Demi-pointe shoes are designed specifically as a transitional shoe from ballet flats to pointe shoes. However, debate rages on whether they are a necessity, just an extra expense, or if they may even be counterproductive to the progression of a student going onto pointe. There are definitely arguments for and against demi-pointe shoes. Whether or not demi-pointe shoes strengthen a dancer’s foot is debatable, however, the resistance created by the inner and outer soles may improve the dancer’s proprioceptive control of the ankle and provide more instability through the demi-pointe area, as opposed to working in soft ballet flats.
The most important factor to check is if the dancer is using the front of the foot properly, as it is easier to hide a multitude of technical faults, specifically clawing toes in demi-pointe shoes. Clawing toes will defeat the purpose of using a stronger soled shoe, as the dancer will be strengthening incorrect muscles which can lead to a range of issues including Posterior Impingement, Posterior Compartment Syndrome and Achilles Tendinopathy. However, if the dancer is articulating through the ball of the foot with every tendu, then demi-pointes will indeed be effective.
The argument for:
Demi-pointe shoes have a full leather outsole, which simply means they create much more resistance than a ballet flat, making the dancer’s foot work harder, providing much needed conditioning in preparation for pointe work. Ballet flats are very lightweight and designed to easily hug into the sole of the foot creating a nice line with minimal effort. When students are then placed in a full shank pointe shoe, they often struggle to articulate and fully stretch the foot, and can experience difficulty with controlling the shoe. Hence why they were designed specifically as a transitional shoe from flats to pointe shoes.
The argument against:
The biggest reason we tend to avoid using demi-pointe shoes in younger students is that they can hide a number of technical faults, the most important and relevant being significant clawing of the toes. If a dancer does not know how to correctly isolate and articulate the muscles in the forefoot, then adding the extra resistance of a stiff sole will simply serve to make them work harder with the wrong muscles. This can lead to all kinds of issues such as Posterior Impingement, Posterior Compartment Syndrome and Achilles Tendinopathy. However, if the dancer is aware of correctly working the front of the foot, and focuses on integrating the “Doming” exercise into every tendu, then the shoes will indeed strengthen the right muscles. So what do we recommend?
Lisa’s preference in the “pre-pointe” phase is actually to get them OUT of their shoes, roll up their stockings, (wear toe thongs if they must) and actually look at how their feet are working in class. So many students have never looked at what is actually happening with their own feet, and showing them a video of their toes during a tendu instantly shows them what may be going wrong!
Once the student has learnt how to correctly activate their small foot intrinsic muscles and can consistently and correctly articulate the foot in a tendu, then, and only then, should they be placed in a demi-pointe shoe. You must watch to see that they are working the front part of the shoe correctly, and at periodic intervals, remove the shoes to check that the correct patterning of muscle firing is still happening
Ultimately the isolation, articulation and progressive conditioning of all of the small muscles in the forefoot is the most important thing to consider when progressing into demi-pointe shoes. Exercises such as those in The Perfect Pointe Book, My Beginner Pointe and the Advanced Foot Control for Dancers program are perfect for this.
We hope we have explained that both sides of this ‘argument’ are actually correct. It all depends, as usual, on the quality and skill of the teacher in making sure that the dancer is performing each exercise correctly.
We highly recommend the ‘My Beginner Pointe’ program, be done in demi-pointe shoes initially, until the dancer is strong enough to go en pointe. This will allow the dancer to develop strength in the muscles needed to stabilise the foot on a slightly unstable surface as the sole of a pointe shoe/demi-pointe shoe is very different to that of a ballet flat.
The ‘My Beginner Pointe’ program is a unique program for young dancers and their dance teachers which covers the safe dance practice and aesthetic components needed to create successful classical dancers. The program incorporates three cohesive stages of pointe work that preferably be taught and practiced in demi-pointe shoes firstly. The program includes three dvd’s overflowing with information on training exercises, pointe shoe tips, specific exercises in pointe shoes and a beautifully crafted cd of music to accompany. If this specific preparation is done, the transition to pointe shoes and pointe work should be seamless, relatively painless and injury free.
Written by: Vicki Attard and Lisa Howell