It can be hard to understand when you or your young dancer is ready for pointe. Here I have answered some common questions, as well as given a guide to evaluating a young dancer for pointe. Hopefully this will help you navigate this period of your training.
HOW OLD DO I HAVE TO BE TO GO ON POINTE?
The adolescent body is in a fragile state while growing. This is why teachers take pointe evaluation very seriously. Typically dancers will begin to be evaluated for pointe work at the age of 10-12 years old, after at least 3-4 years of solid ballet training. Although many people assume chronological age is the deciding factor as to when the student should be put on pointe, it is important to remember that every dancer is an individual and should be treated as such.
MY TEACHER SAID I'M NOT READY FOR POINTE...NOW WHAT?
This can be a very confusing rite of passage for a lot of young dancers. Many young dancers may not progress to pointe at the same time as the rest of their peer group. This can leave dancers feeling very sad and confused. Although, ballet technique is a part of the puzzle, foot structure and over all strength play a vital role in deciding who should go onto pointe. It is important to get detailed information from your teacher as to what you need to work on in order to progress. Also, trust your teachers if they say you are not ready. This does not mean you are not talented, or you will fall behind. Research shows that starting pointe later has no affect on a dancers career.
IS IT POSSIBLE I MAY NEVER GO ON POINTE?The difficult part about this conversation is the answer is YES. Some dancers may never posses the structure to begin pointe work safely. I can not stress enough, that pointe work should be considered as a possibility for some dancers, rather than inevitability. Ongoing foot injuries do to improper pointe work can trouble even the best dancer throughout their career. Many careers in dance do not require pointe work. So, if it is not safe for you to begin pointe, please do not feel as though this means you will not become a professional or collegiate dancer.
WHAT SHOULD I BE ABLE TO DO BEFORE I GO ON POINTE?
Research at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York found that strength of the foot, ankles, hips, trunk, and proper ballet technique on demi-pointe are all important factors of beginning safe pointe work.
Here are some general test to evaluate if you are ready to begin pointe.
THE PENCIL TEST: Dancers should have a least 90 degrees of plantar flexion (pointing down) before beginning pointe.—This can be tested by lining up a pencil with the Tibia. The top of the foot should be at or below the pencil (figure 1).
IT IS TREMENDOUSLY UNSAFE TO BEGIN POINTE WORK IF THE ANKLE DOES NOT HAVE THIS MUCH ACTIVE RANGE PLANTAR FLEXION (figure 2).
AIRPLANE TEST: Dancers should be able to perform at least 3 of 5 “Airplane” pliés while balancing in a parallel arabesque level to the floor. Dancer should be able to maintain balance while keeping the torso and leg in a long line, the knee aligned over the center of the ankle, and a stable foot.
ECCENTRIC CONTROL- Posterior ankle injuries are a common problem among pointe dancers. Having good eccentric control of the Plantar Flexors will help avoid injuries. As well as insure that the dancer has control coming off pointe safely. Dancers should be able to resist the chair peddle from Plantar Flexion (pointed ankle) to Dorsi Flexion (flexed ankle) smoothly and without shaking.
This can also be performed by lowering your heels off of a step
TURNOUT TEST- While on rotational disks (or a slippery surface) dancers should be able to hold at least 45 degrees of rotation on both double and single leg. This insures that external rotation is happening from the hips and not the lower leg line. Dancers who turnout from the lower leg will not be able to maintain turnout while on pointe. This will make proper alignment of the ankle on pointe impossible.
TOE TAP TEST- Strength and control of deep abdominal muscles, spine and hip are very important factors for pointe work. While lying on their back, dancers should be able to lower both legs to a 45 degree angle without loosing the imprint of the pelvis and spine. The abdominals should also remain flat and not popping up.
FUNCTIONAL TEST- It is important for dancers to be able to demonstrate function skills as well. Before progressing to pointe dancers should be able to have proper ankle alignment while on demi-pointe (weight positioned over the second and third metatarsals). Control while landing a single leg relevé and sauté . As well as the ability to properly execute a single en dehors pirouette. This demonstrates that the young dancers have both enough physical strength to being pointe work.