The Perfect Pointe
When is the right time for a ballet dance student to progress to pointe work? Many students wonder at what age they might get their first pair of pointe shoes.
The dancer must first undertake a detailed assessment with a podiatrist or physiotherapist experienced in performing pre-pointe assessments. It is important to determine a dancer’s readiness in order to avoid potential injuries and the development of bad habits.
Dancing en pointe requires significant strength, athleticism and discipline. Beginning too young or when the body is not strong enough can be detrimental in the long term.
The en pointe position places significant pressure on the bones and soft tissues of the foot and ankle, up to ten times the dancers body weight on her toes and feet. Some bones in the feet are still growing until age 16 or even 25 years of age. And damage can occur in the growth plates causing malformed bones if a dancer is not strong enough. Damage can also occur to other joints such as the knees and hips; which may not become apparent until years later.
Many dancers begin pointe work at approximately 12 to 14 years of age; although age alone is not an adequate predictor of growth and maturity. When deciding if a student is ready to begin pointe work the practitioner will consider the number of years and hours per week the dancer undertakes. The practitioner will perform a detailed assessment which includes tests of strength, flexibility, neuromuscular control, balance, alignment and ballet technique. The body as a whole will be evaluated, not just the foot and ankle. The dancer must be able to perform all tests maintaining balance, control and alignment to be considered ready.
It must be recognised that pointe work is the end result of slow and gradual training of the whole body, back, hips, leg and feet in perfect balance and alignment. This will naturally occur at different ages for different dancers and should not be rushed. Practitioners will also expect a good attitude and work ethic which is required to dance at an advanced level.
Podiatrists Gen and Sarah at CSSM enjoy the opportunity to work with dancers; both for undertaking a pre-pointe assessment and in the prevention and management of injuries associated with dance.
Richardson M, Liederbach M, Sandow E. Functional Criteria for Assessing Pointe Readiness. J Dance Med Sci. 2010; 14 (3): 82-88. Weiss et al. When Can I Start Pointe Work? Guidelines for Initiating Pointe Training. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. 2009; 13(3)). IADMS
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