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The mechanics of a point


Ja Sm
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Just out of interest, I was wondering if anybody can explain to what the foot does when it points? Do the toes curl? Does the point come from the arch or the toes? Does it matter what kind of foot the dancer has?How about toe length?And what then happens when the dancer goes on pointe?What part of the foot takes the weight? I have read lots of posts about pointe shoes and the ideal arch, so I am just curious. Thank you.

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The pointed 'foot' is a combination of plantar flexion at the ankle and the bones of the foot and toes 'pointing' to extend the line further. Ankle plantar flexion is the position of the ankle as it is on demipointe and this is dependent on the range of movement at that joint (based on the size of the talus bone, mostly) and happens due to contractions of the deep calf muscle (the soleus, mostly). The movement of the metatarsals (bones in the midfoot) and the toes comes from muscles running along the sole of the foot called the flexor digitorum and the flexor hallucis longus (FHL) which operates the big toe. Over the top of these muscles runs a layer of connective tissue called the plantar fascia which can often get tight and inflamed, leading to plantar fasciitis.

 

 

As for the shape of the foot - often the 'ideal' foot for pointe work has the 1st 3 toes the same length, because this gives a better platform for weightbearing. However, due to the pointe shoe fitting the foot so tightly at the 'knuckles' of the foot, a lot of the weight is borne at that area of the foot rather than the very ends of the toes. While the foot bears the brunt of the weightbearing, while the muscles of the foot and ankle constantly make fine adjustments in their support it is the calves,hamstrings, gluteal and abdominal muscles that have to work harder to support the dancer on pointe.

 

Aesthetically, a 'bendy' foot with a high arch looks very nice but if a foot/ankle is very mobile, it's more prone to sprains and strains due to the amount of body weight it is subjected to . The ideal foot would be a moderately flexible foot, which is trained well and strengthened properly so that the strength of the dancers' muscles work it to an aesthetically pleasing, full range of motion that is strong enough to support the demands.

 

Like any area of the body, the top of the foot can be stretched manually using the hands but care should be taken to make sure that the ankle is straight and that the foot/ankle isn't stretched into a sickled position.

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How flexible the foot is also impacts where the balance occurs to compensate for that arch of the ankle. A more tightly constructed ankle tends to send the weight back whilst a more flexible ankel will send the balance more forward. Then the entire body compensates to keep itself in balance.

 

The "ideal" arch of the ankle occurs higher up on the foot placing the weight in the center of the shoe box when it is seen in profile. A highly mobile arch will send that weight to the front of the box - when seen in profile - and a less mobile arch will send that line through the box further back - when seen in profile.

 

In a tightly constructed foot the student tries to compensate for an inadequate arch by curling the toes - which of course is not acceptable. In a less but still tightly constructed foot the arch appears just where the toes join the foot - also not acceptable.

 

The greatest amount of weight is borne on the first three large toes but this does not exempt the littlest toe from doing it's duty. It must maintain contact with the floor.

 

A well placed dancer on pointe will be able to stand with straight knees with the entire platform of the shoe box in contact with the floor, with the center of balance going through the center of the box of the shoe - when seen in profile. The entire body if correctly held will be in balance above it - the line going clean up through the center of the dancer's head. When the body is in correct balance the strain on any one part is lessened and it all feels "right" and "light" - almost weightless.

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It's all about extending the curve from the top of the foot rather than 'scrunching' up the toes. A good exercise to do is 'doming' the foot. Try it with your hand first... put your hand flat on a surface with your fingers all together and then pull your knuckles up off the surface keeping your fingers straight. Now try that with your feet! It's hard at first but gets easier quite quickly. The main aim is to keep your toes straight.

 

Another exercise to do is a divided tendu: go to do a tendu, working through your foot, but stop before your toes leave the floor. Keep your toes straight on the floor then point your foot into a complete tendu still keeping your toes straight. Then put the toes back on the floor (still straight) keeping the rest of the leg/ankle/foot in the tendu line, then go back into full tendu with toes straight... keep repeating this 8-10 times.

 

If you have a theraband, sit up straight with one leg bent (like in frogs or something) and one leg out straight (but make sure the bent leg isn't tucked under the other). Wrap the theraband around the toes (only the toes) of the straight leg. Point the leg, ankle, foot and toes -again keep your toes straight. Use the theraband to add a bit of resistance then lift your toes up and point them slowly. If you can separate your toes that adds a bit more dexterity. Look for photos online for theraband foot exercises.

 

Last one! Sit on a chair or on the sofa (or the loo!) with your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. Lift your heels up so your feet are on demi-pointe. Keep your toes flat on the floor and try to lift your heels as high as you can. This will strengthen your arch too. Next push your toes down into the floor but keep them flat. Slowly allow yourself to point your foot the whole way so your basically on pointe (but because you're sitting down it's not really pointe!). Work the muscles really hard but KEEP YOUR TOES STRAIGHT!

 

In all these, the movements should happen at the joint where the toes meet the foot (the 'knuckles'). The actual toes should not bend or curl.

 

Good luck! :)

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Working through the foot - takting each part separately is certainly one of the major lessons a dancer needs to understand and learn until it becomes second nature. But, that working of the foot is not only in moving out to tendu - but also in moving in from tendu to the "home" position - be first, fifth, etc.

 

A good way to visualize where the dome of the arch lifts is where, most generaly, the elastics in slipers - or ribbons in pointe shoes - cross over the foot.

 

Another visualization is that the foot is not simply pointing - it is pointing at something. If it is pointing at something that will help to transfer to muscle memory that pointing is not curling.

