One of the hardest things a pointe teacher faces is the fear that their students may injure themselves. This, of course, is that last thing we want for our students. Too often the students are pushed too hard too soon, and they face irreversible damage to their joints or ligaments. How can we be sure that we are introducing pointe to our students at a good rate that will help them improve strength but also protect them from injury?
Ruth Brinkerhoff wrote two curriculum books surrounding pointe: “Pointe 1: An Introduction to Pointe Work” and “Pointe 2: More About Pointe in the Second or Third Year“. In her second edition, she writes about a concept that helped her ease her students into pointe work at safe and efficient pace while protecting them from injury. This principle is called “The Twelve Week Rule”
It takes the body just about 12 weeks:
. . . to complete any major repairs or major changes in structure, (such as broken bones or surgery).
. . . to break a bad habit.
. . . to create a good habit.
. . . to learn a new physical skill.
. . . to noticeably strengthen a muscle group.
. . . to put new academic information into long term memory, etc.
When To Apply The Twelve Week Rule
It works for ballet in learning new skills. When a new type of requirement is put upon the body, especially one that is not the usual, like pointe work, this requires some major reinforcing of the cells in the bones, ligaments, and muscles, especially of the feet and ankles. This is why it is so very important to go slow, and to not cause pain or discomfort during the first twelve weeks.
Home practice should not be done. It is even advisable to require that your beginning pointe students keep their pointe shoes at the school either in their lockers or cubbies or safely put away in the teacher’s office. At the beginning, only one class per week should contain the pointe work regardless of how many classes the student is taking, or how strong they are in their non-pointe ballet skills.
We Experience Twelve Week Plateaus for Strength and Learning
Weight trainers know that strength will show significant increase about every twelve weeks, but not much in shorter time periods. (See “Conditioning Principles to Improve Pointe Work”)
When I first tried using the Twelve Week Rule with a beginning pointe class, I could not believe how much easier the students found the pointe work, and how much more they could do once that initial strengthening period was over. It may seem too slow and it may feel boring to you, but be patient and know that this gradual build up will result in stronger more capable ballerinas.
The Twelve Week Rule works both ways: it takes twelve weeks to break a bad habit, but it also takes twelve weeks to permanently create one.
Therefore, we need not panic at every little mistake students make. Ask them to improve one thing at a time. Give them time to fix that, then improve the next item.
It Really Does Work!
- Insist on correct weight placement en pointe in parallel position the first week or two. Other positions are an extension of the principle.
- Use this rule with any dance skill. Present the new skill and the principles involved, then extend it an apply it for about twelve weeks. You will find that it becomes a more permanent learning.
- All of the pointe steps must first be learned on demi pointe. (See “Is My Student Ready for Pointe?“) Go slower if students seem to need it, but don’t skip anything.
Excellent advice from an excellent teacher! For more information about introducing pointe to your students, see the following articles:
- Is My Student Ready for Pointe?
- Conditioning Principles to Improve Pointe Work
- Weight Placement en Pointe
- Recognizing the Student NOT Ready for Pointe