Today, something a little different. I worked for the world famous Joffrey Ballet Dance company on an off for a few years treating the dancers before shows and productions. These folks always had the most amazing strength (try this one ! bet you cannot do it……in fact, don’t try it…..you will probably dislocate your MTP (metatarsophalangeal joint; the big knuckle joint) of the big toe.)
These folks also had many problems with their hips, knees and spine mechanics from the demands of turn out, jumping, overuse and the demands of things like en pointe. This is an example of what is referred to as “en pointe” which means “on the tip”. There is “demi pointe” which means on the ball of the foot which is much safer and we will do another video on that another time to explain some critical components to it right, there is more to it than just getting up on the ball of your foot.
En Pointe is a terrible challenge in our opinion. So if you are thinking of putting your darling children in ballet…… just beware of the facts and do some logical thinking on your own.
En pointe or classical point ballet it typically done in point shoes or slippers which have a reinforced toe box that allows a more squared off stable surface to stand in pointe position. It does not however allow a reduction in the axial loading that you see in this video and it certainly does not help with proper angulation of the big toe, if anything the slipper will gently corral the toes together rendering abductor hallucis muscle function nearly obsolete. The box will also not stop the valgus loading that typically occurs at the joint as you see occurring here in her right foot if your joint line has a more aggressive angulation (genetics). You can already see the deforming force that is creating a valgus toe position here. Despite what the studies say, this is one we would watch carefully. Now, there are studies out there that do not support hallux valgus and bunion formation in dancers (see ** at end of this post). However, we are just asking you to use common sense. If you see a bunion forming, if the toe is getting chronically swollen, if the toe is drifting off line then one must use common sense and assume that the load is exceeding joint integrity. Prolonged and excessive loading of any joint cartilage is likely to create a risky environment to crack, fissure, wear down or damage the cartilage or the bony surface underneath (subchondral bone). So, if you think that loading your entire body mass axially on the small joint surface of the big toe is a great idea, that is fine, just do not bring your kids to our office and expect to get a happy face sticker at the check out counter. We are going to read you the risks that are born from logical thinking. This is not meant in any way to take away from the amazing feat that this is for dancers, but it just is not a smart thing to do if you want a healthy first joint (MPJ - metatarsophalangeal joint) and foot for that matter. After all, if you screw up this joint, toe off will be impaired and thus the windlass effect at the joint will be impaired thus leading to a multitude of other dysfunctional foot issues.
Now, back to the “en pointe” position. Did you try it yet ? Heed our warning ! Just trust us, this is bloody hard. Since serious foot deformities can result from starting pointe too early, pre-professional students do not usually begin dancing en pointe until after the age of 10 or so , remember, the adolescent foot has not completed its bone ossification and the bone growth plates have not closed. Thus, damage and deformity are to be expected if done at too young an age. If you asked our opinion on this, we would say to wait until at least the mid-teenage years……. but by that point in the dance world a prodigy would miss her or his opportunity. Thus, we see the problems from going “en pointe” too early in many. In the dance world, there are other qualifications for dancers before En Pointe is begun, things like holding turnout, combining center combinations, secure and stable releve etc.
Achieving en pointe is a process. There is a progression to get to it. Every teacher has their own methods but it is not a “just get up on your toes” kind of thing.
Shawn & Ivo……. Dreaming of Sugar Plum fairies…….. (ok, maybe not) but knowing your biomechanics of the foot and gait are an integral part of dance as well.
* and after watching this video, if your next thought was……“ I wonder what the incidence of posterior ankle impingement injures occur in dancers” or if you said under your breath……. “hey, extreme plantarflexion at the ankle loads the Lisfranc joint pathomechanically ….. I wonder if that joint is ever an issue in dancers……. ?" then you will clearly be on the route to becoming one of……… The Gait Guys