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?