Going en pointe, or learning to dance on your toes, is a major milestone for a ballet student. It’s a sign that you’ve mastered the basics and are ready to move on to bigger challenges. Moving on to this new skill is your stepping stone to performing the classics, such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, or Giselle.
However, this isn’t something you can just jump into. Your instructor will evaluate you as you progress in your dancing classes and decide when you are ready to advance. What criteria will the instructor be looking for? Ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re ready for the next step.
How Old Are You?
Dancing on your toes puts enormous strain on your feet; therefore, it’s very important that your bones are strong enough to handle it. If you start too young, you risk permanently damaging your feet. The bones in the feet are usually finished developing by about age 11 or 12, so that is the minimum age that a reputable ballet dance school will start pointe instruction.
How Long Have You Been Dancing?
Even if you’re above the minimum age, dancing on your toes is not something you can jump right into. You need a solid foundation in the basics before you can even think about picking up a pair of pointe shoes. A good ballet dance school will require at least two to three years of lessons before you can learn to go en pointe. This amount of time is necessary to master basic dance skills and to perfect your form. If you’re still having difficulty maintaining turnout, for example, you’re definitely not ready to take this next step. Take some extra time to perfect the basics before you expect to move on.
Are You Strong Enough?
Dancing en pointe requires immense strength in your feet and legs, even more than you might realize. After all, those delicate bones in your toes have to support your entire body weight! If your muscles aren’t up to the task, you risk serious injury that could end your dancing days altogether. To test your strength, try doing 16 relevés in a row in demi-pointe, maintaining perfect form throughout. If you can’t quite do it, you’re not yet strong enough to go fully en pointe.
How Much Time Do You Spend At Your Ballet Dance School?
Even more than other disciplines, ballet requires a big time commitment if you want to advance, and one class a week just isn’t enough. You’ll need to commit to at least three lessons per week to maintain your strength and skill. Usually you’ll have a regular ballet class followed by a pointe class to ensure that your feet, ankles, and legs are properly stretched and warmed up before you put additional strain on them.
Are You Prepared For A “No”?
If you’re ready to ask your instructor whether it’s time to advance, it’s important to keep in mind that the answer might be “no”. Pointe work isn’t for everybody. Even if you meet all of the above criteria, it’s possible that your feet just won’t allow it. The ideal foot for advanced ballet techniques has a high arch, a flexible ankle, and toes that are about the same length to provide a stable surface. If you have low arches or if your second toe is longer than your big toe, you could risk serious injury by pushing yourself too far. If this is the case, just remember that pointe work is not required to enjoy ballet. You can still have an enjoyable and fulfilling dancing experience even if you stick to demi-pointe.
While it’s not required for all ballerinas, getting your first pair of pointe shoes is an experience that dancers remember for the rest of their lives. Just take it slow, listen to your instructor, and don’t push yourself too hard, and you’ll find that a whole new world of dance has opened up for you.