Pointe Readiness and What To Expect

Every ballet dancer wants to dance en pointe. But not every ballet dancer should.

Ballet slipper versus Pointe Shoe

Photo by Chris Hays

There is something about these pink satin slippers that entices all ballet dancers young (and older).

Pointe shoes have a certain mystique and there is a well-earned sense of accomplishment that goes along with getting that first pair. It’s a symbol for the student that she has graduated into something “bigger and better.”

Young dancers don’t usually care that pointe work is sometimes painful and frustrating with slow and hard-won rewards. The pull of pointe shoes is a powerful one.

How will your teacher decide if you are ready for pointe work?

Why might she decide you are not ready to dance en pointe?

And what can you expect when you get your first pair of pointe shoes?

 

 

What Determines Pointe Readiness?

As a teacher, it is not easy to tell an eager student that she is not yet ready for pointe shoes. There are many factors involved when considering each individual’s preparedness.

Number one, is safety.

Is the student ready to safely work at this level?

“The bones of the foot are not fully developed, strengthened and hardened until sometime in the teenage years. Naturally there is a great deal of individual variation. If a young dancer attempts pointe work without proper strength and technique, there is a chance that she will permanently damage those not fully developed bones. Body weight times momentum creates a great deal of force.” – When To Start Pointework? via Gaynor Minden FAQ

“Students attempting pointe work before being ready risk, at the very least, building bad habits which may take years to correct. More serious is the potential for injury or permanent damage to the bone or muscle structure of the foot, which far outweighs the risk of disappointment.” — To The Pointe by Janet Parke

General Requirements:

Modern pointe shoes. The edge of the toe pad, ...

Image via Wikipedia

Though teachers may have their own set of criteria, these requirements are widely accepted within the dance community:

  • At least 11 years of age.
  • At least 2 years of ballet training.
  • Taking at least 3 full hours of ballet per week.
  • Responsible enough to bring all ballet equipment needed.
  • Dresses appropriately for class.
  • Attentive in class and applies corrections well.

Physical Criteria:

A general (not necessarily complete) list of what you need to be able to DO.

  • Maintains turnout while dancing
  • Demonstrates correct posture and alignment in positions and while moving
  • Shows awareness of proper ankle and foot alignment, avoiding sickling or rolling-in
  • Effectively uses plié while dancing
  • Stretches or points the foot while dancing
  • Can piqué passé with a straight leg
  • Can perform repeated relevé in the center without tiring & while maintaining alignment
  • Can balance on one foot with the body correctly positioned over the supporting leg
  • Coordinates movement well, particularly in regard to varying approach to relevé (from plié, from straight leg, stepping or springing into, etc.)

Attitude and work ethic play a large role in dancing at an advanced level. Students must display dedication during class and a strong commitment to the art form at all times.

What a Beginning Pointe Student Can Expect

Typical wear on a pointe shoe. The fabric has ...

Image via Wikipedia

Most teachers will take time from class to show students how to properly break-in and care for their shoes.

Some preparatory work involving the increased articulation (mobility) and strength of the feet is often added to the end of a full ballet class. If students wear pointe shoes at all during this time, it is usually under 10 to 15 minutes.

Pointe work begins at a slow, steady pace with exercises performed only with the aid of a barre.

Even standing in the pointe shoes requires ankle strength and can take some getting used to because of the uneven feel of the sole.

Eventually dancers will exhibit enough strength to complete some steps in the centre, however expect progress to be gradual.

What Pointe Is… And Is Not

Advancing to pointe work is a serious step and should be treated as such by students, teachers, and parents.

I have worked for studios in which the requirement for pointe work is much less than 3 hours per week and students were advanced simply because it was “their turn” to move up. The result of this method is always frustration for everyone involved.

At best, students end up “spinning their wheels” in regard to progressing and eventually leaving the barre for centre. At worst, they form bad habits and develop injuries.

Pointe work builds upon ballet technique and every struggle, problem, weakness, and deficiency is amplified with this new layer of difficulty. With this in mind, I must state the following:

  • Pointe work is an evolution and extension of effective ballet training. It is NOT the end result of a particular number of years in ballet class, being a certain age, or even of an intense desire to dance en pointe.
  • Pointe work is not a right.
  • Pointe is not for everyone.
  • Dancing en pointe is only a requirement for ballet dancers who are pre-professionals or professionals.
  • Choosing not to dance en pointe (because you are not planning to be a professional ballet dancer) does not make you less of a dancer. It’s actually a very mature decision!
  • Pointe work is a positive experience for those ready to devote themselves to quality ballet training.

Responding to a “No”

As a student, you should expect no less of a teacher than to instruct logically, carefully, and thoughtfully.

If your teacher’s criteria is unclear or if you have a question about what is required or how you might improve, arrange a meeting with your teacher to discuss this. However, make a commitment to respecting your instructor’s judgment and knowledge if she feels you are not yet ready for pointe work.

A teacher willing to say no to you has likely put a lot of thought behind the decision. A teacher who tells everyone yes is not someone I’d trust to train me.

What criteria do you or your teachers use to determine pointe readiness?

What else might a beginner expect?

Were you ready for pointe when you started?

Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle Suzanne began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. Nichelle holds a BA in dance and is an instructor with more than 17 years experience. She covers dance performance in the Houston area as a freelance writer and balances daily life as a mom to two young children. In June 2012, Nichelle presented the whats, hows, and whys of blogging on a panel at the annual conference for Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, to better equip artists and companies for engaging their audience and new readers through online communications and content.
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)

Latest posts by Nichelle (admin) (see all)

Comments

  1. great post nichelle :)

  2. Thank you for this post. It’s clear and informative and should clear up any grey areas !

  3. Rachel Korchin says:

    I feel this is such an important subject among young dancers. When I was 11 and the time came for pointe shoes, I couldn’t wait and either could my fellow classmates. Unfortunately, most of us weren’t ready and didn’t make it past one year dancing with them. It is hard to define readiness because it is different for every dancer, and can’t just be decided on by age. This post is something that should be widely publicized among the dance world, especially to more-than-eager dance parents as well. Thank you for this because it is something that needs to be addressed. You have great insight!

