After training for years and building the necessary strength for pointe work, ballet dancers often experience frustration when they finally don their first pair of pointe shoes. The stiff pointe shoe toe box of today is wider and more oval-shaped than it was in the earliest days of dance en pointe. Nonetheless, many dancers still struggle to get “over the box” to find their balance on the flat tip of the shoe. Numerous strategies can help you get up and over your toe box where you will find the stability you need for advanced pointe work.
Build strength and increase flexibility in your feet and ankles. Articulate slowly and deliberately through your feet when you perform basic pointe exercises in class. Control your movements as you roll through from flat-feet to demi-pointe to full-pointe and as you reverse the direction from full-pointe to demi-pointe to flat-feet. Routinely perform simple flex-and-point exercises, using an exercise band for added resistance.
Build your core muscles. Strong abdominal and back muscles will help lift you up and over your toe box and prevent you from relying too much on your shoes. Perform forward and side planks and forward and oblique crunches which are all exercises that specifically target the core.
Improve your turnout by consciously rotating outward from the hips, whether on demi- or full-pointe. The same inner thigh muscles that are vital for turnout also help you find your stable center over your toe box.
Engage the upper leg muscles and lengthen the knees when working on full-pointe. You may be tempted to soften the knees in an attempt to get fully over your toe box, but doing so leaves you less stable and more vulnerable to injury.
Confirm that you have the best fitting pointe shoe for your particular foot. To achieve proper alignment over your box, your shoe must fit precisely. Consult with a professional fitter to determine your needs with respect to vamp length, type and shape of box and strength of shank. If you are experiencing difficulty getting over the box, consider experimenting with a different size, style or pointe shoe manufacturer.
If your shoes have a rigid shank, the shanks will soften naturally with regular use, enabling you to get up and over the box with increasing ease. If you opt to speed up the process, gently bend the strong shank until it conforms with the line of your pointed foot, but be careful not to break the shank in the process.
Failure to warm up your feet and ankles sufficiently before working en pointe can result in serious injury.
Be aware that the stiff toe boxes of your pointe shoes will soften, providing you with less and less support over time. This can cause misalignment and injury. Be prepared to purchase new shoes as soon as this occurs.
- "The Ballet Companion"; Eliza Gaynor Minden; 2005
- iSport Ballet: How to Be Ready for Pointe
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.