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13 tips & exercises to help you on to your “full pointe”

Here are thirteen ballet pointe tips to improve your pointe work and help you get a better position en pointe.


TIP #1 - ADD A THERABAND OR STRETCH BAND

You always hear that the battement tendu is important for improving your feet. That is true! Add a Theraband or stretch band and you have a faster route to improving your strength and look of your foot.

The basics:

  • Tie a stretch band to a barre or anything sturdy, one dancer in the challenge used their piano for a support.

  • The band is tied in a loop.

  • Stand in first position with the band across the front of your ankle.

  • Tendu to the side through 3/4 pointe and lead with the front of your ankle. You should feel a good amount of resistance and it should also challenge your standing leg.

  • Keep rotating both legs as you work. Do not twist your hips or knees.

  • Close with the same energy and resistance through the instep and floor.

  • Repeat 4-8 times on each side.

The bonus of this exercise is that it will also help you with your échappé relevé.


TIP #2 - USE YOUR CORE, YOUR LEG STRENGTH AND INTRINSIC MUSCLES OF THE FEET

Lack of stretch across the front of the ankle is one of the most common issues for dancers struggling to improve their pointe position. The front of the ankle needs to be in straight line from the hip to the knee and intersect the ankle bone in a straight line.

In Tip #1, we learned a tough and effective exercise for leading your tendu with the front of the ankle joint. The slowest way to improve this position is through stretching-- yes I said it! It takes years to stretch your feet if done correctly. However, for this tip, I will teach you how to improve your pointe position by building strength and using imagery instead of stretching. You can improve strength faster than stretching.

Instead of thinking of pushing over your box, imagine rising onto top of it to a higher place. Use your core, your leg strength and intrinsic muscles of the feet. Stand on top of your box, but do not lean to get into the position. By lengthening and lifting up & down through the feet and legs, we can create a longer line. If you push, you could possible overdevelop your quad muscles around your knees. No dancer wants that.

The basics:

  • Face the barre (or something sturdy to hold onto).

  • Rise (élevé) onto pointe in parallel position.

  • Plié sur les pointes and feel the stretch across the front of the ankles.

  • Straighten your legs and try for the optimal alignment stated above.

  • Roll down smoothly and repeat 3 more times.

  • Try it next time in first position. The ball is not necessary but it is a cue for finding those adductors while en pointe!


TIP #3 - THIS TIP WILL HELP YOU ROLL DOWN FROM POINTE SMOOTHLY AND SHIFT YOUR WEIGHT EN POINTE

The basics:

  • Stand in first position facing the barre. Tendu one leg to the side and shift your weight onto the extended leg into a forced arch pose. Be sure to create your perfect line en pointe in this pose. Try to maintain it on each rise and change of weight.

  • Change your weight as you rise up and press the ankle forward where your ribbons cross. It is crucial to keep the lift upwards through the hip bones when transitioning through first on pointe to the forced arch pose.

  • Elongate rather than just shifting your weight forward onto your ankles and arch. Always feel activity through your intrinsic foot muscles and toes. This will help you to not sink into the box.

  • Front foot “knuckling” on pointe. You can see the metatarsals in her shoes because her feet are sinking into worn out shoes. Be aware that you can sink even in new shoes.


TIP #4 - STRETCH AND STRENGTH FOR THE LEGS AND CORE

Some dancers’ legs stay bent when extended. I have my students do an exercise to help feel the straight line on the back of the knee. Some legs are formed in such a manner that the knee will never flatten against the ground. My assumption is that this is anatomical. Sometimes, I have observed that younger dancers need to “grow into” their coltish knees and the line improves with age. But most of the time, I think the dancer could strengthen their legs and core!

The basics:

Strengthening exercise

  • Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched in front, knees as straight as possible.

  • Never force the knees down to the ground but sit up tall and engage the leg muscles.

  • Attempt to get the back of the knee to approach the floor.

Sometimes the dancer’s leg line improves and sometimes it does not. However, their legs, lower back, and abdominal strength always improve. It also gives them a chance to feel the length of their legs that they should feel when standing.


TIP #5 - PRACTICE HOW TO ROLL DOWN FROM POINTE

The exercise:

  • Rise up in first position. Keep hip bones lifted.

  • Plié and rotate while on pointe.

  • Straighten and stretch upward out of the box, bring your heels all the way up, lift.

  • Begin to soften the back of your knees.

This initial release is the first movement to roll down. Keep the lift on the knee caps. Arches up — tail down — lift up the front of your torso, and down the back!


TIP #6 - FORCED ARCH TO THE FRONT

The basics:

  • Tie a stretch band to a barre or anything sturdy.

  • Stand in parallel 4th position with the band across the front of your front ankle.

  • Keep the lift out of the hips as you move. Keep the shoulders and hips facing front.

  • Plié on the front leg and press the front of that ankle into the band.

  • Shift your weight to the back leg and alternate 8 times.

  • Switch legs and repeat.


