Top Tips for Ballet Pointe Work

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Jun 21, 2017
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Oct 18, 2017

Top Tips for Ballet Pointe Work

How do I know if I'm ready for Pointe work?

The question is not about age but about experience. It is recommended by our Ballet instructor, Rezelle, that you need at least 1-2 years of experience. However this is not written in stone and does differ between person to person and the amount of hours they put into their dancing. According to the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) syllabus, pointe work is introduced in Intermediate Foundation.

Although it seems very exciting to get onto pointe shoes, it is very important to ensure that you are physically mature as it can be damaging for your feet if you do this too early. For young dancers, who are still growing, they need to be extra careful not to damage themselves, especially during a growth spurt. Bones in the feet still need to harden and during a growth spurt, ligaments are more flexible and growth plates are active and dancers are at risk of damaging them.

Some common pointe technique errors:

  • Not straightening your knees fully
  • Not pulling up
  • Not pointing your feet fully
  • Wrong ballet posture
  • No emphasis on strength, balance or control.

  • However you do need to ensure that you have the necessary strength as well as, and most importantly, technique. Do not go onto pointe shoes without consulting Rezelle first. For those not just ready for pointe shoes can do it in Demi Pointe shoes.

    What are Demi Pointe Shoes?

    They are very similar to pointe shoes but have soft soles and can be worn for general class work. However these shoes are not to be used for all pointe work as this does not provide the support needed. These shoes are only to be used to assist the dancer in strengthening their feet and ankles before going onto the pointe shoes.

    Pass the Readiness Test

    Based on work by Dr. David Weiss and Megan Richardson, MS, ATC, there are "Guidelines and Functional Criteria for Assessing Pointe Readiness". If a dancer can pass ALL of the tests then she is strong enough to begin training and studying pointe work.

    Here are the tests:

    Ankle Range of Motion

    1. Pencil Test: Pencil in parallel to floor when placed on pointed foot.

    Calf Strength

    2.Single Leg Heel Raise: 20 single heel rises in parallel with proper technique.


    3. Modified Romberg: Balance on single leg in parallel with arms crossed and eyes closed without touch foot down.

    4. Single Leg Passé-Relevé: Hold full retiré in full relevé for 15 seconds.

    Abdominal Strength

    5.Double leg Lower Test: Begin lying on back, both legs up straight at 90˚, keep pelvis in neutral and lower both legs at the same time to at least 45˚.

    Neuromuscular Control

    6. Single Leg Step Down: Stand with one foot on a 9 inch step and lower (plié) to touch the other heel to the floor. Pelvis must remain level. 4-5 times.

    7. Airplane Test:Single leg stand (arabesque) with body and leg parallel to the ground.  Lower down (plié) to touch the floor with finger tips with full control and balance. 4 times.

    Lower Extremity Alignment and Ballet Technique

    8. Topple Test: Single pirouette en dehors from 4th position. Fully extended leg, full retire, full control.

    9. Single Leg Sauté Test:  16 consecutive single leg sauté jumps. 8 of the 16 should maintain a neutral pelvis, toe-heel landing, fully extended knee and foot in the air.

    Pointe Shoe Fitting

    The time has come for you to go and fit your first pointe shoes! Allow about an hour for your first fitting.

    Be sure to wear something comfortable to move in, leggings are preferred, but no full footed tights as they need to examine your feet. Then of course ensure your feet are clean and toenails cut. If you have purchased pointe shoes before, ensure to bring them along as well as any padding or spacers that you use.

    Dance Shops recommended for Pointe Shoes:

  • Shaftesbury Avenue - Rivonia
  • Ballet Barre - Pretoria
  • How to break in Pointe Shoes

    Best is wearing the shoes to shape them to your feet. Perform rises in first and sixth position (parallel) focusing on rolling through the demi pointe position up to full pointe and back down through the demi pointe. It is important that the shoe breaks in the correct places for you, not where you happen to bend them using your hands.

    But here are a few shortcuts to speed up the process.

    1. Crush the box.

    Use your heel to gently crush the box. Flattening the top like this will reduce stiffness. You can also soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and lightly dab the wings, or the sides of the big toe and pinky toe. This trick softens the canvas, which could otherwise be abrasive against the toe joints. Be careful not to dunk your pointe shoes in water, as this could ruin them. Also, do not attempt to slam them in a doorway like some professionals do. They have the experience to break them in this way but you don’t. You could end up killing the box completely, or loosing a finger.

    2. Bend the shank.

    Bending the shank helps to increase the flexibility of the shoe. Holding the shoe with both hands, bend the shank, or sole, back and forth. Shanks come in different strengths. If you have high arches, a full, hard shank will give you the support you need. If you have lower arches, you may benefit from a 3/4 shank. All shanks are made of leather and wear down with use. Some shoes, like Gaynor Minden, are made of synthetic materials that last much longer than traditional pointe shoes. Be careful not to snap your shank in half. You don’t want to compromise the strength of your shoe from over-bending the shank.

