Preparing for pointe work involves more than buying your first pair of shoes. Pointe work is extremely demanding, so while you wait for the green light from your teacher to get going, use a variety of tried-and-true exercises to prepare your body for its rigors.
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When you work on full pointe, your base of support is only as big as the tip of your point shoe box. That presents an obvious challenge, especially if your balance skills aren't up to snuff. By developing your proprioceptive ability -- or your sense of where your body is in space -- you'll improve your balance skills and ease your transition to pointe. One of the most basic proprioception exercise involves simply standing on one leg for up to minute or more. You can increase the challenge of the one-legged stance by rising onto releve, closing your eyes, moving your head or arms in different directions or standing on a small pillow, wobble board or other unstable surface. Always repeat on the other leg.
Strike Up the Band
As a dancer, your feet and ankles are arguably your most important tool. When you work en pointe, your feet and ankles are the power and stabilizing force behind your releve, your pirouette and your sustained pose. They keep you upright and rock-solid and protect you from injury. Many dancers try to boost their foot and ankle strength with basic resistance band exercises. Resistance bands are affordable, lightweight, versatile and portable enough to tuck in a dance bag for use after class. Purchase a good-quality band and use it regularly to work your foot's extrinsic muscles -- the muscles that control dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion and eversion at the ankle joint. To work the tiny intrinsic muscles of your feet, spread out the band -- or a hand towel -- on the floor, step onto it with one foot and repeatedly grab the band or towel by scrunching it with your foot and toes. Alternatively, scatter several marbles on the floor and practice picking them up with your bare feet.
Catering to Your Core
Whether you're doing simple releves at the barre or rapid-fire pique turns across the floor, you'll need tremendous core strength to stay lifted up and out of your pointe shoe box. To boost strength in the muscles of your core -- including your hips, abs and back -- spend several minutes after class doing basic core exercises. Back and side planks, oblique crunches, supine bridges and back-ups are great tools for increasing core power in preparation for pointe work.
All About Turnout
When you start working en pointe, your turnout muscles will be challenged to the max. In anticipation of the change, work your turnout muscles conscientiously in class. Beyond that, you can do supplementary exercises to train your turnout muscles. The kneeling hip flexor stretch can increase range of motion at the front of your hip and improve turnout, according to Dance Spirit Magazine. Move into the stretch position and hold for up to 30 seconds, repeating up to four times on each leg. To maximize your turnout potential, you should also strengthen your external hip rotators. While standing on a slippery floor with socks, practice rotating the feet from parallel first position to turned-out first position. Alternatively, perform the side-lying crab exercise, using a resistance band for added intensity.