Too old for pointe?

What is your feeling about adults (20’s and beyond) dancing on pointe?  Some people (dancers and teachers) feel that adults cannot be successful on pointe, and that, indeed, it is risky because of their “advanced age”.

I have a group of 30-45 year olds who do quite well, thank you very much.  They are strong, take many classes a week, and cross train with Pilates, etc. outside of ballet class.  These ladies are doing double pirouettes, some of them are doing fouetté turns, hops on pointe, etc.  They love dancing on pointe.

Are there any studies you know of that link additional risks associated with pointe work due solely to age?

I’d love to see the topic of myths and misconceptions about older dancers dealt with on your site, as well as tips for dancing safely as the years go by.

Thanks so much!

Ruth

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Great questions! Margot Fonteyn danced the role of Juliet at age 43.  Did she do it in her bare feet?  I think not☺ She did it in pointe shoes.

As is the case with most physical activities – how you do it  – is more important than what age you do it at.  I remember hearing when I was growing up that running will hurt your knees.  (tell that to the 69 year old woman who took up running and did her first marathon shortly after)

I also grew up with the idea that all dancers will get ugly feet and arthritis the longer they danced.

Why?  Because the majority of my teachers talked about their aching feet, I saw their huge bunions, and listened to their complaints of how their hips hurt!

Not a very pretty picture of aging dancers, is it?

Alignment and muscle balance are keys to optimal functioning in any chosen physical activity.  Your group of 30 – 45 year old dancers sound like smart dancers by cross training outside of dance class and maintaining a good relationship between strength and flexibility.

In fact, I would venture a guess that the older dancer is even more particular about their training over the late teen, early 20’s ballet dancer who feels more invincible and much less concerned about the physical effects of poor training – especially if they have accepted myths such as bunions are inevitable.  (Which they aren’t – sorry for my bluntness)

If your older dancers are paying attention to their alignment and proper training and conditioning for pointe work they can work as long as they choose to – or until other challenges such as osteoporosis might crop up.  On the other hand, continuing to dance is a great way to decrease the chances of osteoporosis along with good nutrition.

If they begin to have problems associated with doing pointe work they’ll handle it the same way as a younger dancer.  By checking out their alignment and technique first and then correcting any muscle weaknesses (Lisa Howell’s, The Perfect Pointe book is a fantastic resource for teachers and dancers.  You can purchase it through my website .

There are other interesting aspects to challenging yourself as you age.  The Berlin Aging Study looked at men and women over the age of 70.  This research was looking at how people feel about aging and comparing that to their vitality and resiliency.   Your older dancers (although not truly very old) are engaging in an activity that makes them feel younger and better about themselves!

In unpublished research based on the Berlin Aging Study, they found that people who feel younger are less likely to die than
those who don’t, given the same level of chronological age and equivalent physical health.

“Feeling positive about getting older may well be associated with remaining active and experiencing better health in old age.” “Thus, studies on self-perceptions of aging can contribute to our understanding of potential indicators of resilience in older adults and the aging self.”   (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081202153521.htm)

Bottom line – continuing to dance is good for our bodies, mind and spirit!  Your dancers will know when to hang up their pointe shoes – and it doesn’t sound like it is quite yet!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

PS:  Remember any order this month will receive a FREE copy of Tune Up Your Turnout:  A Dancer’s Guide or if you order an ebook or downloadable product, I will see a FREE copy of the 440 page Dancing Smart:  Tips to Improve your Technique

14 replies
  1. Kellye Parks
    Kellye Parks says:

    I have a question about pointe work in regards to a ‘little person’ or dwarf. I have a student who is 14 and has danced with me for 5-6 years. She is a very bright dance student, works hard in class, retains movement information and corrections, and performs quite well both in class and onstage.

    She really wants to begin pointe work, but I am very apprehensive about doing this. As with most dwarfs, her calves and thighs are disproportionate (very short and thick), her derriere and abdominal area is large, and her feet have a hard time pointing completely (less flexibility).

    I am very aware that because of her dwarfism, there are some things that she will just not be able to do. I want to give her the opportunity to continue excel in dance, however my biggest concern is her physical well being and safety. How should I handle this particular situation, if at all?

    Reply
  2. Maria Boscaino
    Maria Boscaino says:

    I teach adults pointe and like Deborah wrote, I find them much more attentive and able to process the instruction details. The young bucks are so excited to get the shoes on their feet that they are unable to hear let alone process these details. I myself studied pointe as a child but then relearned with a wonder teacher, Celene Keller, in my 20s. I frankly do not remember what was taught in those early classes but I can remember Celene’s classes and it’s her exercises that I use with my own students. I think it was a good thing that there was a break in my own training because it gave my the opportunity to really learn pointe from a master.

    Maria

    Reply
  3. Andy Brooks
    Andy Brooks says:

    What a great article – and attitude.
    I’m a very active 60-year old woman who loves to dance. Though I was never trained professionally, I’ve dance all my life for fun and exercise and dance at every opportunity.
    I would love to have an opportunity to take adult dance classes but I don’t know where to start. Do you know of any websites that might help?

