For Dancers

Proper Pre-Pointe - What Works Best?

12:39 PM

Some studios and schools have whole classes dedicated to pre-pointe training, while others just utilize their regular class time. Some teachers put all students on at age 12, regardless of how long they've trained. And some insist on a year of wearing soft-blocks before getting their hard shoes.

How do you know what pre-pointe plan is right for you? Does it all matter? Which is best?

pointe, ballet, pre-pointe, prepointe, dance pointe shoes

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Before we begin, please know that I am not a medical professional, but I do have a lot of success in putting dancers en pointe. I hope you will take all these options and opinions and decide what works best for you or your student!

The pros and cons of pre-pointe classes

Both of the studios where I trained did not have pre-pointe classes. However, I try to teach pre-pointe either in the form of a class, or private lessons at each studio I have taught at.

At one studio, dancers went en pointe around the age of 11-14, and had to have taken pre-professional 1 and pre-professional 2. Intermediate dancers were the ones considered. Usually, all dancers of the right age went on, unless there was a very specific situation. They did not perform en pointe until they had completed at least 1 year of pointe.

At my other studio (which was a professional ballet-only studio) dancers went en pointe in January of their Beginner 4 year, usually, the youngest were 9 and the oldest could be as old as 16 (this studio was level-based rather than age-based). Not all dancers went on, only those ready. Dancers who weren't had to wait until the next session in January to go en pointe. Their recital dance en pointe was done that May, at the barre.

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I remember feeling extremely excited for pointe, and I knew I was strong enough, but my first class was overwhelming. I felt like I was learning ballet all over again. I've found that this is totally normal, regardless of how much preparation for pointe you've had! But in hindsight, I would have liked to have at least one session that would prepare me for how the articulation and body alignment changed in pointe shoes, and what to expect. That is part of the reason I wrote this article!

I feel this is one of the pros of a pre-pointe class - that there is a bit more mental preparation for the first few lessons.

As a teacher, I've taught pre-pointe at some studios I've worked for, while others didn't offer it. I find that my dancers who do have a pre-pointe session regularly of at least 30 minutes a few times a month are significantly more prepared and confident en pointe. And I think confidence is one of the most important aspects because pointe can be scary and intimidating!

In my experience, one of the only cons of pre-pointe class is some students can get overwhelmed and burned out of constantly thinking about pointework, but feeling as though it is too far away.

How long should the class be? What should it consist of?

Another con can be depending on your class and schedule, it's hard to get a student warmed up, trained, and working to their highest level in a short period of time, like 30-45 minutes.

Personally, I prefer an hour-long pre-pointe class. Here is how I usually run my classes:

  • All students receive a page for their notebook every session, or we review the content from the previous session (some lessons repeat the page but cover different aspects of the content) most of the content is related to anatomy. 
  • We look at the area of the body we are focusing on, and assess any injury risks (example - on hip day, I check each dancer to see if they have one leg longer than the other. This can be an issue in the femur length or a slight twist or misalignment in the hip or back. On shoulder day, I check their shoulders to see if they are even. These minor uneven lengths can lead to injury due to pressure on one joint or area) 
  • Most days we learn a new exercise of some kind. I expect dancers to do their exercises regularly, at home. I also provide an exercise tracker for them to use.
  • We go to the barre and begin a targeted set of exercises, which tend to be a bit short, and usually looks like this:
    • foot warmup with releves and snakes
    • plie
    • tendu with foot articulation 
    • fast tendu with coupe and releves
    • degage with both slow and fast tempo, and lots of passe releve
    • rond de jambe with rond de jambe en l'air
    • frappe
  • Grand battement is usually done center for this class.
  • Jumps with releves, sautes, and single-leg temps leves
  • other center and across-the-floor exercises that target core strength, ankle stability, and hip rotation
  • Break out the yoga mats and do some pilates, core strengthening, and stretching
If you'd like to learn more about pre-pointe, and would like to check out my pre-pointe curriculum, consider becoming a member of BTB Online, my online video database of exercises and combinations. I also include a free download of the book pages I give my students!

Should I require X-rays?

I do not usually require X-rays. I think generally you know when a dancer is ready - their ankles are strong, their alignment is correct, they can achieve at least a 90 degree releve, etc. I also believe we get enough radiation in our lives that X-rays just to check aren't strictly necessary.

