Here are fourteen ballet pointe tips to improve your pointe work and help you get a better position en pointe. These tips were part of a recent Instagram challenge hosted by Sarah Arnold fromThe Accidental Artist. Sarah Arnold is a former professional ballet who has been teaching ballet for over 30 years.
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 bonus of this exercise is that it will also help you with your échappé relevé.
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.
This tip will help you roll down from pointe smoothly and shift your weight en pointe.
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!
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.
Practice how to roll down from pointe.
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!
Forced arch to the front
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!
Building this strength and small motor skill will fine tune your roll down from pointe!
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 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!
When you are en pointe, feel the same pressure through the big toe as you balance and while turning!
“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 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).
We call it “pin and spin”.
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.
Stretching your feet with a foot stretcher. Should you use one? How do you stretch your feet to get the desired line necessary to get onto full pointe?
Often I recommend that the dancer massage their feet regularly and warm up with pressure releases. I still think this is a healthful solution but if you want a foot stretcher, consider one like the one in my video.
I have never seen foot stretchers with a theraband attached instead of a rigid strap. The elasticity in the band allows the dancer to position their foot for more or less stretch.
My recommendation is to show your teacher how your foot is positioned in the stretcher. Then you can work on your stretch correctly and without sickling.
I like that it does not force the toes to curl or bend too much at the metatarsals. The amount of pressure is up to the dancer as he/she positions the foot.
Now there you have it— 14 tips for your pointe work! Would you like 14% off Beginning or Intermediate Pointe Class videos? Click here! The code is: Take14OffPointe
Postscript from Zarely:
We at Zarely are immensely happy that Miss Arnold agreed to share some of her expert knowledge with us, and hope you found this helpful to your own journey in the wonderful world of ballet. One of our foremost goals of cultivating a community around us is exactly this - to create a platform from which knowledge and inspiration, from the world’s foremost ballet teachers and top dancers, are readily available to both upcoming and already-accomplished dancers around the globe. Thank you for reading!