New to Pointework?

Hi everybody!  Today is a very special post that has been highly requested by you guys …and that is my tips for pointework.  This is kind of a “Back to Dance” theme, while we still continue our “Technique” theme for the month.  Some of you have your first pointe class either this week or last week, so I want to keep helping you develop your technique and work correctly.

For reference, this is sort of an updated version of my Pointework Basics blog post.  So, without further ado, my tips for those who are new to pointework!

Know Your Stuff

Pointework is a very dangerous thing.  My goodness, you are standing on your toes!  You are concentrating your body weight onto the tip of one foot – this implies a high potential for injury and foot damage.  Going into pointework for the first time, you are risking your health later in life at a young age where this might not yet seem an issue.  You have to be careful and do it right, thinking about the future, not just the present.

The way to prevent injuries and maintain your foot and back health is to be educated about what you are trying to do and to set goals for correct technique.

This blog post will be all about things that you should know going into your first year of pointework.

Pointe Shoe Anatomy

This section is an exact replica of a section from my Pointework Basics blog post – but I wanted to re-iterate it again because it is so important.  Feel free to reference this section as you continue reading and later in your pointe career.  Many of these terms will be used during fittings, pointe class and blog posts.

1 (block or box): The box is one of the two vital parts of the pointe shoe.  It is the support around your toes that supports the lower part of your foot en pointe.

2 (vamp): This is the third most important part of your shoe.  It is the part that “holds you inside” of your shoe.  If there was no front, you would fall right through!  Vamp height is an important part of your shoe selection in regards to foot flexibility and in-step height.

3 (platform): The part of the shoe that you stand on.  It is made of a material which supports your foot and makes everything (a little) less painful.

4 (side seam): This seam is designed to pull upwards on your arch to increase the line and curvature of the bottom of the foot.  It is often a reference point for ribbon placement.

5 (binding): The binding is the socket/tube for the drawstring.  This adjusts the tightness around the mid-foot.  It’s important to prevent gapping at the shoe edges, especially on demi pointe.

6 (wings): The wings is where the shoe transitions from the hard box to the soft side quarters.  It is often where the bunion rests.  If the wings are too hard, they can be softened with water and hammering for comfort.

7 (outer sole): The outer sole is the back of the shoe.  The color and protrusion of the outer sole is important for the line the shoe makes.  Many professional dancers prefer to shave down the sides of the shoe with a knife to make a cleaner line and promote successful balancing.

8 (side quarters): This is an important part of the shoe because the amount of fabric that is in the side quarters can affect the bagging and fit of the pointe shoe.  Lots of bagging and creasing of the side quarters can ruin the line of the shoe.  The fit of the side quarters can be adjusted with the drawstring, but the appearance cannot be.

9 (insole or shank): The other most important part of the pointe shoe!  The shank supports your arch en pointe and allows you to stand in that position.  The strength and flexibility of the shank can have a significant effect on the alignment and safety of a dancer en pointe.

10 (profile): Often called the profile height, this is what adjusts the roominess of the box.  The higher the height, the taller your toes are from the side view.  A proper profile height is important for comfort, blister prevention and box support.

What is Correct Technique?

Beautifully arched feet seems to be the goal for most dancers.  But, in reality, it is a necessity to do pointework correctly and prevent injury.  I’m not saying that you must have Gelsey Kirkland feet …you should just have adequate foot flexibility, strength and mobility to properly support your foot en pointe.

Incorrect technique en pointe.

The photo above demonstrates incorrect technique en pointe.  The dancer’s feet are adequately arched – not exceptional, but adequate.  But, poorly fitted shoes and lack of strength doesn’t allow for the shank of the shoe to be arched to match the student’s foot, therefore creating a very large risk of injury.

Correct technique en pointe.

Above is correct technique en pointe.  The shoes fit nicely. The strength and flexibility of the dancer’s feet allow for the instep of the foot to curve beautifully over the box of the shoe and the shank to be bent to match the dancer’s arch.

Below is a checklist for your feet to see your readiness for pointe:

  • When the foot is pointed, there is at least a 180 degree angle (or more) from the center point on top of the foot between the ankle bones and the base of the third metatarsal (center of your lower foot).
  • When the foot is pointed, the center point at the top of the foot between the ankle bones is aligned with the middle of the second toe.
  • On demi-pointe, the same two principles as above apply.
  • The dancer can do 32 élevés at the barre in first position while maintaining turnout and placement and the foot rising to the position specified in the bullet points above for every repetition.

If your feet do not meet the criteria above, you must re-evaluate the condition of your feet and adjust them with exercises and practice until they are ready for pointework.

To condition, strengthen and stretch your feet, please use my Foot Workout and Ankle Stabilization Workout.

Preparing Your Shoes

You may also notice that some dancers have adequate feet, but their shoes, even if they are perfectly fitting, don’t allow for them to get over their box or the shank to mold to their arch.

This is a common occurrence because the shoe isn’t broken in sufficiently.  Before you can wear your shoes, you have to bend the shank, widen the box and slightly wear down the glue.

I have a whole video on how I prepare my pointe shoes for wear, here.

But, that video is all about how I prepare my shoes to fit my feet.  If you are new to pointework, you won’t be familiar with those details yet.  So, here is what I recommend to break in your shoes when you are new to pointe:

  • Step on the box with your heel to widen it.  This will allow your foot to fit into the shoe much, much better.
  • Bend the shank back and forth so it can mould to your arch. Often the dancer whose shank doesn’t mould to the foot didn’t break her shoes in properly.
  • Detach the shank from the sole of the shoe.  Do this by grabbing the top of the shank and gently detaching part of it from the fabric underneath.  It sounds scary, but it doesn’t hurt the shoe at all!  If the glue is very secure in the shoe, especially with Grishkos, don’t bother with this procedure.

Sewing and Darning

I have two separate blog posts and videos about sewing your pointe shoes and darning them.  I will hopefully soon do an updated version of the sewing post and go more in-depth with better camera shots.

I won’t go into it with this blog post because you already have so much information to ingest!

Thanks for reading this post!  I’ll see you on Sunday with a new one.  Have a great weekend everybody.

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