Pointe is the ultimate in beauty of female ballet dancers. It looks ethereal and outer-worldly. It challenges your technique in ways you never thought possible, and builds great strength. It’s pretty much the coolest thing ever, and to be honest, it never gets old to see yourself up on your toes in pretty satin shoes!
Can I do pointe?
We strongly believe that pointework is achievable at any age, barring any serious past injuries or issues. It just requires a little bit of hard work and dedication to get there!
Some men even choose to do pointe! The Trockaderos are an all-male comic ballet company, who perform on pointe. Typically, ballet training splits off at a certain level, where women learn pointe and men learn big jumps and turns, but that’s not to say men can’t do pointe!
Does pointe hurt?
Yes and no.
You might think that it will only hurt your toes, but the shoes are designed to distribute your weight around more of your foot, and not just all concentrated on your toes. The feeling can be best described as pressure on your feet and toes, including the sides of your toe joints and maybe even your ankles depending on your ankle range.
Pointe shoes definitely don’t feel like bedroom slippers, but don’t expect to be in excruciating pain. There are some kinds of pain that we want to avoid, like sharp pain on the tip of the toes, or pinching in the Achilles tendon. Other than that, you can expect some discomfort (after all, you are standing on your toes), but you want it to be manageable. You shouldn’t want to cry from the pain! When you purchase your first pair, the fitter will help you find the right shoe and padding to make this possible.
Does pointe mess up my toes and make my feet look gross?
As an adult dancer getting onto pointe, the bones in your feet are already fully formed, so you should not expect your feet to become deformed. (Even children going onto pointe should be waiting until their bones are completely ossified as well.)
Additionally, advances in padding inside the shoes help to protect your feet, keep your toes align to ward off bunions, and prevent blisters. There might be the occasional blister or discomfort on your skin, but slow and careful work along with the perfect shoe should keep your feet looking gorgeous. Dancers who wear pointe shoes 8 hours per day can expect callouses and for the feet to toughen up to the demands of the shoes, but don’t expect to have daily blisters or ugly malformed feet!
Keep reading to learn more about padding options and how to find the right shoe for your foot!
How do pointe shoes work?
Many people think that there are little blocks of wood in the tip of the shoes that keep you on your toes. This isn’t true! Your toes actually extend all the way to the tip of the shoes and you stand on the tips of your toes. The part surrounding your toes is called the box, and is made of many layers of canvas and glue like paper mache. Over time, this material breaks down, especially due to moisture and heat from your feet.
The shoes also have other key parts such as the “shank” (which hugs underneath your arch) and provides additional support so that you are not simply standing on your toes. If you’ve ever worn converse sneakers or winter boots and tried to stand up on your toes, it’s much more possible than doing so in your bare feet, because the hard rubber sole holds you up a little bit. It’s kind of like that! The shank also breaks down over time as it bends under your feet.
It’s important to care for your pointe shoes to make sure that they can last as long as possible. Many shoes last for about 18 hours of wear, but some brands won’t even last that long. If you are diligent about allowing your shoes to dry out after wear, keep them out of hot cars and away from dogs, their lifetime can increase.
Some dancers, especially before a performance, will break in their shoes before even wearing them. If you’ve ever seen videos or clips of dancers banging their shoes with hammers or otherwise destroying them prior to wear, that’s what they’re doing! They will break the shoes to simulate hours of wear so that the shoe will instantly mold to their foot as it would after wearing it for several hours. This is especially useful before a performance, when you would want your shoe to be in the sweet spot of supportive yet malleable. Think of it like when you have your favorite pair of sneakers or boots that is just comfortable enough to wear before it falls apart - if you got a new pair, before going on a big hike, you might want to pre-break-in a new pair of hiking shoes. This is definitely not necessary for a beginner dancer, as you should first learn and discover how your feet naturally break the shoes so that you could then replicate that breakage in the future. Sometimes a pointe shoe fitter will mold the shoe to your foot if you are having trouble with them, but typically your foot does all the work of breaking in the shoe.
What does it mean to be ready for pointe?
Pointework involves putting your whole body weight on your toes! It’s not necessarily dangerous if you’re careful and work correctly, but if you go on pointe without the strength and mobility required, it can cause injury such as straining the ligaments, tendons, and joints in your feet or ankles.
Additionally, pointework is challenging! If you’re not quite ready yet, it can be frustrating and mentally challenging to go on pointe too soon because it will take a very long time to be able to actually start dancing. Ballet in general is already hard (to say the least), and the pointe adds another level on top of that, so it’s important to be ready for it physically, so that you won’t be frustrated with slow progress if you’re still working on building initial strength when you get your shoes.
There are three main categories of readiness: strength (feet, turnout, and core), ankle mobility, and ballet knowledge. You can learn more about them via the text and videos below!
Pointe work requires many tiny muscles that we don’t always use on a regular basis, so they need extra love and care in order to be ready for pointe. Once you are on pointe, it’s important to continue developing these muscles and continue maintaining your strength.
