When Am I Ready For Pointe?

I cannot tell you how often I get this question.

I get it from all kinds of students, all parents, even people who don't dance wondering if they "have what it takes."




First of all let's set a few things straight.

1. Pointe is not for everyone. There, I said it. Sorry (not sorry). Not every student should go en pointe. There are some girls whose bodies would be so badly aligned once up there that it would be a miracle if they didn't get injured up there.

This is a structural thing... feet so flat they literally don't point, toes that lay on top of each other, scoliosis bad enough to keep them from standing straight, one leg significantly longer than the other, etc. You as the teacher need to have good discretion and decide if it's going to be a problem.

2. Pointe is not for young children. Nobody under the age of 11 should be in pointe shoes. Bones grow in response to pressure, and their bones will become miss-shaped if they are put under too much pressure during the prime growing age.

I like to wait until at least 11 or 12, but I prefer to stick with 12-year-olds, or girls who have been menstruating for at least 6 months (this tells me their feet and growth plates are basically set).

Now granted some girls don't get their period for a very long time (I was almost 15!) and in that situation, you check and make sure your student meets my 3 requirements below (we'll get there in a minute).

3. Waiting a little bit isn't going to put them behind. At all. Even Balanchine said there's really no point in training a child until they're about 10 or 11, and they shouldn't start pointe until a year or two after that. And I can testify to that! (I won't bore you with all the stories.)

If you take a student who got en pointe at age 9 and trained for 3 years in pointe shoes training for 30 minutes a week and compare them to a student who got en pointe at age 12 and trained for 6 months for 30 minutes twice a week, they're basically going to be at the same skill and strength level. So why did you start them at 9 and risk their bones?

OK so now we have that out of the way.

Here are my 3 requirements for pointe-readiness.

Requirement #1 - You are strong. This concept is simple... if the muscles are not strong enough to support the bones, they bones will take all the pressure, and begin to grow in response to that pressure. Think about a callous... when you abuse your toe or your finger, your body builds up tough skin in that spot to protect it. Bones do that too! But that can be dangerous and painful.

Check out the following combinations:

Combination 1in parallel first  position: 8 eleves, 8 releves
turn out to in first position: 8 eleves, 8 releves
tendu to small second position: 8 eleves, 8 releves
(short break, maybe about 8 counts)
on one foot in coups de pied: 4 eleves, and switch feet. repeat the one-foot eleves twice. 

Combination 2: Laying on the back, arms straight out to the side and pressing against the floor, back flat against the ground, legs straight up in 90 degrees, flexed feet turned out in 1st position.
Demi plie, press to straight. articulate to pointed toes with straight knees and good rotation, and pull the toes back to flex.
Student must do this 4 times in a row without putting the legs down.


I use these combination as a "tell." Can they lengthen the legs with significant power? Can they articulate their feet without the floor? Can they turn out without the floor helping them? Are they pronating (rolling forward) in their first position? Do they have the stamina to actually train in pointe shoes safely?

All of these things are important, and will become very clear when you stack that many releves on top of each other, or make them do plies without the floor to help hold their rotation.

The floor exercise will also show if the student has control over their abdominal muscles, can maintain an arm position, and can lengthen their spine.

Requirement #2 - Your good technique is muscle memory.

Muscle memory is crucial to dance. Good technique shouldn't be thought about, it should be habitual... so you can focus on artistry! That's the point of ballet, right? Not only that, good muscle memory prevents injury. More on that later another day.

Requirement #3 - You can apply a correction very quickly - and keep it corrected. 

If I give you a correction in pointe shoes, like "your right ankle is sickled," you need to fix that immediately and not do it again. What happens when you're en pointe and the right ankle is sickled? You're going to fall off the shoe, supinate your foot, and break something. I don't want my dancers in the hospital, thanks.

Other factors

There could be other factors you apply to your students: do they train 2 or 3 times a week? Do they only do ballet, or are they heavy into tap and jazz as well? are they on time, dressed out, and responsible?

That's all important. But you know all that, and that's why I'm not writing about it.

Please see this point clearly: 
This whole article is about injury prevention. 

We want our dancers to be strong, healthy, and happy. We do not want them with twisted feet, sore knees, and stress fractures. We want them to enjoy dance. We want them on fire for it... not having to take the summer off to have foot surgery. I always make this point clear to the parents and students I talk to. I make sure they understand the risks of point before they go for it. It is a huge responsibility.

And so far, I've never had any of my kids with a pointe-related injury other than a few blisters (and if you want pointe shoe injury prevention techniques, check this article right here).

Questions? Comment away! And feel free to shoot me an email! I love getting photos and videos and helping dancers/teachers out!

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