When Are You Ready to Go en Pointe?

When Are You Ready to Go en Pointe?

This is one of the most important questions of a young dancer’s training. There are many factors to consider and it is a decision not to be taken lightly. Emma Sandell explores the ways to know when you are ready for this huge milestone in your dance journey.

First of all, going en pointe is all about readiness and that includes your physical development, your technique and your mental maturity. Your ballet teacher is the primary person responsible for determining your readiness as this varies considerably from one girl to the next. Today there are also specialist dance physiotherapists and Pilates teachers on hand who can help you both assess when the time is right for you to go on pointe. Many ballet teachers rely on their evaluation to make this call.

Generally, most girls begin pointe work around the age of eleven or twelve. Earlier than this, the foot bones are too underdeveloped – too immature. But it is a very individual matter. While one girl is ready at eleven years old, a later developer might need to wait another year or so. Waiting may make you feel anxious about being left behind, but in the long run patience pays off. By waiting six months to a year more, and building good isolated control in the feet and ankles, your pointe work will come along safely and securely.

Another factor which affects readiness for pointe work is your overall strength and body type. Compact dancers tend to develop strength and control earlier than those who are tall and willowy. If you are a taller dancer, a physiotherapist will likely recommend extra preparation time to develop the muscles of the core – finding your centre when your limbs keep growing can be a challenge.

Your range of motion and flexibility is also an important consideration for pointe work. If you are a particularly mobile dancer you will need to learn to support your body and pull up out of the feet so as not to push or sink too far over the toes on pointe. If you have a stiffer body type and less range of motion in the feet and ankles, you will need other exercises. Students who find it difficult to get up onto their pointes will likely compensate in ways which lead to injury.  A physiotherapist or Pilates instructor can help greatly in advising you and your ballet teacher how best to prepare your individual body type for pointe work.

You should have at least two to three years of consistent ballet training of four to five hours a week under your belt for beginning pointe work. Some teachers require more. Others less. However, as a generalisation, it takes at least this amount of time to develop the necessary technique, understanding of alignment, muscle control and articulation to safely work with pointe shoes.

Finally, it takes a great deal of maturity and discipline to stop looking left and right at how quickly others are progressing and focus on your own journey. Remember, getting on pointe is not a race.  It is not about speed of accomplishment and “tricks”. It is about patience and accuracy. The more sensibly and maturely you approach the progression to pointe, the better the outcome longterm.

A final tip for young dancers: take your time, stay focused on your own journey and rise to pointe when the time is right for YOU.

- Emma Sandall

Emma danced with Bejart Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and West Australian Ballet. She writes a regular column for Dance Australia Magazine: 'Ask Emma'.