7 Surprising Things About Beginning Pointe as an Adult

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Today guest blogger Nina Jakob shares about her experience dancing en pointe as an adult. Nina's obsession with ballet began at the age of fifteen, when she suffered a severe ankle injury that rendered her unable to walk for quite some time.

While recuperating, Nina consumed every ballet YouTube video she could find, and then several years later, at the age of nineteen, Nina became a dedicated ballet student. Over email, she wrote to me: 

I chose ballet at 19 because I was always kind of a tomboy and thought I'd always be confined to that stereotype. When I started ballet class and saw myself in the mirror, I first noticed I actually could be elegant and beautiful.

Nina has been dancing ever since, and just this year, her dream of dancing en pointe came true! As many of us know, learning to dance en pointe can be filled with ups and downs. Without further ado, here, in Nina's own words, are the top seven things that surprised her the most about beginning pointe as an adult...

#1) Dancing en pointe is harder than you think.

When you go en pointe, you usually imagine that it’s pretty hard — after all, you’re dancing on the tips of your toes. But no matter how hard you imagine it will be, it will be five times harder. Relevés in first I could do sleeping? I regularly fell over. That assemblé that always made me look like I was soaring? My foot suddenly looked sickled — and to top it all off: not pointed at all. When I wanted to do an arabesque? My ankle wobbled like a tree trying to withstand a tornado.

#2) You might look a little sheepish at first. 

As adult ballet dancers, we have one big disadvantage: we know what dancing en pointe is supposed to look like — that you’re supposed to be completely over your box, turned out, and your feet pointed to a degree that gives you cramps just from looking at it.

But that’s not how it will look the first few times you go en pointe.

You might sickle, you might look pulled back, the shoe might not show off your arch the right way. But I’m pretty sure that not even Michaela DePrince’s feet looked perfectly arched and turned out when she first went en pointe. Therefore, I try to overlook these things in favor of dancing safely in shoes that fit me correctly.

#3) Your pointe shoes are going to get scrunched and dirty real quick. 

Probably the first thing that gets scrunched is the top of the vamp; it’s probably going to get wrinkles from your arch pressing over it. Next will be the satin on your platform: first, it will look scraped, then you will dance small rips into it, and in the end it will literally be torn to shreds. Also, because you can’t not practice at home, a couple of stains will complete the look. After all, these are dancing tools.

Though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt my little dancer’s heart to see them like this.

#4) It's going to feel a little weird. 

Or as I described it to a fellow dancer: the first couple of lessons it felt like I continuously had matchbox cars stuck to my toes. I felt like I couldn’t walk normally, so I started walking slightly turned out like a baby penguin.

Also, the pointe shoe box is extremely loud in the beginning, so everything you do will have a fierce thud to it. In comparison to ballet flats, that’s a huge difference. It’s weird, but you will get used to it.

#5) You'll need to learn about ribbons and elastics. 

You’ll have to choose between stretch ribbons, non-elastic ribbons with a small stretchy part, or completely non-elastic ones. As you usually do not have the luxury of pre-sewn ribbons and elastics, you'll have to pick up a needle yourself.

On my first pair, I broke three needles.

But luckily for us, there are special pointe shoe sewing kits that have the right needles and the right color of pink thread so you can’t see the stitches.

And as soon as you’re finished with that, the real riddle begins: how do you even tie the ribbons? And how do you keep your knots and ends tucked in? As a beginner it can feel like some kind of black magic.

It takes time to figure it out, but after a couple of weeks, you will probably be able to do it in your sleep.

#6) You might be lonely. 

Not everyone in adult classes wants to learn pointe — and that’s okay. You just might feel a little lonely sometimes: standing at the barre in the beginning, learning how to fully relevé onto your toes by rolling and not jumping, trying to control your weight while keeping up alignment.

In my regular open class, I was the only one starting pointe at that time. Others who had started a year before me could already stand quite firmly in pointe shoes and do jumps and turns while I was mostly tied to the barre, hardly able to balance.

In another one of my classes, I resorted to doing the barre on pointe to improve my stability faster and build up the courage for turns (as Kathryn Morgan suggested in one of her videos).

All in all, going en pointe is a big chunk of work and it can get kind of lonely if you’re the only one beginning pointe in your class.

#7) You won't want to stop! 

But be careful — as soon as you start sticking your first relevés in passé and see how gorgeous your feet fly in grand allegro — you’re not going to want to stop. I find that I can’t do enough pointe work. Even when we do half an hour of pointe work, I still don’t want to take my pointe shoes off.

And when I get home, I immediately want to put them on again. And basically, any time I don’t have to do anything for university. And sometimes in my sleep. Because with each and every class, you start to look a little more like the Marianela Núñez‘s, Ashley Bouders, Kathryn Morgans and Svetlana Zakharovas of the world.

Nina Jakob is a university student in Germany, where she studies German linguistics. Nina aspires to be a professor and an author. She enjoys writing short stories and reading copious amounts of science fiction books. She also loves green tea, reading, and of course, ballet. Check out Nina's German adult ballet blog, Teilzeitballerina. Thank you for sharing part of your ballet story with us, Nina!