Dance · Exercise

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – strengthening your feet for pointe

Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina, and every ballerina dreams of her day when she will finally be en pointe. However this is not something that can be rushed. There is no magical age when a girl is ready. It does not matter if she is the best dancer in the class, if she has won competitions or can do a clean double pirouette. It will be down to the teachers to decide when a girl is ready. It is dependant on technique and strength in the feet and ankles. The teacher may also take in to account the maturity of the stundent. Being en pointe is hard work and takes total dedication. So they will need to understand the hours of practice that will need to be done. 

There are, however, some techniques and exercises that can be done to improve on foot and ankle strength, that can be transferred into class, hopefully catching the eye of the teacher. Show her, prove to her!
Some props and aids you may need;

Tea towel,

Resistance band,

Tennis ball,

ELEVES OR RISES

Firstly, without needing any props, simple one footed rises will work wonders! Start on 1 foot in parallel or turned out, with your other foot coup de pied (just by your ankle bone) Slowly and in a controlled manor, rise up on to Demi pointe as high as you can, really concentrating on pulling the heel up. Then use the same control to lower back down. You will be surprised how quickly your foot and calf muscle fatigue! Do as many as you can, 15-20 is a good starting point. Repeat on the other foot. Try and aim to do this every night, you’ll soon see the benefits!

DEMI POINTE SHOES

Demi pointes, or soft blocks are a mid way shoe between your ballet flats and pointe shoes. They are manufactured in the same way as pointe shoes, but without the hard shank and not as many glue and paste layers to the box. Your feet have to work much harder in demi’s than they do in flats, which will really strengthen the intricate muscles in the feet and get then used to wearing something a little harder. Also great for helping to build balance, as the sole is not as flat, so you have to work harder for stability. 

DOMING

Grab your tea towel and place it on the floor. Place your foot at one end. Without curling your toes, tense your foot so it arches towards the ceiling, in a dome shape. This will slowly inch the tea towel in towards you. Carry on until the whole towel is ruched in. Focus on keeping the toes as straight as possible. Repeat on opposite foot.

RESISTANCE WORK

Using your resistance band, place the top half of your foot (from the ball of big toe and all of toes) in the centre. Flex your foot and pull back the two ends of the band creating some resistance. Slowly point your foot into the band. Try and think rolling through the foot, pushing the ankle away first, then slowly pushing the toes through last. Then reverse back to flexed foot, so toes first then rolling back through the ankle. Controlling the flexing of the foot is just as important as pointing it, so make sure you take just as much time on each half of the exercise. Repeat on opposite foot. Aim for 10 each foot. The emphasis here is the quality of movement, not quantity.

FOOT ROLLING

The muscles in the feet are all so small. It’s important to really warm them up before class or working on any exercises. Place a tennis ball under your foot, and roll it backwards and forwards applying as much pressure as you can stand. You can really work on any particularly tender or tense points. This is also a great exercise to do after class, to release and massage after all that hard work.

STRETCHING

Stretching the feet needs to be approached with caution. You can damage and weaken the muscles and tendons, so care needs to be taken. This can be done with a partner. Sit comfortably on the floor with one leg extended. Get the person to place the heel of their hand across the metertarsals and toe joints. Keeping your leg straight, get them to gently apply pressure, pushing your toes down towards the floor. You should feel a nice stretch along the front of your foot. Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort by your heel, your Achilles’ tendon. Hold for 5-10 seconds then release. Start of with 5 rounds on each foot.

Do make sure you talk to your teacher. Let her know you want to work towards being en pointe, you may be able to come up with a regime together, as she will already know your strengths and weaknesses, so will know where you need to improve. As always, be sensible and safe. These things cannot be rushed, and need a lot of hard work putting in, but it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally get the go ahead. 

Alicia 💗

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