Our Approach

Our Approach to Pointe Work

Going “en pointe” is an exciting step in a dancer’s career.  There are many factors that go into a dancer’s readiness for pointe work.  Anatomically the bones of the feet are not ready to withstand the stress of point work before the age of 11.  The x-rays below illustrate the changes in the bone structure of the feet from age 4 to 19.

Age and Development

Image Caption:  Note the gradual closing of the spaces between the long bones (metatarsals) of the foot.  The “space” is cartilage or soft/unformed bone.  Pressure on the soft bone early on can cause permanent damage to the development of the bones in the feet.  By age 11 it is nearly closed and we can capitalize on the last bit of growing by starting pointe work around this age; additional stress now  (with proper muscular control) will stimulate bone growth and generate a stronger bone.

The Ankle

In order to achieve the proper placement en pointe the ankle joint must stretch at least 180°.

Proper placement en pointe is having the weight centered just behind the big toenail.  Stretching the ankle and strengthening the muscles of the feet to support this position is part of our Pre-Pointe curriculum.

In addition to these anatomic and development requirements, dancers involved in our Pointe Program (Pre-Pointe, Beginning Pointe, Pointe 1, Pointe 2, Partnering) must enroll in two days of ballet technique in order to maintain the strength required for the rigors of pointe technique.

Pointe Shoe Fitting

Pointe shoes are as varied as the feet that go in them.  Most are still handmade so two pair of the same size, brand and style may not be exactly the same.  The many layers of variations and the fact that the shoe’s primary function is to support the feet of a dancer (and therefore a dancer’s entire body weight), and that they should ideally complement a dancer’s foot, makes the selection of a pair of pointe shoes a very critical, and often tedious process.  At TBA our goal is to schedule a group outing for pointe shoe fitting when a new group of dancers is ready for their first pair of pointe shoes.  Older dancers are also wise to have their shoes approved by their instructors before altering them in any way as these shoes are rather expensive and cannot be returned if they are not in pristine condition.

“Expensive you say, well I will make sure to buy them just a little bit big as my daughter is growing like a weed these days!”

Unfortunately the shoe cannot function to support a dancer if it does not fit snugly.  A snug fit is of such importance that a student should wear ballet tights to a pointe shoe fitting and bring any padding they intend to use—even the thickness of the tights can affect the fit.  To demonstrate, first press your fingers straight against your palm without letting them bend; next ask someone to snugly hold your fingers together while you repeat the press.  Your fingers are your toes and the person holding your hand is the box of the pointe shoe; without a snug fit all your weight will rest on your toes!

The BOX is one of the most important features of the pointe shoe, as it is what supports the bones of your toes.  It’s width and shape (boxy or tapered) will be the first thing that will decide if a shoe is right for you.
The VAMP or front/top of the shoe prevents your toes from bending over too far, and the height of the vamp that is best for your will depend largely on the length and flexibility of your toes.  The SHANK is the part of the shoe that supports the arch of your foot, thereby relieving some of the pressure off of the toes.  The place where it bends, must match up with the cup of your arch under your heal in order to provide the maximum amount of support.  We feel that the best way to ensure the shank bends at the correct point is to “weaken” it by cutting it at the proper place.  Do not attempt to do this before your shoes have been approved and your instructors will assist first time and beginning students.

The ELASTICS pull the shoe snugly against the arch of your foot, as well as help to keep the shoe from slipping off your heal.  And lastly, the RIBBONS provide support to your ankle in much the same way as an “ace bandage.”  As the RIBBONS and ELASTICS significantly impacts the way the shoe will function for a dancer, we expect the student to be responsible for sewing on their own RIBBONS and ELASTICS.  Again, this should not be done before your shoes have been approved, and your instructors will guide first time and beginning students, and may need to be redone a few times.

References

Sparger, Celia.  Anatomy and Ballet: A Handbook for Teachers of Ballet. 5th ed. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1972.

Ankle A.  Howell, Lisa A. The Perfect Pointe Book. 2010. Ankle B.  Lai, J.C.; Kruse, D.W. Assessing Readiness for En Pointe in Young Ballet Dancers. Pediatric Annals. 2016;45(1):e21-e25

https://www.healio.com/pediatrics/journals/pedann/2016-1-45-1/%7B782240ae-9227-4f1b-abee-d83b4f17ed9a%7D/assessing-readiness-for-en-pointe-in-young-ballet-dancers

Barringer, Janice, Schlesinger. The Pointe Book. Princeton: Princeton Book Company, 1991.

Howell, Lisa A. The Perfect Pointe Book. 2010

Sparger, Celia.  Anatomy and Ballet: A Handbook for Teachers of Ballet. 5th ed. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1972.

Velardi, TA.  “How should pointe shoes fit?”.  Balletclassroom. balletclassroom.wordpress.com/ballet-gear/how-should-pointe-shoes-fit/. 2014

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