#SQBehindTheJudgesChair – Are you Ready for Pointe?
March 25th, 2020 by Elizabeth Radabaugh
There comes a time in every ballerina’s training to move up to next level. Literally move up. It’s time for pointe! When a dancer has had a good ballet foundation and understanding of flexibility, strength and stamina, it’s only following the natural progression of classical ballet training to start training in pointe. While we don’t see a lot of pointe dance on the competition stage, I’m hoping a word from one of StarQuest’s most knowledgeable judges, Anneliese Kappey, will inspire students to take on the challenge. In today’s blog, we’ll talk about those foundational elements every dancer needs to be successful to begin training on their toes.
Flexibility and Strength of Feet
Around age 11 or 12, students will start to show signs of maturity and seriousness when training in ballet. These are the first indications that students might be ready for undertaking pointe. They should also start to show a certain flexibility and articulation of the foot. Exercises that breakdown flexion and extension of the foot are incredibly beneficial during this time and should be executed with proper alignment (i.e. no sickling or toe crunching). Barre combinations rolling through a forced arch or pressing into a demí pointe, are great ways to increase the strength and flexibility of your dancers’ feet. Most pointe dancers use a Thera-band to warm-up their ankles and toes but, I would suggest implementing Thera-band exercises into your students’ warm-up pre-pointe. Use the time leading up to their “pointe-years” to already be developing flexibility and strength.
Posture and Positioning
Another good indication that a student might ready for pointe is how they hold their core. This can be seen at the barre or in the center. Be sure the student has developed good posture and poise in all different body positions and movements. I think good test is how well they perform a petite allegro. Are they letting their shoulders and chest go with each jump? How strong is the student’s inner thighs when looking at assemblés or jetés? These are key movements that can tell you a lot about a dancer’s strength and how they hold their center. Having a strong core and the ability to control it is imperative to way they will inevitably hold themselves in a pointe shoe. Another good indication is to simply look at how the dancer holds their feet and legs in a simple first position. Are their arches rolling in? Do you see the kneecaps pulled up? The dancer must be able to place their body weight correctly in a soft shoe to be able to roll up and down in a pointe shoe.
A Note from Anneliese Kappey
Of the multiple competitions, I have judged this year, I have barely seen any pointe dancing. While it may be a difficult and challenging genre to tackle, I would invite more students to discover the benefits and rewards it can bring to your dance training. Judge for StarQuest, Anneliese Kappey, had this to say about the topic, “Pointe work is a wonderful thing that can really add to a dancer’s experience and even ability.” She goes on to say, ”With that said, if done incorrectly or before a dancer is ready, it can be physically demanding. Please make sure your dancer can get through class and rehearsal on pointe before attempting [it] on the competition stage. I usually follow the guidelines of age 11 and above, strong ankles and lower back, ability to properly roll through the feet onto and off the box and understanding the length of heels and spine.”
Hopefully this passage has given insight into some of the indications to start pointe training. When your dancers are ready, be sure to get their pointe shoes fitted by someone trained to do so. A proper dance supply store will have associates there who know specifically what to look for when fitting pointe shoes. Don’t order them offline your first time! Be sure to start your students’ training when they can display proper strength, foot flexibility and alignment. With any luck, they’ll be ready to show off their hard work and training soon! (Thanks to you!!!)
Marissa Anderson is a performer, choreographer, teacher and adjudicator for StarQuest with over 20 years of experience in the dance industry. She also hosts, writes and produces her own podcast on iTunes called “Beyond the Mirror: A Dancer’s Podcast”.
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