    -Rachel

    • You are not alone, Rachel. Many, many dance studios are putting kids on pointe without the training to back it up. I know what it is like to study and teach dance in a small town. There are some that would call it negligence (and in some cases, I suppose it may be) but often it just lack of informed knowledge of ballet… it can be difficult in some places to find qualified and professional ballet instructors. Many studios operate on a model that includes pointe work simply because the studio they learned from offered it and the studio before them and down the line.

      It’s become such an expectation that there is a fear that students will leave if they aren’t allowed to go on pointe or if it is not offered. And, well maybe that’s true but I also believe that a discerning teacher/studio or one brave enough to say “you know, we focus on recreational ballet study and pointe requires more intense instruction, so we don’t offer it,” makes a studio stand out for all the right reasons. Some may walk away but this studio will also draw to itself the kind of students and parents who will be getting what they need to be and feel successful in their dance study. They’ll be as Suzanne Gerety likes to say, “loyal raving fans” rather than frustrated parents wondering why they are investing in classes when their child still looks wobbly in pointe shoes after two years or students who feel more awkward than elegant when they sport their satin slippers.

  4. Excellent article. I could say loads about allowing kids on pointe who haven’t had the right kind or enough training.

    My daughter got her first pointe shoes just before her 9th birthday, just after passing her Vaganova level 2 exams (administered from St. Petersburg). Women in my family tend to have almost all of their growth by age 12 and start cycling at age 9 -11, meaning we tend to have the physical development of an 11-14-year-old quite young. And–this is the caveat–for the first several months she didn’t do much at all in them. She learned to sew on the ribbons; to store them properly; how to break them in. And she did lots and lots of exercises without them in order to strengthen the right muscles so she’d be safe in them. She was passed into them because of her physical development, with the blessing of a podiatrist who works with dancers. For the next year and a half, if she had pointe work at all, it was no more than 1/2 hour a week (including warmup) out of a 12-hour-a-week schedule. I almost think that getting them was something of a motivational factor for the class, but the girls were handled with great care to make sure they were really solid before putting them on.

    She has now passed the level 3 exams, and next year her class will have an hour a week for pointe. And she’ll be turning 12 in the middle of the year. There have been kids there doing level 3 and even level 4 work whose bodies aren’t yet ready for pointe (usually bone development) that simply do the work in soft shoes until the docs pass them. I think the oldest that this happened to was 13. At the same school where a couple barely 9-year-olds were passed.

    Most recreational schools aren’t going to have a podiatrist and teachers trained in physiology to know what to look for, so age 11 is a safe general guideline. But when you hear “The Russians put their kids on pointe at age 8!” you’ll know the truth. It’s not every kid. It’s highly individualized. Given that sometimes even properly-trained 13-year-olds don’t have the right bone development yet, it’s a good idea to check with a podiatrist anyway, if you can find one used to working with ballet dancers.

    • You make an excellent point about individualized assessment from qualified teachers AND physiologists or doctors! Though you are right many schools do not have the ability to extend medical assessment as a service to their students, a school paying attention to the latest dance science recommendations would require all pointe students to be medically evaluated before beginning pointe. Yet another reason I feel many studios out there should reconsider or reevaluate their pointe program.

      Thanks for your comment and for stopping by!

  5. Hi Nichelle
    Im so pleased to see an article like this published. As a pointeshoe designer, it is very difficult for me to develop appropriate footwear for the market, when that market contains dancers that should not yet be “en pointe”. One concern, for example, is the commercialisation of harder shanks that seem to be in demand from young bodies that dont yet have the strength to support themselves correctly. While pointshoes are extremely subjective, and hard shanks certainly do work for many experienced dancers, it seems counter productive to have a 10 year old wearing rock hard pointeshoes and struggling to achieve anywhere near the correct line through the spine, hips and legs.
    We need to educate, so thankyou for spreading the word

    – Tim

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Tim. I would not have thought of this issue from a shoe designer’s perspective but what an insight! I have heard of this more and more, students purchasing harder shanks. As these are made for professionals (who go through shoes so quickly) or those with an extreme arch, I too find it counter productive and slightly ludicrous to expect the shoe to make up for inadequate technique. I appreciate your stopping by!

    • Hi
      I was very interested in what you have to say about the hardness of pointe shoes. Do you not think that a lot of dancers going en pointe for the first time just are not ready.? I find that a softer shanked shoe can sometimes be extremely difficult for a new dancer to stand up in as you need a good core stability to hold you there. I fit each dancer according to what is in front of me. Some dancers require more strength. For me it is a dancers ability to be able to push over the box, and use the demi pointe break correctly. I find that many teachers do not teach the correct breaking in of pointe shoes also. I use a stronger backed shoe if a dancer is heavier. For me it is all about the shoe style. A higher arch with longer toes may need a longer vamp. It is such a difficult subject of which there is no right or wrong answer but to adapt it to what the dancer in front of you is needing. I feel that too many dancers are in the wrong size of shoe, meaning that the arch does not adhere to the correct point on the shank. For me a lot of problems are caused by ouch pouches pushing them out of a box and requiring a shoe too wide and long for the foot. Its great to see a pointe shoe designer making comments on a page like this. So appreciated.

      • Hi Linda.
        Yes I absolutely agree with you, many dancers are going on pointe too early. At the end of the day a shank is only doing its job when it is conforming to the foot. Having a rock hard shank that doesn’t bend is doing nothing except forcing more weight into the toes. And its the mentality of putting weak/young dancers in harder shanks that can cause problems. Its natural to think that a weak dancer needs a hard shank, but unless they are taught to break/bend these hard shanks correctly, the opposite is true. And that is where the core strength you mention comes in.

