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Is Dancing En Pointe Bad for my Feet?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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En pointe is a form of dancing in toe shoes, which have a hard base made of layers of paper, leather, or burlap, where the dancer is literally standing on the tips of her toes. Ballet risks a number of injuries to the lower half of the body, and about 60% of injuries affect the legs, hips, ankles, or feet. Of these, about half are specifically related to the feet and ankles, with dancing en pointe being significant a cause of injury.

Ballet is a highly selective art, and physical form matters extremely. Dancers who have the least difficulty performing en pointe tend to have toes all about the same length. They also have to have exceptionally strong ankles, since maintaining a pose or walking or dancing in this way must be guided by ankle stability.

People with a longer big toe tend to have more trouble because they are supporting most of their weight on two big toes. There are some modified toe shoes that can help, but a dancer either has “bad feet” or “good feet.”

Some minor medical problems that occur regularly with this type of dancing are calluses, bunions, and blisters, although more significant problems can include bone spurs, and bone degeneration. Not all dancers do well with this type of dancing, no matter how much they would like to.

Actually, the biggest risk in dancing this way is ankle sprain. This is the most common ballet injury, and repeated sprains can end a dancing career of any type. Because of the problems related to en pointe dancing, it is questionable whether a person not interested in a ballet career should ever progress to training for it.

There are some people who should definitely not dance en pointe. Diabetics, who can suffer tremendous complications from even minor injuries, like blisters, to the foot are probably best served by finding another form of dancing that is gentler on the feet. In most cases, 12 is considered the youngest age at which children can begin to train for this style. Beginning toe shoe training before the foot is fully formed can influence how the foot will form, creating lifelong foot problems.

Many ballet dancers who have trained extensively suffer residual foot problems for the rest of their lives. Especially when dancers train four to five hours daily, this can create medical problems regularly, and many dancers are encouraged to be stoic about the pain. In fact, stoicism is often adopted especially as dancers begin to age, since injuries can shorten a career. Dancers may dance on injured feet or limbs, but often do so at a physical cost in later life.

Parents should really consider whether the potential risks of en pointe training are worth it, especially in younger kids. If a child is aiming toward a career in ballet, then naturally she will have to hazard the risk of this kind of dancing. For children who have other goals in mind, this style may never be necessary.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Musical Expert contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon932235 — On Feb 11, 2014

I do not think this is entirely correct. I dance en pointe and sure my feet do have a few problems such as bunions and crap but dancing makes you fit, and it is definitely not life threatening!

By anon345300 — On Aug 17, 2013

I am 13 and have been dancing en pointe for only a couple of years. I have a few problems which make it slightly more difficult for me to dance en pointe.

First of all, my big toe does not bend when I point my foot. It just stays straight, therefore causing my weight to just be on the one toe. I also have a problem with my turn out due to bad training from the ages of 3-10.

I also have a terrible habit of not turning out when on demi or full pointe and when jumping. I changed schools at the age of 10, but have still not succeeded in breaking this habit. If anyone knows anything that can help for either of these problems, I would be very grateful. --Lapis Lazuli

By anon251550 — On Mar 01, 2012

Wow. I know I have horrible bunions from my pointe shoes. --Mary Elizabeth, age 12

By anon175313 — On May 12, 2011

I'm fourteen almost fifteen and I've been dancing en pointe for almost three years. even with the proper training and technique you can still sprain your ankles. yes, the proper shoes and floor do help, but not quite as much as we would like.

Really, there's almost no way to avoid injury from dancing in toe shoes. Unless of course you only do one class a week. It all depends on time and commitment.

By anon172407 — On May 03, 2011

I have been dancing for many years en pointe and i am double majoring in ballet and physical anthropology. My training in osteology (the study of bones) has taught me many important things about how the human skeleton develops and functions.

The bones of the feet mature, on average, around the age of 14 in females and 15 in males, though obviously each individual develops differently. I understand the desire to begin pointe as early as possible; it is a rite of passage and many dancers wait years for it. I remember waiting anxiously for my teacher to tell me I was ready to buy my first pair of pointe shoes.

This being said, it is important for a dancer to be both technically proficient and physically ready before she (or he) goes on pointe. As mentioned by the article, technique and strength are as important, if not more so than age when deciding to allow a dancer to begin pointe. This being said, it is also important to wait until a child is at least 11 if not 12 or 13 before allowing them to go fully up on pointe.

Pre-pointe (wearing pointe shoes but using them only for demi-pointe and basic pointe at the barre, such as sous sous or puree) can begin once a dancer is technically proficient and strong, but dancing extensively en pointe should wait until the dancer is older.

P.S. A note on Gaynor Mindens and other shoes that hold their shape: shoes that mold to a dancer's feet and then hold that shape can be much easier to dance in and can last longer than traditional pointe shoes, however, there is an important downside that parents should be aware of before agreeing to buy these shoes. Breaking in pointe shoes and dancing on broken-in shoes are important because doing so builds strength and balance. By using the muscles of the feet to break in a shoe, a dancer keeps her feet and ankles strong. By learning how to balance on a new shoe and an older shoe, a dancer learns how to adapt her center of gravity in order to maintain her balance: a skill that is key to partnering and advanced pointe.

