When is My Daughter Ready for Pointe?
Having fitted thousands of Pointe shoes over the years a frequent question I get is: “do you think
my daughter is ready for Pointe?” While generally the answer is “yes,” because the teacher
has responsibly vetted the young dancer, the answer does not come from a simple assessment and it can stump some parents.
The full answer takes into account several factors that go into being ready to do an incredibly athletic feat by a
young girl: dancing on the tip of her toes—as if it were easy.
– It’s About the Bones.
factor to consider, of course, is age. Typical age for starting Pointe is between ten and fourteen.
I have seen girls on Pointe as early as eight years of age, yet those are rare. My own suggestion
is twelve, but teachers are more aware of the individual dancer’s strength and level, so they may suggest earlier.
Be aware and cautious, however, about some teachers and studios that simply want to register more children in another
weekly class or fill one up, just for the tuition.
age gives to the dancer are stronger bones. As a dancer grows, soft bone and cartilage tissue in the joints
of her feet are substituted by harder bone. By age twelve or so, almost all cartilage has been substituted
by solid bone. The danger of Pointe at an early age is that, when the foot is vertical, the unnatural position
stresses the soft tissue, in fact compressing and deforming it. As the natural growth of the bone substitutes
this compressed tissue, consequences down the line could be permanently deformed feet, early onset of arthritis or other chronic
pain problems as early as the mid-twenties.
If in doubt, you should consult a specialized sports medicine or orthopedic doctor regarding potential growth plate
issues. Other issues the doctor can look into are extra bones in the ankle that usually do not affect normal
life but for dancers, especially those on Pointe, can be very painful. This condition is more common than
– Athletes and Dancers
to look at is strength. Dancing on Pointe is an athletic feat. Every muscle in the body
is used and strained, to make a great exertion look effortless and graceful. It is hard, yet the ballerina
smiles do not betray it. When you ask young dancers why do they like Pointe, despite all the pain suffered
and effort required, they always answer the same: the sense of achievement. Just like any athlete.
Only years of exercise and training gives that
young athlete the strength and stamina required to be ready. Pliés are to dancers what pushups are
for body building. A strong dancer can do fifty to a hundred pliés without flinching.
Strong legs are important, but core muscles (abs) are too, as they will keep the dancer straight and poised. By
seeing the dancer in class, her teacher is the best judge as to when she is strong enough to go on Pointe.
Pointe is hard work, and can only be done if the dancer develops in a process that
leads to successful Pointe training. It does not happen overnight, steps cannot be skipped.
BALANCE – It’s What It’s
A special training is needed to
develop the sense of balance required to perform that difficult action, moving around gracefully on the tip of their toes.
In my experience, only two types of training achieve the task: ballet and gymnastics.
While other competitive sports such as soccer, swimming, track, or cycling can
develop the strength needed, in gymnastics the muscle memory is trained to achieve the same sense of balance required for
Pointe. Often gymnasts that start ballet can quickly go on to Pointe, with the age caveat mentioned above.
Of course Figure Skaters can easily start on Pointe too, but usually they have been in ballet training for years, so
it is not a distinct crossover.
the teacher is the best judge of this, but an easy check can be done at the barre:
Face the mirror, hold the barre. Do an arabesque or attitude derrière.
Relevé and, when you feel ready, let go of the barre. Keep balance for eight to ten counts at least.
Do the other leg.
an easy balance check. I use it sometimes while fitting when it seems that a small platform (tip) shoe
could be appropriate for the shape of the dancer’s foot, usually very tapered (pointy). It obviously
is harder to balance on a smaller platform, so that is why I check for this sometimes.
A Final Word
Pointe is elegant, graceful, and upstages with quite a bit of showmanship other forms of dance.
But it is not the ultimate end all and goal. Other forms such as contemporary, lyrical, tap, hip
hop jazz, or ballroom, can be very extreme and showy. Great dancers and performances come and are from
Pointe is a particular
form of dance that puts strains in body muscles and joints that may not be physically able to support them. Different
body types are better for Pointe than others; that does not make one dancer better than another. They just
The commitment that the dancer undertakes
when doing Pointe must be reciprocated by the parent. As the dancer advances in her training she
will use the shoes harder, and will need them more frequently. The first pair of shoes may last a full
year, but by the third year on Pointe the dancer may need many pairs a year. And if she does not get the
shoes when needed, her training will falter. Training needs, new techniques and natural growth may also
require new fittings, either for a different size or for a different type of shoe. It is recommended to
do fittings once or twice a year for advanced students.
final deciders on the readiness for Pointe of a young dancer should be the instructor and, then, the parent. It
is the trust in the teacher, the medical advice if needed, and the parent’s own knowledge of the dancer’s will
and physical abilities that are the ultimate factors needed to make an informed decision. Peer pressure
should never be a factor. Waiting a year will not set back a dancer’s training as long as the dancer
keeps up with her ballet training; it will just make her stronger and more determined. There are many dancers
that started dancing, i.e. ballet, not Pointe, in their early teens and are now professionals in nationally recognized companies.
Patience has its own rewards.