Beginning Pointers

You’ve dreamed of the day when you put on your first pair of satin pointe shoes and glide across the dance floor, but it takes years to build up the strength to be able to make the transition from soft shoe to pointe shoe. Now that you’re about to take your very first pointe class, remember to begin slowly and pay close attention to the teacher.

You may not begin pointe work at the same age and stage of training as your friends. Most teachers agree that you need to have a good ballet foundation before you strap on those shoes. Kate Thomas, director of New York City’s School at Steps, says girls age 10 to 12 with good alignment and placement in soft shoes are allowed to begin prepointe lessons, which lead to pointe classes. Teachers closely monitor students’ progress, and students must take at least three technique classes per week before adding pointe classes.

Your first hour-long pointe class will begin slowly at the barre. Most of the work will be done with both feet on the ground—lots of plié relevés and bourrées. Teachers will look to be sure your feet are placed correctly in the shoes.
When you relevé in any position, focus on rolling through demi-pointe up to pointe, rather than popping up. (Tendu and Thera-Band exercises will also help you build this strength.) Don’t rely too much on the barre. It’s there to assist you, but you’ve got to teach your legs and upper body to do the work! You may not do combinations away from the barre until the end of the first year.

Ally Brodsky, an 11-year-old student at the School at Steps, took her first class in September and is still in her first pair of pointe shoes. She says the hardest part about pointe work for her is “getting up on relevé on pointe, especially from two legs to one leg, because my right foot is a lot weaker than my left foot.”

Every student is different, so don’t get frustrated or compare yourself to others in class. A good teacher will give everyone the individual attention she needs in order to progress.

Though it’s natural to try out a few twirls, Thomas stresses that pointe shoes shouldn’t be worn outside of class. “Placement is so tentative and elusive at this age,” she says. “Center of gravity changes as you grow, and you need to be monitored closely.”  

Laura Di Orio dances and writes in New York City.

Latest Posts


Maria Kochetkova. Darian Volkova, Courtesy Kochetkova

Maria Kochetkova on How COVID-19 Affected Her Freelance Career, and Her New Home at Finnish National Ballet

When international star Maria Kochetkova embarked on a freelance career three years ago, she never envisioned how a global pandemic would affect it. In 2018, the Russian-born ballerina left the security of San Francisco Ballet, a company she called home for more than a decade, for the globe-trotting life of a guest star. Before the pandemic, Kochetkova managed her own performing schedule and was busier than ever, enjoying artistic freedom and expanding her creative horizons. This all changed in March 2020, when she saw her booming career—and her jet-setting lifestyle—change almost overnight.

After months of uncertainty, Kochetkova landed at Finnish National Ballet, where she is a principal dancer for the 2020–21 season. Pointe spoke with her about her time during the quarantine and what helped her to get through it, her new life in Helsinki, and what keeps her busy and motivated these days.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
DTH's Alexandra Hutchinson and Derek Brockington work out with trainer Lily Overmyer at Studio IX. Photo by Joel Prouty, Courtesy Hutchinson.

Working Out With DTH’s Alexandra Hutchinson

Despite major pandemic shutdowns in New York City, Alexandra Hutchinson has been HIIT-ing her stride. Between company class with Dance Theater of Harlem and projects like the viral video "Dancing Through Harlem"—which she co-directed with roommate and fellow DTH dancer Derek Brockington—Hutchinson has still found time to cross-train. She shares her motivation behind her killer high-intensity interval training at Studio IX on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

As Ballet Looks Toward Its Future, Let's Talk About Its Troubling Emotional Demands

As a ballet student, I distinctively remember being told that to survive ballet as a profession, one must be exceptionally thick-skinned and resilient. I always assumed it was because of the physically demanding nature of ballet: long rehearsal hours, challenging and stressful performances, and physical pain.

It wasn't until I joined a ballet company that I learned the true meaning behind those words: that the reason one needs thick skin is not because of the physical demands, but because of the unfair and unnecessary emotional demands.

Undoubtedly, emotional and physical strength go hand in hand to some extent. But the kind of emotional demand I am talking about here is different; it is not the strength one finds in oneself in moments of fatigue or unwillingness. It is the strength one must have when being bullied, humiliated, screamed at, manipulated or harassed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks