Pointe dancing is viewed as a rite of passage for girls in ballet. Of course, it is exhilarating when a young girl gets the “OK” from her teacher. Then Mom takes her to buy her first pointe shoes. But, under the best of circumstances this is a huge decision, one that could go very wrong very quickly…
PRESSURE TO GO ON POINTE
Those “best of circumstances” presume that the teacher is attentive and highly skilled, that the shoe fitter at the ballet store is skilled and dedicated, and that the young dancer is able to express pain or other warning signs of injury without fear of being ignored or scolded. Young dancers may have to deal with the pressurized environment of a persuasive teacher and proud parents who have sunk a ton of money into making their daughter a “ballerina.” Is it any wonder why pointe dancing can be filled with angst?
ONE BAD EXAMPLE OF POINTE TOO SOON
A physical therapist emailed me one day to ask about a young female patient of hers. The girl was 9 years old, and her mother had asked the therapist for her opinion about her daughter’s Nutcracker Artistic Director who wanted to put the young girl on pointe for some upcoming performances. Nine years old! The mother clearly was unsettled about the decision, which drove her to the physical therapist for advice.
The physical therapist asked me what I would do in this situation. “String up the Artistic Director by her thumbs!” I replied. This is an example of an unwise choice by a misinformed teacher. A 9-year old does not have the physical attributes nor the technical development (nor the mental and emotional capacity) necessary for pointe work, the most difficult type of ballet.
FIVE TRUTHS ABOUT STARTING POINTE DANCING
Here are five things I wish every parent and dance teacher knew about dancing on pointe (and I’m so glad to say that I know many wonderful teachers who already understand and practice these):
- Not every ballet dancer should dance on pointe.
- Growing anatomy is susceptible to injury.
- Strength and technical proficiency are more important than age in deciding to start pointe work.
- The perceived value of performing is never worth the cost of an injury.
- There is good, medically sound information available to guide the process of going on pointe for the first time.
Spend time finding a healthcare practitioner who understands the demands of dance and will work closely with the teacher, dancer, and parents rather than just blindly sign a pointe dancing release form. I am privileged to serve on the Board of Directors of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science; we have an excellent resource paper about when to start pointe work. You can find it here: http://www.iadms.org/?185
Please leave a comment about your experiences–good or unfortunate–of dancing on pointe. What advice can you offer to young dancers?