Things you should know before you start pointe work
Posted Jun 02 2008 6:03pm
There are certain things that will benefit you tremendously in the long run if you have educated yourself briefly about before starting pointe work. Just reading up about pointe work and essentially knowing what a pointe shoe exactly was helped me get a better first fitting than a lot of my peers.
Let's start with the basics.
When standing en pointe, you are standing on the very tips of your toes, not on the ball of your foot. You are supported through your arch (the curve on the bottom of the foot) and metatarsal/toe area by the shank and toe box of the pointe shoe. See information on pointe shoe anatomy here. For the rest of this post to make sense to a pointe shoe newbie and to achieve a successful pointe shoe fitting, knowing the parts of a pointe shoe is crucial. The following picture is an x-ray of what the foot should look like when en pointe. The toes are not curled under or bent and the foot is stretched:
Pointe shoes are not now, nor were they ever, made of wood. The material used to make the shank f a pointe shoe varies from brand to brand, but generally consists of leatherboard, compressed cardboard, carbon fiber, red board, and other materials similar to any of these. The toe box of the pointe shoe is made of a combination of burlap, paste, canvas, and more paste.
One of the few exceptions to this is the Gaynor Minden brand. Their shanks and toe box are made with elastomeric material and shock absorbers. These are definitely the most controversial shoes on the market. The benefits of the shoe are these: comfort, guaranteed over-the-box placement, longer wear time and a few more possible benefits. The downside is that these shoes can allow the dancer to "sit" on the shank of the shoe and can decrease the strength of the foot.
Pointe work will be painful. Wouldn't you expect something that is essentially standing on your toes to? What started out as a stage trick to make Sylphs and swans look like they were floating above the stage has evolved in to a beautiful but painful fact of life during ballet training. Almost every young dancer looks forward to their first pair of pointe shoes, but that does not mean that just because your ballet teacher tells you you are ready to dance en pointe does not mean that it will be a cake walk from there. Dancing on pointe requires tremendous strength and flexibility throughout the body, not just in the feet.
No, you cannot "teach" yourself to dance on pointe. There is a reason your teacher has not approved you to get your shoes yet. If your teacher has not told you to get your pointe shoes, don't do it. Every time you rise to full pointe, this magic little thing called "Muscle memory" turns on. this how horrible and debilitating habits form. Imagine thinking that you have "taught" yourself to dance on pointe, when really you are nowhere near ready to be in those shoes, and then months, weeks or years later when you are finally given the go ahead to buy those pretty pink satin shoes, you have to entirely re-learn how to dance on pointe, or even ballet (see, this can screw up your technique on flat, too).
Too large or too small pointe shoes can cause permanent damage to the feet. I know a girl who got fitted for pointe shoes 1 time. She was 10. For years and years she kept ordering the same size shoe from a catalog thinking her feet weren't changing. She was wrong and now has the most screwed up feet ever. Pointe shoes that are too large will have a similar effect.
UPDATE: Here are some websites with good information about pointe safety and when and why you can/can't go en pointe