    • Tim you make a great point with the harder shanks. I believe that each student is unique in their needs, but most students generally speaking, should not need to begin their pointe work with super shanks! I think if there seems to be an increasing demand of harder shanks for young dancers, I certainly think there can be a correlation with students beginning pointe work too early, before they have fully developed the proper strength and technique to support themselves with a more appropriate shank.
      When I began pointe work, I was put in a soft shank, and I remember the majority of my class was the same, or had a medium shank. I progressed through mediums, and then hard shanks rather quickly, as I have always had stronger feet and ankles naturally, and once I got into center work especially, I started “killing” my softer shoes at an abnormally fast rate.
      I believe that by starting a student in hard shanks, unless they have an individual circumstance that requires it, actually has the potential of pulling away much of the hard work the student did in pre-pointe, building up their muscles. With that initial shoes(s) being hard, a student can rely on the shoe itself instead of their own strength, and end up executing early pointe work poorly and progressing at a slower rate.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tim!
      Amanda*

  6. I fit Pointe shoes and you have some fabulous, very important information here on your site. I 100% agree with the importance of age and bone development. I do however see so much damage that has been done to young dancers feet and this is mainly due to the badly fitted shoes they are wearing. I see that you have a picture of a Grishko 2007 pointe shoe above? that foot also has an ouch pouch inside it, this means that the shoe has to be a 1/2 size to 1 full size, then add the extra width to fit the foot and pouch inside it thus making the shoe too big. When the dancer gets en pointe the foot will sink down the shoe causing stress on the growth plates on the dancers soft bones, plus with the extra width again the foot will spread down into the shoe. I am interested on what your opinion on the use of these ouch pouches are ? I do sometimes think that some fitters have an easy job by using these inserts, it means that they can fit badly and easily because the insert is taking away any pain. I take the minimum of 1 hour to fit a shoe, sometimes 2 for a first fitting…I also wonder why fitters do not look at the line of the leg, making the shoe and leg look like one complete extension, instead of a leg with a big shoe on it. Ballet is all about lines and yet I am completely shocked why this line does not extend to the tips of the toes, I feel the eye should not even see the shoe on a dancer there making one beautiful line. I would really be interested to know your views or anybody else’s view on this, …Many thanks in advance to you….

    • Hi Linda, I missed this comment before but wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts and expertise throughout. I’m not really qualified to speak to all of the issues you raise here. (the image is simply a nice quality, freely licensed photo, so I have no connection to the wearer or fitter of the pointe shoe)

      However, it is my understanding that a well-fitted pointe shoe should not need an ouch pouch. Maybe I’m old-school in thinking that taping and perhaps a little lambs wool is a better solution for any necessary spot-protecting?

      I think though that the majority of students out there in studios do not have access to or cannot afford qualified fitters or a more customized shoe. They get a little advice from their teacher or the store clerk and so, yes, they probably do end up needing an ouch pouch. This is yet another reason why I am an advocate for reexamining pointe programs at the recreational level.

      • Hi
        Thanks for your thoughts.
        I use taping, a big tip or a little silicone inlay. I find that this is the only way I can correctly fit a pointe shoe, allowing it to hold the foot snuggly, that way no sliding down the shoe and toes hitting the box each time a dancers goes en pointe can take place. Its an interesting subject the ouch pouch….to use or not to use?

        • I think ouch pouches are a good idea. They increase the amount of surface area that is contact with the box which reduces pressure on the bones. You’re never going to get a pointeshoe that fits perfectly for the simple reason that the foot is a completely different shape standing flat then when it is on pointe. So its impossible to have an exact fit for both. So there has to be a compromise. And ouchpouchs, lambswool etc help to bridge the gap.

          • Hi Tim

            I can hear what you are saying re ouch pouches but I fit a snug shoe so I can take away the need for a pouch, but I will use items etc. that take up no further room in the box so as to get that snug fit. In my experience an ouch pouch can increase the size and width required of a shoe by maybe a half size length and an X width box. once the shoe has warmed and has that little give this then means a foot slides down the box. I require a dancer to be able to pull out of the box (using her core muscles) when she dances, if the shoe is starting out with room this is an impossible thing to do. If a shoe is the exact length and width for the foot, it will work better en pointe. The area usually needing a little padding is the big toe as thats where the foot steers the shoe, but its good that we all have differing views, it all helps the dancer to strive for the perfect shoe….but the thinner the inserts the snugger the shoe….

    • Linda,
      I’m so glad someone mentioned the photo above. When I first came across the article, I noticed the issue with the ouch pouches and the ill-fitted shoes, and it was driving me crazy! I personally, have tried multiple avenues for comfortable padding options, that at the same time allow me to feel the floor, have a snug fit, and do not hinder my technique. It’s quite the task, with so many options, it adds a whole other issue with pointe shoe buying!
      When I first began pointe work, I started with tape, and some lambs wool. Those were really the only options that were presented to me. After some time went by, “Ouch Pouches” became the latest trend, (as if pointe shoe padding was a trend at all!?) everyone at my studio was trying them out, so of course, I went out and got them. I danced with ouch pouches for most of high school, and no wonder when years later I came across my beloved collection of high school pointes, and decided to try them all on for a sentimental moment, none of them seemed to fit properly or comfortably with the padding I use now! (I know my feet also most likely changed but I do think the “Ouch Pouches” played a role).
      After my “Ouch Pouch” days, I tried various brands of Gels. Some far too bulky, some that didn’t fit my wide foot properly, and some that even made my pointe work distorted looking because they didn’t allow me to feel the floor and sat in my shoe in strange positions. After many frustrations with Gels, I spent some time back with tape, and would stick tissues, and various little pads (like corn and bunion types) that I would buy from the drug store, and use them accordingly with the areas that were inflamed, or injured. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, this is not a fun route to take, as it seems silly to take action in your comfort after having do damage, rather than using preventative measures!
      More recently, I have returned to the Gel “World” in search of new and improved Gels. I was able to use a blue, medium thickness Gel for a rather long time (I can’t remember the brand) and was pretty satisfied with them. They were the best I had tried, I could still feel the floor, and the nasty blistering, cuts, etc. were of course subsiding!
      I finally had to retire that pair, and I returned to the dance store with the anticipation of purchasing the same ones. However, the very knowledgeable store clerk recommended another kind, lighter weight, thinner, better fit, and clear, and I love them!. (Made by Bloch) I think perhaps I have finally found the right padding for me! (Don’t want to say that too loud!) Now, to return to the never-ending quest of finding the perfect pointe shoe!
      Anyway, you didn’t ask for my life journey in the padding world, but I just wanted to say I highly agree with you in regards to the “Ouch Pouches” and I hope students know there are many options available, especially as years go on and more and more time is dedicated to the pointe shoe world.
      Thanks,
      Amanda*

