Actus Ballet Studio director, Helen Price, says:
"A dancer cannot reach his/her full potential if the basic technique is not sound.
At Actus Ballet Studio the emphasis is on understanding and achieving correct execution of classical ballet not just the outward imitation of steps. Students learn how to work with their own individual strengths and limitations. This approach to classical ballet technique results not only in safer training but more expressive dancing."
Let me explain:
If ballet students simply imitate steps they will not truly be dancing. By executing movements without an understanding of proper technique injury could occur and dancing will not be as enjoyable.
Whether hoping to dance professionally or only studying as a hobby students should progress at a rate dictated by their physical and emotional development. At Actus we watch the growth of each individual student and the progress of the class as a whole. Kindergarten age children enjoy dances that teach them about rhythm, give them opportunities to use their imagination, and show them that ballet is fun.
When children are in elementary school they are ready to begin studying the basics of classical ballet technique and become more aware of how their own bodies move. By the time students reach junior high school age they are practicing more advanced ballet steps and choreography.
The goal of a good ballet teacher is to help each student know her own body, its strengths and limitations, and understand the fundamental concepts of classical technique. The reward for this approach to training is to see a student feel the joy of dance.
Young girls taking ballet lessons dream of the day they will get their first pair of pointe shoes and dance on their toes. Dancing on pointe, however, is not child's play. Whether a student is headed for a career as a professional ballet dancer or taking lessons for recreation putting her up on her toes before she is ready is risky business.
So when can a student start pointe work safely? There really is no simple answer. Having said that, I have concluded this article with a simple answer so if you are eager to get to that just scroll down. If you do have the time to read through this article, though, I think you will begin to understand that dancing on pointe should be viewed as something that comes as a reward for a student's hard work and patience.
There are 5 things a good teacher will consider before giving a student the "go ahead" to buy her first pair of pointe shoes:
1/ Have her bones reached an adequate stage of ossification?
2/ Are her muscles strong enough?
3/ Does she have a good understanding of ballet technique?
4/ Does she have the right attitude?
5/ Are her feet and legs the correct shape to allow her to rise on pointe properly?
Going on pointe (putting the full weight of the body up on the tips of the toes) before the bones of the feet have hardened sufficiently can cause permanent damage. While every child's rate of ossification is different good teachers wouldn't risk putting a child on pointe before age 10 even if she meets all other requirements.
To dance on pointe strength in the feet, ankles, and legs is essential (especially since developing bones need protecting) and control of the core (stomach and back) muscles is crucial. On average it takes approximately 4 years of good training, attending classes at least 3 times a week to develop the strength to begin pointe work.
Here's a quick test of strength. If you can answer "yes" to both of the following questions then the student is strong enough to begin pointe work.
Can she perform a grand plie and return to a standing position without holding onto the barre and without changing the position of her feet?
Can she balance on one foot on demi pointe for 45 seconds?
Pointe work uses all of the same postural and technical skills the student has been learning in regular ballet classes. If the she does not understand these then dancing on pointe will be a struggle. With a lack of knowledge of good technique a student will resort to her own methods of executing steps on pointe. Bad habits will be reinforced through repetition and the "wrong" muscles will get stronger and eventually dominate. I have seen many a talented dancer forced to give up the dream of becoming a ballerina because of ingrained bad technique that she finds impossible to correct; more often than not starting pointe work at too young an age was a contributing factor!
Since a student should prepare and care for her pointe shoes herself she must demonstrate an adequate level of responsibility. The teacher (and a parent) can help with the first pair of pointe shoes but after that the student should be sewing on the ribbons, preparing the tape for her toes and pads for inside her shoes, and airing the shoes after use, herself. In addition, she must be able to manage the sore toes that frequently come with wearing pointe shoes. Last, but not least, recognizing a proper fit for pointe shoes is something that takes a maturity that cannot be expected of a young child.
If a student has difficulty concentrating in class and following the teacher's instructions she shouldn't be dancing on pointe. Pointe work is always done at the end of, or after, a regular ballet class. By this time the young student's attention span is already challenged. Lack of concentration when dancing on pointe can have serious consequences... like a sprained ankle!
Last on the checklist of questions is most difficult for all involved if the answer is "no" since no amount of training can change it to a "yes". Many students do not have legs or feet suitable for dancing professionally but they are perfectly fine for recreational ballet classes that include pointe work. There are a small number of girls, however, who have a bone structure of the feet and ankles that simply will not allow them to get their weight up and over their toes properly. These students should be discouraged from dancing on pointe even at a recreational level. When viewing the student's fully stretched leg and foot from the side you should be able to draw a straight line from the knee to the toes that passes through the middle of the ankle.
If students who do not meet this critirion are allowed to dance on pointe they will be frustrated as they see their classmates progressing while they struggle just to stand on their toes. More seriously, though, compensating for the problem can result in damage to the achilles tendon and strain on the knees and back, problems that very often do not show up until later in life. There is no reason, however, why these students cannot participate in, and possibly even excel in, jazz, tap, modern, or ballet that doesn't include pointe work. A happy solution would be to cultivate the student's interest in one of these forms of dance.
These are the main "points" but it should be noted that a good teacher will be wary of starting a student on pointe if she is overweight, going through a growth spurt, or frequently absent from class.
Good teachers and schools worldwide generally agree that 12 years old is the accepted average age for a student to safely start pointe work if the student has completed a minimum of 4 years good training and is attending class at least 3 times a week. Some exceptional students may meet the requirements as early as age 10 but there is no problem (or shame) starting as late as 15.
Happy (and safe) dancing!!
A ballerina on the tips of her toes is the quintessential symbol of ballet.
Have you ever wondered why ballerinas dance on pointe and when and how this strange practice got started?
In the early years of ballet (about 400 years ago) women weren't even allowed to participate. When they were finally given permission to perform (350 years ago) their dancing was restricted by the long, heavy skirts and high heel shoes they had to wear. After about 100 years a few adventurous women shortened their skirts and took the heels off of their shoes; the audience could see their feet and the dancers could make those feet do interesting steps!
Ballerinas continued to experiment with new steps and found, among other things, that they could rise up onto the tips of their toes. Of course, at that time the ballerinas could only balance briefly on their toes.
In 1827 a ballerina named Marie Taglioni amazed the ballet world when she danced on her toes in way that had never before been seen. Many credit her with being the first ballerina to dance on pointe but it would be more accurate to say that she was the first to integrate the "trick" into her dancing in an artistic and expressive way.
Needless to say all the ballerinas were eager to copy Marie. Dancing on pointe became required for ballerinas. It made them appear weightless which worked well for the ballets of that time many of which told stories of fairies, spirits and other supernatural beings.
As ballerinas strove to perform more difficult steps on pointe they also experimented with ways to reinforce their shoes so that they would get more support from them.
By the turn of the century ballerinas were performing multiple pirouettes, sustained balances and other feats on pointe. The act of dancing on pointe had now become a way for a ballerina to display her strength and skill. It's interesting to note that the costumes of this era are the shortened tutus we associate with ballet today. The ballerinas wanted the audience to be able to see what they were doing with their legs and feet!
By the middle of the 20th century the shape of the ballerina's leg when she was up on her toes was becoming just as important as what she did when she was up there. A ballerina on pointe was a beautiful sight!
Modern day dancers and choreographers experiment with new and exciting ways of dancing on pointe and modern day technology is being used to produce shoes that give more support despite being lighter and more flexible than ever. I look forward to seeing what the future of dancing on pointe holds!