January 7, 2014 by Nicole
Your first pair of pointe shoes is an exciting moment in your dance life. To this day, I remember getting the “yes” for mine – it was about this time of year. At our school, we started pointe in January. I also remember the subsequent trip to the nearest dance shop (an hour away for us) for a proper fitting. I remember the way the store smelled, the way the shoes looked & how excited I was. I think that was the moment I felt like a “real dancer” for the first time.
Pointe work is a very serious undertaking, physically and mentally, and the decision should not be taken lightly, by yourself, your teachers or your parents (if you’re under the age of 18). It’s a commitment to increasingly difficult training with additional financial considerations. Pointe shoes have to be replaced once they’re worn to a specific state – you can’t safely dance in “dead” shoes. And it’s a commitment from your teacher who will be guiding you in this new area of study. Which is why the most important “yes” you need to start pointe is from your teacher. No way around it. Most ballet schools will require the teacher’s approval before beginning pointe class. This is not to torture you, it’s for your safety! Your teachers not only have your best interests at heart, they’re very familiar with your body, it’s strengths, weaknesses and how that translates into your dancing. Your teacher may also have specific requirements or recommendations for your first pair of pointe shoes – mine did – so you should always ask before you buy. My first pair were Capezio Pavlova shoes…..the same brand and style as every other student at my school.
So, how do you and your teachers know when you’re ready? Because every body is different (literally), there’s no “one size fits all” measurement to determine someone’s pointe readiness. That is, there’s not one specific age or dance history that makes one ready for pointe.
With that said, there are some common criteria that schools and teachers use to help decide if you’re ready to start pointe. Keep in mind that your school or teacher may have different or additional criteria, but here are a few areas that might help you determine if you’re getting close.
Why is age important? Age is one criteria used because we know that the bones in our feet harden between the ages of 8-14. Thus, it becomes a common benchmark for when we might be ready to consider pointe work. Eleven is a common age for dancers here in the US to begin pointe. It’s right in the middle of that range, giving the best probability that the bones are ready to handle the additional stress. You don’t want to start when your bones are too soft, as there is the potential for fractures or creating foot deformities. By 12, most of us have foot bones that are mostly grown and fused. Starting too soon can cause injuries that can linger for the rest of your life. And nobody – not your doctor, not your teacher – wants that for you.
What if you long passed the 14 year old mark? That’s ok. Especially now, there are more and more first time adult pointe students. Hey – consider this an easy one to check off the list for you!
Again, this is about your safety. You should only start pointe if your body is strong enough to handle the stress of being on pointe. You need:
- Core strength: You need a core that will support proper alignment while on pointe. Still hearing a ton of corrections relating to “tummy in” or “tail tucked under”? That could be an indication that you need to focus on your core strength.
- Leg strength: you need the strength all the way through your legs to maintain a straight leg while on top of your shoes. Can you balance in releve without bending your knee? Can you pique passé with a straight leg? If not, this is an area that may need some attention before starting pointe.
- Ankle strength: this one also requires alignment. You need to be able to hold your ankles in the right place, which requires strength and proper alignment. Do you have the ability to balance without sickling or rolling in? While we’re talking about alignment, pointe requires not only strength, but flexibility in your ankles and feet. This is always a balance. If you lack this flexibility, it may be a struggle to get onto the platform of your shoe. Conversely, if you have super flexible, “pretty” feet (we used to call them “banana feet”), they may be too weak and cause you to push too far over the shoe, without the strength to support it. In either case, you may need extra time to prepare your feet and ankles for pointe.
This is just as important as the physical components. When your teacher is evaluating whether or not you’re ready, they’re also considering your emotional maturity. This shows up in things like:
- Do you take at least 3 hours of ballet each week?
- Are you responsible enough to bring all equipment needed?
- Do you dress appropriately for class?
- Are you attentive in class and applying corrections well?
These things all demonstrate your commitment to your training and your level of personal responsibility. Pointe work requires both.
Pointe work is serious business. It’s not an “of course” and it’s never just “your turn” to move into it. It should be a decision that is reached together with your teacher. Don’t take a “no” personally. Think about it: a teacher who cares enough to tell you “no” probably has reasons why you shouldn’t….vs a teacher who says yes to everyone. And if they care enough to tell you no…..even though they know how very badly you want a yes…they will probably also be able to tell you specific things to work on so that you will be ready to start pointe. Starting when you’re ready will help keep you from forming bad habits, developing injuries or getting frustrated with your progress.
Was this helpful in deciding if you might be ready for pointe? What criteria do you think is important? When did you start pointe? Let me know in the Comments section!