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Choosing the proper time for a young ballet dancer to start training with pointe shoes is a controversial topic because it was thought that starting pointe ballet training too early would damage the growth plates in a child’s feet. However, there has been no study to date showing that dancing on pointe when growth plates are still open leads to growth failure.
The question shouldn’t be “at what age can my child start dancing on pointe?” but rather “is my child ready to begin ballet dancing on pointe?”
Traditionally, it was thought that children should be 12 years of age or older before advancing to pointe ballet. Some dance teachers will go as far as to request that their students obtain x-rays of their feet to see if the growth plates are closed before allowing them to start pointe training.
Children vary greatly in terms of their musculoskeletal maturity, motor skill development and mental maturity. Not all twelve year olds are ready to dance on pointe while some ten year olds are ready. The decision to allow your child to begin pointe ballet work should be based on several factors including physical capability and mental maturity rather than by age or number of years of training, although many dancers require 4-5 years of training to achieve the technical requirements to begin pointe training.
A good ballet teacher will know when your child is ready to begin training on pointe. There are several functional tests that a dance teacher can have your child perform to assess her / his readiness to go on pointe. Only after a dancer has demonstrated mastery of proper skills and technique, alignment, balance, control, strength and flexibility will a dance teacher recommend that the student advance to pointe ballet work.
Starting pointe ballet training before these elements are acquired can lead to injuries because of weakness in the foot and ankle and overall lack of coordination. Furthermore, attaining mental maturity is also very important, as a ballet dancer will need to show that they can learn and perform the choreography, as well as be able to handle corrections.
So there is not a simple answer to a straight forward question! Many factors need to be considered. A young ballet dancer may begin on pointe shoes when they are mentally mature and can demonstrate proficiency in their technical abilities.
Read more articles on sports safety.
Written by the Sports Medicine team at Children’s Hospital Colorado.