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So, You Want to
Learn to Dance?
Is Pointe a Silly Dream?...
written by Anjuli Bai
I have this really silly dream. Someday, maybe, could I hope to dance on pointe?
That's not a silly dream at all. It's part of the ballet vocabulary.
Should an adult student even be thinking of this?
Unless there is either a physical reason or a technical reason to preclude pointe work I don't see why an adult student shouldn't try it. There are some teachers who feel that if the student isn't going to be on a vocational track, be a professional dancer, then there is no reason to study pointe. But I don't feel that way.
Why do you think it's possible?
There are reasons why a student should not go onto pointe, but a well prepared adult student without one of these specific contra-indications, should have this opportunity. It's the next step. It's a reward for a great deal of hard work. It's a goal. It's also a wonderful feeling dancing on pointe and I think that a teacher should allow this opportunity to occur if all criteria have been met. Age or vocational goal should not be the deciding factors. Well, that's my personal opinion, anyway.
So, you don't think it's a silly or hopeless dream?
Not at all. The hope is always out there - probably.
There are certain things that need to happen and certain things that have already happened that make it " probably" rather than a " certain" hope. Some of these items are changeable and some are not. Let me explain. Some of us were made to dance on pointe and some of us weren't and to the extent that your physical construction is concerned you can't change that fact.
Some people don't have the correct type of foot, knee, and/or hip structure. The feet don't really pointe, the knees don't truly straighten and the hips are not aligned correctly, or turned out sufficiently. It is also possible that the foot overarches and lacks inherent strength no matter how much the student works. The structure will not support pointe work.
How do I know?
Your teacher will certainly let you know. But here are some things you can look for. It is helpful if your first three toes are fairly well lined up. If your feet are extremely tapered it is a bit more difficult, but not impossible. It is also helpful if your second toe is not longer than your big toe. Quite a number of people have this configuration and though it is possible to deal with it, it does present some difficulty. It is also helpful to have a well constructed arch to your foot.
So the bigger my arch is the better? It certainly is beautiful!
A large arch is very beautiful, but bigger is not necessarily better. Generally speaking, the bigger the arch the softer it is. I have seen dancers who literally spill out over their pointe shoes. I knew one who had to quit pointe work because she could not control this no matter what she did with her shoes. Her feet were simply much too flexible.
Maybe then, a very straight arch?
It is possible to go too much the other way! Some people have very little arch in their feet. They are almost concave. This is impossible to work with. A good test is that the dancer should be able to go up on pointe with the platform of the shoe in contact with the floor after she fully straightens her knees. Straight arches are a very strong construction, but not flexible enough to be useable on pointe.
Something in the middle would be best?
As with many things in life, moderation is often a good deal.
Does age have anything to do with it? Might I be too old?
Well, that's a possibility, but usually it's because the dancer is too young. A student should never go onto pointe before she is twelve years old no matter what the technical level of the child or how many years she has already been dancing. The bones of the foot are simply not ossified enough. But since you are an adult, we need not discuss that further here.
I once had a student who was fifty when she started pointe. She had all the other necessary attributes and she did very well. But, I'm not sure I would recommend it as a general rule. She had studied steadily for a number of years so she was an exception, rather than the rule.
However, certainly if the other criteria are met there is no reason why a student in her twenties, thirties or even forties can't undertake this part of the ballet vocabulary.
When can I expect to be able to try this?
As for time and date, that's fairly inexact because it depends upon how many classes per week you take, how long you have taken lessons and your individual physical construction. Your teacher is the final authority on this. And she'll be looking for a certain technical level to have been attained.
If I can't practice pointe before going onto pointe - then what technical things is my teacher going to be looking for?
Going onto pointe is a bit like learning to dance all over again. So, you need to have a good solid technical foundation.
Good mastery and control on demi-pointe is basic. She will be watching how your balance is on demi-pointe, on two feet as well as on one foot. How you maintain that balance as you rise. If your alignment is " there" or you keep having to fix and find it. Also important are both moving balance such as in promenade and pirouette, as well as stationary balance such as in arabesque and retiré. Your rise to balance should be sure and aligned the entire time. How little you need the barre for support and how swiftly you let go of the barre are certain indicators. And then she looks for strength.
How does that show up?
It shows up in a number of ways but is very obvious in petit allegro. How you jump from two feet and from one foot, and from foot to foot. She will look for an easy jump, controlled descent and fully pointed feet while you are in the air. Also when you are moving and/or in balance how quiet your ankle is and if your foot rolls either in or out. Even when you do something like a tendu, the strength will show up. The shape of the foot is important such as sickling in simple things like tendu or more complex movements such as frappé.
There's a lot that goes into this!
Yes, there is! The teacher has to be careful so that the student has every chance for enjoying the study of pointe as well as pursuing this study safely. This brings me to another subject that is a bit more difficult to mention.
Weight. I don't really like to talk about weight because I think people get very sensitive about this issue and sometimes that leads to unhealthful results. However, it is important for the student to be of a healthful weight without being overweight to any great degree. The skeleton of the body doesn't change with our weight. Our bones have to bear us up and move us around no matter what we weigh. The small bones, tendons, ligaments of our feet and ankles have a lot of work to do and they weren't meant to go up onto pointe. If the student is truly overweight, I wouldn't allow the study of pointe to take place. This should be explained to the student in a careful quiet private manner.
If I go on pointe, will it hurt?
If you are technically ready, if your feet are within the acceptable parameters of construction, if you are fitted with the proper shoes, if you have the correct padding, if your teacher is careful and the study is well paced and thoughtful - yes, it will hurt. But, mostly at the beginning and it does get better.
For most of us the study of pointe is so engrossing and so worthwhile - that it is, well, worth it!