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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Putting Adults on Pointe


Gayle

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Serendipity
Serendipity, I encourage you to read the rest of that thread, in which others who also saw Fonteyn live have posted. Dancers are frequently quite self-deprecating, but they have the disadvantage of being unable to watch themselves dance, so their descriptions of themselves are not always a perfectly objective account of their strengths and weaknesses.

 

I did not say she had bad feet. I wrote she had bad feet to start with. Reading the thread, especially post 4, she OVERCAME that. She has feet like mine, actually - straight on the instep and not very arched underneath, but strong. If she had been told at the start that she could not dance because she had bad feet, she would not have been the great that she was. By the way, she was my idol growing up. I read everything about her that I could get my hands on and patterned my own desires regarding ballet on how she did things.

 

Yes, I believe what she wrote about herself. As for feet, it's amazing what patience, good teaching and hard work can do for one's arch (I've seen it in myself in the past year, to my own amazement!).

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I am quite curious to know the exact quote, in context, in which Fonteyn states that as a child she had feet so bad that they were inappropriate for pointe work.

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Serendipity

She never said that her feet were unsuitable for pointe work, and no one as far as I know claimed *she* had - certainly not in the thread in post 4 and certainly not at all in this one. She said she had bad feet. They were weak, most particularly. She trained, if I recall correctly, first, overseas, partially in Shanghai. She started when she was about 6. She studied in London for about a year before auditioning for Ninnette de Valois.

 

When she was 14, she went to the Sadler's Wells. Mme Ninnette de Valois was the first to say she was worried about her feet. The source I have called them "soft and relaxed" - another source said "low arched" and a third actually came right out and said, "flat." But she was young, worked hard, and managed anyway. Feet configuration can be changed at that age.

 

My current ballet teacher has banana feet. She said she wasn't born with them. Her teacher used somewhat brutal methods to get her to have those feet, however. According to my teacher (and I will say I wonder if she was exaggerating, but being that she trained in South Africa, she may be telling the truth!!), her trainer had students with poor arches put pebbles in their ballet slippers during class to force them to hold up their arches. Those are what she told us in class. I cannot, of course, vouch for the truthfulness. I do know that I have met a few other former students of that teacher and they, too, described some rather brutal training methods that he used.

 

Personally, even at my advanced age, my feet have changed. My arch is higher. My instep is not, much, and I have a similar issue to Farrell in that I have had a broken ankle and now sport metal in it. The instep is lower than my other one. *sigh*

 

I won't disagree that for some, it should not be attempted. I watched a poor girl give it a good ole college try last year. Her instep was very low and never improved. She finally gave it up. She was 17 at the time but had not had ballet training at all till she was 15.

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Victoria Leigh

Weak, soft and relaxed are very different from flat. She did not have flat feet. She very well may not have been trained to know how to work and use them at the time that she went to London and worked with de Valois. However, she was obviously able to improve the usage and develop a foot that was quite acceptable, and even good. Therefore, there was no way that it was "flat". Look at the photo that I linked, above.

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Dancers tend to be their own worst critics. If Fonteyn said that, I am certain that she was simply stating that she wasn't born with extraordinary feet, but rather with normal ballet feet. Even in pictures of her when she was really young, you can clearly see that her ankles were flexible and she had medium arches & insteps. Yes, she worked hard on her feet, and learned how to utilize them well, BUT if she had been born with inflexible ankles and little to no arch and instep, she wouldn't have been accepted into the Sadler's Wells school.

 

I believe her quote was that she had feet "like pats of butter" needing to be strengthened.

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Serendipity

LOL! I read the article, thinking that's what you wanted and didn't look at the pic. She had a lot more going for her than just her feet and it's easy to see that she certainly managed to work those feet into beautiful shape. Ninnette de Valois' comment on accepting little Margaret Hookham was "I only hope we're in time to help the child's feet..." I think it was in 1934, but I can't recall exactly.

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luceroblanco

I don't know much about Fonteyn, but famous people in the arts ALL the time exaggerate or people writing exaggerate for them to make it seem like more of a Cinderella story. People love to hear about how so and so famous actor/dancer/singer couldn't act/had two left feet/tone deaf but their fantastic work ethic these people managed to become the best in their fields. People really prefer not to hear that so and so was rich and had come out of the womb with a perfect body/voice/acting ability. They want stories about the underdog for inspiration.

 

And thanks Victoria for outlining some of the necessities for pointe. I have NO interest in doing it myself but considering the thread was about putting adults on pointe (even if not ready) hopefully somebody who was anxious to get on pointe but not ready/not good candidate might listen to their teacher's advice after reading some of this.

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Momof3darlings

Thank you luceroblanco for that perfect post and reason to return to the original topic of conversation. In case we've forgotten, here is the original post and what the thread was about.

