Is a Dress Code Really Necessary?

 “The Dress Code is intended to allow dancers to work free of distracting or inhibiting help teachers see and correct the students' bodies, and to train students in how to present themselves in dance in a professional-level manner.” – Peabody Institute

            As the dance school year begins in the United States, dancers and their parents descend upon dance supply stores to purchase shoes and appropriate dance attire.  Many schools have specific dress code requirements, and often parents and dancers question if this is a necessary part of dance training.

            Healthy dancing relies on the correct alignment and placement of the body and the ability to engage specific muscle groups for specific exercises. Fitted leotards, tights and dance pants allow teachers the see students’ bodies and properly evaluate their technique.

            Wearing proper dance attire also encourages dancers to work harder and stand taller.  Without baggy clothing to hide behind, dancers begin to take more pride in how they present themselves and work at optimal levels.  Bad alignment habits cannot be hidden, and it is obvious if certain muscles are not engaged.

            Dance is a field steeped in discipline, and a dress code adds to this discipline that each dancer must develop if he or she is going to improve and grow in the dance world.  Leotards and tights are expected attire in classes, rehearsals and auditions around the world, and dancers are recognized by their attire.

            Some schools also require specific colors of tights or leotards that should be worn to class.  This requirement creates a uniform look in class that reinforces the idea of unity that dancers will need when performing together, and it is helpful to the dance educator.  Without the distraction of differently colored or styled leotards, it is easier to determine which dancer in a group may be performing the exercise incorrectly.

            Dress codes discourage students concerns or pressure about what to wear to class.  They allow those from higher socio-economic groups and those from lower socioeconomic groups to dance together equally.  A dress code eliminates the need to purchase a new trendy leotard and reminds everyone that the important element is the art of dance and not how the dancer is dressed.

            Additionally, when differently colored leotards correspond to different class levels, a teacher or choreographer can easily determine the skill level of a dancer with a quick glance, and the colors begin to create a hierarchy within a school.  As dancers strive to reach the next level, they will eventually be rewarded with the opportunity to wear the coveted leotard color of the next level and have their achievements easily recognized by others.

            The goal of a dress code is not to discourage self-expression or imply strict training.  Dress codes promote hard work, healthy training, required discipline, a sense of unity, classroom focus, psychological health and a sense of pride.  A dance educator that requires specific classroom attire is not trying to be overly strict or elitist, but is simply doing his or her job.

What Dancers Should Expect When Beginning Pointe Work

            “The ballet toe shoe is one of the few instruments of torture to survive intact into our time.”  - Source Unknown

         There is nothing quite like the sight of a new pair of pointe shoes.  The shiny, unsullied satin gives them an angelic quality, and these shoes are in every young ballerina’s dreams.

            Pointe shoes were created to give dancers an ethereal quality.  Before the invention of pointe shoes, dancers literally flew through the air thanks to Charles Didelot’s Flying Machine.  Wires were attached to the dancers and were used to support them as they rose onto the tips of their toes, to fly them across the stage and to lower them, for a brief moment, onto the tips of their toes.

            Gradually, the use of wires decreased, and in the early 1800’s, dancers began rising up onto their toes for brief moments on their own to delight their audiences.  The shoes that were used were merely soft satin slippers with heavily darned tips. (1)

            Early pointe shoes did not begin to resemble today’s pointe shoes until the mid 1900’s.  Today’s shoes support the dancers much more than the shoes of the 1800’s, but they do not feel as beautiful to the dancer as they look to the audience.   Before beginning pointe work each dancer must be made aware of the commitment dancing on pointe requires and the reality of wearing pointe shoes.

            As was discussed in my last post, When Is A Dancer Really Ready for Pointe Work?, dancing en pointe places a force equal to 12 times her body weight upon a dancer’s toes.  When considering that, it is easy to understand that dancing en pointe can often be less than comfortable.

            Correct body alignment and placement coupled with properly trained and strengthened muscles certainly make dancing en pointe an attainable goal and easier, but the dancer and her parents need to be prepared for what will occur along the way.