  7. My daughter Alina will be 9 in a weeks time. She started ballet classes 2 years ago advancing from Primary in Dance to Grade 1 (Royal Academy of Dance)and Grade 2 beginning this curricular year. She passed her RAD Grade one exam with “Distinction”. Last year she attended a two hour weekly course with a supplementary private hour (total 3 hours). This year she has augmented that to a total of 4 hours a week with 2 hours private tuition. She is working with a former Kirov ballerina who maintains that our daughter holds great promise. This year, as of January she would like to get Alina started with pointe shoes. Alina is light and relatively “petite”, but has stamina and muscle strength. Nevertheless, taking your above guidelines as a general starting point, Alina should wait another 2 years until she is 11. While I am aware that providing advice from afar is difficult, going by your experience and gut feeling, would you recommend waiting at least another year, or based on the fact that Alina’s teacher is somebody who has actually graduated from the Vaganova Academy, danced at the Mariinsky and personally gone through the grueling professional dance world, she ought to know whether our daughter is up to the task or not. Thanks in advance for any insight you may wish to share.

  8. Hi Omar
    It sounds like your daughter is doing very well, congratulations. In my opinion, being a professional dancer doesn’t necessarily qualify you to make decisions on the safest route to a career on pointe. Thats not to say that your teacher isn’t qualified, but from the qualifications you have listed here, I would look to get a second opinion.
    I myself am an ex-professional dancer, and I have spent the last 12 years studying, designing, testing and fitting pointeshoes on ballerinas around the world. And I would not consider myself qualified to advise on this issue. If you have access to a physiotherapist that works with dancers, it might be a good idea to combine their advice with your teacher to come to the right decision.

    • Hello Omar, I agree with Timothy’s answer. Many top schools do not rely on a teacher’s assessment alone and work directly with physiotherapists to assess their pointe students.

      In addition, I’d like to point you to a resource from the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS). It is a document on pointe readiness: http://www.iadms.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=185 (the pdf is here)

      IADMS recommends age 12 but acknowledges that growth rates, maturity, and physical readiness are all relevant factors and vary from child to child.

      Growth from age 9 to age 12 and the changes occurring in the body are considerable. My thoughts turn to a former student of mine who was within that age range when she came back from a summer break inches taller, longer limbed, and working with an entirely new body. She would not have been prepared for pointe upon her return. She was looking quite strong the spring before but hadn’t the strength now to control her longer limbs. She had to learn to work in her new body.

      I am no expert, I am no physiotherapist – I recommend consulting people who are. In my personal opinion benefits to an early start at age 9 do not outweigh any risks involved, even if they are minimal. Waiting another year or two will only give her more time to prepare and refine her strength and technique, waiting won’t even put her behind other students.

      • Hi I agree with the above reply. That article is a most important piece.
        I have it placed on my website along with many x rays of a childs bone development of the foot, that show exactly why this subject is so very important to consider before placing en pointe.
        Linda

  9. Omer,

    Your daughter’s teacher is probably in a better position to know than most teachers, but I’d still recommend taking her to a podiatrist who works with ballet dancers, and possibly a physiotherapist. While the teacher can see and tell whether or not her muscles are ready (and this is an important part of what teachers do at this stage), it takes an x-ray to see the development of the small bones of the feet. That’s why the podiatrist needs to know what the development should be before working on pointe. My own daughter’s teacher is now working on her master’s in pedagogy through the Vaganova Academy, but this is an area which is covered in the basic certification. The girl I mentioned earlier was tremendously strong and light, and in fact sounds very like your daughter. But the bones in her feet were still soft, and going en pointe would have risked having the pressure of it bending the bones and crippling her. Her mom monitored her very carefully, having her feet x-rayed every few months, and then every couple of weeks as both the Nutcracker and the international competition loomed. Her feet were finally strong enough just a couple of weeks before the first performance. She took it very easy despite that.

  10. There are some excellent observations made in these comments. Here are a few of my own, based on as yet *limited* experience with young students undertaking beginning pointe work. First, when my school opened its doors in 2006, several kids from other area schools appeared at my threshold, wishing to take entire technique classes wearing pointe shoes. They were UNEQUICVOCALLY too weak for this. Period. I consulted with Mignon Furman, who was kind enough to write out her thoughts on this practice; her letter hangs in a frame in my office. In a nutshell, what she said was, NO. She of course elaborated on this point, but her advice helped me a great deal, as I could simply refer to her letter when confronted with pushy moms or their kids who felt entitled to engage in pointe work against my advice. Ultimatley they either listened or left the school.

    Now that the school has started growing its own legs, so to speak, I have a younger population entering a second year of exposure to American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum; the Level 3-A class is untertaking beginning pointe this year. Pointe readiness received much discussion at the NTC training last summer, and even moreso this past summer at the Level 4-5 training. Our mentor and co-creator of the curriculum, Raymond Lukens, had this to say last year: 1) Contrary to what we’ve all been told, there is no substantiated scientific evidence that starting pointe earlier than age 11 is necessarily harmful to a developing foot. 2) Having said that, age 11 is often an ideal age to introduce beginning pointe work. 3) If you can wait until age 12, that’s even better.

