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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Rangel

When is my daughter ready for Pointe?


Dancing on Pointe Shoes

Having fitted thousands of Pointe shoes over the years a frequent question I get is: “do you think my daughter is ready for Pointe?”  While generally the answer is “yes,” because the teacher has responsibly vetted the young dancer, the answer does not come from a simple assessment, and it can stump some parents.  The full answer takes into account several factors that go into being ready to do an incredibly athletic feat by a young girl: dancing on the tip of her toes—as if it were easy.


AGE – It’s About the Bones.

First factor to consider, of course, is age.  Typical age for starting Pointe is between ten and thirteen.  I have seen girls on Pointe as early as eight years of age, yet those are rare.  My own suggestion is twelve, but teachers are more aware of the individual dancer’s strength and level, so they may suggest earlier.  Be aware and cautious, however, about some teachers and studios that simply want to register more children in another weekly class or fill one up, just for the tuition. But, if your teacher or your studio sent you to us, Attitude Dancewear, it's highly likely that they are responsible and conscious because they know our expertise and trajectory in the community and trust us as we trust them.


What age gives to the dancer are stronger bones.  As a dancer grows, soft bone and cartilage tissue in the joints of her feet are substituted by harder bone.   By age twelve or so, almost all cartilage has been substituted by solid bone.  The danger of Pointe at an early age is that, when the foot is vertical, the unnatural position stresses the soft tissue, in fact compressing and deforming it.  As the natural growth of the bone substitutes this compressed tissue, consequences down the line could be permanently deformed feet, early onset of arthritis or other chronic pain problems as early as the mid-twenties.

If in doubt, you should consult a specialized sports medicine or orthopedic doctor regarding potential growth plate issues.  Other issues the doctor can look into are extra bones in the ankle that usually do not affect normal life but for dancers, especially those on Pointe, can be very painful.  This condition is more common than you may think.


Elegant Ballerina on Pointe

STRENGTH – Athletes and Dancers.

Second factor to look at is strength.  Dancing on Pointe is an athletic feat.  Every muscle in the body is used and strained, to make a great exertion look effortless and graceful.  It is hard, yet the ballerina smiles do not betray it.  When you ask young dancers why do they like Pointe, despite all the pain suffered and effort required, they always answer the same: the sense of achievement.  Just like any athlete.


Only years of exercise and training give young athletes the strength and stamina required to be ready.  Pliés are to dancers what pushups are for body builders.  A strong dancer can do fifty to a hundred pliés without flinching.  Strong legs are important, but core muscles (abs) are too, as they will keep the dancer straight and poised. By seeing the dancer in class, her teacher is the best judge as to when is she strong enough to go on Pointe.


Pointe is hard work and can only be done if the dancer develops in a process that leads to successful Pointe training.  It does not happen overnight, steps cannot be skipped.


BALANCE – It’s What It’s All About.

A special training is needed to develop the sense of balance required to perform that difficult action, moving around gracefully on the tip of their toes.   In my experience, only two types of training achieve the task: ballet and gymnastics.

While other competitive sports such as soccer, swimming, track, or cycling can develop the strength needed, in gymnastics the muscle memory is trained to achieve the same sense of balance required for Pointe.  Often gymnasts that start ballet later can quickly go on to Pointe, with the age caveat mentioned above.  Of course, Figure Skaters can easily start on Pointe too, but usually they have been in ballet training for years, so it is not a distinct crossover.


Again, the teacher is the best judge of readiness, but an easy check can be done at the barre:

Face the mirror, hold the barre.  Do an arabesque or attitude derrière. Relevé and, when you feel ready, let go of the barre.  Keep balance for eight to ten counts at least.  Do the other leg.

This is an easy balance check.  I use it sometimes while fitting when it seems that a small platform (tip) shoe could be appropriate for the shape of the dancer’s foot, usually very tapered (pointy).  It obviously is harder to balance on a smaller platform, so that is why I check for this sometimes.


Ballet dancer on Pointe and Whote Practice Tutu

A Final Word.

Pointe is elegant, graceful, and upstages with quite a bit of showmanship other forms of dance.  But it is not the ultimate end all and goal.  Other forms such as contemporary, lyrical, tap, hip hop, jazz, or ballroom can be very exciting and bright.  Great dancers and performances come and are from any discipline. Pointe is a particular form of dance that puts strains in body muscles and joints that may not be physically able for everyone.  Different body types are better for Pointe than others; that does not make one dancer better than another.  They are just different.


And, for young dancers, the commitment that the dancer undertakes when doing Pointe must be reciprocated by their parents.   As the dancer advances in her training she will use the shoes harder, and will need them more frequently.  The first pair of shoes may last a full year, but by the third year on Pointe the dancer may need many pairs a year.  And if she does not get the shoes when needed, her training will falter.  Training needs, new techniques and natural growth may also require new fittings, either for a different size or for a different type of shoe.  It is recommended to do fittings once or twice a year for advanced students.


The final deciders on the readiness for Pointe of a young dancer should be the instructor and the parent.  It is the trust in the teacher, the medical advice if needed, and the parent’s own knowledge of the dancer’s will and physical abilities that are the ultimate factors needed to make an informed decision. Peer pressure should never be a factor. Waiting a year will not set back a dancer’s training as long as the dancer keeps up with her ballet training; it will just make her stronger and more determined.  There are many dancers that started dancing, i.e. ballet, not Pointe, in their early teens and are now professionals in nationally recognized companies.  Patience has its own rewards.

 

Carlos Rangel

Attitude Dancewear

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