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However, there are some exceptions. Here are the situations where I require an X-ray. (You could also ask to meet with the dancer and their parent, and their podiatrist/sports med doctor)
  • The dancer has had a foot injury sometime in the past 5 years
  • The dancer can barely get to a 90 degree releve position
  • The dancer has any kind of snapping or popping that happens regularly, i.e. "every time I do X, something in my foot pops." This is poping may or may not cause pain now, but it is important to know why it's happening.
  • The dancer has slightly sickled feet, or slightly misshapen feet which concerns me about what will happen to them en pointe. 
  • The dancer is strong but they tend to suffer a lot of fatigue or constant pain in their foot
  • I am considering putting the dancer en pointe before the age of 12, or before they have gotten their first period. (Yes this is sometimes a factor.)

Soft-Blocks or Pre-Pointe shoes

I'm a firm believer that if your pre-pointe work is adequate, soft blocks are unnecessary. I also believe part of the reason they were created was because pointe shoe companies could sell them to dancers who really wanted pointe shoes but who knew they couldn't wear pointe shoes. I don't have a problem with this, as long as they are used properly. I really don't have a problem with students wearing them at all! I just don't think they are absolutely necessary for the training process.

Some of the pros of soft blocks include:

  • Dancers need to work harder to articulate their shoe, as the shoe is like a pointe shoe but without the shank
  • Dancers get used to the uneven feeling of pointe shoes, because of the way the sole and shank sits on their foot
  • Dancers get used to the feeling of the constriction of the toes, the hardness of the box, etc and start developing callouses earlier, which makes their feet less likely to be uncomfortable when they go en pointe
I have never had one of my dancers need or wear soft blocks, and the only situations where I would have a dancer wear them are:
  • The rest of their class is ready for pointe, but they are not (this has a huge impact on the dancer's self-esteem and confidence)
  • I believe they are ready for pointe, but I am concerned about their age (I don't put dancers en pointe until 12, but will occasionally consider an 11-year-old if they are particularly strong and have good technique. So far all my dancers in this situation have been turning 12 on or around the time I plan for them to go up, so it hasn't been an issue). 
  • They are having a very hard time getting used to pointe shoes, so I ask them to wear soft-blocks in their ballet class up through degage, removing the shoes for rond de jambe and the rest of the class. This helps them get more comfortable in the shoes. I also have dancers do this with their old shoes to help increase strength, once they've been en pointe for about a year. 

Which method is right for me?

Every dancer is different, and that's why it's so important to have a teacher who is a good pointe teacher as well! Communicate with your teacher about how you feel and if you feel adequately prepared. Also communicate with them any "I wish I'd had's" for her future classes.

What are the pre-pointe methods that are absolutely not okay?

While some pre-pointe methods may make a dancer more or less prepared, there are some that are not okay at all.

  • Allowing dancers to go up when they are too young is hugely dangerous for their bodies. More on this here, here, and here
  • Putting dancers up when they are strong enough, but have not had sufficient training. You may be strong, but you need the muscle memory and clean technique to not get hurt. 
  • Putting dancers up when they are recovering from an injury. There are 2 reasons for this:
    • It's very easy to get re-injured when introducing new movements
    • It may cause too much fatigue to allow the injury to properly heal
  • Putting dancers up when they are irresponsible, disrespectful, or not good students. 

The Tests

I have a few exercises that I use as "tests" for my students. Generally speaking, if they can execute these tests correctly, they are ready for pointe. There are always exceptions, and there may be some situations where they can pass the tests but there are other things I'm concerned about, but that's where the 1:1 lessons come in... I'm able to work with those dancers and help them deal with those issues, and reach their goals! 

Here is one of my tests for pointe. I'm working on recording the others and they will be available online in my database!

Parent Participation

When I consider putting a dancer en pointe, I make sure I speak with the parent regularly and constantly. Although I prefer the lessons be 1:1 without parents shadowing their dancer (some dancers just work better without a parent watching) I usually end each session chatting with both the parent and the dancer together. There was a lot my mom didn't know or understand when I started pointe work, and it made her nervous. It also made me feel really bad when I started killing my shoes in 6 hours. 

There are a lot of little things that parents should know before a dancer begins pointework, everything from injury risk, to expense, to hours they will need to add to their training. They will have a lot of questions the whole way through the process. This is why when I teach pointe, I give each parent a copy of my syllabus and a copy of my Pointe Readiness brochure. It has helped a lot of parents feel more confident and empowered to support their dancer!

I know this was a ton of info, I hope it helps you in some way!

Did you know that I offer pre-pointe consultations online? This is a 15-30 minute session where I assess your strength and alignment/technique and give you a recommendation on when you should go en pointe, and what measures you should take to get there. These sessions are very affordable! And if you're a member of BTB Online, yours is free! 

I also have a totally free webinar coming up! You can sign up here.

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