    This past summer at the NTC Level 4-5 training, four girls from the JKO School Level 4 class gave an hour-long pointe demonstration–roughly a half-hour at barre, and a half-hour in centre floor. They were strong and lovely, and dancing well within the confines of what was developmentally appropriate for them. They were ages 13 and 14, but one of them told us that she had been a Level 4 student for 2-and-a-half years. The focus of the NTC is slow, careful technique building. Pointe is introduced in Level 3 of the NTC, but it is very, very simple work given facing the barre, over both feet. Care is also taken to avoid a slow releve and a slow descent until the child is strong, because of the stress this places on the Achilles. Pre-pointe exercises are introduced in Level 1 of the NTC, and are designed to build strength in the feet, ankles, calves, knees, and anterior tibialis muscles. My own students get a LOT of work addressing strength-building in these areas. I am confident that my Level 3 girls–ages 11, 12, and 15–will do just fine this year in their half-hour weekly pointe class, and the 9-year-old among them will continue to work on three-quarters pointe in her demi-pointe shoes; they attend technique classes twice-weekly for an hour-and-a-half, and Pilates once-weekly for more intense strength-buildling in the core musculature. (Note: my 15-year-old student came to me two years ago from another school, where she had been allowed to work incorrectly on pointe for some time. I was shocked: not only was she too weak, but also suffered from EXTREME hypermobility in the knees, and also subluxation of the kneecaps. The first thing I did was get her out of her pointe shoes. In the intervening years I have focused on helping her learn to stand and work correctly with those noodly legs and knees, making sure the heels are always together in first position, and to work doggedly on strengthening the knees; I allowed her to begin very basic pointe work second semester last year for fifteen minutes at the end of each technique class. She is working so beautifully now, and I could not be more pleased and proud of her for being willing to wait and take things slowly.)

    About the shoes. Well, there is of course so much to be said. When I look at my own experience with pointe work as a young student, I am frankly pretty horrified. I distinctly remember my mom (who was at the time dancing professionally) arguing with my teacher that I should NOT be allowed to undertake pointe yet. I was nine, and lobbied vigorously with my teacher to be allowed to start. In the end, my teacher and I won the arguement, my mom relented, and I began–way too soon. I started in clunky Capezio Niccolinis, and eventually later used both Freeds and Gambas, as my mom favored them. I was NEVER allowed to use any kind of cushioning because of mom’s old-school philospshy, which had been handed down to her directly from Celia Franca and Betty Oliphant at the Nat’l Ballet School of Canada. So I spent years with horribly blistered feet and bruised toenails. I look back on those days and think that at least SOME kind of cushioning would have helped, as well as shoes that had been fitted professionally. In short, I think the agony was avoidable (and I never pass up an opportunity to tell my mom so).

    Now that I have been through the fitter training at Gaynor Minden, I must say I am very impressed with the product there and wish like heck those shoes had been available during my dancing days. I’ve been using them myself since 2006, and have now started fitting my own students in them. For a beginning student, they offer more stability than any shoe I’ve had experience with. I also like the profile of the shoe–it is distinctly “un-clunky.” Unlike traditional shoes, there is no breaking in–the shoe does not change when you begin to work in it. There are six variables used in fitting the shoe (and five different shank strengths), so a properly fitted G-M is very close to a custom fit. I personally am not against using the Ouch Pouch Jr (or better still, the new professional version, which has no bottom), but using this or any other kind of padding must be taken into account in the fitting of the shoe. And G-M has a kit consisting of tiny, variously shaped cushions that may be applied in the bottom of the box to address particular trouble spots–for example, the outside edge of the big toenail, which may need a little extra attention.

    Having said all that, I am still a newbie when it comes to fitting others in pointe shoes, and I’m sure my own opinions will evolve over time. I appreciate all the advice and comments here. Great post as always, Nichelle.

    • actually the closest you can get to a custom fit pointeshoe is one that is made from a water based paste. This type of paste can be found in some pointeshoes manufactured by Freed, Bloch, Capezio, Suffolk and Gamba. Im sure there are other brands, but I dont know the paste make up to confirm.

      A pointeshoe that is constructed with a water based paste will start to return to a semi paste like state (a little like a very hard playdough) as the dancers sweats. This allows the box of the shoe to conform to the contours of the dancers foot inside. Once this transformation has taken place the idea is to dry out the shoe and paint shellac inside the box to water proof the shoe and prevent further degradation of the paste. Many people think that shellac strengthens a pointeshoe. What it really does is water proof a shoe made from water based paste and makes sure it keeps its strength and maintains the custom shape of the dancers foot.
      Very often when I have fit professional dancers you can see the exact shape of their toes impressed inside the box of the shoe. This is what happens when the correct type of shoe is managed the correct way and it really is the closest thing available to a custom shoe.

      Gaynor Mindens boxes (and shanks) are made from plastic. So there is no opportunity to get a custom conformation of the toes. They compensate for this by having a layer of foam in between the box and the foot, which is not unlike wearing a toe pad.

      • Tim
        The shoes I fit are Russian and they are made with a starch glue (which is edible) I only will fit the one brand of shoe because I also can usually get a good snug custom fit for that exact reason, as the foot warms the glue softens and gives slightly. I also see the complete inprint of the foot inside the shoe after wear, this is why I will not allow shoes to be swapped onto different feet as some dancers are told to do. I will not put down any make of shoe as it is not my speciality but I do take a lot of dancers who come to me out of a plastic backed shoe. I find that they are far more lacking in foot strength as they do not have to “break in” the shoe at demi pointe. Although breaking in a shoe is a tedious procedure for some dancers, it does me they gain intrinsic muscle strength (essential for good strong pointe work) also that the shoe breaks at exactly the correct point for their foot. I have many girls come to me with those shoes who have shoes way too big. I always thoroughly examine the bottom of each dancers shoes, they tell me the history of that shoe, if its too big, can they get over the box,rolling in or rolling out and much more.They may be good when a dancer has completed her training and knows exactly how to use her shoes and feet, but for a young dancer this is an important part of acquiring pointe work skills. for me a dancer needs to have more time handed to her for a shoe fitting, that way the right vamp length, box shape, shank strength can all be found. I am lucky enough to only fit pointe shoes and so I can spend 1 hour minimum sometimes 2 with each dancer on a first fit. You can never get the perfect results until a dancer has danced in the shoe, she can then give me her feedback,(for this reason also maturity is needed when doing pointe work) if its all OK then great, if not then my work starts, do I need to reduce vamps, change roll thro strengths etc. etc. all of which are open for me to do by my manufacturers in Moscow for a tiny fee.
        A pointe shoe needs to breathe then hung up and be dried after use otherwise the shoe breaks down and rots..Look after your shoes and they will last you well. You cannot do this with a plastic shoe. I know when a girl enters my home if she has a plastic shoe in her bag as I can smell them LOL, also I wonder in this age of recycling where these shoes stand…are they eco friendly. There are many plastic shoes on the market, so please don not in anyway think I am putting down any one particular brand. I can only go on what each individual dancer presents to me during a fitting, but for me nothing can beat a handmade shoe made to traditional methods.

