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Pointe and foot damage?


sarahw
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DD age 12 is going en pointe. Her dance teachers seem to be going very cautiously etc. She just passed G5 and dances several times a week.

 

As a non dancer I am worried about what her feet will look like and how they will function in the future as a result of pointe.

 

I am also not convinced that a ballet obssessed 12 yo can really give informed consent either!!!

 

Can anyone reassure me or otherwise?

 

Thanks!

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If the student studies under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher, and...

 

If the shoes are fit correctly, and....

 

If the work is done carefully, and...

 

If the foot is well constructed for pointe work, and....

 

this all depends upon the expertise and care of the teacher, then.....

 

generally speaking, there should be no expectation of long term injury.

 

As for how the foot ends up looking - asthetically - when barefoot - that is another matter entirely.

 

But, then, there are many people with less than beautiful feet as the years go by who have never danced.

 

As for "informed consent" - how many of us are truely informed about most of the stuff we do - most of which carries some degree of potential harm.

 

An example:  someone who studies to play a brass instrument can end up deaf or a violin student with severe tendonitis.  

 

There's a risk to everything.

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I agree with Anjuli 100% But for reassurance I pushed my feet really hard. My arches were high but my instep low do I did tons of metatarsal and foot strengthening exs daily plus instep stretching and lots and lots of pointe work from age 12 until I stopped dancing incl 3 yrs at RBS Upper school and some pro work and my feet are pretty unscathed. In fact when I have a rare pedicure I'm always complimented.

 

Keep her feet clean, soak in a salt bath after every pointe session.

 

Let shoes dry out between wears not stuffed in a bag or plastic bag.

 

Dry and talc feet after pointe to keep skin soft.

 

Keep feet well moisturised to prevent dry callouses developing. Vick is great on the feet too!

 

Tape feet before pointe with fabric dressing strip to avoid friction blisters.

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Anjuli, can I ask, how would you describe a foot that is well constructed for pointe work? Dd has been doing pointe work for a year and one day announced happily that her feet were starting to look like the older girls at her ballet school. Slightly concerning!

 

Balletqs, what foot exercises did you do, if you don't mind me asking?

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Anjuli, can I ask, how would you describe a foot that is well constructed for pointe work? Dd has been doing pointe work for a year and one day announced happily that her feet were starting to look like the older girls at her ballet school. Slightly concerning!

 

Balletqs, what foot exercises did you do, if you don't mind me asking?

 

in answer to the question regarding construction of the foot - here is an article which has appeared in an earlier thread.   The more direct response to your question appears about halfway down.  However, I've reposted the entire article in case someone is interested in it:

 

 

POINTE – ASSESSING READINESS

 

Assuming that the ballet student has reached at least the age of twelve years, has sufficient skeletal maturity, mental focus and the desire, the following are some of the criteria I try to apply in assessing the readiness of the student for pointe work.

 

How is the weight placed? It is important not only for the weight to be placed correctly but the student needs to understand some of the principles behind correct alignment. I look to see if the student is standing with optimum stability within the confines of individual conformation. The body should be balanced forward, heels in contact with the floor, but the weight mostly on the balls of the feet. The weight should also be evenly divided between the two feet. The stance is also supported and balanced, for most part, by the first three large toes of the foot.

 

In assessing balance, I look for the ease with which the student has learned to align the body for proper balance – how innate has it become? When the student rises to demi-pointe there should be little rocking forward. The body comes forward in one piece. The balance is easily attained. The communication “to balance” comes from the mind – not “when the body is ready”. It is mind directed.  This is a very important concept.

 

The student should also be well able to control the descent from demi-pointe, with no rocking backward onto the heels. This should be assessed not only in static positions, like a simple releve’, but also in moving positions, as in coming down from a pirouette. The student should come down from that pirouette still very much in control of the balance and weight and ready to go on toward the next step. The ending for one being the beginning for the next.

 

Additionally, it is necessary, in my opinion, to assess the conformation of the foot, ankle, knees and legs. The amount of either bowl or hyper construction of the knee will very much affect how the student is able to rise to and dance on pointe. Extremes of either could be very detrimental and might put the knee at risk. Ankle either pronating or sickling could be another cause for caution before proceeding. Past injuries should be taken into account. Elongation of the second large toe is considered by many to be untenable for pointe work, although I have found this not always to be the case.

 

And, finally the shape of the foot itself. I would hesitate to place any young student on pointe who already has a bunion. The weight of the body was not meant to be borne on the ends of the toes, therefore many stresses will be created by being on pointe and a bunion can result from these stresses. So, if I saw a student with this formation before pointe work even begins I would really hesitate to initiate pointe work for this person.

 

There are basically three kinds of feet.