Dancing on traditional shoes forces a dancer to 'pull up' out of her shoe instead of sinking down on the shank and crushing her toes, which can cause permanent damage and is incorrect technique. Gaynor Mindens and other similar shoes do not require breaking in like traditional shoes, nor does a dancer have to work as hard when wearing them. This can cause the muscles of the feet and ankles to atrophy and therefore make the wearer of these shoes prone to injury.

As a parent, make sure your child has appropriate pointe shoes for their training and skill level. There are many brands and models designed for all types of dancers and a shoe that fits your child's needs will likely be better for them.

Keeping all this in mind, pointe can be a joy and unless you child has physiology that prevents them from dancing en pointe (i.e. extremely low arches etc) there is no reason to prevent them from doing so. Yes, pointe can cause injuries, but if your child has a competent teacher they should suffer only minor problems.

By anon164968 — On Apr 03, 2011

Pointe shoes are nothing to do with age! It's to do with your core, but how strong you ankles are and your legs. I am 12, and to be honest i don't find that it hits me.

By anon148917 — On Feb 02, 2011

I have been dancing classical ballet for 16 years and I just have a few things to point out.

For the young dancer who asked about the length of her toes. If you pad your shoes correctly and have a professional pointe shoe fitter assist you in getting your shoes, you should be fine. It will certainly be more challenging, but nothing that isn't attainable through hard work.

Also, age has little to anything to do with when a dancer is ready to go en pointe. It is incredibly specific to each dancer. Depending on how quickly a child's growth plates close, they might be eligible anywhere between the ages of 8 and 14. It also depends on muscle development in the legs, technique level, and strength of the feet.

Good teachers look for a high level of proficiency in "flat work" -- all the dance work done in the flat canvas or leather shoes, as well as a high heel when the child is on demi-pointe and specific muscle development in the legs. Without these attributes, the dancer will surely struggle with pointe work that goes even beyond the injuries that are possible.

But in all honesty, most injuries develop from bad habits and bad teaching. Parents of young dancers, do not fear sending your daughters on into the world of pointe. If you have researched the teacher you have put them in the training of and can attest to their knowledge in the area, then it should be just fine. This means using a teacher with professional or semi-professional experience, not "I watched all of the Bella Bella Dancerella videos".

Going en pointe is a high point in any young dancer's life. It is the ultimate goal of all the little ballerinas out there, whether they will pursue it as a career or not. Please, let us not dampen this moment for them by scaring them into thinking they will be just waiting to severely injure themselves. Sincerely -- Miss Quinny

By anon82620 — On May 06, 2010

Yes, there are definitely health risks that come along with being a dancer, but I've been on pointe since I was twelve, and never have I had a blister, bunion or sprained ankle.

If you have the proper training and discipline then these health risks and injuries are easily avoidable. So instead of showing all the negative, avoidable side affects, emphasize how important it is for a young dancer to get the proper training and wait until the age of 12 or 13. And when it comes to pointe be safe and careful when it comes to taking care of your body.

By anon75135 — On Apr 05, 2010

you should be able to dance on pointe, as i've got two bent toes and i'm still on pointe.

By anon74797 — On Apr 04, 2010

i am 11 and i dance ballet. i was born with three toes different.

when i was in my mum's tummy, something wrapped around three of my toes: my big toe and the two next to it.

it doesn't affect my balance but they are smaller than normal. Can i still dance en pointe?

By anon45937 — On Sep 21, 2009

They said children below 10 years of age should not dance on pointe or else their feet will be deformed.-- eikei27

By anon36734 — On Jul 14, 2009

Dancing on pointe isn't always harmful to the dancers. If you do not dance on a properly sprung dance floor it can be dangerous, as well as dancing without a teacher's consent or attenion. Some dancers start pointe as early as 9 and are not injured. this all depends on your studio and teacher. If one toe is longer than your big toe you can easily get a padding that suits you.

By anon21249 — On Nov 12, 2008

I have been dancing on pointe a little over a year and it depends on the shoes and size! i had shoes that were a half size too small it was hell so ask your kids how their shoes are because if the hoes fit just right there won't be as much pain and dancing on pointe will be a more enjoyable experience.

By Sewlinda — On Aug 31, 2008

Men do in rare cases dance en pointe. There is a ballet company called Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo that is well known for having their male dancers en pointe. If you search on line, you can view some of their videos.

By Sewlinda — On Aug 31, 2008

While I agree with most of this article, pointe shoes do not contain wood. They are hardened by layers of materials such as cardboard and glues. It is the hard toe box and shank that cause the wooden type sound on the floor. Some new pointe shoes also contain elastomerics in the shank. These are supposed to be more quiet, but I cannot attest to that. They are not permitted in my daughter's ballet school.

By anon7471 — On Jan 27, 2008

This is an occupational hazard for female ballet dancers, but the men never dance "en pointe", isn't that correct? It looks lovely, but it's terrible for their feet.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Musical Expert contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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