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Pointework for adult beginners


airchild

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Hi! I have read a blog article about the cons of pointework written by someone on this board (perhaps Mr Johnson?) but couldn't find the link again. I was quite surprised by what I read and liked it! As an adult student at the age of 36, I have always been wondering if I'll ever be able to go en pointe or not, as I have a problematic big toe joint (hallux valgus and bunion) on the right foot. I am undergoing therapy and doing strengthening exercises to make it more stable and align better. But the bunion won't go away, of course.

 

I wonder if anybody can tell me anything about the possibility of an adult going en pointe having these pre-conditions. I know everyone's case is different and usually people say "ask the teacher". The trouble is, I have asked around and they all had that puzzled look on their faces and said something that weren't satisfactory in my opinion. One said to me, "Well, put a toe separator in between the big toe and the second toe." Another said: "If it hurts, it's normal. It's a common occupational hazard for professional dancers anyway." Yet another said: "As an adult your feet don't grow anymore, so you are free to go en pointe any time and it won't hurt the feet." I have witnessed many students being taken into pointe classes without even having the basic techniques and alignments down pat. But I decided to wait and see and train my foot muscles in the meantime. There just isn't any dance physiotherapists in my country who can tell you exactly if your foot type is right for pointework and if you are ready for it.

 

By the way, whoever wrote that blog entry: can you tell me more about the right foot type for pointework? I have read articles about the different foot types, like Egyptian, Greek, peasant, etc. Mine doesn't fit into any of those! :shrug:

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Well Airchild, the shape of foot is not be as important as the other things that are necessary for a dancer to be able to work in pointe shoes.

 

Aside from being able to hold her alignment, and possessing the necessary strength and technical ability required, a dancer must also have flexible enough ankles to be able to place the foot in the correct position for pointework.

 

An excellent example is found in Gretchen Ward Warren's Classical Ballet Technique. There are clear pictures and descriptions that may help you to decide if you have the necessary physical capabilities for pointework. If you do, then it's a matter of time to build the strength and to obtain the technical proficiency required. Some adults can achieve it, some never will.

 

Remember that by the time a young teen is placed en pointe, she will have had at least 3-4 years of previous ballet training that is specifically geared towards that end. Studying as an adult doesn't necessarily require the same focus as studying does when a child. So again, not impossible for an adult to go en pointe, but not necessarily usual either.

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it's unfortunate that there are very few adult pointe classes.. and it sounds like your teachers that answered you were somewhat blase in their response.

 

Maybe you can ask them some specific questions like:

1. Do they think that you have sufficient ankle/leg strength?

2. Do they think that you're ready technique-wise for pointe?

3. Make them look at your feet and try to get them to think before answering.

 

I think online, people are reluctant to discourage or encourage you to do pointe, since we can't see your technique.

 

If you google "ready for pointe" there's several articles about what different folks thinks are needed to be ready for pointe work.

 

But in the end, you're an adult. You don't need anyone's permission. If after doing sufficient research and talking to sufficient Real Life teachers, you decide that you're ready, go ahead and get pointe shoes. Take some pointe classes, privates if need be, if there aren't any in your level. And you may find that you hate pointe shoes.. or you have technical flaws that are made obvious by pointe,... or that you feel comfortable on pointe. If you end up hating it, you'd have spent $80 in shoes, and maybe more in classes.. but you got to try and know what it feels.

 

But just to emphasize, I'm not advocating going on pointe unless you're technically able (because you can damage your body), so you still have to ask real life teachers for their advice. But in the end it's your decision, you'd have to judge if it's worth it, or if it's too risky or if you're ready.

 

Just my 2 cents, I'm not a teacher.. just an adult that does pointe :shrug:

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Although your foot has stopped growing, I believe bunions can get worse at any age. The spacer is supposed to prevent that. Basically, if force is going along the length of your big toe, that is good; but if it's always pushing your big toe sideways, that's bad.

 

Sorry, I don't know much more than that. Some people are predisposed to bunions (regardless of pointe work) and some are not. I would check with a doctor, it's not worth doing something that would make your bunions worse.

 

How to tell if you're ready: beyond all the "pointe readiness" threads (which you should read), I think it's critical that you learn to get over your arch. IMHO, if you cannot get over your arch within a reasonable length of time after starting pointe work, then you're not ready. And it's really not worth trying much off the barre if you have not first achieved being over your arch, since the mechanics will be all wrong anyway. That's my opinion.