        • PS is it not great to have all these little arguments and discussions?

          • yeah its a great discussion. It sounds like we have the same point of view. good to hear the Grishko paste shapes itself to the foot. I thought they might contain the same paste as I was talking about above but wasnt sure.
            You mention there being many plastic shoes on the market. I thought only GMs and one Bloch shoe had a plastic shank. Are there more?

            • Tim I am just trying not to upset any particular manufacturer LOL, there is another shoe worth you taking a look at which is called capulet….you can insert your own plastic shanks……

              • Where are you based Tim ?? Do you make your own shoes ?

                • oh yes the Capulet. I know it. I forgot it had a plastic shank.

                  Im based in Australia where I run a footwear design consultancy business specialising in dance footwear. At this point in time I have only designed and commercialised dancewear for other brands.
                  Its such a fascinating industry and I’m very passionate about it.

                  • and I wouldnt worry about upsetting pointeshoe brands by offering your opinion. :) Its all part of the subjective world that is pointe. Chances are you are probably going to comment on one of my designs and I promise I can take criticism. :)

                    • Hahaha I have VERY strong views on certain brands, only due to the damage that I see done on young feet., sadly not all people are the same. I know Grishko take a lot of criticism for the hardness of their shoes which I also can take and comment on if necessary. keep in touch Tim, my email address is on my website and feel free to contact me. dare I ask what one of your designs is called ?

  11. Id love to hear your opinion on some of the pointe brands. I say let it out, and they can all learn from constructive criticism.

    Most of the pointeshoes Ive designed are for Bloch. Some of them are listed on my website. One of my favourite products is the Alpha pointshoe. S0104. After fitting 80 girls in the Royal Danish Ballet and School and hearing the 80th request to make the outsole shorter, I thought we needed to try something new. It was designed, and a dancer in the Australian Ballet (now my wife :)) spent 18 months testing it until we were happy to release it to the market.

    • Whats your website address ? By the shorter outsole, do you mean a 3/4 shanked shoe instead of a full shank ? We at Grishko have been using this very shank for a long time with the 2007 shoe very succesfully…I have now looked up the shoe on Bloch website….I like it, you also have a nice vamp and shoe shape, may I please ask how high the box is on it ??? I find the problem with many shoes is the lack of height in the box, the metatarsal heads cannot then be safely encased in the shoe, thus causing bulging and an incorrect weight balance happens. This usually means an inability to push right over the box correctly, or damage to the metatarsals over time in young dancers with soft bones.

      • Linda
        If you click on my name here in my posts, it directs you to my website. http://www.tchfootwear.com
        The Alpha has a 3/4 outsole and comes in a full shank and 3/4 shank.
        The box is high, it finishes almost at the vamp drawstring, but it is tapered off so it doesn’t finish abruptly and limit the demipointe.

        • I will certainly take a look at your website….Good Shoe then Timothy,.It is the type of shoe I would certainly consider using for my fittings, it has a lot of the attributes I use when fitting shoes, but I am a Grishko only fitter, I work very closely with Grishko. I have not seen any dancers come to me with this particular Bloch shoe….I am removing many dancers out of these awful Bloch (sorry) plastic shanked shoes. I just don’t like plastic shanks.

          • What are your thoughts on Grishko shoes ?

            • I really do love the discussion going on here. I want to point out though that it’s veered off-topic from the original article which has more to do with training requirements than pointe shoe construction.

              For the sake of others who may want to comment or ask questions about the original article, I’m going to ask that the conversation on pointe shoe design continue perhaps through email. If at some… pointe :) I open up a discussion article/topic on brands or design, I welcome your thoughts. Thank you so much for your passion and all you do in the dance world!

  12. My pre-pointe teacher has been telling me I was ready for pointe for a while, but my technique teacher said no. Then, last Thursday, my pre-pointe teacher said that my technique teacher said I could do it at barre.:D I psyched, this means my first pointe class is this Thursday! What shoud I do to prepare? What should I expect?

    • Hi Ingrid,

      It certainly depends on your teacher what you’ll be doing and how much time you’ll spend en pointe. Typically, a first-time pointe student would not spend a great deal in full pointe. If your teacher is going through pointe shoe care and some basics with you, you might not spend much time at all.

      You’ll likely practice rising and lowering with control in different positions, and you may do combinations without any rising at all. Some dancers find the transition rather easy, others don’t. You may experience some discomfort while wearing the shoes or after. The shoes can take some getting used to, and it takes time for the foot to protect itself with areas of toughened skin.

      As far as preparation, a day or two before clip your toenails (not too short), straight across (squared rather than rounded to avoid ingrown toenails). Unless you’ve been instructed on proper breaking in and sewing techniques, don’t do anything to the shoes. You should ask your teacher if or how she’d like you to prepare them ahead of time.

      Have fun!

  13. Hi again,
    So I had my first pointe class the Thursday before last (then my studio went on break). I had been taking the same pointe class in soft slippers on demi-pointe since September. My pointe teacher had told my I could do pointe. I ended up taking the whole class en pointe, even the centerwork, although my shoes died almost right away because I had been given a soft shank and I have very arched/flexible feet. Then, this week I was taking open classes over break at a local studio, and one of the technique teachers invited me to take her pointe class for free. I did not have my shoes with me but I took it on demi-pointe anyway. Now, we will be starting regular classes again and I am going to ask my technique teacher if I can do pointe, since I asked her once before, and she said no, she didn’t want the level to start yet, but my pointe teacher still thought I was ready. If my technique teacher says no, than I can no longer take the class at my regular studio. But, I would still be able to take the class at the other studio. Would this be safe? Why are so many people saying yes and she saying no? I know a lot of girls at my studio take pointe elsewhere because of her saying this. And if she says yes, is it safe to take both pointe classes, 2 per week?