 

I'm curious how other ballet schools handle the issue of putting adults on pointe. At one of the schools in town, I've seen women with 6 months ballet experience taking beginning pointe. Another woman who has danced far longer does her Adult Class barre in pointe shoes, even though she cannot get onto the box and sickles her feet on pointe. The instructor's only comment is to applaud her for trying. Is this really a good idea? Putting people up on pointe when they've only just started to learn ballet? Not addressing (what appear to me as) form errors?

 

I always thought that one needed appropriate flexibility, strength, and technical ability flat before going on pointe. Is this just for children, or is this particular school overly lenient when it comes to adults?

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Serendipity

I've seen this happen in schools for both adults and children. Very scary. No matter how strong someone is, they do need technique in order to do it properly and safely. Just my opinion, of course.

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My current ballet teacher has banana feet. She said she wasn't born with them. Her teacher used somewhat brutal methods to get her to have those feet, however. According to my teacher (and I will say I wonder if she was exaggerating, but being that she trained in South Africa, she may be telling the truth!!), her trainer had students with poor arches put pebbles in their ballet slippers during class to force them to hold up their arches. Those are what she told us in class. I cannot, of course, vouch for the truthfulness. I do know that I have met a few other former students of that teacher and they, too, described some rather brutal training methods that he used.

 

I'm not sure whether this is too off-topic for this thread - but I suppose it's about improving one's feet, which is relevant to adults en pointe. I'm intrigued at this idea of 'holding up your arches' which is mentioned above. Are you supposed to do this all the time? I tried it and my arch did lift, but I had to tense the front of my ankle to do it (i.e the tendon/ligament connecting the leg to the ankle at the front went from soft to protruding).

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Regarding Mazenderan's comment, it sounds like the muscle that flexes the foot was activated (anterior tibialis). Wouldn't it be the muscles in the arch of the foot that you'd want to strengthen?

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luceroblanco

Well if they put the pebbles under where the arch is supposed to be it might work like a hard orthotic. I looked online and there isn't much to do with adult flat feet. With children the feet can be flat but then the arch develops as they get older. I am of the opinion that a lot can be done with children before puberty to make changes in the body since they haven't finished growing yet.

 

That said my feet are pretty flat--and have been since childhood. I don't know whether my arches fell or they never developed. I do remember at about age 6 or 7 wearing special shoes with an orthotic in them as a child and warned not to wear sneakers or go barefoot. By the time I was in middle school though, I had disregarded all that advice and wore any old shoes and went barefoot. My dance teacher gave me some exercises to help strengthen my arch, and they have helped a little--along with wearing an over the counter orthotic in my shoes. I'm not rolling in as much but I still have very little arch to speak of. I've never had any pain or problems from it--it just is not a good thing for ballet!

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Guest Pas de Quoi

Here are two very simple exercises for activating the muscles Gayle is referring to - don't kow if they will actually change the structure of a foot - just how much muscle strength, functionality and awareness one may have:

 

1) while seated on the floor, with the legs stretched out to the front, slightly bend the knees, dorsiflex the feet and just "curl" the toes under and clench the feet - hold for a count of 30 - you should feel this in the both the metatarsal and the longitudinal arch

 

2) place a kleenex tissue or thin wash cloth on the floor, and pick it up by standing on it with one foot and again curling the toes and clenching the foot to retrieve it from off the floor

 

If one is attempting to "lift" the arch, one may be in reality trying to shift the angle of the foot from pronated to a more healthy one. This would involve not only the foot, but to a large part, the inside thighs and above them, the pelvis and abdominals.

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Okay, here goes...now, this is just my story, not anything more. I started doing pointe at the age of 50. Started, not went back to it. I did do ballet when I was in my 20's, and a lot of it. Then, I had kids so did the usual hiatus, and went back to ballet class in my mid 40's. After 5 years of class, three days a week, I was finally approved to start pointe work, two weeks before my 50th birthday. I'm a bit overweight, not going to go into more of that. I do cross training, pilates, cardio, step class, strength (weights) and yoga. I do pointe work twice a week, about 45 minutes per class. I've been doing pointe work for 4 1/2 years now. My feet are high arches, high insteps, not very flexible, compressible, semi-tapered.

 

Will I ever be good at dancing en pointe? Most likely not. Do I enjoy doing it? Yes. Why? Because in my head, it's a fantastic workout - and it's a constant challenge. It is never, ever boring. Do I get frustrated - you betcha! Does my teacher get frustrated? I'm sure she does, but she rarely acts as though she is. Will I continue to try do this act against nature? Yep - for as long as possible.

 

After exercising for the past 40 something years, doing every type of activity imaginable, I've never found anything as fulfilling as dancing (or attempting to dance) en pointe. I do it just for myself, I never, ever intend to do this in public. And I take responsibility for myself, and I accept the consequences of my actions, no government bailout expected :shrug:

 

I do understand it is not something everyone is cut out to do, but, personally, I feel if a teacher is willing to take the responsibility to allow adults to try to learn to dance in pointe shoes, then I guess that's between the teacher and the adult student.

 

Okay, I'm stepping off the soap box now, thank you, thank you, thank you very much.....

 

dancepig has left the building.....****sound of door shutting in the background****

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