When can my child go "en pointe'?
So how do we know when a young ballet dancer is ready to go "en pointe" ?
This is a question that was recently raised in the practice by an anxious parent, obviously keen for their child to follow the natural progression into the pointe shoe, but concerned about the potential damage or possible risk of injuries this may present. And with good reason.
Children's feet are still developing, with many bones yet to fully ossify (ie turn from cartilage to bone), and muscles that are still growing in length, size and strength. Therefore it is understandable that placing the foot into a fairly un-natural position on top of a hard toe block could have some negative impacts unless the child has been assessed as having sufficient strength and range of motion in the feet and ankles as well as good core control for stabilization of the upper body.
Primarily, the ballet teacher will be regularly assessing the child as they progress through the grades, and will be guiding them through a series of strengthening exercises which prepares and conditions the leg and foot gradually. In fact several years of pre-pointe work is ideal, so as to allow sufficient time for the intrinsic foot muscles to gain the strength and balance required to support the body whilst "en pointe". Some of the exercises the dancer might be practicing may include single calf raises, doming and resistance band pointing. Technique is extremely important in reducing the risk of injury, and must be a focus for the student, rather than doing as many repetitions as possible.
Once ready to move into pointe shoe work, the child must be fitted with a suitable shoe. It may be tempting to allow a little extra growing room, however an ill fitting pointe shoe will allow movement and friction, causing not only blister development, but the risk of the foot being unsupported. Having shoes fitted by properly trained personal is recommend.
Generally a child will not start pointe work before the age of 11-12 years to minimise the impact on the developing foot bones, and usually after they have passed a pre-pointe assessment, to ensure they have sufficient strength and flexibility. If there are any particular concerns regarding your child's foot, parents may also choose to seek advice from a Health Professional.
*Disclaimer - this post is intended as informational only. Specific problems or issues should be discussed with your child's ballet teacher or health care professional.