Pull your heels up, dancers!”
“More! Give me more with your feet!”
“Where is your demi pointe? I can’t see it!”
If there was ever a thing that makes me sound like a broken record it would be demi pointe. I suppose it is just ‘my thing’. But I know I am not alone. No doubt most any ballet teacher reading this understands my pain.
Students just do not seem to grasp how much articulation with their feet is required. By the looks of it I could assume they believe being casual about the whole thing is adequate.
Based on how much I scream about it to them, how could they possibly hold this opinion about demi pointe? It baffles me. I scream on anyway because it is that important. The students who follow my directions consistently are the ones whose dancing eventually rises above the rest.
Why? Well, here are my thoughts on that:
- Small Details — Refined ballet is all about the small details. Demi pointe, while being a huge deal, is a small detail. The movement through demi pointe and the difference between a high relevé and a slightly sagging one both require enormous attention to small detail. A student learning to focus on demi pointe will be learning the lesson of giving full attention to the tiniest of details.
- Consistency — To master anything in ballet dancers need to learn how to be consistent. Demi pointe is an excellent example of a ballet concept that requires a near obsessive mindset. Our feet will naturally do the opposite of demi pointe. Breaking this habit and developing a new one demands constant reminding and prioritizing.
- Turns and Jumps — What dancer doesn’t want better turns and jumps? Get the feet working properly and those elements become that much closer to achieving.
- Pointe Work — When demi pointe is developed and solid, pointe work is going to be far easier to grasp. Mainly because the foot has grown a sort of “ballet intelligence”. It knows how to work within ballet.
Of course, there are other reasons to be added to the list above but those are my main ones.
My Method for Teaching Demi Pointe Through the Years
Moving on then, how can we instill the importance of demi pointe in our dancers? At what age do we begin this training? What can we expect from the various levels in regards to this technical aspect?
- Preschool Years:
- Teach the parts of the foot (toes, ball, arch, heel, ankle).
- Teach a quarter pointe position (heel lifted slightly off the floor) being sure they understand how to allow the foot to bend.
- Do not allow them to stand on their tip toes.
- Introduce the concept of sickling. Don’t expect it to be correct, but do introduce it.
- Sit on the floor with legs stretched out in front, point your feet. Show them what it looks like when you sickle as opposed to when your foot is held straight in line.
- Stand with feet together, lift one heel to quarter pointe (allowing that knee to bend). Again, show them the difference between sickle and straight.
- Teach them the word “sickle” and be sure they associate that word with unpleasantness.
- Pre-Ballet Years: Building on the Preschool Years
- Teach pointing and flexing while trying to keep the ankles in line.
- Teach a relaxed demi pointe position ensuring they allow the foot to bend.
- Continue talking about sickling. They should be able to master this while sitting and standing on one foot. Doing rises to demi pointe will still be wobbly.
- Have them do demi pointe walks. This gives them steadier practice on demi pointe than rises do and also develops more control than basic ballet runs.
- Elementary Years: Building on the Pre-Ballet Years
- Teach moving through demi pointe by integrating it into pointing and flexing while sitting.
- Students should be able to rise, point, and flex without a sickle.
- Introduce the concept of moving through demi pointe in tendu. Keep the exercises very slow with the primary focus being demi pointe on the way out and in.
- Introduce the concept of not sickling the working foot. Begin this with tendu and move on to retiré, attitude, etc. This will likely take a good deal of time to master and will vary from student to student.
- Before advancing, students should have a very clear understanding of what demi pointe is and how to stand in it, dance on it, and move through it.
- Intermediate Years:
- Focus on and master moving through the demi pointe in all extensions.
- Focus on and master rising to demi pointe and lowering from demi pointe (on two legs and one)
- Focus on and master peeling the foot off the floor and placing it back to the floor without any sickle and with clear articulation.
- Insist on a high demi pointe always. Every time. Do not allow turns and balances to happen with a relaxed ankle.
- Introduce the wrapped sur les coup de piéd.
- Practice centre steps with a focus on articulation (walks, waltzes, piqués, etc).
- Practice jumps with the toes pushing aggressively off the floor and the weight caught on the balls on the feet.
- Teach how to work with a theraband.
- Teach three-quarter pointe both in pointe shoes and in ballet shoes. The toes should be packed with energy and ready at any given time to push the body into the air/demi pointe/pointe or support the dancer into plié/fondue.
- Advanced Years:
- If all the elements above are in place and consistent, dancers at this level should be able to begin molding their feet and addressing individual nuances within their own ankles/arches/toes/etc.
- They should be able to look at any pose or movement and create the most aesthetically pleasing line possible for them by focusing appropriate attention to the foot.
- They should be able to use their feet to complement the expression of the movement.
- They should learn how to make artistic choices concerning the speed of which they move through demi pointe and how pronounced they wish that movement to be.
- Their feet do not appear to be flailing or flopping ever and pointe shoes genuinely look to be a true extension of their leg.
All of this begins with demi pointe. But we cannot get our students there if we do not teach them how demi pointe serves them. We must first engage them with the concept and then we must remind, insist, demand. Repeat continuously until the technique has taken root and they soar away.