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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Adult Dancer Returning to Pointe


hartley

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Hi, all!

 

So happy to have found this forum! Ballet Talk was a great resource for me many years ago when I was dancing, and I'm thrilled to have returned to dance now and have found a place to grow as an adult dancer.

 

Bit about me before I move to my question. I danced for about 16 years from age 6 to 22 pretty regularly. In my junior high and high school years, I really grew to love ballet and began dancing with companies, doing Summer Intensives, etc. I was never phenomenal, but I held my own and danced heavily during those years. Due to injuries, however, I did not pursue a dance career and danced only recreationally in college. Once I graduated college, I pretty much gave up dancing and began to lead an almost sedentary lifestyle, in and out of the gym but not nearly as active as I had been up to that point.

 

About 14 months ago, I had hip surgery (illipsoas release, acetabuloplasty (bone reshaping for hip impingement), and labral tear repair). I still am due to have the same in the other hip, but I'm putting it off. Out of the blue, about a month ago, I saw a posting for "community auditions" for Sleeping Beauty at a local pre-professional company, and, in not my smartest moment, went to audition. I made corps, nothing special, but more than I expected having been out of dance for five years and returning from hip surgery and a sedentary lifestyle. It is kicking my butt. I am in poor cardiovascular shape, have lost a great deal of strength, flexibility, and muscle memory, and my illiopsoas is still incredibly weak from last year's surgery. Again, not my brightest idea.

 

In any case, I hope that the aforementioned issues will subside with time, if I continue to pursue ballet.

 

Most importantly right now, though, as I'll be performing in two weeks, is my ability to dance en pointe. Turns out, it's not as much like riding a bike as I thought. I purchased a new pair of pointe shoes, the same type that I had previously, and am breaking them in through class and rehearsal. I have a Morton's/Egyptian style foot with the second toe longer than the big toe and the remaining toes tapered. My foot is relatively narrow and my heel is narrow. I have long toes and a low arch. I am wearing Bloch Suprima at this time. I went in for a fitting and tried on only Bloch Suprima and Serenade and went with the Suprima I had previously worn. We don't have great access to pointe shoe fitters or a wide array of shoes in my area. However, these shoes fit me quite well when I purchased them, with about 1/8 inch pinch on the heel en pointe and pressure on the sides of the box when en pointe.

 

My issue is severe pain. Again, same style and size of pointe shoes I had worn before (I learned afterwards that your foot can change as an adult, so I recognize I need a formal fitting or to post photos in the appropriate forum here), but I am in more pain en pointe than I have ever experienced. I am wearing ouch pouches and a big tip and taping for blisters as needed. But my pain is primarily on the end of the big toe when I'm en pointe and in the big toe joint in demi pointe. It is making dancing en pointe nearly impossible and definitely humiliating, the way I am struggling. After even 15 minutes in rehearsal, the side of my foot (where a bunion may form, but I do not and never have had bunions), big toe joint, and end of my big toe hurt so much that I can hardly do anything. Each time I take my shoes off, I am certain that my big toenail is coming off with them, as it is that sort of pain. Even doing appropriate walks and runs are out of the question. Has anyone experienced this or know what it may be? Any tips for resolution? I am hoping that it is more of my body just not being used to this anymore and that it will adjust over time. I'll take anything!! I really need to make do with these shoes through the show for financial reasons...but I also need to make it through the show en pointe, period. Any tips for padding? It's hard to believe the shoes can just be *that* wrong of a fit, as I have never had this terrible of pain before in any of the shoes I've worn at any time in my life.

 

I apologize for the exceptionally long post but greatly appreciate your responses!

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First, go get refitted and do ask the ladies in our pointe forum here for help. They are very expert in figuring out issues, and almost certainly your foot has changed over the years.

 

Second, I don't know if this will work for you, but I get toenail pain on the corner of my big toe sometimes too. Typically it is the corner that is not near the rest of my toes. I found I could not wear ouch pouches because it was actually adding additional pressure to my toenail... Maybe it was too bulky or something. My personal solution that works for my toenail issue as well as blister issues on my other toes has been to put on a "big jelly tip" from the brand "bunheads" on my big toe. I use the one that is tan fabric on the outside, some sort of plastic-like jelly on the inside. I then tape around each remaining toe individually with that papery masking tape people use to paint straight lines in houses. You can get that anywhere for super cheap.

 

Of course, sometimes if it happens to be many hours of intense work, I can still get a bruise, but no where near as badly or as often as before, and I am not losing big toenails anymore! The most important thing is to go get refitted for your feet. It really could be anything... Your profile isn't correct anymore perhaps, your width, or even the box type of that particular shoe might no longer work now.

 

Once you suss out your shoe issue, you could possibly even try that new fangled custom shoe insert technology: "perfect fit pointe" or something. I have been hearing great reviews, I just can't get it in my country, but I am ultra curious about it.

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, hartley - great that you found us!