The outside of the pointe shoes are covered in satin, so they have very little friction on the ground. This means that you get no help from the ground to assist in maintaining turnout. It’s important to have a solid understanding of turnout to be able to control your pointe shoes.
Being up on pointe is very high up off the ground. Just like it is more difficult to hold your core strong on relevé than on flat, it is even more difficult to hold your core on pointe. If you don’t hold your core, a strange phenomenon happens, where you actually sink into your shoes (which hurts). If you hold your core and support your body from your center, your feet will be supported and you will be able to stay up on pointe longer.
In order to get up and down off of pointe, your toes and ankles have to do a lot of work! These are all super tiny muscles that have to heave your whole body weight up onto the tip of the shoe. Rises as well as theraband work are both very important to develop the muscles in the feet, ankles, and lower legs.
In order to stand up all the way in your pointe shoes (aka “get over the box”, in pointe lingo), you want to be able to lay a ruler flat across the front of your ankle when your foot is pointed. If you’re pretty close, you can often get onto pointe and stretch the rest of the way when you are already on pointe.
If your feet and ankles need to gain mobility, it is important to go about this very slowly and carefully. The ligaments and tendons in your feet are very delicate and it’s easy to accidentally over stretch them. There is a lot of information and debate out there on this topic. You might see foot stretchers, or videos of extreme foot stretching. These are not necessarily inherently dangerous, but often are used in too extreme of a fashion and can be damaging to your feet. The best way to stretch is to have someone else stretch your foot manually with their hands, so that it can be very controlled and gentle. Definitely don’t put your foot into a foot stretcher or under the couch and watch a movie. Be very gentle with your feet, stretching them with a combination of massage, ball releasing, and stretch. Never hold stretches for more than 30 seconds, and always follow stretching up with strengthening. Realistically, it’s a long road to stretching the feet, and must be approached with great patience and care!
Knowledge of ballet
When you put your pointe shoes on for the first time, it will so foreign and everything is significantly harder and more confusing. If you’ve ever seen a dog wearing booties in the wintertime, that’s how it feels when you have pointe shoes on!
It’s important to have a good understanding of ballet vocabulary so that once you put the pointe shoes on, you only have to think about the shoes, and not about the steps as well.
When will we start working towards these goals?
We start from day one of your first ballet class understanding your feet, building strength through relevés, and working on strengthening the core and turnout.
More advanced concepts and pointe-specific exercises will also be introduced when you start level 3a (typically about 9 months to a year).
Once you and your classmates have reached the time requirement (see criteria below), we’ll test for strength and mobility during your class! Once your class passes the assessment and are ready to go on pointe, we’ll add a new pointe class to the schedule!
Assessment - how to know when you’re ready
Sufficient ballet vocabulary knowledge as well as general strength achieved by a minimum of 1 year of total ballet training after the age of 13, plus 6 months of consistent recent ballet training
Example scenario 1: You studied ballet from ages 13-14 and have been back to ballet consistently for 6 months
Example scenario 2: You began ballet at the age of 40 and have been consistently in class for 1 year
Strength and mobility goals:
32 relevés in 1st position (no plié), maintaining turnout & core the whole time, one hand on wall for balance
24 relevés on each leg in coupe back (no plié), maintaining turnout & core the whole time, one hand on wall for balance
Lay a ruler flat across the front of your ankle when your foot is pointed
Articulate feet, wing, and sickle with a moderate weight theraband 10 times each foot, without any jitters during the movement
No current injuries
Whenever possible, we try to put pointe classes together with regular classes, but often times this is challenging during weeknights when there are limited after-work hours, so on some occasions, pointe classes will be standalone classes on the weekends.
Pointe classes are 30 minutes in length and an additional $60/month.
Getting your first pair of pointe shoes
Once you’re ready for pointe, it’s time to get your first shoes! A very exciting day!
To get your first pair of pointe shoes, you’ll want to schedule a shoe fitting appointments to find the right shoes, padding, brand, size, etc. These appointments typically take about an hour. Our favorite fitters are Vicky at Dance Xtreme Bodywear in Centennial and Noel at Assemble Dancewear in Castle Rock.
To get your first pair of pointe shoes, expect to spend about $100-$150. For a small extra fee, the store will sew your ribbons and elastics on the shoes for you. We recommend doing this, as doing it yourself is a surprising amount work if you’re not an avid sewer.
Be sure to take pictures of the exciting event!
Preparing Your toenails for your fitting
Be sure to trim your toenails in advance of your pointe shoe fitting. If you press on the tip of your toe, you should not be able to feel your toenail. If your toenails are too long, they will hurt during your fitting and make it difficult to tell if the shoe is the correct fit.
Watch a video of what a first pointe shoe fitting looks like!
We visited Vicky at Dance Xtreme Bodywear to record a first shoe fitting. Check it out below!
What to expect in your first pointe class
Pointe class is very different from regular ballet technique class. For the first several months, we work mostly at the barre to build strength to get up and down from your pointe shoes. In your soft shoes, rising up and lowering down is a simple matter, but in pointe shoes, it’s much more complex, so we have to learn technique and build strength in order to do this.
We’ll definitely take pictures on our first day of class!