TIP #7 - A SHORT EXERCISE TO BUILD STRENGTH AND AWARENESS IN YOUR TOES

In this exercise, you will develop a greater use of the pads or tips of your toes!

The basics:

  • Start in first position, hold on to the barre with two hands. Later, progress to one hand on the barre.

  • Elevé (rise with no plié).

  • Lift up tall out of your hips, spine and core as you release the very tips of your toes. Do not release to 3/4 pointe, that is too far.

  • Press back up to full pointe, repeat again with another tiny release to the pads of your toes.

  • Repeat 8 times.

Building this strength and small motor skill will fine tune your roll down from pointe!


TIP #8 - FOR THOSE DANCERS WHO “KNUCKLE” OR “SINK” IN THEIR SHOES

This exercise was given to me by Alyson Deane, former Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet many years ago.

I had a habit of sinking into my pointe shoes. Most of my dance life has been spent on strengthening my feet and ankles. This exercise is a wonderful help to a mobile or weak foot and ankles.

Never expect the shank or box to do the work for you.

The basics:

  • Plié and roll up and over the pointe shoe.

  • Pull back your metatarsals (the joints where your toes meet your foot).

  • Straighten your knees but keep your arch line protruding forward from your the front of your insteps WITHOUT bending your toes. We point our foot, not our toes.

  • It does not matter if one foot gets positioned before the other.


TIP #9 - THE EVERT/INVERT EXERCISE FOR ANKLE STRENGTH AND STABILITY SHOULD BE A STAPLE OF EVERY DANCER’S CONDITIONING REPERTOIRE

There is one big reason that you need to strengthen the muscles surrounding your ankles - TURNOUT.

When you begin to work on increasing your external rotation, you challenge your foot placement and strength. This exercise is beneficial because it works the foot not only in an everted/turned out position but also inverted. This will bring balance to your stance by limiting pronation (rolling in) and supination (rolling outward).

It will strengthen your peroneals which are important for your pointe work!

The basics:

  • As you get stronger, you will need a stronger strength band. I use the grey one by Theraband because it is a perfect resistance to challenge your ankles and feet!

  • Evert is going away from your center line and invert is towards your center line. Work up to 3 sets of 8 per side of each.

  • Note: this is a micro movement that does not use your leg or hip rotators in the movement. You will feel some stabilization at the top of your leg but the movement is in the ankle only.


TIP #10 - WHEN YOU ARE EN POINTE, FEEL THE SAME PRESSURE THROUGH THE BIG TOE AS YOU BALANCE AND WHILE TURNING!
  • Develop your relevés by using your big toe to press down against the floor.

  • While on demi-pointe, press your big toe against the floor. This action will give you more stability. If should feel like you’re tendu-ing “into the floor“!


TIP #11 - “BIG TOE PUSH-UPS” A STRONG BIG TOE IS VITAL FOR A BALLET DANCER

It can make your relevé higher. A demi-pointe can become a 3/4 stance.

It provides stability in all relevé poses. It helps you push off for a jump. It develops your instep. The big toe has the most surface area and is a contact point for the “tripod” of your foot.

The basics:

  • Sit on the floor with one foot in front of you

  • Lift your big toe up

  • Hold it with your hand and create resistance by lifting up on the toe as you press it down.

  • This is a delicate muscle. 3-5 times per toes is adequate.


TIP #12 - THE HOLY GRAIL - “DOMING”

“Doming” is my favorite ballet conditioning exercise for the feet. It creates strength and awareness in the intrinsic muscles of your feet. This not only brings stability to your stance but also helps prevent the overuse of incorrect muscles. This will improve proper muscle memory (proprioception).

The basics:

  • Slip your hand under your foot to feel the arch lift up and away.

  • Keep your big toe in contact with the floor and press your other toes into the floor. You are targeting the intrinsic muscles which will lift up from the floor. Pull your toes back towards your metatarsals.

  • Be sure to not let your foot rock in or out. Keep it stable and in a neutral position.

  • Start with 5-6 reps and build up to 8 for 2-3 sets. This exercise is the BEST for getting general stability on your standing leg through your smarter feet!


TIP #13 - WE CALL IT “PIN AND SPIN”

The basics:

  • Take your ball, I use a small spiky ball but you could use any ball that you can tolerate with the pressure, and place it just in front of your heel. Do not place it on the bone.

  • Press into the ball and create some force.

  • Slowly rotate your body side to side with the ball “pinned”.

  • Go forward and back with the grain of the muscle.

  • Move the ball to a new place in front of that area.

  • Repeat all.

In the video, I also added my exercise for spreading the toes on the ball. This is a “feel good” technique for me but I use it specifically for one of my students who used to scrunch her toes. I say “used to” because she has unlearned this habit and this technique was a big help. Scrunching your toes in tendu or on relevé can lead to many problems.

We spend too much time in shoes that inhibit our foot movement, including ballet flats and pointe shoes. An even better reason to give your feet some TLC.


Now there you have it— 13 tips for your pointe work!

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