 

 

Most importantly right now, though, as I'll be performing in two weeks, is my ability to dance en pointe. Turns out, it's not as much like riding a bike as I thought.

 

 

Oh dear, I don't mean this in any nasty way, but I had a little laugh of recognition when I read this. In no way is returning to ballet like having learnt to ride a bike! Particularly aiming to go straight back en pointe. Although, you will have the 'muscle memory' of your former technique. But as you yourself say - rehabilitating from serious major surgery on your hips, and in poor cardiovascular shape, on top of everything else.

 

You obviously like to take on a challenge :):clapping:

 

I read somewhere a professional dancer coming back after injury & surgery saying that she found she needed to spend as long rehabilitating & working towards returning to full power, as she had been laid off with injury. And professional dancers do it with a plan, and the watchful eyes of their coaches, artistic directors, and physiotherapists. You'll have to be your own caretaker.

 

And you know what you need to do really, I expect. A plan for a slow but steady return to ballet and fitness. I had to do that after a broken wrist & complications & a very stressful, heavy workload job meant that I wasn't dancing consistently for about 3 years. I look back now & wonder why I let all that get on top of me - ballet class is the best stress relief I know, but anyway ... I needed to find a way back to y body, and I hit the gym, and did the "Couch to 5K" programme - except I did it very slowly, and really worked on getting aerobically fit, but also supple & strong again, which meant Pilates, yoga, and occasional "pump" classes - light weights in a group class (to loud music to dampen down the pain!).

 

That has been key to getting back into ballet shape - I've had the strength to then adjust and work on my technique. And I moved to a town which has a very limited provision of classes for adults, so I'm stuck with 2 basic classes a week, but I'm able to add in more advanced ballet classes when I'm in London, or Birmingham, or New York, and I do a couple of contemporary classes as well. I'd add jazz if my studio offered them, and last week I spent Saturday afternoon in a Bollywood workshop for the first time ever!

 

I'm losing a lot of skill, particularly in centre work, because I don't get to practice it enough. But I'm probably technically far better than when I could do all the fancy allegro. I know I'm stronger & better placed.

 

So there are good things about getting slowly back in to ballet.

 

It's a pity you're committed to pointe work so soon - could you do the piece on demi? You're probably really not strong enough yet, and I imagine that so much about your body has changed. You definitely need a good refit of shoes, which you know. But from what you say, you'll need to be really careful about injury. Pointe work is not friendly to older bodies, particularly if you rush into it. Your body balance and centre of gravity & so on will have changed, for example. Just by getting older (sorry).

 

Also, our feet do keep growing & changing. I walk a lot (I don't drive) and my feet have gone from a 39/40 to a 40/41 (I think that's a 10 in US sizing) in the last decade. Your shoes sound as though they're not just not long enough (I remember that feeling of the 2nd toe hitting the ground first, as my 2nd toe is a touch longer than my big toe).

 

So maybe after the performance you're in, you could take things right back to basics ... I am sometimes tempted to go back on pointe, but then I remember how much it hurts, and also that there's so much to learn & master & perfect - pointe work is a small part of it really.

 

Toi toi toi for the show!

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@Redbookish, no offense taken on your comment about ballet being like riding a bike! I certainly meant it in a sarcastic way!

Thank you both for your responses and all of the tips! I certainly do plan to post in the pointe shoe forum as soon as time allows. I wish I had done more research prior to getting these new shoes, as I do now have a greater appreciation for how much your feet can change and the fact that the shoes I once wore just may not be appropriate anymore. As I work with alternating padding styles, I'm hoping that I can make these shoes work through this performance and get appropriately fitted for the next.
@LaFilleSylphide Your padding tips were extremely helpful. I do have the big tip that you referred to, and have been using it. However, I plan to go without next time around and see what happens. When I took the big tip off last night, I found that my toe was very red, as if the circulation may have been getting cut off. That toe was also numb. I also used toe spacers last night and gel pads instead of the Ouch Pouches I had been using. It felt better, but still not right. So will continue to play around with the appropriate combination of "extras". I think I can drastically reduce the big toe pain with padding, but still not sure about that joint pain. When rising to full pointe is when it really gets me. Then once it's flared up, it just hurts until I take my shoes off (and is sore with movement for the following few days). It could be (and I hope is) lack of strength as opposed to injury or an indication that my pointe shoe years are over.

@Redbookish, I greatly appreciate your emphasis on taking things slow. In hindsight, I wish I had moved more slowly; however, I'm not sure I ever would have gained the confidence to show up in a class after so long off nor would I have persevered after having seen the state I've returned in if I had not already been cast in a performance! I know that's ridiculous, but my mind is a crazy place. I appreciate your perspective, though, that being able to do pointework is not the end all, be all. I think I have it in my head that once the pointe shoes are hung up, my days as a dancer are over, and you're absolutely right in saying that does not have to be the case! At this time, I am quite committed to doing the show en pointe, although it will not be my best performance. But afterwards, I certainly will take your advice in getting back to basics, focusing more on the process of regaining what I've lost and less on the immediate need for an "end result" (in this case being a return to the stage as the dancer I once was).