 

The mechanics of how to pointe the foot are first taught in slippers where it is easier for the teacher and student to see and feel where and how it happens. That is one of the modalities that must be mastered before full pointe work begins.

 

This body/mind knowledge is then transferred to pointe work. The dancer by then has also learned how the rest of the body is held through the upper torso, the muscles of the spine and the four quadrants of the abdomen and on into the pullup through the back of the heel. All of this supports the foot so that it doesn't sink into the shoes and thus curling the toes.

 

If each part of the body supports itself - it will in turn support each other part of the body. A body that supports itself is lighter than one in which muscles are not engaged. A sleeping child seems much heavier to carry than one who is awake and to some degree supporing itself.

 

All of this goes into learning how the toes to do not curl - with or without any weight on them.

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I must admit that this aspect of dance fascinates me. It is incredible to think of everything that the body is doing and yet how easy and almost effortless our beautiful dancers make it look. I also have a lot of admiration for you knowledgeable folk who can explain it so clearly!! Thanks again.

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I must admit that this aspect of dance fascinates me. It is incredible to think of everything that the body is doing and yet how easy and almost effortless our beautiful dancers make it look. I also have a lot of admiration for you knowledgeable folk who can explain it so clearly!! Thanks again.

 

This is one of the reasons that it takes so long - and needs so many lessons per week - and constant daily class - for that dancer to look effortless. However, this is also true of other activities; such as a concert pianist. All ten fingers blazing across the keyboard in a Chopin concerto - plus the feet on the pedal - and paying attention to the conductor and the rest of the orchestra. They, too, take years of study - which never ends until the career is over.

 

Muscle memory helps. When things are practiced again and again the muscles develop a "mind" of their own. There have been times when in the midst of a performance, my mind just went blank. I had no idea for a moment or two what came next. However, when I looked at the tape - there it was....my body performing the steps. It didn't realy need my mind.

 

I have also had the experience of performing with a fever - and no, I would NEVER allow a student to do that. Ah hem! However, I did it and I have to say my mind was completely out of it - and my body did some of the best technical work I'd ever hope in my wildest dreams to do. There I was doing a triple attitude turn sur la pointe - perfect. My body knew how to do it - but it was my mind that usually interfered. But the mind now occupied with a fever.....the body performed. It was quite a revelation to me!!

 

How many times does our mind interfere with our success?

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The elements of physiology and psychology of dance fascinate me too! Anjuli I totally hear what you're saying! I've heard recently that a pirouette is 80% mental and only 20% physical / technical.... Perhaps if we stopped thinking about everything so much things would just happen? But there's got to be a certain element of technique there, in the muscle memory as you say, otherwise things would all go horribly wrong! Fascinating!

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Well, the problem with performing has always been to transfer when happens in the classroom to the "everyone is watching" spotlight of the stage. For some that spotlight is a turn on and for others it is deadly.

 

I found when I was performing that if I wrapped myself in the music I could divorce myself from the fears and tribulations of every day, and thus enter quite another zone when on stage. Apparently this was not only felt but also visible. People who knew me often said that something/someone else became me on stage.

 

When I waited backstage for my entrance I was fluttery - until I heard the music.

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It would seem to me that most everything looks best when it is in proportion. The eye usually sees symetry and proportionality as beauty. On the other hand asymetry certainly does add interest.

 

Some dancer's feet are so distince one can identify the dance simply by looking at a picture of the foot.

 

I think it is much more important how the foot is used.

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A ballet teacher told me yesterday that ballet dancers look better with small feet no bigger than a UK size 5, and bigger feet are more difficult to dance with!!She is Russian so maybe thats what she was taught.Does it matter if the foot is big for both reasons?She also said that she likes to start pointe at 10 so the feet dont grow big!!!! i thought that was strange!!! i did shrink my feet a size by wearing 1 size smaller as i didnt want big feet when i was young,i know its bad but i was a silly teenager but it did work!

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I hope that pointe shoes aren't 'prescribed' by the teacher just to try to keep the feet smaller than they would otherwise become, as that is uncomfortably close to Chinese foot binding! Seems a touch draconian to me. I would also be uncomfortable with a teacher deciding that every girl would be ready to start pointe work at a particular age, as there are such huge differences in pointe readiness between girls of the same age.

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I would agree with you Anjuli. My dd's feet sometimes appear almost disproportionately large in everyday life at the moment. She is eleven and I think she just needs to grow in to them! However, they have very good arches and are also strong; when she dances, people comment on how lovely her feet are, showing that she uses them well. I actually thought maybe she danced well because she had plenty to balance on! :D

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I don't think foot size has anything to do with ability making it - less or more difficult - to dance. It is, however, a tad more difficult if the dancer is tall - for various reasons.

 

If any teacher told me that she puts girls on pointe at ten to keep their feet small - I wouldn't walk away - I'd run.

 

Both the age and the concept are wrong and it's a window into, what seems to me, a warped view of what teaching and dancing are about.

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It wasent my dds ballet teacher!!! But unfortunatly here in Turkey the teachers have very strange views about ballet training and when i state my opinion they think im a interfering parent and i dont have a clue about ballet!!

Lucky though,at most the dance schools they have t.v. to watch the class and i do get to watch my dds class in the studio when i want as i work there,so i always keep a check.

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  • 1 year later...

  • Stretch feet and legs regularly

Elevate the injured foot

Ice and massage your foot

Wear a night splint

Choose low-impact exercise

Lose excess body weight

Add arch supports to your shoes

Replace shoes with inadequate arch support

Edited by John Mallinson
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Many thanks.

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