    • Ingrid: How long have you studied ballet, and how many times a week do you attend technique classes? And, if you don’t mind, may I ask your age?

      –Deb Young, Knoxville Ballet School

      • I have studied ballet for approx. 1 1/2 years, which I know is short. I am 14 years of age, will be 15 in July, so I was a late starter. I take technique classes about 5 times a week, each class is 1 1/2 hours. I know I have not been doing ballet very long, but I feel (and I know I am no qualified judge) that I have some natural strength, as I am in a level with girls who have been doing ballet for 3-5+ years and was one of the few selected to take pre-pointe in September. Also, if I were to take the pointe class at the other (not my regular) studio, I would probably only do it at the barre, especially in the beginning.

        • Hmmmmm. It is difficult to comment very specifically without seeing your work. But to try to answer your question: “Why are so many people saying yes and she saying no?” I would suggest that your technique teacher is in the best position of anyone to judge your readiness, because she knows your strengths, weaknesses, and work habits better than anyone else. The biggest red flag I see in what you have posted is your being allowed to undertake pointe work in centre floor as a beginning student of pointe. Even with the amount of technique you are getting each week (and I applaud you for that), I think it is very important to limit pointe work to barre only—at least for a semester!—before attempting work in centre floor. There is no harm in waiting; if you have the will and the desire to undertake pointe work, it will happen, and your legs and feet will ultimately thank you for a slow, careful beginning. And as an aside, I am really kind of surpised that you went through a pair of shoes that quickly, even if you have “banana” feet. Wow. I would suggest not only a stiffer shank, but maybe also a deeper vamp.

          Anyway, that is my two cents’-worth without the benefit of seeing you dance. Best of luck to you in your continued studes.

          Deb Young

          • thank you! If I do end up taking the pointe class outside my regular place, I will definitely do it only at the barre, at least until summer. I just hope my technique teacher says yes! I know generally she is the best one to listen to, but it frustrates me that so many people were on pointe before she was their teacher and then she denied them despite that. I think part of it is that she wants the level to start at the same time and a lot of the younger kids are nowhere near ready. Anyway, thank you for your insight!

            • I know this is a way late response to your last comment, Ingrid, but I wanted to say that I myself have been the teacher taking kids off pointe who had been previously allowed to by another.

              It is a MUCH easier path to just give people what they want and yes, some students and parents are likely to leave when they don’t get what they want (even if what they want isn’t best for them). To say NO or Wait or especially “you were put on pointe too soon” takes strength and a strong commitment to what you absolutely feel is right (or it wouldn’t be worth the resistance you are sure to receive). The right call is always a tough call when it’s not the popular one, and making a tough call is rarely done lightly.

              I have trouble imagining that any teacher would just be “mean” enough to go against the grain for no good reason. It’s much easier to imagine teachers wanting to avoid conflict and take the path of least resistance, isn’t it? Just something to think about (not necessarily just you, Ingrid but anyone who might be incredulous or feeling doubt or frustration about teachers taking students off pointe).

  14. Hi, my daughter turned 10 in October. She has been taking ballet classes for 2 years. Her teacher told us that she is ready for pre-pointe class. I don’t know if pointe class that you all are talking about is same as a pre pointe class. My daughter has also been doing gymnastics for a few years and that is one of the reasons why her teacher thinks that she is strong enough. Also, if she does go into that class, she would be doing one technique class and one prepoint class per week. The studio actually requres two technique classes plus pre pointe but my daughter’s schedule wouldn’t allow it at the moment and the studio was going to make an exeption for her. They do that sometimes for kids that compete in other sports. There is another girl who only takes pre point but no technique class. That seems very strange to me. We would at least try to squeeze in a technique class in addition to the pre point class. I don’t want my daughter to risk any injury or permanent damage. Want to hear your thoughts. Thanks loads.

  15. I am 9 and just going on to pointe. My mum thought I shouldn’t, but I have been doing both ballet and gymnastics for around 4 years. She said OK, although whilst told me I have to do the following:

    1) Practice at least half an hour per day until they break in.
    2) Until I and she know I can go up, I will have to go on a bar to decrease my chance of injury, when I can go up I can do simple moves on the bar, then advanced bar work and then go off and simple work and the advanced.
    3) Make sure to be careful

    And lastly to wear ballet gear such as a tutu or leotard, and a pair of regular socks under my ballet ones. Is that sensible, or should I wait? My 8 year old friend is fine on pointes, yet has only been doing ballet for 2 years.

    All I want to know is if following those guidelines I will be fine. Thank you.

    • Hi Frankie,

      Is your mom also your teacher? And, if not, what has your ballet teacher said to you regarding pointe work? Please do not practice pointe without guidance, observation, and instruction from a qualified teacher.

      It is true that initially during pointe classes, this work would be practiced almost entirely at the barre and progress to centre. This is for your safety and to build strength. The number of years a student might take ballet before beginning pointe will depend on how intense the instruction has been during those years and, of course, the abilities and dedication of the student. Likewise, it’s not necessarily the amount of time in daily practice in the shoes but the quality of that practice. The shoes should be somewhat broken in before you begin your classes according to whatever your instructor has recommended.

      Also, not all teachers agree with me, but 8 and 9 years old is a bit younger than I would be comfortable placing any student on pointe. This is because bones are still growing and may continue to do so for the next few years. I’d rather see younger students like yourself continue to build strength and technique in flat shoes… I’ve never encountered a case in which the student suffered from waiting. I can’t say the same for students who began too soon.

