Determining when a dancer is ready to go on pointe is an extremely important decision in terms of a dancer’s advancement. While many ballet dancers will be eager to get their first pair of pointe shoes, many don’t realize until they are up on pointe, how much dedication is involved, how much work and discomfort actually coincide with it and how strong the body and mind need to be to move onto this level. This week Angela D’Valda Sirico answers questions for you in terms of when a dancer should go on pointe and what her protocol is for determining this decision.
1. Angela, while every dancer will inevitably be different, what is the average age range that is appropriate for even considering a dancer to start pointe?
I would generally not consider a child for pointe until they are 11 years old. However, there are exceptions to every rule. What are some of the things you look at when deciding whether a dancer is ready for pointe? The things that I look for in a dancer that I am considering putting on pointe are: Upper body strength and stability, good muscular strength in the legs and ankles, enough mental strength to deal with the pain that is involved. Anatomically, what are we looking at in terms of their structural foundation to decide readiness for pointe? Anatomically they need to have enough strength and control in their movement and use of turnout to be able to execute pointe work correctly. They need to have strong core muscles to support their legs and feet.
2 What are your requirements for both student and parent when deciding to put a dancer on pointe?
When I decide that a student may be ready for pointe work the first thing I require is a meeting with parent and student where I tell them that they need to see an orthopedic surgeon and get an xray of their feet. I do this to make sure that although outwardly they seem ready I want to be sure that there is not something internally that is not sufficiently developed to withstand the stress on the feet caused by pointe work. I work hand in hand with all doctors to make sure that by putting the student on pointe I am not causing any unnecessary damage to their bodies that could possibly manifest itself later on down the road. I also require the student to take a minimum of 4 Ballet classes per week as well as 2 pointe classes. Once the doctor has let me know if they are ready to proceed I have them go to be fitted for their pointe shoes but always insist that they show me their shoes before sewing any ribbons or elastics on them. I want to be sure that the shoes fit like a glove and will give each individual the correct support that they need. Once I approve them then I show them how to sew everything on and then have them bring them back to me. I always tell them that getting the ribbons right is trial and error and often needs to be done more than once until they are absolutely right. I also insist that the student sew their own ribbons and elastics on as I feel that it is a personal thing and they need to be able to do that for themselves.
3.How do you handle dancers and parents that are disappointed when you tell them they are not ready for this advancement?
When a student wants to go on pointe but I feel that they are not yet ready I will meet with them and their parents to discuss options. If I feel that the student is close but not quite ready, I will encourage them to take as many ballet classes as possible and also to take the beginner pointe class in regular ballet shoes. If I feel they are not ready and may never be I will also discuss all options that will be available to the student that do not involve going on pointe. What do you tell dancers to focus on to work towards going on pointe? I tell my dancers that they should do some ankle strengthening exercises sometimes utilizing a Theraband and to work on strengthening their core muscles and legs through their ballet classes and exercises that I give them to help them achieve their goals. How do you deal with dancers you know will most likely never be physically, technically and mentally prepared to ever take pointe? For those dancers whose goals include going on pointe but who do not have the necessary requirements I encourage them to set more realistic goals for themselves. There are so many opportunities in the dance world for dancers who are not suitable for pointe that I show them all the positives of not being on pointe and for developing other areas of their dance.
4.What do your beginner pointe classes look like? How do you design your lessons?
In my beginner pointe class initially I go over with the students the importance of taking care of their feet and the products that they should keep with them to protect their feet. I always give them a handout with all of this information. We go over the correct way to tie the ribbons. When a student first goes on pointe I will do very basic exercise facing the barre making sure that their posture is correct and I will go to each student when they are on pointe and shape their feet with my hands to make sure that they are in the center of their block, their knees are fully pulled up and that their core muscles are supporting the upper body correctly. I go very slowly in the beginning with no more than 15 minutes actually on pointe and then gradually increase the time on pointe. The first year is mostly spent at the barre with some introduction of simple exercises on 2 feet in the center as the dancers become stronger and more comfortable in their pointe shoes.
5. Any last words of advice for teachers?
My advice to any teacher is to make sure that it is safe for your dancers to go on pointe. I have seen many instances of dancers who were put on pointe too early, before they were physically ready for it and who have suffered with not only deformed feet but also injuries in other parts of the body caused by them doing pointe work prematurely. My interest is in creating dancers who will either have long careers or who will physically be able to enjoy dance for many years to come. In my experience, if a student is put on pointe when they are physically and mentally ready for it they will be able to master the technique very quickly.