It is one of the most often asked questions in ballet, yet one to which there has not really been one definitive answer; “How do I know when I (or one of my students) am ready for pointe work?” Young girls dream of their first pair of pointe shoes for years before they will be allowed to get into them, and, until now, it has basically been up to the teacher to decide when each student makes the transition.
This has lead to many girls being allowed up too early, to “keep up with their class”, often resulting in chronic foot injuries that may plague even the most competent dancer throughout their career, or even permanent damage. Due to the variability in growth rates of girls in the 11 – 14 year age group (when most girls start en pointe) and the lack of complete closure of many of the growth plates in the feet until at least 16 – 18 years of age, strength of the feet and ankles is a huge factor in preventing injury when progressing onto pointe.
In Australia, many dance teachers have realised the importance of getting each girl individually assessed prior to going onto pointe. The ‘best dancer’ within a class may not necessarily have the strongest feet, and many weaknesses can be hidden inside regular ballet slippers. They advise each girl to undertake an assessment with a Special Dance Physical Therapist, who will perform screening tests that take much of the responsibility off the dance teacher in deciding who is able to go onto pointe and when. Following an initial assessment, special strengthening and mobility exercises are taught to strengthen any weaknesses in the dancer’s feet, ankles, hips and core muscles, to help the girls cope with the demands of pointe work.
A Dance Physical Therapist will see hundreds of girls each year for such assessments. The teachers find the resulting written reports on each girl extremely helpful for tailoring corrections in class, and all note the dramatic improvement in the girls overall approach to dance, both technically, and energetically, once they have their assessment, and have specific goals to work towards.
As there is a limited number of dancers a therapist can see day to day, and due to the enormous global interest in Ballet, a program was developed that made this process available to the world. It is based around 4 stages, each with clearly described tests to assess each girl’s current strength and mobility, explanations of what any weaknesses may mean, and programs of specific exercises to help improve all the highlighted areas. Once a girl can correctly perform all of the tests in each stage (each has a check-list to ensure that they are performed correctly) she should be strong enough to commence pointe work under the guidance of a qualified teacher. All of the tests and exercises are clearly demonstrated with clear photographs of both the correct and incorrect positions.
“The Perfect Pointe Book” is the essential companion to any dancer, either aspiring to progress to toe shoes, or already en pointe, and is an excellent resource for teachers of pointe work.