The Joint Ventures' Blog

Could You Get To The Pointe?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

With the holiday season right around the corner, a lot of us will have visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. Did you ever stop to think – “how exactly does a Sugar Plum dance?” Look no further than the Sugar Plum Fairy in any rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and you will see a magical world of sweets come to life through ballet. Behind all the magic is years of practice and a few things physical therapists can look at to determine if a dancer is ready to take on this challenging role.

Classical ballets, The Nutcracker included, are often performed with female dancers en pointe. This is the ballet term for performing a piece in pointe shoes, which make the legs look longer and more pleasing to the eye of a spectator. Although these dancers make it look easy, dancing en pointe requires a great amount of strength, stability, and years of specific training.

If you peel away the layers of the pink satin shoe, you will find the box of the shoe that the dancer stands on. This stiff "toe cup" is made of layers of glue and fabric that provide a firm base for the dancer to balance on, but that also mold to the dancer’s foot over time. The "shank" serves as the “insole” of the shoe to provide more firm support to the foot. Dancers will often wear gel or sheepskin coverings over their feet inside of the shoes to increase comfort around all the stiff aspects of the shoe.

The structure of a pointe shoe demands a lot of a dancer’s foot and ankle strength. One key muscle group to assess when deciding if a dancer is ready to go en pointe is the ankle plantarflexors, or the calf muscles. Strength in this muscle group is essential for not only being able to go up on the toes, but also to maintain a stable ankle when balancing on the toes. A quick way to check if you’re ready to go en pointe is to see if you can stand on one leg and raise up on your toes twenty times in a row. Another key muscle group is the lumbricals in the foot. This deep muscle group prevents the toes from collapsing inside the shoe. You can test the strength of this muscle by starting with your foot flat on the ground and trying to lift the ball of your foot off the ground while keeping your toes straight - check out our video here.  It’s much harder than it sounds!

If you, or a dancer you know, have questions about going en pointe or how a physical therapist can help with a dance injury, call our office at 617-536-1161 and ask for one of our Physical Therapists who specializes in dance medicine, or email me, Emma Nelson PT, DPT, CSCS at


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