Pre-Pointe Class: Boost Your Curriculum to Prepare Dancers for Pointe Work

Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy of PNB School

Wearing ballet slippers with satin ribbons attached, young girls practice relevé facing the barre, while Martha Goodman of Atlanta Ballet's Centre for Dance Education makes adjustments. She sees that each child has proper placement before moving on to the next exercise. “Everything should be clean, neat and correct," she says. Students must complete a full year of this detailed work before they receive their first pair of pointe shoes.


To ensure aspiring ballerinas are ready for pointe, many schools require students to take pre-pointe—a class separate from regular ballet technique. The curriculum allows teachers ample time to help students build the strength and alignment necessary for pointe work. It also helps them assess readiness, which lessens the risk of injury once students are in their shoes. “We work slowly with our kids so they don't develop bad habits," says Pacific Northwest Ballet School's Dane Holman. “Pre-pointe gives us some extra time to do things we don't always have the time for in technique class."

Pre-Pointe Curriculum

Atlanta Ballet's 45-minute pre-pointe class is held once a week after technique. The students, typically ages 10–12, are those whom teachers expect to put on pointe the following year. To qualify, they must demonstrate solid technique and attend ballet at least three days a week.

Much of Goodman's goal is helping students articulate quarter, half, three-quarter and full pointe. This strengthens the metatarsals and stabilizes the ankles so dancers relevé straight up and down in their shoes, instead of moving through a dangerous sickled or winged foot. Facing the barre, students roll through parallel and turned-out first, one foot at a time. “They should be right over the center of the foot with knees over toes. And their spines should be long, with hips and shoulders properly placed," she says. Relevés with forced-arch position follow, as well as échappés. Here, students should push off from a clean fifth position and show control of their turnout.

At PNB, Holman uses steps often done during beginner pointe, like a progression of piqués at the barre stepping to fifth on demi-pointe and then to one foot with the other in cou-de-pied derrière. She tries to catch habits that the shoes may cause in the future. “When the students get their pointe shoes, they tend to bend their knees during piqué and relevé," she says. In center, Holman breaks down piqué turns, pas de bourrée en tournant and chaîné turns. Starting in sous-sus with fingertips on their shoulders, students look toward the mirror and chaîné half turn, half turn, plié relevé. This gives her an opportunity to identify problems before students advance.

Stretching and Strengthening

Pre-pointe isn't just about ballet technique. Class at Marin Dance Theatre in San Rafael, California, includes Thera-Band exercises, like pointing and flexing the feet in parallel and turnout. Students work on flexibility by drumming their toes (lifting the toes off the floor and lowering them one at a time), and they do abdominal work to strengthen their cores.

At the beginning of the year, MDT students have private Pilates sessions for assessment. They're then matched with others who have similar weaknesses and take a class once a week, in addition to pre-pointe. “Some groups need to work on rotation, strength in the foot or core strength," says Young Dancer Division director Vicki-Marie Bassing. “The Pilates instructor will work on their specific areas for a full year before they get their shoes."

A doctor from St. Francis Memorial Hospital's Center for Sports Medicine in San Francisco visits MDT once every few months to assess pointe candidates. “She will evaluate their readiness and see if there are conditions with their feet that might be a problem," says Bassing. Though she acknowledges “there's a glamour to getting your shoes and a rush to do it," she isn't hesitant to hold a dancer back who isn't ready—sending her to additional Pilates classes or requiring her to repeat pre-pointe. Making sure she is strong is more important than rushing her into the shoes.

Is She Ready for Pointe?

Vicki-Marie Bassing of Marin Dance Theatre assesses students' strength and ability with these exercises.

Core strength: Ask students to plié and grand plié in center. The ribs should be over the hips, and they should be strong through their abdominals, ankles and feet.

Rotation: Give a slow tendu combination. Can the student sustain turnout from the hip without torquing or compensating?

Alignment: Relevé exercises in first position check the ability to maintain proper placement.

Balance: In center, have students sous-sus and dégagé the back leg side, so it closes in front. Have them continue walking forward on demi-pointe, crossing from fifth to fifth. This also tests strength and placement throughout the core and legs.


Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
This Bitter Earth. Photo by Sam Wootton, courtesy of NYCB

Create a Watch Party! Here are four free offerings from New York City's most celebrated arts organizations to share with your students and their families.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of the Academy for the Performing Arts

“Keeping agile" has taken on a whole new meaning for every studio owner and dance instructor since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered studio doors for safety's sake in March. Now is the time to show parents how you bring normalcy and positivity to their children's lives so you can retain tuition revenue until your doors reopen for business as usual.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.
Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

Keep reading... Show less