    Reply
  4. sheila
    sheila says:

    You tell your ladies to ROCK ON! Turning 38 this year and I STILL teach my pointe classes in pointe shoes and compete (and win) in the pointe category. That is 28 years of pointe shoes, and my feet are beautiful, no bunions or pain……it’s never even crossed my mind to give the shoes up!

    Reply
  5. Lynette Elliott
    Lynette Elliott says:

    I had to respond to this article. I’m a previously non-dancer (never had dance training as a child or youth) who decided when I was 30 that I wanted to be a ballerina. I’ve been taking classes for nearly seven years now and I started pointe about a year ago. I had my first pair of pointe shoes fitted by a professional, and believe it or not, I dance enough to have worn them out in about six months of class.

    You are absolutely right about strength and injury prevention. I had taken both yoga and pilates for several years prior to starting dance training, and I’m an avid cyclist, so my body had the strength and balance for the kinds of things I was asking it to do. The worse injury I’ve had so far was when my padding slipped inside my shoe and I stubbed my big toe hard enough to damage the nail. (It’s grown back, by the way.) I have great teachers who are experts with adult dancers, so they understand the physical–and moreover, the emotional–challenges that an older dancer faces.

    When anyone asks me about ballet, I tell them it’s hands-down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the only thing that takes me completely out of this world. I love it. I would encourage anyone no longer in their youth to do some yoga, do some pilates and get their happy feet to a dance studio to try out ballet. If you can dance on your toes, you can do anything!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Wow! Your points shoes lasted for 6 months? Back when I studied under Maria Tallchief, we’d wear ours out in a few days. (So expensive!) But in order to dance properly, you must wear them in by breaking them in a four jamb, and sanding down the tips.

      Anyway, I’m 52 and miss it tremendously, so am thinking of buying a pair and seeing how it goes.

      Reply
  6. deborah
    deborah says:

    I don’t know if a specific website to guide you to good adult classes – but if you want to let me know what area/city you live in – perhaps some readers could help make suggestions!

    Kellye – I can totally understand your concern for your 14 year old student’s well-being. I guess the first place to start is with her releve. Can she easily balance in passe? Or is she so far off her shoes that balancing really happens only with 2 feet? If she is able to balance on one leg in releve I would have a heart to heart with her and say that she could begin pointe preparation with you. You’ll know better then how she manages the shoes and feels in them. Mutually, you can make the choices about how far she can go. I will say that I have seen students in pointe shoes that don’t have a ballet body – so based on what you have told me I wouldn’t make automatically say no to at least beginning with pointe preparation. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask the mom to get written permission from her physician before starting just to make sure there aren’t reasons that you and I don’t know about in relationship to going on pointe.

    Reply
  7. Christina Ling
    Christina Ling says:

    Fantastic article! I think that dance science is certainly proving previous notions on career length and injury in dance as incorrect if we train “smart”.

    I also learned pointe as an adult starting at age 30 and I can attest that I was far more attentive to the dance instruction in this decade than I ever was as a teen! I also understand the risk benefit ratio of trying on new ideas or activities. It was certainly a big risk initially but the end result both physically and emotionally has paid off immensely. I can’t imagine not being able create in the way that being on pointe has allowed me to do. As balance is a bigger issue for middle aged adults (compared to teens) I did have to supplement the ballet classes with pilates (core strength and flexibility), sound general training (cardiovascular) and of course Lisa Howell’s perfect pointe exercises so that I did not end up with nasty feet and bunions or ankle injuries (which many of the teen dancers had already accepted as the norm). So many younger dancers miss these basic steps and get by with shear determination and the youthful ability to bounce back quickly after those “little” injuries – think of how much longer they could dance if they listened to the experts! As an adult I managed complete my Advanced One (RAD) level with great success at the ripe old age of 36 years old and I have just recently moved on to teaching. I don’t think I am ready to give up pointe completely though…it’s just too much fun and oh so good for the soul to couru across the floor!

    Can we dance en pointe after 30? Yes we can! We just have to be smart about how we dance and of course willing to do the extra work to reduce the natural risks that are inherently part of ballet. Meet those benchmarks for balance and control set out by Lisa Howell…then dance to your hearts content in those pointe shoes!

    Reply
  8. deborah
    deborah says:

    Thanks to all who have commented! I love hearing from all of you – thanks for helping to spread the word that its never too old to dance!

    Reply
  9. mary
    mary says:

    Great article. Love the responses. I am one of those ‘ dinosaurs ‘ who shouldnt be doing pointe. I will be 50 in December, and dont really have a ballet body either. I never had any dance as a child, and about three years ago, another mother and I, instead of just sitting in the waiting room while our daughters danced, decided to join the studio’s beginning adult class. This year, I have been taking a pre/beginning pointe class with my daughter. And while I probably will not dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy, I can at least eventually be part of the corps. Our studio is certified/being certified by the ABT which focuses as much on the dance part as the physical part, and the importance of building your strength up.

    Reply
  10. Emilia
    Emilia says:

    I attend ballet class once a week. And really enjoy my ballet “work-out”…….
    However, not able to enjoy doing pointe work as am rather weak at it all along like unable to releve on one foot.
    I am not able to “go” over my pointe fully….i.e. not able to hit “full pointe”. Why???
    I want to continue to dance despite now in my 50s.
    Been dancing since 18 years old.

    Reply

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