For most children who start ballet, the goal is to dance in pointe shoes (or go en pointe). Hours are spent practicing proper technique at the barre and being able to perform flawless choreography to make every performance look effortless. But, to safely go en pointe, it takes more than just desire.
Criteria for Going En Pointe
Dancers start en pointe when they have met all of the following criteria:
Are 12 years old or older
Have full range of motion in hips, knee and ankles
Have strong core and leg muscles
Have had at least four years of ballet training consisting of at least two classes per week of ballet
Screening is Still Necessary
Even if a dancer meets the above mentioned criteria, a pointe readiness screening is recommended. Pointe readiness screenings allow a performing arts medicine specialist, such as an athletic trainer, to evaluate your child’s strength, range of motion, balance, control, power, endurance, form and technique.
A dancer needs enough motion in the ankle to be able to lift up en pointe and plenty of strength to stay up. Screenings are designed to be high repetition of skills that will challenge the dancer’s ability to maintain balance, control and power without fatigue or technique becoming sloppy.
Fitting a Pointe Shoe
Multiple factors are considered when looking at pointe shoes: material, length, width, rigidity and ability to go on pointe. One must also look at foot shape, foot strength and prior injuries. Each manufacturer makes a pointe shoe a little different, so it is important to try a variety of shoes to ensure the best fitting shoe.
A pointe shoe should be comfortable and should not tightly squeeze the foot and toes. It is always better to have a professional fit the shoe to make sure it will not increase the likelihood of injuries.
When it is correctly fitted, the shoe will help decrease the stress being placed on the body when en pointe. Incorrectly fitted shoes can decrease the dancer’s ability to perform and achieve full pointe. An incorrectly fitted shoe can also increase the likelihood for certain injuries. For instance, a box which is too loose will cause the foot to slide around and may contribute to stress fractures in the lower leg. However, a properly fitted pointe shoe can help the dancer with correct form and technique.
Staying En Pointe
Like with any sport, dancers can suffer athletic injuries. A dancer who has been diagnosed with certain ankle injuries will need a properly fitted shoe to achieve and control full pointe. Pointe shoes will wear out throughout the season and dancers should not dance on a “dead shoe” (or shoes that have broken shanks, boxes and no longer support the foot as intended).
Relevé to the Top
To ensure that your ballerina is ready to rise (relevé) to the top, they should be screened before going en pointe to ensure safety and the demands on the body.
Ashley E. Minnick, MSAH, AT, ATC, received her bachelor's of science in education from Wright State University. Currently, Ashley is an athletic trainer at New Albany High School. She is also involved in the pediatric sports medicine athletic training internship program at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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