While the conventional wisdom throughout much of the dance world holds that girls are generally able to start pointe training around age 12, there are many other factors that play into a girl’s readiness. The child’s overall physical development should be taken into account. As the onset and pace of puberty is different for everyone, not all girls are at the same stage at age 12. Dance students should be physically prepared to begin pointe before attempting it. The dancer needs to have adequate range of motion at the foot and ankle, and must be strong enough in the trunk and leg muscles so that she can stabilize her pelvis and maintain proper alignment of her hips, knees, ankles and feet while on pointe.
If a child is physically developed and strong enough for pointe, the duration and frequency of her classes should also be considered. Dancers who take classes at least twice a week and are in their fourth year of training at an academy may be ready for pointe. However, unless the child is enrolled in a pre-professional academy that focuses on developing its dancers for pointe, it’s best to discourage pointe training. Additionally, some dancers may have physical characteristics, such as excessive mobility of the joints, that increase their risk for injury, and therefore they may be discouraged from going on pointe.
Risks of Initiating Pointe Too Early
Despite the fact that foot bone growth generally doesn’t finish until approximately age 14 in girls, early initiation of pointe training hasn’t been proven to cause bone or joint damage. However if a young dancer begins pointe training before she has adequate range of motion, strength and stability, she may put undue stress on the legs, pelvis and trunk, increasing her risk for injury to these areas.
Additionally, a dancer who begins pointe before she is ready may have trouble developing other parts of her ballet technique – it’s generally recommended that a dancer have perfect demi-pointe before moving to the next level.
Psychological stress may also develop as a result of beginning too early. If a dancer cannot master further levels of technique on pointe, she may suffer from low self-esteem and decreased confidence.
Source: David S. Weiss, MD, Rachel Anne Rist, MA, Gayanne Grossman, PT, EdM. When Can I Start Pointe Work? Guidelines for Initiating Pointe Training. IADMS. 2009;13(3):90-92.