By: Mrs. Mandy
For some parents, the dream of watching your little girl dance en pointe begins when she takes the stage at her first Recital. Dressed up in glitter and frills, she twirled and leaped across the stage in her pretty pink Ballet slippers, smiling and beaming with confidence. You can see yourself years from that moment sitting in the same seat, front row for her first performance en pointe, feeling the same emotions flooding your heart and bursting with pride for her success. What will it take for her to get there? How many more years, more hours of Ballet, and more commitment will she need to succeed at that level?
The first thing all parents of young, aspiring Ballerinas should do is trust the process. Everyone involved in your child’s dance journey is excited for them and eager to watch them grow. However, Rome was not built in a day and neither is a strong, technical dancer. Ballet Instructors from all over the world focus on building a solid technical foundation in all their dancers over the course of many years. This requires taking multiple hours of class a week to ensure the protection of their bodies, as well as increasing their endurance and ability to dance safely for as long as possible.
At The Movement Dance Experience in Las Vegas, Nevada, we require our dancers who are preparing to dance en pointe to have at least 2-3 years of previous Ballet experience, and they must attend a minimum of 3.5 hours of strictly Ballet classes a week consistently to strengthen their technique, muscle capability and endurance. All this must begin before being considered for examination to move on to pointework. This means minimal absences, strict focus, and solid commitment from both the dancer and the parents. Dancers with no prior experience can begin working towards pointework in our Pre-Pointe Program, although they will be practicing in that program for at least 2 years without being considered for pointework, and in some cases it may take much longer. We hold examinations every 6 months to graduate dancers into our Pointe Program, but most will need to complete a full year or more in Pre-Pointe before being ready to move forward.
Dancers should not attempt to dance en pointe until they are at least 11 years old. In rare occasions, a 10-year-old dancer may be more physically developed and strong enough to move forward but this should not be recognized as a standard. The bones of children’s feet do not fully develop and harden until around 13-15 years of age. Dancers who attempt pointework too early risk permanent damage to the immature bone structure of their feet and ankles which can create lifetime injury. No one wishes this for your dancer! Therefore, we stress the importance of visiting a podiatrist or family doctor that can assess your dancer’s growth and sign off on moving on to pointework. Podiatrists can x-ray your dancer’s feet and confirm where your dancer is in their bone growth. Science and medicine are so cool, and very important to dance!
There are many skills that must be perfected before being considered to move on to pointework. These are just a few of the technical necessities: ability to hold correct turn out, keep knees straight, ankles extended and strong, keeping a straight trunk and engaged core, never “sickling” or breaking the line of the foot/ankle. Beyond that, it is a disappointing reality that some dancers may never have the capability to safely dance en pointe. All bodies are created differently, and some dancers will be more prone to injury simply because they are not naturally built for pointework. Dancers with low arches, flat feet, extreme pronation of the foot or even mild supination are more at risk for injury and should not attempt pointework. This may be unsatisfying for the dancer and parents alike, but safety should always come above anything else when dealing with the most precious instrument we have: our bodies.
Just because pointework is beautiful and exciting does not mean it discredits the other historical styles and their mesmerizing movement. One does not need to dance en pointe to have a successful, memorable, and fulfilling dance career. Ballet can also be performed with flat Ballet slippers, and this option gives dancers more opportunity for expression and freedom of movement. Modern, Jazz, and Contemporary dance are all attractive movement styles that have contributed to the dance art form for many years and supply dancers with a barefoot or flat shoe option. That is the beauty of dance; there is room for every BODY.
Pointework is not for everyone. It is uncomfortable, it is demanding, and once you receive your shoes, you are never done learning and growing. The process never ends! It takes a driven dancer, Instructor, and their parents, who will never give up on their goals to achieve the ultimate dream of pointework. The journey to obtaining your pointe shoes should not be taken lightly or without understanding of the requirements to succeed. Those who continue to train in Ballet and work their hardest toward dancing en pointe will be rewarded with the most incredible feeling in the whole world: conquering a new skill and rising to the top of your ambitions.