hungerford July 30, 2015 at 10:01 PM #

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