Do you lead a Pre-Pointe workshop before your students are permitted to buy their pointe shoes?
Whenever I have a group of students who have been assessed and are ready to start pointe classes, I always insist on it.
Here’s why it’s a great idea:
- You can fully warn them about the discomfort, expected commitment, possible injuries and additional costs related to pointe work.
- They can make an informed decision about whether or not this is something they are prepared to commit to prior to purchasing shoes or the start of classes. No excuses or whinging later – ‘You knew what you signed up for’.
- You can take advantage of an ideal moment (when excitement levels are high and their interest is peaked), to go into some of the details about starting pointe work; from caring for their shoes and feet, to what padding to use.
- You can set the ground rules and expectations before you’ve even started.
From experience I know that if you wait until they have the shoes (in their hands or on their feet) they will be like children at Christmas; distracted and hyperactive, and far less likely to absorb or retain what is said!
Don’t Bore Them
So that the workshop doesn’t turn into a recital of a long list of rules and regulations, I like to keep things more engaging by incorporating a range of multimedia and props.
I might show a video of how pointe shoes are made, bring in an old battered pointe shoe to compare with a new fresh one, show photographs of different foot types, or a diagram of how your foot should sit inside the shoe.
Below is a list of the main areas to cover. Feel free to use it as a guide to help you prepare your own Pre-Pointe Workshops.
Introducing Pointe Shoes
- Pointe shoe anatomy (platform, box, wings, shank etc)
- Placement of your foot inside a pointe shoe (no scrunching, long toes etc)
- Discuss possible pain, injury and problems that pointe work can generate (and that moaning wont be tolerated – it goes with the territory), and how to minimize risks
Pointe Shoes & You
- Describe how pointe shoes will (or ought to) feel
- Introduce students to different types of feet and toes (getting them to examine their own feet and assess their foot type)
- Explain the various issues different types of feet encounter (including that speed of progression en pointe is not an isolated indicator of whether or not you are a good dancer)
- Dispel myths that may cause counterproductive envy, competition or the (often dangerous) practices of dancers attempting to stretch or force their feet in some manner to alter their shape. Include points such as;
- Flat/straight feet can be good strong feet which can offer excellent platforms for balance – they are not ‘bad feet’ just because they have comparatively less of an arch,
- Like turn-out, the majority of people may improve the shape of their foot by strengthening them, but high arches will not appear in those with a naturally flat/straight foot no matter how many rises they do – you cannot change the genetic composition of your feet,
- The often-envied high arches of the dancer with ‘pretty feet’ offer challenges of their own, and may take much more work to sufficiently strengthen – extra time, effort and patience is often required.
Fitting & Purchasing
- Where you approve of students getting fitted for their shoes (and what they should expect from the experience, including prices)
- What type and colour or ribbons you expect them to have
- What elastics you permit
- What cushioning you allow, and also recommend
Preparation & Breaking In
- Sewing on ribbons (including tactics such as singing the edge of the ribbons to prevent fraying)
- How to break in pointe shoes (and how not to!)
- Shoe adaptation options; their pros and cons (including use of elastics, darning/suede toe caps)
Shoe Care & Maintenance
- Aesthetic care (dry brushing to remove dirt, the use of calamine lotion to cover dirty spots, etc)
- Care for longevity (correctly storing shoes and letting them dry out between classes, re-hardening with jet glue etc.)
- Recycling (reusing ribbons, converting old pointes to ‘demis’)
Foot Care & Strengthening
- Foot hygiene (avoiding/caring for blisters, cutting toenails, use of talc)
- Pointe padding and accessories for particular problems (e.g. Bunheads® Jelly Toes)
- Foot/ankle strengthening exercises (standardised exercises and individual custom designed programme)
- How to correctly put on pointe shoes and tie ribbons
- How to observe good class etiquette (read: how to put your shoes on elegantly in class and for auditions, exams etc.)
- What warm-up movements are and are not suitable to do when waiting for everyone to have their shoes on and start class
- What movements/exercises are appropriate to practice at home
- The risks and dangers of practicing non-recommended movements/steps at home unsupervised, and why it is forbidden to ‘play’ with your shoes, or permit friends to try them on (no matter how much they beg)
- How to tell when your shoes are ‘dead’
Although immensely exciting, teachers should not forget that for many young dancers the idea of their first time en pointe can also be incredibly daunting. Some get distressed when they try their first pair of pointe shoes, and realise how different it feels compared to their soft shoes, or, more crucially, how they imagined it.
First-time pointe students require careful direction on all matters relating to pointe work; for their health, emotional wellbeing, safety and injury prevention and also as part of their overall dance education.
Pre-Pointe Workshops can be a comprehensive and are a rewarding introduction to this new and exhilarating phase of your students’ dancing careers.
What do you include in your Pre-Pointe Workshops?
How do you make it fun AND informative?
Tell us in the comments!
Angeline Lucas is a freelance dance writer, teacher and lecturer based in England. She has been awarded Registered Teacher Status with the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) and is an Approved Teacher of the Council for Dance Education & Training (CDET). Angeline trained at Northern Ballet School (NBS) and holds a Certificate of Higher Education in Dance Education, validated by RAD and the University of Surrey. Previous roles have included working as head of department, outreach coordinator and curriculum manager, and she also has experience in dance research and arts administration. Angeline has taught and lectured at various private dance studios, schools, colleges and on community programmes, and is considered to be a dedicated, experienced and enthusiastic teacher. While her speciality and greatest passion is classical ballet, Angeline also teaches other dance genres alongside musical theatre, circus skills, acting, drama and performing arts.