Pointing your Feet

(I have been asked to do a post on pointing your feet…I am pulling this info out of my On your toes post which is also about being strong enough to do ID toe stands.)

One very important thing to remember when “pointing the toes” is that a pointed foot is accomplished by movement in 3-4 areas, not just one, not just the ankle. 1st you move your ankle, then the bones in the tarsus (the area in front of the ankle), then the metatarsals (the long foot bones), then lastly the phalanges (toes). And you want your toes to remain long, not curled or scrunched up. (Pics below.)

In searching for some good visual support, I found some videos made by Lisa Howell, a physiotherapist in Australia. Brilliant. Her website is here: The Perfect Pointe Book. I have used a couple of her videos on this blog because they are relevant, articulate, and very informative.

In the video below, she talks about the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot, so here’s a bit more info before you watch it. (The following info is simplified. If you want to know more detail, please google it.)

Intrinsic muscles of the foot: these muscles are “in” your foot; they control movement “in” the foot, and all the muscle attachments are in the foot. They move your toes, and for a dancer, they are responsible for creating the shape of your pointed foot by moving the bones of your foot. These muscles should be what take you from half-pointe to full pointe back to half-pointe. These muscles are also responsible for helping to control some of the descent of your weight through the foot when you come out of a jump or from being en pointe. We instinctively know this when coming out of a jump…without controlling the descent, we would slam our heels into the ground. Learning to use these intrinsic muscles by doing the exercises Lisa shows in her videos will help you strengthen your feet which will help your pointed foot and your pointe work. (Doing the same exercises while using a Theraband will help all the more.)

For those with achilles tendonitis: Tendonitis can be the result of trying to point the foot using the ankle only. Learning how to use and articulate the intrinsic muscles in your feet can help alleviate the pain of tendonitis because you are no longer trying to use only your ankle. Trying to get more point out of your foot by pulling hard on your heel bone is a main cause of this problem because you are fighting a losing battle. What moves the ankle to begin pointing your foot? The gastrocnemius and the soleus. They have no attachments in the foot beyond the calcaneus, the heel bone, so they cannot help you move any other bones in your foot. To move the tarsals, metatarsals and the phalanges into a pointed foot position, you have to use the other intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot. Yanking as hard as you can on the heel bone to move the ankle in an effort to point your foot better will not only prove useless, but may very well be the cause of or give you a terrible case of achilles tendonitis!

Extrinsic muscles of the foot: these muscles have one of their attachments (the origin) outside the foot, on the lower leg, and the other attachment in the foot. They control the movement of the foot as a whole, as a lever.

Here are the bones of the foot:

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And here are the muscles.

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Here Lisa explains how to use these muscles to point your feet and for ballet pointe work: the muscles work EXACTLY the same way for toe stands. This is simple but SO, SO important.

This next one talks about working through the foot.

And here is a very clear video showing a ballet dancer rolling through her feet in her point shoes. It is my belief that an Irish dancer should also have this ability and strength to protect her feet before toe stands are part of a dance, especially since the ID hard shoe is not designed for it!

I cannot tell you the number of students I would get at the university who were suffering from having been poorly trained en pointe or worse yet, from having been told that all they needed to do was STRETCH their feet and ankles to CHANGE their feet….ARGH!!! What they were changing was the length of the ligaments that held all of the bones together…and this cannot be reversed without surgery. We of course worked to strengthen all the muscles to support the feet, but the best piece of news that I gave to many of them was this: you cannot dance on pointe ever again. Only once did someone argue…the rest were so relieved.

Some stretching will of course help to give your pointed foot the best shape, because it will allow the foot to have use of its full range of motion, but without strength in the intrinsic foot muscles and an understanding of how a pointed foot is accomplished, all the stretching in the world will not help. Instead you will have a beautiful floppy thing more prone to injury.

Here is a clear demonstration of using a Theraband to strengthen your feet for a better point.

More: Pointing your Feet: Addendum

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peggy
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 23:08:00

    It’s good to reread this stuff. Thanks for re-posting.

    Kids have a hard time understanding how to point the whole foot when they are constantly told “point your toes!” Why are we using this language!?

    I’ve started teaching my boys to sit and “reach with your feet” asking them to try and touch something just beyond the points- it’s really helped them figure out all the muscles they can use to reach the something, and not crunch their toes under.

    They are also (slowly) learning that sickling doesn’t help- it seems kids tend to sickle when they try extra hard learning to point the foot. Perhaps the muscles that pull the ankle in are the most strongly developed by walking and running. Ann, I know you haven’t worked too much with little kids, but what do you think? Am I way off base?

  2. Ann
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 23:14:00

    Good question. I will add this tomorrow.

  3. Trackback: Pointing your Feet: Addendum « Taoknitter
  4. Trackback: On your toes « Taoknitter
  5. ashley
    May 27, 2011 @ 19:44:03

    ann, i want to know what age is too late to start ballet going into pointe? because i used to do ballet then my mother took me out, which was when i was 10-12. now i am 15 and i want to know if i should just start pointe?should i just progress from ballet? or what?

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