Choosing the right time for a young ballet dancer to start training with pointe shoes is a highly debated topic in the world of dance. For a long time it was thought, that starting pointe ballet training too early would damage the growth plates in young dancers’ feet. However, there has been no scientific evidence showing that dancing on pointe when growth plates are still open leads to growth failure. Instead, the risk lays in skill and strength of the individual.
The question is not “at what age can my child start dancing on pointe?” but rather “is my child ready to begin ballet dancing on pointe?” Traditionally, it was thought that children should be twelve years of age or older before advancing to pointe ballet. Seasoned dance teachers will go as far as to request that their students obtain x-rays of their feet or visit podiatrists to see if their feet are strong enough before allowing them to start pointe training.
Children vary greatly in terms of their musculoskeletal maturity, motor skill development and mental maturity. Not all twelve year olds are ready to dance on pointe while some ten year olds are ready. The decision to allow your child to begin pointe ballet work should be based on several factors including physical capability and mental maturity rather than by age or number of years of training, although many dancers require four years or more of training to achieve the technical requirements to begin pointe training.
A strong ballet teacher will know when your child is ready to begin training on pointe. There is a plethora of functional tests that your instructor can have your child perform to assess their readiness to progress to pointe classes. Only after a dancer has demonstrated mastery of proper skills and technique i.e. alignment, balance, control, strength and flexibility will a dance teacher recommend that the student advance to pointe ballet work. Starting pointe ballet training before these essential dance skills are acquired can lead to serious injuries because of weakness in the foot and ankle and overall lack of coordination. Furthermore, attaining mental maturity is also very important, as a ballet dancer will need to show that they can learn and perform the choreography, as well as be able to handle corrections and positive critiquing.
So there is not a simple answer to a straightforward question! Many factors need to be considered. A young ballet dancer may begin on pointe shoes when they are mentally mature and can demonstrate proficiency in their technical abilities. You should work closely with your child’s dance instructor to determine the appropriate time for pointe. Never be afraid to ask lots of questions and do your research!