WHEN SHOULD GIRLS START POINTE WORK?
Invitation to a dialog
What little girl has never fantasized about being a ballerina in a pink tutu and beautiful pointe shoes? The art of ballet will always be surrounded by an aura of mystery and romanticism. Even in the present times full with pragmatism, the idea of being part of the world of ballet is embedded in the hearts of so many young dancers. We know that the career of a ballerina depends on her ability to dance en pointe, and here is where the controversy begins.
Even though we know that pointe work is essential for the successful careers of ballerinas, we continuously hear that pointe shoes can be dangerous for the dancer’s physical well-being. When parents of young ballerinas go to dancewear shops, they sometimes are advised by the sales personnel not to buy pointe shoes. Even some professional ballet schools start pointe work really late, when students are 11 or even 12 years of age.
This is an excerpt from an article I found on Wikipedia about the use of pointe shoes:
“Although age is not a prerequisite, many ballet students do not begin to dance en pointe earlier than approximately eleven years of age because bones in the feet are often too soft prior to that age and, in such cases, serious and permanent foot injuries could result from starting pointe work too early”.
The care of my students’ wellbeing is my main concern. When I hear people repeating this type of quotes, I realize that they are missing the knowledge and input that only someone who has danced en pointe the whole classical ballet repertoire and who has been involved in the teaching of professional ballet may provide. To start pointe work at the age of 11 or 12 is far too late for a professional career. The dancer will then approach the difficult part of ballet education which includes pirouettes, tours, fouettes and other techniques not earlier than at age 18 and maybe even at 20. Properly prepared ballerinas should start their professional stage performance careers at age eighteen. Otherwise, teachers are forced to increase the speed of training for an older student who has recently started pointe work. This brings us to a situation where we first try to protect a student at an earlier age, and then risk injuring that same student.
This is why in professional ballet schools we take our first exam which includes pointe work only half a year after beginning our studies, at the age of 9 or 10. How can we avoid injuries in such situations? There is a lot of evidence showing that ballerinas live healthier and longer lives than the average population. Many of them do not have any problems with their feet after years of hard physical work in a ballet studio and on stage. How are these ballerinas different from those who have sustained injuries?
The focus should not be on the age of the ballerina, but on the correct preparation of the student before beginning pointe work, and on the wise, careful, and correct ballet education.
First of all, we should consider the skills and qualifications of the teacher; the method of teaching is definitely very important too and in my opinion, a better method than the Vaganova syllabus has not yet been invented. Of course, great significance should also be given to a systematic and methodical study approach. From my personal experience I can say that I started pointe work when I was 9 years old, then studied for eight years and danced on stage in St. Petersburg, Russia for more than 20 years and my feet and toes remain absolutely healthy and looking fine. In 1995, I graduated from the Department of Teachers Eucation of the VaganovaBalletAcademy, where I learned about the importance of maintaining our students’ health.
Another interesting theme for discussion is: which pointe shoes are better? There are so many brands, and styles. A ballerina needs to try many pairs in order to find the ones that give her the perfect feel; however, I would not recommend them all. Let’s not forget that pointe shoes not only add beauty to the ballerina but also help her maintain her feet and overall body healthy.
All my comments are based on my experience as a dancer and as a teacher; many of my students have graduated and continue dancing professionally, they don’t have any issues with their feet. On the other hand, I have seen that more than half of the students in some classes already have feet and back problems. This is not because they practiced ballet before –as they did not- but because they did not participate in enough physical activities during their childhood. Ballet training will slow down, and sometimes will stop altogether, the damaging unhealthy processes that may have started at an earlier age.
As a qualified ballet teacher I have achieved a very rich experience after teaching ballet inRussia andCanada. As such, I am capable of concluding, when trying to answer the question posed in the title of this article, that what we have to look for is the sum of all the right conditions, such as the skills and experience of the teachers, the use of the right ballet teaching method, specialized studios with the right type of floors, and correctly fitted and good quality pointe shoes among other important factors.
Interesting Facts: the famous Italian ballerina Maria Taglione used pointe shoes for the first time in history, in the first half of the 19th century, for her performance of Les Sylphides during her tour in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her example was followed immediately by the best ballerinas of Russia and since then a classical dance performance was unthinkable without pointe shoes.
The famous Russian ballerina Avdotia Istomina who was described by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in his Eugene Onegin, followed the example of Taglione. Also, the great Russian ballerina of the 20th Century Natalia Dudinskaya, who was the best student of Agrippina Vaganova (the creator of the Vaganova syllabus), passed her priceless knowledge to her students, including me, and we know that she started pointe work when she was 7. By the time she was 17, she was already a bright star on the stage of the Kirov – Mariinsky – theatre, and for more than 30 years she was one of the 20th century ballerinas with the best ballet technique. She lived happily until the age of 91.
Article written by Victoria Mironova: Founder and Artistic Director of Victoria International Ballet Academy. Read more: www.victoriaballet.com
Victoria’s contact: firstname.lastname@example.org