Young ballet students dream of the day they finally get their first pair of pointe shoes. For many young students, this is a natural progression in their training. For adult ballet dancers, however, finally getting a pair of pointe shoes is a major accomplishment. Hours of class time spent strengthening the feet, ankles, legs and abdominal muscles have finally paid off. If you want to be able to actually dance in you pointe shoes, your ankles will need some additional strengthening.
Although the pink satin shoes look beautiful, they can be painful, and they can cause serious injury, if you are not ready for pointe work. Before doing any work in pointe shoes, you must have the permission of a knowledgeable ballet teacher. Ideally, you should have been taking class at least three times per week for several years. If you are a beginning pointe student, do not practice pointe work at home. The surfaces in your house are not suitable for working on pointe. The best time to practice strengthening exercises is at the ballet studio, after your regular ballet class.
When working on pointe, you need to be able to come off of pointe with control. Isolating this movement can strengthen your ankles. Stand facing the barre, with your feet in parallel. Step onto pointe, one foot at a time. Hold the position briefly. Then, roll down, passing through 3/4-pointe, demi-pointe and 1/4-pointe before allowing your heels to touch the floor. Throughout the descent, keep your legs strongly held together and keep your heels in line with the space between your big toes and second toes. Emphasize this proper alignment of the ankle joint so that it becomes second nature.
Fluid pointe work also requires you to have enough ankle strength to get onto pointe. Basic relevés on two feet, facing the barre, will build ankle strength. When you do your relevés, use your plié to provide the force necessary to arrive on pointe. Keep your ankles aligned and your abdominal muscles engaged. Practice doing relevés in first, second and fifth position to build strength in your ankles as well as familiarity with these common movements.
In a rise, you can’t generate force from a plié to help you get onto pointe. All of the strength must come from your feet and ankles. While facing the barre, do rises in first, second and fifth positions. For all of the rises, don’t move your toes as you rise onto pointe.
After several months of practicing these ankle-strengthening exercises several times a week, you might be ready for an additional challenge. To make these exercises more difficult, you can perform them all on one leg. This will further strengthen your ankles.
- The Joffrey Ballet School’s Book of Ballet-Fit; Allison Kyle Leopold and Dena Simone Moss
- Ballet: From the First Plié to Mastery: An Eight-Year Course; Anna Paskevska
- The Ballet Companion: A Dancer’s Guide to the Technique, Traditions, and Joys of Ballet; Eliza Gaynor Minden
- American Ballet Theatre: Ballet Dictionary
Kat Black is a professional writer currently completing her doctorate in musicology/ She has won several prestigious awards for her research, and has had extensive training in classical music and dance.