  16. Omer Tuzel says:

    Greetings to all interested followers of this site. I would like to share our daughter’s experience regarding pointe. I encouraged my daughter Alina to take up ballet at age 7 after observing her interest for the art, which I must admit I fostered as a result of my own love for ballet. By the time Alina started taking ballet lessons she had already wached almost all the classical/romantic repertoire, happily humming Don Quixote, Paquita and Nutcracker tunes at home while playing. We started cautiously, enrolling her in ballet classes at a private ballet school in the capital of Turkey, Ankara. The ballet school was a typical hobby ballet school, without any pretension of raising superstars. However, our daughter was very lucky in that her ballet teacher turned out to be a former Kirov ballerina who had graduated from the Vaganova Academy, had married a Turk and settled in Turkey after her career ended. I give this detailed background because it is important for the continuation of the story. Alina started out with 2 hours (45 minutes each) of ballet instruction per week. After some 6 months, her teacher approached us and told us that Alina showed great promise and she would like to work privately with our daughter. After consulting Alina, who told us that while she would welcome private lessons with her teacher, nevertheless she also wanted to continue with her classmates, we decided to continue with her bi-weekly classes, augmented with a one hour private class. At first we worried that this might be too much for a 7 year old, nevertheless, we soon discovered that for her it was all play and joy rather than a burden. The ballet school offered the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) sylabus with an opportunity to take the ensuing end of the year graded exam. However, I noticed that while Alina’s teacher was pursuing the RAD program, she was equally concentrating on the Vaganova sylabus both during regular classes, as well as during the private hour. Naturally the first year went by on soft shoes and Alina made very good progress receiving a “Distinction” following the graded examination of dance (Grade I) of the RAD. I could see, how Alina was developing strong calf muscles which had already started to stand out quite prominently by the end of the first year. When her teacher told us to buy a pair of pointe shoes the following year, I was dismayed. Not knowing much about the subject, however, I recalled reading articles regarding the dangers of going on pointe too early. After hours behind my computer, reading all I could about the subject, I was no wiser, as there seemed to be a great difference of opinion. The more scientific/medical sites on the subject outlined in detail, together with photographs of x-rays of young girls’ feet demonstrating where cartilege had not yet transformed into bone, the potential damage that might ensue from going on pointe too early. Nevertheless, even these sites (at least the ones that I have read) shied from medically, inconclusively concluding a direct causal relationship between going on pointe too early and long term adverse affects later in life and career. In writing this, in no way do I wish to suggest that this is something one would wish to take a chance with as the parent of a young budding dancer. In the end, I approached her teacher, confronting her with all my new won knowledge and pages of computer print-outs on the subject. She told me quite decisively that girls at the Vaganova Academy started to work on point from the year they entered the ballet school at the age of 6, and she had yet to hear of any long term negative effects if working up to pointe was done in a gradual and responsible manner. Despite my misgivings I bought my daughter a pair of Grishko pointe shoes under the supervision of her ballet teacher. I thought, after all, would any teacher, herself a professional ballerina once, be so irresponsible as to do anything which might cripple a young girl for life ? Nevertheless, I decided I was going to supervise what was being done at every lesson. By this time, her teacher had proposed that we increase the private class to two hours per week, besides the regular two hours at ballet school. Again after consulting our daughter we acquiesced. The first six months of this second year went by without pointe but with very targeted exercises aimed at building up the necessary muscle strength. In the second half of the year, that is after a total of 1.5 years of ballet, our daughter went on pointe. Of course these were very simple exercises at the bar, lasting not longer than 10 minutes maximum and not consistently during each lesson. I could see that Alina was encountering no difficulty going on pointe, standing on pointe and working out on pointe (at least in those simple exercises she was asked to perform on pointe). After concluding the second year of ballet, again with a “Distinction” following the RAD graded examination (Grade II), Alina continued taking ballet lessons a further two years, except this time she herself asked us to increase the number of her private lessons to three hours per week. By this time her ballet classes at school had also increased to 1.5 hours per session (up from 45 minutes) which meant that she was now effectively taking 6 hours of ballet lessons per week. Natuarally her pointe work increased as she became stronger and acquired the necessary technique to do more on pointe including centre exercises. Her teacher provided us DVDs recorded at the end of the year exams of the Vaganova Academy where girls of Alina’s age are performing some pretty difficult exercises. It seems the Vaganova Academy has no compunction about putting 7 year old girls on pointe. Anyhow, to come to the end of my story, after four years of intensive ballet courses, Alina aged 11 in 2012 auditioned succesfully for the Viennese Conservatory ballet school and was accepted. She started her formal ballet education in fall 2012 and just received her mid term report 10 days ago. In the five months that she has been studying in Vienna they have not put Alina’s class on pointe. When I inquired when they intended to do do, her ballet instructor said not before the second term of the second year. That is February 2014 in a years time. Her classical ballet instructor was aware of Alina’s past history and allowed Alina to put on her pointe shoes once and to demonstrate to her what she could do. Afterwards she said that Alina had the developed muscles to cope with pointe work but it was school policy not to put girls on pointe before the second half of the second year. It is clear that at the Viennese Conservatory they take a more cautious approach to pointe work and are loth to take any risks. This means that after 2.5 years of pointe work in Turkey, Alina has practically hung up her shoes for the next year and a half. I don’t make any value judgements here as to who is write or wrong. I just wanted to underline the different approaches that instructors, themselves trained under different schools and meyhods can take towards pointe work where their dancers are concerned. If you were to ask me whether I have any misgivings today regarding having put Alina on pointe when she was eight, I must answer “no”. But this is a very qualified “no” in light of the method used by her Vaganova instructor in Turkey where she built up Alina’s muscle strength and technique to a point where proceeding on to do basic pointe work became a joy and a great inspiration and encouragement for our daughter.

  17. Can I take a pre pointe class after just one year of ballet training?

    • Whether or not it is appropriate for you to take pre-pointe after one year of training, Amanda, would really depend on the training, your age/commitment, and the other physical and technical factors above. These are more important than the amount of time you’ve been studying ballet and together determine your readiness. Your teacher probably has criteria you would need to meet. He/she would be the person to ask, “Am I ready?” Good luck!

  18. hey, I’m 13 and my teacher says that im ready to go onto pointe. we’re going shopping for shoes next week. In November we have a show and i was wondering whether i would be able to do a pointe dance in it. How long does it take you to be ready to do a dance on pointe?

Google+