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Starting Pointe Work


Teacher article



Every little girl who comes to take ballet has the dream of dancing on pointe like the Sugar Plum fairy in the Nutcracker or Odette in Swan Lake. When they have studied ballet for a number of years most of the dancers will start asking you when they can go on pointe. I am very cautious about the time frame of putting a young dancer on pointe. As a general rule I will not even consider a dancer until they are eleven years old. Most children do not have the necessary upper body strength at an earlier age and their legs and feet also need to have been trained over a period of years in order to have sufficient strength to ensure that there are no unnecessary injuries at such an important stage in their growth and overall development.

When I recommend to a dancer that it is time to think about going on pointe I also look at their maturity and focus and always insist upon a meeting with them and a parent. At this meeting I explain to the parent that they need to go to an orthopedic doctor where they can have an xray taken of their child's feet and then that I will need a note from that doctor confirming that there are no underlying problems. The reason that I ask for this is that even though I have evaluated the child on what I , as their teacher, can see outwardly, there are occasions when the growth plates are not where they need to be in the child's development and if too much stress is placed on those feet at an early age injuries may not appear right then but by the time they are a young adult problems and even deformities of the feet can suddenly manifest themselves. I also make it very clear that there is going to be quite a lot of pain involved in the process of learning to go on pointe so that they understand that to reach the Sugar Plum Fairy level takes a lot of dedication and some suffering!

The next step I take is to recommend a particular dancewear store where I am absolutely certain that not only do they have a large stock of many different brands of shoes but also a thorough knowledge of fitting pointe shoes. It is well worth the time to try to establish a relationship with such a store because in the long run it will save the dancers and parents a lot of time and aggravation. Fitting pointe shoes especially initially takes time and patience but is so important. Once they have the shoes I insist that they bring them to show me so that I feel sure that they fit well. If I feel that they are not a good fit I will not hesitate to tell the dancer that they need to return them for a different pair. Then I show them how to sew the ribbons and elastics on and even mark the inside of the shoe so they have some guideline to follow. I ask them just to tack the ribbons on and to let me check them again before they sew them on for real , I also tell them that they need to sew all of these things on by themselves because it is a very personal item and their mothers or grandmothers do not need to know where they go but the dancer does. Typically the dancers sew them on in the wrong place and I have to tell them to take them off and start again and if nothing else this impresses upon them the importance of listening the first time!!!

 On many occasions I have recommended a certain dancer to go on pointe and then their friend , of course, also wants to be considered. The way that I usually handle this situation is to let that dancer come to the beginner pointe classes and take it in flat ballet slippers. Now they can feel like they are not being left behind, and it definitely helps them to strengthen their feet and have a good understanding of what is involved. Of course, sometimes a student is carrying too much weight and in that case I would give them some nutritional counseling to help them lose that weight in a healthy way ( see Nutritional article in December).

 Any student who is on pointe must take four ballet classes a week plus two pointe classes. In my experience, unless they are studying at least four days a week they are absolutely not going to have either the technique or the stamina and strength to be successful on pointe.

Some teachers do not have separate pointe classes for their beginner students and there is definite validity in the fact that no beginner pointe dancer can possibly start out actively being on pointe for an hour. In the beginning of the year just helping them to understand the importance of sewing their ribbons and or elastics on the shoes takes time. However, after making sure that they understand how to tie their ribbons from the inside first and to tuck the ends out of sight, I will begin with fifteen minutes of barre exercises and that is plenty. As the dancers become stronger I will gradually increase the time that they are on pointe. I like to have the dancers work in the center on demi pointe so that they get used to the different feel of the new type of shoe and they can understand that the technique that they have been learning all along does not change when you are on pointe. Working in pointe shoes on demi pointe does feel strange in the beginning but I have found that by getting them used to it right from the beginning it helps them tremendously and will only enhance their actual pointe work.


Angela D'Valda Sirico

Angela D'Valda Sirico

Originally from England, Angela spent her early years in Hong Kong where she studied with Carol Bateman. She continued her training at Arts Educational Trust in England. After moving to New York City she continued her studies with Martha Graham and Matt Mattox. She appeared with the Matt Mattox Company and toured with the first Disney On Parade working with Disney and N.B.C. Contracted to the Teatro National of Buenos Aires she performed for one year and spent an additional year as a featured soloist at the Teatro Maipo, Argentina. Travelling to Madrid, Spain she worked for Spanish television in a weekly variety show Tarde Para Todos and from there decided to form her own Dance Company. With the Company she choreographed and performed throughout Spain in theatres, and on television. Angela met her husband Steve while working together on a television special The Valerie Peters Show filmed in Tampa, Florida. In 1979 they formed the Adagio act DValda & Sirico appearing in theatres, clubs and on television shows such as David Letterman, Star Search and the Jerry Lewis Telethon. In 1982 they were contracted to Europe and appeared in a variety of shows in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Italy before going to London, England where they appeared as Guest Artists for Wayne Sleep (formerly of the Royal Ballet) in his show Dash at the Dominium Theatre. Angela and Steve have owned and directed their dance studio in Fairfield, CT. for the past twenty two years and in 2005 added music and vocal classes to their curriculum. Angela served as chairperson for the tri state panel of the Royal Academy of Dancing and is Co-author of a Partner syllabus currently used for teacher training by Dance Educators of America. She continues to adjudicate and teach for major dance organizations and choreographs for theatre, television and conventions and was commissioned by Boston Ballet 11 to choreograph the highly acclaimed Brother Can You Spare A Dime? DValda & Sirico are currently in production choreographing the opening to the National Speakers Association convention on Broadway at the Marriott Marquis for August of 2008. Angela is co-owner of Dance Teacher Web designed as an online resource for teachers worldwide.

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