    3. Walk on demi-pointe.

    With your ribbons securely laced around your ankle, walk around on demi-pointe. Be sure to keep your knees straight and not sacrifice technique for the sake of trying to break your shoes in. You can also practice grand plie, allowing your heels to come up while keeping your toes pressed into the floor. This will make the box more pliable by creating a crease on the top of your toes. Plus, it is good practice to roll through demi-pointe to full pointe. The more flexible the box is, the easier it will be to articulate and point your toes.

    4. Tip toe and arch.

    Another classic way to break in shoes is tip toe around the classroom. This simple technique helps you adapt to the shift in weight and the feeling of being up high. Stop occasionally and arch one foot at a time. Remember, your ankles should be over your big toe. If you’re falling back, you need to practice getting over your box. If you’re bending your knees, you need to go back to square one and build your strength in technique shoes.

    Remember, it is not a good idea to wear your pointe shoes anywhere other than the classroom. Improper usage can lead to premature damage of your pointe shoes and possibly lead to injury.

    Sewing Your Pointe Shoe Ribbons

    There are many methods of sewing on your ribbons, we advise you to use one length for each shoe (cut the piece we give you into 2).

    1. Fold down the heel piece of the shoe and draw a pencil line along the inside crease on both sides.

    2. Fold the heel piece inside out and pin the centre of one piece of ribbon to the centre seam of the heel so that  the ribbon sits in front of ie. towards the toe box and flush with the pencil lines.

    3. Using the lines as a guide, sew the ribbon in to place. Sew along each side of the ribbon and along the drawstring casing (be careful not to sew through to the outside of the shoe, stitching should not be visible when the shoe is on the foot) Do not worry if you cannot stitch the whole way round ie. where the ribbon meets the inner sole- the heel will hold the centre of the ribbon in place and you can just tuck the excess ribbon underneath the insole.

    This way of sewing your pointe shoe ribbons gives more support to the foot when en pointe and also reduces the chance of the ribbon coming loose as it is much more secure. For a full demonstration please see this YouTube video

    It is a good idea to seal the ends of the ribbons to prevent them from fraying. To do this, carefully burn the end of the ribbon with a lighter/match (please ask an adult to do this for you). The nylon ribbon will melt and this will prevent it from fraying.

    The satin on your pointe shoes can be quite slippery and after some wear can rip. It is therefore advisable to alter the platform to protect the satin and also to give some grip whilst dancing. Some dancers like to darn their shoes- especially their first pair. However this can be quite time consuming! A quicker alternative is to glue a piece of suede onto the platform. If you choose the suede tips, use a white glue like copydex or PVA (not superglue) to glue them into place.

    Tying Your Pointe Shoe Ribbons

    Ribbons add support but should never be so tight that they hurt your Achilles tendon or restrict the movement of your ankle. There are many techniques for tying ribbons, but here are the basics:

    With your foot flat on the floor, grasp the inside ribbon and wrap it over your foot and around the back of your ankle. Continue wrapping the ribbon around to the front of your ankle and back around again, stopping at the inside of your ankle.

    Then wrap the outer ribbon over your foot and around the back of your ankle, bringing it around to the front to meet  the first ribbon at the inside of the ankle, just between the bone and the Achilles tendon; the knot will go here, never directly on the tendon.

    Tie the ribbons securely in a double knot – never in a bow! – and tuck in the knot and loose ends. The knot should be invisible: if it makes a bulge when you tuck it in, trim the ribbons.

    How To Glue Your Suede Tips

    1.Glue the round part of the tip to the platform of the shoe.

    2. Fold the excess suede under the shoe and trim so that the edge of the suede tip meets but does not overlap the outer sole of the shoe, glue into place.

    Taking Care Of Your Feet And Your Shoes!

    Make sure your toenails are neatly clipped before class, as this can cause bleeding feet and will make dancing in your shoes uncomfortable. Be careful not to cut the nail too short and only cut straight across (not into the corners as this can cause ingrowing toenails). If you have any blisters or cuts on your toes, it is a good idea to put some microporous tape over them.

    After use, remember to store your shoes in a mesh bag (rather than the plastic one some of them come in) so that the shoes can breathe and dry out. This is important to prolong the life of the shoe. The moisture absorbed by your feet when you sweat in class tends to soften the box, giving you less support in the shoe. If possible, hang the shoes out to dry over a door inside your house by tying the ribbons together and hanging one shoe either side.

    It is important to always have your shoes fitted, even if you have had several pairs, as your feet will change as they grow/gain strength.

    Pointe Technique Reminders

    Technique is key to preventing injury!

  • Do lots of releves at the barre
    • When you go up and down be sure to do it with controlled slow movements.
  • Lift your weight "off" yourself on pointe
    • Lift your weight off your feet using your core muscles, you can't rely on ankle strength.
  • Ensure your ballet posture is correct
    • Stand with an open chest, keep your ribs in, and your pelvis in a neutral position. Technique is important.
  • Point Fully and some more
    • You should be 100% pointing even though it is harder in pointe shoes

    Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any other questions.


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