I took my first ever pointe class the other week. Let me tell you, it was pretty scary.
I didn’t really think that pointe would be a possibility for me as an adult beginner – although that’s the question everyone asks when they hear you do ballet, right? Are you en pointe? NO. I used to say: imagine having a big toe as flexible as your thumb. That’s what you need for pointe. Disgusted looks, peace and quiet.
However as my practice has grown, I’ve taken to picking up extra classes now and again at different studios when I feel like it. I saw there was a beginner/general pointe class, and that the teacher recommended at least a year of practice – tick!!
I didn’t rush into things – I took my time reading up, getting my shoes fitted. I took that teacher’s beginners class, and then intermediate, to get a feel for her style and see if I liked it and the class atmosphere.
(I’ll call her Stern Teacher. Firm, but fair. And when she cracks a joke, you don’t know…if it’s actually….a joke?)
Intermediate was hard work at the centre but a good challenge. So the next week I took intermediate and stayed on for pointe…
Well, the main thing to remember is that I stuck it out. I stayed and tried my darndest for the whole hour. For those of you who’ve not tried pointe – its not all that painful. Really not as painful as I expected it to be at any rate. What it is like, is lifting weights. On your feet. Extremely hard work.
(And it was wonderful watching the girls in the centre who really were dancers and very graceful and accomplished. That really did make me smile.)
The thing is, when you’re in a class you’re not used to it can be quite difficult to find your feet and fit in. And when you’re feeling super self-conscious in this way it can be all too easy to take things quite emotionally. So, bumping up against some off-colour barre etiquette and being told icily that “There’s someone there” (and then not registering, and then being told exactly the same thing in exactly the same tone) can feel like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you in class and a definite omen that this is not the group for you.
Another thing I’m not sure about is the style in which this particular class is taught. Although I really appreciate Stern Teacher’s methods in other classes and workshops, being dropped in at the deep end and just being shoved up en pointe meant that I was completely bewildered. This meant that the inevitable corrections didn’t make a huge amount of sense to me. I know my ankles are weak, and I’m really not sure what being up on pointe correctly is supposed to look and feel like. Reviewing my experience in my dance journal, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d learned . Although, on the other hand, putting your feet into that position is so unnatural and bizarre that maybe bewilderment is just an inevitable part of the process?
Another thing that really hampered me was insufficient prep of my shoes – although I couldn’t have known about this before trying the shoes in a class setting. I’d prepped the shank, which was fairly easy because of my shoes’ skived shank, but my attempt to soften the demi-pointe wasn’t enough. The greatest drawback however was lack of elastics. I’d followed the lovely lady in Capezio’s advice (She’s great! London/nearby dancers do go and get fitted by her!) and not sewn elastics on straight away. Her reasoning was that common use of elastics is a fairly recent thing, and a fair few dancers sew them on straight away without assessing if and how their feet need them. She recommended taking a couple of classes and then reviewing. Makes loads of sense. Until I get into class and after the first few horsey trot-trot preparation steps (you know what I mean) my heels go POP! straight out. I rubbed my heels in rosin to try and stick them, but no. Elastics, essential for these plates of meat.
So, I’ve finally got my covert elastics, replaced the Nymo my cat stole, and sewn them securely right into the heel and criss-crossed over. They feel completely different on my feet now and I feel more secure going “over”. However I haven’t yet returned to class.
I have some decisions to make about whether I want to try this class again, or perhaps try another pointe class. My usual teacher, who I feel very comfortable with, will be starting an absolute beginner’s pointe class in about a month, which I definitely want to do. I think the combination of a fab teacher and a complete beginners, as opposed to wildly mixed level, class will be great. We’re also going to have a guest female dancer come in to talk to us, which is very exciting.
So – do I wait or keep battling on until then? Is an uncomfortable class atmosphere (through classmates, not the teacher) a valid reason for not sticking with a particular challenge? Have I let my pointe shoes intimidate me a bit too much?