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Thanks for the link, Mr Johnson.

 

Citibob, I did a search on "pointe readiness" and a lot of irrelevant threads came up. What exactly does "get over your arch" mean? I have a low arch. Even though it seems to have become a little bit higher since I started learning ballet a year ago, I doubt it would get any higher due to my age. And my ankle does not seem to be that flexible either. I read in the book "The Dancer's Body" by Joseph Huwyler, M.D., that the ankle joint has to be able to lower at an angle of 70 degrees from the neutral (ground) level in order for someone to qualify to become a professional ballet dancer. Is this true in the professional dance community?

 

The thing is, I have seen many adult students whose core strength, alignment and flexibility of the ankles and feet in no way seem to "qualify" for pointework, yet they have been allowed to go to pointe classes. Would this in fact be futile, and dangerous for the students?

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airchild... there are plenty of pictures on-line that show really nice feet en pointe that are over their arch. Please look for them. You'll know because they look really nice, and everything is vertical and aligned on top of each other. Beginners who are NOT over their arch are not hard to find in the studio, but harder to find in pictures.

 

Here's a video I would suggest of what pointe work should NOT look like. Go to YouTube, search for "amatuar pointe shoe dancer". (Yes, that is how it was spelled). In spite of some of the comments, this person is not quite over her arch. It looks like at any moment, she could fall back off her pointe ("platform") and on to her heels.

 

Actually, I've seen many dancers who are a lot LESS over their arch than this person. The dancer in this video is ALMOST over her arch, and may make it there soon. It's expected that this doesn't necessarily happen the first time you go en pointe. The real problem is when you get someone who has been "studying" pointe for years, but still has not gotten over the arch, but even so, thinks she can do the centre just fine en pointe. I've seen far too much of that in adult class. I would say it is futile for the students, but I suppose it's not really dangers the way, say, skydiving is dangerous.

 

Another common problem to look for is sickled feet en pointe. It doesn't take much of a sickle to cause problems. The portion of the pointe shoe under the big toe should be where the contact with the floor is, not the portion under the little toe. Look for the YouTube video called "pointe 2 beginner". That person is over her arch in a way that the first dancer is not. But she is consistently sickled en pointe on her left foot (the right side of the screen). However, her right foot is doing much better in that respect. So she needs to work on more arch, more rotation, more length, more non-sickle, in her left leg.

 

A large fraction of people (even those who are ready or almost ready for pointe work) end up sickled and not over their arch the first time they put on pointe shoes. If you can learn to see the difference, you will be able to tell immediately. Again, that's kind of expected when you start, you just need to learn how to stand en pointe properly before getting too complex in what you try to accomplish. That is what pointe class is for.

 

Finally, I must say that the faster, more complex things one is doing, the more likely one is to be briefly off the arch or sickled for a moment. If you watch very capable professional dancers closely in rehearsal, you will be able to find these "bad pointe moments" pretty easily. But the situations pictured in the video above are not complex, they are the most basic movements and positions. And they should look very good on any professional dancer.

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Citibob, thanks for the names of those videos... I saw them both and got exactly what you meant! (You've gotta love YouTube as an educational tool :innocent: ) Thanks for your detailed reply.

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I did beginning pointe as a senior in high school. I recall another student telling me I wasn't "over" during class the first week or so. I didn't even know what she was talking about. I couldn't say for sure I got there after seeing the beginner girls at one of my schools working on it, and hearing it takes a while after getting en pointe. I thought you had to be able to get over pretty much right away to qualify to start, but there some of the beginning girls were doing turns without even being on their platforms in some cases. I guess it is a process. The older girls at that school look really good.

Now I understand from pictures and discussions about lines of force what getting over looks like. I got most of that understanding right here. Keep reading if you haven't found those discussions yet. Dance wear catalogs and magazines are great sources of good pictures.

 

I don't think my foot looks right these days just pointing it, but assumed that a little time with weight over my toes would have the front/top of my foot all stretched out again. I have seen positive changes in strength and flexibility with my time back at the barre so far.

I wonder.

Do adults get enough changes once up there to be over?

Is the process different than with kids?

I am holding off being evaluated for pointe until I get to Adult dance camp either way, but I wonder about going for it at all too. I have one teacher here who will likely allow a bit of pointe work in class or in private after camp if I ask, but I would like to have an outside opinion first.

