Am I Ready for Pointe?


Pointe class at Maryland Youth Ballet (Alyce Jenkins)

Nothing compares to that magical moment when your teacher says you’re ready for your first pair of pointe shoes. I remember bursting out of the studio doors, clutching a precious piece of paper with the phone number of the nearest pointe shoe fitter. Finally, my years of hard work had paid off!

Ever wonder why getting promoted to pointe shoes takes so long? Pointe work can be dangerous and detrimental to your feet if you start too early, so it’s not a decision your teachers make lightly. Several factors have to come into play before they give you the green light.

Age and Training Schedule

For one thing, your teacher has to determine that you’re at the right stage of physical development. Long foot bones start hardening between ages 8 and 14, and it’s crucial that you don’t start pointe work when your bones are too soft. Otherwise, you could develop growth-plate fractures, which can cause foot deformities (yikes!).

Priscilla Nathan-Murphy, lower-school principal of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, feels it’s generally unsafe to start pointe before age 11 or 12. “Before then, your metatarsal structure is too weak to maintain the weight of your body and handle the stress of the pointe shoes,” she says. “By age 12, bones are still growing and fusing, but their development is closer to being complete.”

Age isn’t the only factor. In order to achieve the appropriate amount of strength needed to stand on your toes, you’ll need a few years of training under your belt and a commitment to several ballet classes a week. Students at Maryland Youth Ballet in Silver Spring, MD, are required to have two years of training before they can register for a special pointe preparation class. (They don’t actually start pointe until the following year.) “Students should have a strong foundation of classical ballet before pointe work is added to it,” says Michelle Lees, MYB’s principal.


Many studios offer pointe preparation classes, as MYB does, to help students build strength in their feet, ankles and legs. Usually, class combinations involve a lot of demi-pointe and relevé, as well as resistance-band exercises, foot stretches and toe exercises. If your school doesn’t offer a pointe prep class, ask your teacher for a strengthening routine you can do on your own.

You need a strong technical foundation before beginning pointe work. Here, Priscilla Nathan-Murphy of Houston Ballet's school makes a correction in a Ballet Level 2 class. (Bruce Bennett)

But that’s not all. Dancers also need killer core strength to lift up and out of their pointe shoes. (Being able to balance on demi-pointe in retiré is a good sign, according to Lees.) And don’t forget the turnout muscles. “If you struggle to control your turnout when you’re on flat, it will be even harder to control when you’re on that 1 1/2-inch block,” says Nathan-Murphy. Try simple plank exercises to build your core strength, and in class, focus on rotating from the hip to make sure you’re holding your turnout correctly.


Teachers also look for proper alignment, which requires a certain amount of natural flexibility in the foot and ankle. “When you’re on pointe, there should be a

straight line from the hip, through the knee and ankle bone, to the toes,” Lees says. Unfortunately, dancers with a limited range of motion in their ankles often struggle to rise onto the shoe’s platform. “They will compensate to get on pointe,” Lees says. “Their knees will bend, their thighs will overdevelop and their lower backs will give in.” Dancers with stiffer feet may need more preparation time to improve their range of motion if possible.

On the other hand, dancers with “pretty,” hypermobile feet sometimes need more time, too. “This type of dancer is usually very weak, which means she will go too far over her shoe,” says Nathan-Murphy. “Teachers have to work with them carefully so they can learn how to support themselves properly.”

Only when all of these factors are in place, and your teacher (and only your teacher!) gives you the go-ahead, will you be ready for the wonderful world of pointe shoes. So while you’re exercising your feet and ankles, exercise some patience as well. Your body will thank you for it.


Heather Ogden (Sian Richards)

My First Pair

DS asked five pros to recall the moment they learned they could start pointe.

Angelica Generosa, Pacific Northwest Ballet

“I was 9 years old when I got my first pair of pointe shoes and I couldn’t stop smiling. My teacher told me I was the exception to the rule—strong enough to start at that age. It definitely hurt at first, and dancing felt strange. But after a few private sessions with my teacher I got the hang of it and wanted to learn more.”

Natalia Magnicaballi, Ballet Arizona and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

“When I was ‘promoted’ to pointe shoes, it meant the world to me. I remember taking extremely good care of my shoes. I wanted them to look nice and shiny, so I would clean them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball.”

