Over the past week I've seen so many teachers seek the help of others inquiring if their students are ready for pointe. I applaud these teachers for recognizing uncertainly and following their gut by seeking guidance. Education and communication is crucial to a successful transition en pointe.
Many studios in the United States have no system in place to determine advancement and depend solely on a teacher's judgement. This judgement is often challenged by parents and/or students and can lead to frustrating conversations. In my opinion, there are key indicators to look at besides maturity or age when progressing to pointe shoes. Some teachers will say: "Well, my feet were like that and I did it just fine. I just had to work harder." That is the key point though, if your body was ready to begin with, you wouldn't have to work hardER. This article will provide you with 4 indicators to better recognize when your student is ready for pointe.
Big toe flexibility. When on relevé, how close to a 90° angle is the big toe joint? Your body is like a stack of building blocks. To achieve a strong balance when standing flat we all know we must alignment the head, shoulders, hips and feet. This alignment is also needed when we go on relevé. If your student's foot is at a 45° angle, the heel is in not in alignment with the rest of the body. Gravity will try and take over sending the weight out through the heels. To compensate and maintain form your students will grip their calves to maintain balance. When en pointe, this will often cause them to fall back off of the box.
Ankle flexibility & alignment. Having enough ankle flexibility is one of the most common things to look for before progressing to pointe shoes. Those who do not have enough flexibility in their ankles will struggle to lengthen their knees while en pointe. Some teachers use a pencil at the ankle to check for readiness. I personally take a step back and look at the entire leg. When sitting on the ground with your feet stretched in front of you, is there a straight line (180°) from the outter side of the knee down through the ankle and finishing at the pinky toe? Are the knees lifted off the ground or are the toes clawing? Is the ankle sickling or winging? The goal is to have a straight leg from all angles and have at least a 180° line from the knees to the toes.
Muscle strength, balance and turn out. Pointe work is all about transitioning up and down off of the box effortlessly. You need enough calf strength and turn out ability to achieve this. So, without holding onto a barre, do your students have the strength to do at least 10 elevés on one foot in both parallel and turned out positions? While doing those raises, is their ankle rolling all over the place? Finally, how long can they hold a passé position on demi-pointe?
Achilles range & alignment in plié. One of my teaching mottos is: “You must go down before you can go up.” What I mean by that is; the force you put downwards directly impacts the following movement upwards. When dancing en pointe you are physically having your body go from a previously learned demi-pointe position to full pointe. This is a difference of about two inches. Consequently, you will need more force (plié) to get up onto the box of the shoe. This is why I believe it is important to check your students for plié alignment and range before they go en pointe.
The fact of the matter is; could your students physically dance en pointe if they have trouble with one of the above issues? Yes, but (in my opinion) they will have an unnecessary challenge. Take a few months to work on their weaknesses. Not only will their pointe skills progress faster, but they will enjoy the experience more.
If you're looking for more information on this topic please check out the Perfect Pointe Book. It is a wonderful pointe resource that contains a workbook of exercises and troubleshooting assistance to help your students progress to pointe work quickly and effectively. https://www.theballetblog.com/shop/the-perfect-pointe-book/