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Without seeing you and working with you, it would be very difficult for one of us to offer a definitive answer. Sorry. I think you're going to have ask your teacher. :innocent:

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Hmm.. maybe this will help airchild:

 

I started pointework as an adult in my twenties.

 

Part of the reason I started doing pointe, was.. curiosity, and because I was watching little girls in a beginning pointe work class, and having taken some open dance classes with those girls (jazz/musical theatre), and knowing that I had better alignment, and was a better dancer then them at that point, I begin to wonder: why am I not doing pointe and they are?

 

So I got the shoes, and I didn't ask for permission (highly not recommended I'm sure, by most sane folks) I didn't ask permission because I was embarassed that people would laugh at me for wanting to go on pointe! But it turns out afterwards when I talked to people, no one was shocked by my age.

 

Also, seriously, I'm past that phase in life where I ask permission to do things that I want. Yes, this does get me in trouble sometimes, but I believe people tend to regret more on things they didn't do.. than thing they did.

 

Anyways, when I first got on my shoes, the fitter marvelled at how well I got over the boxes. And when my teacher spent extensive time with me on pointe, she said I had good feet, and I had very strong legs. Who knew? I wouldn't have if I didn't try.

 

My original fitter was very very good who took a long time with me. And then I took the shoes to a teacher who spent an hour with me going over what I need to do. (Yeah, I paid her for a private class but it was worth it. I still occasionally do private classes on pointe to make sure I get proper hands-on correction since there are no adult pointe classes here, and I want to take good care of my feet)

 

But.. I did all this after doing ballet for about 7 years, with periods where I was taking 5 classes a week, and a private, but also there were periods where I was burnt out and did other stuff with my life (like dating, and Improv Theatre).

 

My teacher told me that going on pointe makes my technical flaws obvious. Also, my demi-pointe work improved.

 

I also thought I had a low arch, but it's actually not that bad (not high either) but it's fine, it's pretty in pointe shoes, and is stronger then if I had a very high arch.

 

I'm having fun. And goodness they're pretty.

 

In the end though, I made my own call with pointe, and I'm glad that I did. It turned out my body handles it really well as long as I don't push myself. But I did it understanding that there are risks associated with going on pointe, that it demands a lot of your body, and that I needed a good technical base.

 

Anyways, I rambled.

 

Good luck!

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Good technique in flat shoes will reflect itself en pointe; weak technique is also reflected en pointe but in a magnified form.

 

The same is true for alignment issues due to a person's body's conformation. If you have difficulty getting your foot to high releve where the ball of the foot (looking from the side profile) is in a straight line with the leg and hip joint, you will have even more difficulty getting all the way up to releve in pointe shoes, though the flexibility of the toes can help you get those few centimeters over that line.

 

Looking straight on at the arch of the foot as it lines up with the knee and then the hip, the line should go down through the middle of the ankle and out the second and third toe of the foot. If the imaginary line goes out through the big toe it means your foot is "winged outward". While this is a beautiful line in the air and is most desirable in arabesque, it puts a tremendous strain on your big toe while en pointe, which in time will most likely worsen those bunions. (You often find pictures of winged feet in catalogs, even in pointe shoes, but it is for aesthetics and most likely don't have any weight on them.) Also, dancers with outwardly curved tibias will appear like they're winging when they may not be.

 

Having a very flat platform on your pointe shoes makes it easier to avoid the winging and helps find that sweet spot over your foot. If you have to bend your knees to get up in full releve then you may lack strength to hold your foot in tendue while putting weight on it or your arches are lacking and bending the knee is a way of forcing your foot over. (I know this isn't particularly relevant to your original post but I thought it might be helpful in your choice of shoes.)

 

In the end, an experienced teacher's observation will be your best guide. If you do try pointe on your own be sure you have a barre to hold onto and follow very slow excercises while using your best technique. While we are all adults here and capable of taking calculated risks, injuries can happen very unexpectedly. You also don't want to develope bad habits that only your teacher would catch. Once you practice them they may be difficult to change.

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Even though it seems to have become a little bit higher since I started learning ballet a year ago . . .

 

It seems as though the prospect of pointework is still a few years off for you. Perhaps it would be best not to speculate too much about what might or might not be be possible in the future.

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