I have really high arches and find it very difficult to hop on pointe. Do you have any tips? —Maria
Once you get the hang of hops on pointe, they're a lot of fun. But you need to have a fairly decent amount of strength and a healthy dose of fearlessness to do them well. However, dancers with beautifully high insteps and flexible ankles tend to struggle with them because their increased range of motion results in less stability.
First, practice making the proper shape with your feet while in plié on pointe. A surefire way to break an ankle is to push over the shoes' platforms. Instead, you need to pull back and clench the feet as the legs plié, making a cupped, cashew-nut shape. I know, not pretty. But that shape will give you the proper support when pushing off and landing on the tips of your toes. Start simply at the barre: In sous-sus, practice slow, simple pliés without the hop. As your legs bend, hold the ankles strongly, cupping the feet (as opposed to pressing over your shoes), so that your center of gravity continues going straight down. Notice your hamstrings working as you plié and straighten—those muscles will help support and control your take off and landings, as well as take pressure off your poor toenails.
After practicing pliés in sous-sus, try gentle soubresauts and changements at the barre. Think about staying light and lifted through the body as you land (with the help of your hamstrings), as opposed to slamming the toes into the floor. Once you feel more secure, try one-footed hops in attitude devant and derrière before graduating to practicing in the center. Ask your teacher to watch carefully as you practice, so she can help correct any improper placement.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.