Pointe work: How to keep your feet strong and healthy

The day a young ballerina receives her first pair of pointe shoes is quite possibly the most exciting day in her dance career. From a young age I dreamed of dancing like the “big girls” on pointe and waited for the day when I was ready for my first class on pointe.

Little did I know that there was a lot of work to do before I was even recommended to go see the Physio for a pre pointe assessment.

To ensure the feet are ready for pointe, there are a number of strengthening exercises a dancer must do every day to help strengthen her feet and ankles to take the pressure of standing with all of their weight being on either one or two toes. The exercises that I recommend for preparing for pointe are:

Toe Fanning – separating each of the toes out like a fan keeping the big toe inline with the other toes.

Rises – before going onto pointe dancers should be able to do at least 30 rises on each leg.

Doming – Keeping the toes flat on the ground lift up the arch and hold for 15 seconds repeat this 10 times on each foot.

Little Toes Down, Big Toes Up – Similar to the fanning exercise, but starting with toes flat on the ground lift up the big toe leaving smaller toes on the ground then keeping the big toe on the ground lifting up the little toes repeat this for 30 seconds on each foot ensuring toes stay flat at all time when in contact with the floor.

(click on the image at the end of this article to link to a downloadable exercise resource sheet)

To help prevent blisters, bunions and other foot-related conditions, dancers need to make sure they use the best padding or protection whilst in the shoes. Unfortunately some teachers may say, “Back in my day, we weren’t allowed any protection”, but it is essential to help prevent the feet from becoming like the dreaded ‘ugly dance feet’. Protective measures range from specialised padding made just for pointe work to Chux cloths. Most dancers will use Pointe pouches, more commonly referred to as ‘ouch pouches’, which are gel pouches that fit around the toes to ensure padding and comfort when on pointe. Another option is lamb’s wool which provides a soft layer between the shoes and toes reducing the amount of pain felt when on full pointe. Many professional dancers use a combination of all these things, but finding the thing that works best for you is the key to success on pointe. Other things such as toe spacers, which are made of gel, are used to help keep the toes separated when on pointe keeping them in the correct streamlined position and reducing the chance of bunions forming.

With pointe shoes comes ribbons… There are two types of ribbon:

  1. The normal ribbon, which offers a lot of support, but when tied too tight can cut into the achilles and restrict range of motion, making it harder for the dancer to get up onto pointe.
  2. The more highly recommended ribbon, the Elastorib, has a piece of elastic built into the ribbon which, when sewn on correctly, is positioned directly over the achilles to allow full range of motion without cutting into the achilles.

Although it may be very tempting to just remove your pointe shoes and slip into a pair of thongs or ugg boots, this is not ideal for your feet. It is recommended that you wear comfortable and supportive shoes that are well-fitted (not too tight on the toes) and cushioned to allow your feet to rest after a class. Ideally, these shoes will have a type of fixation such as laces, velcro or a strap to avoid scrunching of the toes, which is a natural habit to hold yourself in a shoe that lacks fixation, such as thongs or “ballet flats”. Your shoes should be comfortable and supportive and you should not be able to fold your shoe in half. Lastly, make sure the shoes fit around your feet, especially around your toes!

Article written by Teaghan Spiers, Myotherapist & Dance Teacher

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