For many young dancers, receiving their first pair of pointe shoes is similar to their initiation into their ballet career. Most dancers, however, are not aware of the many years of training and thorough preparation that is required before even being fitted for their first pointe shoes.
Pointe 101: The Basics
Pointe shoes date back to the 18th century, when dancers began to rise onto their toes to portray an illusion of floating over the stage to the audience. In 1795, Charles Didelot invented the “flying machine,” allowing dancers to jump and stand on their toes using a rope and pulley system, lifting them upwards. (Check out this article to learn more about the history of pointe shoes)
Today, pointe shoes are designed to allow dancers to do more than just rise to their toes. Pointe shoes are usually made of pink satin with attached elastics and ribbons that help secure the shoe to the dancer’s foot and ankle.
A “box”, or platform, is formed on the front of the shoe using many layers of fabric which is hardened using glue, contrary to popular belief that they are made of wood. The box of the shoe holds the entire weight of the dancer when they rise to their toes. (This video shows the construction of pointe shoes)
Preparing for Pointe Shoes
It is important for dancers to have several years of technical training that are devoted to strengthening the body to prepare it for advancing to pointe shoes. Many people do not realize that this transition does not happen overnight!
Training and strengthening not just the feet, but the entire body, is essential because pointe shoes introduce new challenges for the dancer. Holding a turnout becomes harder, rising onto the entire box and staying flat on the platform is a new challenge, maintaining correct body alignment, and most of the time blisters become a dancer’s new best friend.
Most dance studios with ballet programs provide pre-pointe classes to dancers who are eligible. This class not only helps prepare students for this transition physically, but also educates them on anatomy and proper positioning of the foot and ankle and helps them develop a strong foundation for what is required in pointe class.
The physical preparation for dancers involves many factors. Aside from ballet technique, strengthening the body for pointe shoes involves careful articulation and stability exercises as well as practicing and maintaining turn out and core control. However, something that is out of a dancers’ control is their bone development. If a dancers’ bones are not fully developed, pointe shoes can permanently damage their premature bones.
“Why are these factors important,” you might ask. We put our dancer’s safety above all else in the studio. Without the required strength and training, pointe shoes can pose a serious danger to dancers of any age.
Dangers of Premature Practice
Common injuries that arise from practicing pointe without proper training and technique include bunions, impingements, tendonitis, and stress fractures in the foot and ankle.
How to Prepare for Pointe
Have patience! Everyone’s bodies are different and require different amounts of training. Talk to your ballet instructor about how you can prepare for pointe shoes and determine if you are eligible to enroll in a pre-pointe class!