 

One type is a tight, strong construction that has almost no arch at all. This is not aesthetically pleasing, and for the ballet that is a consideration. But in addition to that it can inhibit the possibility of the student from fully achieving the ability to attain full weight placement on the platform of the pointe shoe. This will throw the weight back and stress will be added to other parts of the body to compensate. It will be very difficult for the student to work with a straight knee and therefore not only will the knee be stressed but also much of the vocabulary of the ballet will be impossible to accomplish. In order to be fully up on pointe a “bend” has to occur somewhere and if the flexibility of the foot does not allow it – then the bend will occur in the knee or the spine, which is unacceptable.  The student must be able to be fully on pointe with the entire platform of the shoe in contact with the floor, the knees straight and the weight forward.

 

The second type of foot has a more flexible instep that proceeds from the high part of the forefoot – almost from the ankle. This allows the dancer to be fully up on the platform of the shoe, does not stress the knee, allows the body’s weight to be forward over the platform of the pointe shoe, and is aesthetically pleasing. While it is not as strong as the tight construction, it is strong enough to support pointe work.

 

The third type of foot is extremely flexible. Here the instep is much lower down on the forefoot. When this person is on demi-pointe the foot is out over the toes. This type of foot is a weak construct, and literally spills over and even out of the shoe. It is a beautiful foot, but very difficult, sometimes even impossible, to work with. I knew someone with this kind of foot, and she found pointe work impossible, even sewing up the vamps of her pointe shoe, she literally spilled out of the shoe. She found pirouettes extremely difficult even on demi-pointe. The weight was thrown too far forward and there was a lack of strength in the foot for any real control.

 

Most of us are somewhere in between on the scale of these three types of feet. It is up to the teacher to assess the feet of the student and suggest the appropriate shoe for the student’s level and physical needs.

 

It may take a while before a suitable shoe is found. This fit should be continuously re-assessed as it often happens that the dancer’s feet will change with time and use. 

 

I hope this article helps.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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Thanks Anjuli, great article. Really helpful. I think dd must be somewhere in the middle. She has been shown a couple of ways to increase the flexibility of her instep which she says are helping, but is asking for an arch stretcher (or wherever it's called!) for Xmas. I've heard they can cause injuries if not used properly. Does anyone have any experience of them?

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Yes taxi4ballet that is right. My underneath foot is very high from the floor but the top was low. I really worked on it though and it developed through training. However I did a lot of metatarsal pull exercises, resistance exs with a Thera band, individual toe resistance exs with a wide elastic band, hundreds of tendus! Tendus over a wide jam jar to length then the top of the foot. I did used to sit with my feet under a low cabinet to stretch the top however I would not advise a foot stretcher due to impingement on the Achilles. Lots of Demi pointe work in soft blocks helped my feet too. If your teacher has suggested pointe work she should have given dd a few exs to help her strengthen her feet already.

Edited by balletqs
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Thanks Anjuli, great article. Really helpful. I think dd must be somewhere in the middle. She has been shown a couple of ways to increase the flexibility of her instep which she says are helping, but is asking for an arch stretcher (or wherever it's called!) for Xmas. I've heard they can cause injuries if not used properly. Does anyone have any experience of them?

 

 

I would never advise anyone, nor allow my students, nor use myself - any device to stretch the foot - ever.   The best - and safest - method to both articulate the foot and strengthen it is by correctly executing tendu.  Not only in the exercises specific for tendu during barre work - but through the entirety of barre and center work.

 

Every time the foot moves - in every exercise - there is an opportunity to articulate it through tendu.  Balanchine considered tendu the most important exercise the dancer does - and I agree.  There has appeared previously on this board in another thread an article on tendu - and if there is interest - I will repost it.

 

The foot is a fairly fragile piece of equipment meant to carry the weight of the body, allow it to move, for a long lifetime.  But the bones, tendons, ligaments, are small and delicate.  Anything that is meant to both carry weight and move - is a compromise between strength (to carry weight) and flexibility (ability to move) and needs to be treated with respect.

 

After all that dancing is done, you will want to be able to walk for many years remaining in your life.  Treat your feet with the respect they deserve.  

 

Does the construction of the foot have a bearing on how quickly one breaks pointe shoes?

 

 

It can, yes.  A very strong foot can break down the shank of the shoe - but it also depends upon how strong the shank was in the first place.

 

Also a weak foot which needs a strong shank will find that when the shank loses just a small amount of strength, the shoe is no longer strong enough to support that weak foot.

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As I understand it, but I might be wrong (!) the instep is the shape you are born with, and the arch is the shape you create when you point your toes. It can be improved with the right exercises.

The arch is the space underneath your foot when you stand with your foot flat on the ground and with people with a very high arch you can see daylight from one side to the other.

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