Megan Fairchild, New York City Ballet

“I remember taking such care sewing my first pair of shoes that I needed a whole hour to do it. My school’s pointe classes started slowly, with us doing exercises facing the barre for a couple minutes at the end of class. My ‘tailor’s bunions’ (the ones by the pinky toe) popped out in the first week. But I don’t remember it being painful, and my body just kind of reshaped to deal with the new stress.”

Jeraldine Mendoza, Joffrey Ballet

“I was 11 when my teacher told me to buy my first pair of pointe shoes. I’m an overachiever, so when I was allowed to take pointe class, I was excited to be at the level of the older dancers whom I admired.”

Heather Ogden, The National Ballet of Canada

“Pointe shoes are such a beautiful part of the ballet aesthetic, and when I got my first pair, it felt like a true breakthrough on my path to becoming a ballerina. I remember it wasn’t the most comfortable feeling, but I think I was on such a high that I was willing to withstand the pain. It didn’t take long to realize that there was a whole new vocabulary of dance that became available once I had my pointe shoes on. I think my first pair lasted me a year. Now I wear through a pair per day!”

Show Comments ()
Cover Story
(From left) Mean Girls dancers Riza Takahashi, Ben Cook, Kamille Upshaw, Jonalyn Saxer, DeMarius R. Copes, and Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette (photos by Erin Baiano)

Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.

OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.

Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.

Keep reading... Show less
(From left) Val Chmerkovskiy, Peta Murgatroyd, and Maksim Chmerkovskiy (Jerry Metellus, courtesy Nicola Phillips)

And as if this terrific trio weren't enough, "SYTYCD" finalists Koine "Koko" Iwasaki and Chris "Kiki" Nyemchek will be there, too!

Keep reading... Show less

It's time for a tutu test! So many iconic ballets, so many beautiful tutus. Can you figure out which ballet each of these costumes comes from?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider (Warner Brothers)

Today in Ballet Dancers Are Actual Superheroes news:

You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet School was far tougher.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Screenshot form YouTube

What do you get when a hoard of dancers collaborate to the catchy tune of "Love Somebody," by the band Frenship? The most epic dance party ever, of course! Said dance party was produced by the talented Michael Riccio, who's performed in feature films, including "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" and "Shrek Forever After."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
University of Minnesota Dance Team (courtesy University of Minnesota)

They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.

Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.

These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.

Keep reading... Show less
courtesy ADCC

Are you a high school senior who's been accepted to a four-year accredited college or university program? Congrats! Within the 2017-2018 season, have you competed in events run by at least two of the organizations in the above graphic? Double congrats, because the Association of Dance Conventions and Competitions, or ADCC for short, wants to give you $1,000 (!!) towards college tuition.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Amanda LaCount (photo by Rich Clark Photography, courtesy LaCount)

From dancing in music videos (including Katy Perry's "Swish Swish") to performing on reality TV shows (including "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Voice"), 17-year-old Amanda LaCount is already conquering the commercial scene. If you've ever seen her dance, you understand why: She's a hard-hitting phenom with major stage presence. But in an industry where not having the "right" look can jeopardize your career, Amanda's also blazed her own path by accepting her beautiful curvy body the way it is.

Amanda's never let body-shamers discourage her from going after her dreams. She hopes that by breaking the "dancers are skinny" stereotype, she'll give others the courage to highlight their own unique features rather than hiding them or changing them to fit repressive industry standards. She's even started a campaign, #breakingthestereotype, to inspire artists of all shapes, colors, and sizes to dance for themselves.

We caught up with this dancing maverick to get her advice on cultivating body confidence in a world that's obsessed with the "perfect" body.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

All the dancers in my level auditioned for a prestigious summer intensive—but I'm the only one who got in. Now everything is incredibly awkward at the studio. I'm really excited about the program, but I don't want to make my friends feel bad. What can I do?


Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Via Instagram

Can't get enough of the dance party T. Swift throws herself in her "Delicate" music video? Take a look at the two making-of clips Taylor just shared on her Instagram, showing her practicing the vid's charmingly awkward choreography.

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox