Pointe-rs Needed!

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Back en pointe after 20 years!

Back en pointe after 20 years!

So I went to my 4th real pointe class at Studio J. A short background: Studio J is one of 3 places in this city where adults can take pointe classes. Studio E has beginner pointe workshops that run for 6 weeks at a time — but it takes me at least 50 minutes to get there, by subway and streetcar and a short walk. Studio I has a 45-minute pointe class added to a full 1.5-hour ballet class — but they’re for intermediate and advanced dancers. The last time I was en pointe, I had a 12-year-old’s body, and that was for less than a year — so I’m basically starting from scratch!

My best option was Studio J, which offers continuous drop-in pointe classes — one of which is specifically for beginners. I also liked the fact that the studio required new students to: 1) schedule a private pointe assessment lesson; 2) have been taking at least 2 ballet classes a week for the past 2 years, to ensure proper strength and technique.

My private assessment with Miss E was eye-opening. I was in Grishko canvas flats, and she took me through a basic ballet barre, checking my turnout, alignment, balance, and foot articulation in tendus and degagés. I learned a few things: I’m knock-kneed and slightly hyperextended, so I shouldn’t let my heels touch completely in 1st and 5th positions. My left foot tends to roll in, my right foot tends to sickle, and my torso tilts slightly to the right. She made me go on relevé in 1st, and gently shook my ankles — turns out my left ankle is also weaker than my right. I never realized my body was so lopsided!

Despite all that, I was cleared for pointe work, and did the first 2 classes in flats, to build more strength. Then came the pointe shoe fitting at the Shoe Room — the wonderful fitter patiently let me try all the Freeds and Suffolks they had on hand. It was hard finding a shoe that supported my wide, compressible metatarsals, with a vamp low enough to accommodate short toes, but that wouldn’t bunch or pop off my narrow heels. We settled on Suffolk Stellars with a Light shank, in 4.5 XXN.

My first time en pointe in class, my right metatarsal cramped up. I shook it out and vowed to do more of the foot exercises Miss E had prescribed: doming, towel scrunching, piano keys, and what she called Shrek and Squeeze — I was great at Shrek (spreading all five toes out as far as possible) but terrible at Squeeze (squeezing toes together as if encased in pointy heels — my pinky toes apparently rebel and want to secede from the group).

For the 2nd and 3rd class, I more or less kept up with the others as they echappéd and relevéd, but stayed at the barre when they practiced posés and courus in the centre. Last week, I was allowed in the centre as we did little marches on pointe in pairs, holding on to each other. It was fun! But we also did something that I just couldn’t do: forced arch pliés, where you relevé in 2nd, then plié, basically forcing your arches and putting more weight on the front of the platforms. I just did pliés on relevé, my ankles remaining straight while other people had nicely curved insteps. Miss E came over and said, “I think you can go a little further than that”. The front of my ankles protested. “That’s as far as they want to go,” I pleaded.

I have this fear that the platforms might slide, my butt might plop down and my ankles might snap while doing forced arch pliés. Is this rational? Do I just need to develop more ankle flexibility? Where does your weight go in a forced arch plié if your toes are supposed to be a bit scrunched under? Are my feet just not cut out for pointe — or at least, for this particular exercise? I really should ask my teacher next class. In the meantime, do any of you awesome pointe people have pointers on doing forced arch pliés (and other pointe-y things) properly?

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11 thoughts on “Pointe-rs Needed!

  1. I only recently realized that I was supposed to be rolling over the platform on to the front edge of the box during forced arch stretches, so I am probably the last person who needs to be giving advice 😛
    So far I guess my weight is being pushed down through my ankles/arch (the teacher always says “push against your ribbons” if that helps) but a lot of it is supported by the barre, let’s be honest.

  2. “Push against your ribbons” sounds like good advice. I’ll remember that next time (and try not to picture the Incredible Hulk bursting out of his breeches, heehee). Thank you! 🙂

  3. I don’t really know why I succeed at this, but it’s not a problem for me. Maybe it indeed has something to do with the flexibilty of your feet and the range of motion in your instep and ankles, I don’t know exactly!
    You could try to do some exercises with a Theraband to strengthen those muscles on the top of your feet, but also to maybe create a bigger range of motion in your ankles and feet. Other than that.. make sure you are turned out all the way in that second position and try to think of your feet going all the way ‘over’ your box, instead of leaning behind it.

    • Thanks, RO — I think you’re right about turnout (of course, everything in ballet seems to get better when you improve your turnout!) and about gaining more ankle flexibility and range of motion. Will whip out my Dyna-Band tonight and do those exercises. Although…I really dislike the rubber-glove smell and sticky feel of the band on my skin. Maybe I’ll try substituting with a towel or an old pair of stockings. Will report in a few weeks if I see any improvement 🙂

      • Haha yeah I hate it too.. it smells!! But it’s the best, it does beat a towel because there’s no stretch in that one! 😉
        Hope you’ll improve and I’d love to hear about that progress! Maybe you could let someone take a picture of your before and after plié a la seconde 🙂

      • You can get latex free ones on Amazon. I can’t use latex and find the latex free ones to work just fine. And because they’re not rubber they don’t smell like it, they feel a little different too (from what I can remember, I was a kid when I suddenly became allergic).

  4. Anonymous

    I’m late to the party (for some reason WP was hiding your blog from me). Anyway… I cant avoid going over my boxes in a forced arch plie, it happens naturally, and it FEELS good… BUT
    The push over comes from the same impulse to lift your heals in grand plie… since that doesn’t happen in a wide second, you can see why it would be harder to really feel there… and how you could plie on pointe without pushing over at all. Forced arch is often done from first position. I can see why your instructor would use second (because it’s more stable), but it may also be part of your frustration. You may also want to remember that en pointe, second position is MUCH NARROWER than it is on flat because your legs are longer now, so pull the legs in a bit and see what happens.

    Rise up. Feel the lift in your ankles and feet… then DON’T CHANGE THAT LINE. Plie and as your knees bend your lower leg tips forward so you let the foot go with it. DO NOT LET THE ANKLE LINE BREAK.
    You don’t need any extra strength or flexibility, just to trust the physiology to all work itself out 🙂 Your weight will go onto the front of your platform… IT’S MADE FOR THIS. As long as you’re doing both legs at the same time, you can’t slip… because which direction would you go… you’re balanced… plus there’s a barre 🙂

    If you’re really not ready, work on pushing over one foot at a time in parallel (while standing flat on the other foot) just to get a sense of what happens to the foot as you force the arch over. You can do those little up down joggy left-right exercises until it feels comfortable.

    Okay this is the longest comment in the history of the world. I’m so excited for you and your journey on pointe! Also, we wear the same shoe!!! (For now… I’m going back to my Spotlights soon. As I’ve mentioned I don’t love the Stellars, but they are a good shoe in many ways)

    • Holy wowza, I think you hit the (shank) nail on the head! I’d been doing my 2nd position en pointe WAY too wide. I did it from 1st — and it IS possible, though not aesthetically perfect. Will keep practicing this, along with the Theraband and parallel pony stretches — I think the front of my ankles are unused to being plantar flexed and stretched so much after all these years of non-dancing. Ah well, slow and steady, right?

      Thanks so much for those pointers and for the encouragement. You’re awesome. Also, don’t you love how Suffolk names its pointe shoes? Stellar, Spotlight, Status, Captivate — I’d love to be the one thinking up of pointe shoe names.

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