Again, I so greatly appreciate your responses!!

Edited by hartley
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Guest Pas de Quoi

Hello: I will add a few thoughts here, and please know I fully support life long dancers doing what they love. I teach many adults, and it has been my experience that they can do quite well on pointe if ..... if .... they are strong enough, with the requisite technique to support dancing on pointe. From what you have described, perhaps you are not yet ready again for pointe work, especially if you are not taking a dedicated pointe class.

 

Hip surgery is a serious matter, and initial rehab may be relatively quick, but to return to full dancing takes a lot of dedicated effort. More than most other things, ballet is all about hip strength and flexibility and labral tears and impingement problems are difficult to deal with. Also, after surgery, muscle use may be compromised, and coordination may be affected - again affecting successful pointe work.

 

And from my experience helping many students transition to pointe work and from my teacher training in this area, if a dancer is not ready, physically and technically for pointe work, there is no shoe that will be the "right" one and the dancer may very well experience pain with any shoe.

 

I wish you good luck with the upcoming performance and am glad you are back in ballet again - I can't imagine my life without this lovely art form. :)

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But afterwards, I certainly will take your advice in getting back to basics, focusing more on the process of regaining what I've lost and less on the immediate need for an "end result"

 

 

I used to be someone who would just rush at things like a bull at a gate. And then get injured and have to stop. That's how I was about getting fit. So this last time around (I'm lot older than you) I took it much more slowly, and laid out goals, and tasks along the way. I learnt this from the physiotherapist who helped me rehabilitate my very damaged hand & wrist. At first the task felt too much - I thought I would never regain the proper use of my dominant hand again. But she measured me each visit, and gradually, slowly, I could see written down, the increases in my grip strength, my wrist flexion back & forwards and to each side, and the increasing mobility of my fingers & the stretch of my thumb across my palm.

 

So maybe (after the show) take it back to basics, and set some interim goals. Small steps each day sort of progress, rather than jumping into pointe shes after years away big steps!

 

The thing about dancing as an adult is that you learn to dance for a different lot of reasons than as a teenager. THat's your aim now - to work out & enjoy those reasons.

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Just to clarify, what all are you using inside of your shoes? When I say taped toes and a big tip, that's all I use. There's no additional slip on cover like an ouch pouch or gel pad. The more stuff in a shoe, the more pressure and bulk.

 

Sometimes, if the particular shoe I'm in is making me feel like I'm sinking (my grishkos seem to vary pair to pair despite being the same make and size), I MIGHT use a box liner. Trust me, the more stuff stuffed inside, the less room/flexibility you'll have to utilize your toes. That's just extra pressing against the nail, thus creating pressure and bruises. I figure shoes should fit like second skin or like a glove, so it shouldn't be easy to put too much in there!

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Just to clarify, what all are you using inside of your shoes? When I say taped toes and a big tip, that's all I use. There's no additional slip on cover like an ouch pouch or gel pad. The more stuff in a shoe, the more pressure and bulk.

 

Sometimes, if the particular shoe I'm in is making me feel like I'm sinking (my grishkos seem to vary pair to pair despite being the same make and size), I MIGHT use a box liner. Trust me, the more stuff stuffed inside, the less room/flexibility you'll have to utilize your toes. That's just extra pressing against the nail, thus creating pressure and bruises. I figure shoes should fit like second skin or like a glove, so it shouldn't be easy to put too much in there!

 

I do feel like you hit the nail on the head here. I think I tried to overcompensate for the pain I felt originally with the Ouch Pouches and "dead" pointe shoes by over-padding and that, that is creating pressure more than providing padding. I'm still very much experimenting with padding, but in this evening's class, I plan to just use gel pads and the toe spacers to see how that works. I had been using the big tip and gel pads or the big tip and Ouch Pouches, and I think you're right about that just being too much stuffed inside the shoe. I had not considered using a big tip and tape in lieu of other padding, but I'll give that a shot, too. I think at this point, for padding, it's just going to be trial and error to see what works best for me, but I do think I had been overdoing it and probably creating more pain rather than lessening it.

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Cannot thank you all enough for the advice provided in this and the other threads here! It seems that the majority of my pain was from poor padding. I used toe spacers and gel pads only last night, and it worked like a dream! Still want to dry just the big tip and taping and experiment with whether or not I really even need the toe spacers, but dancing was so much more enjoyable last night! Biggest issue now continues to be endurance and the joint pain that I think is just a weakness issue and ankle pain, which I've always had with pointe work as a result of several sprains and resulting weak ankles - something I will really need to work on if I plan to continue to do pointework at this age.

 

Thank you all again for steering me in the right direction with padding, pointe work, and adult dancing in general!

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Please be careful on pointe if you have ankle weakness and former sprain issues. That's very scary! If your ankles don't feel that stable and you sense weakness, consider not being on pointe and rebuilding that strength.

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