            It is important that pointe work be seen as an extension of ballet technique and not as a new form in and of itself.  Missed classes result in lapses in technique and weakened muscles that become major stumbling blocks once pointe work begins.  Dancers who begin pointe work need to be able to commit to an increased amount of time in class and be willing to dance year-round, otherwise pointe work becomes difficult, and the risk of injury increases.

            Once pointe work begins, small things like toenail length become major concerns, and dancers are ushered into a world of bruised toenails, blisters and callused toe knuckles.  Those dancing en pointe must pay careful attention when trimming their toenails.  Toenails should be trimmed regularly since long toenails will bend under the weight as a dancer stands on her toes.  Contrastingly, toenails that are cut too short can also be extremely painful for a pointe dancer because of the pressure placed upon the nail bed.  Moreover, when cutting the nails, dancers need to be extra vigilant about cutting the toenails straight across the top to decrease the chance of developing an ingrown toenail, which can be both painful and lead to infection.  Often dancers will develop bruised toenails after a long day of class and rehearsals if the shoes fit improperly or simply due to the nature of pointe work.

            Many options are available for dancers to use inside pointe shoes to lessen the stress upon the skin of the foot.  Foam pads, gel pads, lambs’ wool and first aid tape can all help, but even the best prepared dancer will eventually develop a blister.  Blisters occur when the foot sweats and layers of skin begin to rub against each other due to the pressure of the shoe.  Fluid, and sometimes blood, will accumulate between the layers.  Occasionally, a blister will burst while a dancer is dancing and result in bloodstains on both the tights and the inside of the shoe.  If the blister does not burst, it is best for the dancer to drain the blister, using a sterilized needle, but keep the top layer intact to help prevent infection.  All blisters should be treated with an antibiotic ointment and then covered with either a liquid bandage, moleskin or first aid tape.  Band-Aids should not be used since the cushioned portion does not stay in one place and will create more friction the next time the dancer puts on her shoes.

            Dancers en pointe will also develop calluses on the knuckles of the toes.  Calluses are the body’s way of protecting itself, and they are usually not a problem unless they become extremely thick.  In that case, it is best for the dancer to consult a podiatrist.

            The dancer with a blister, a toenail that is too short or a bruised nail will still be expected to don the pointe shoes for class and rehearsal for a very simple reason.  Dance students are in training for performances.  A performance cannot be canceled because of any of these minor problems so the dancer must learn how to care for her feet in a way that makes the dancing as painless as possible.

            Because of its nature, pointe work places stress upon the feet and toes, and after classes and rehearsals, a dancer’s feet will hurt.  Soaking feet in Epsom salts can help and although feet may ache, the discomfort is manageable.  With proper training pointe work can be done well and in a healthy manner.  Dancers should not be afraid of pointe work because of this discomfort, but both they and their parents need to be made aware of the “dark side” of these beautiful pink shoes before they begin pointe work.  It is a part of ballet that takes great commitment and dedication, but the rewards are seen when ballet dancers float gracefully across the stage like ethereal creatures.

(1) Barringer, J. & Schlesinger, S.  The Pointe Book. NJ:Princeton Book Company, 2004. 

When is a Dancer Really Ready for Pointe Work?

"Dance isn't just about fancy footwork. It requires grace, discipline, and major muscles." 

       Ask almost any young ballerina to tell you about her goals and dreams, and she will talk to you about pointe shoes.  Young dancers dream of the shiny satin shoes and crisscrossed ribbons and repeatedly ask when they can buy their first pair.

            Dancers around the world are told that twelve is the magic age for being able to begin pointe work.  In a 2004 study of dance institutions, researchers found that 96% of the participating schools used age as a criterion for pointe readiness, and the majority of the schools used the 12 year of age rule. (1)

            Many believe the age of 12 has been chosen as the deciding factor because of a scientific or medically based reason, but this is not the case.  Twelve-year-old girls are still developing, and their bones are still growing.  The bones in the feet ossify, or harden, earlier than those in the leg, which may offer some reassurance, but at 12 years of age, they are also still growing. (3)  It is also important to remember that individuals develop at different rates, and although similarities between 12 year-old bodies exist, no two bodies are the same.  The age of 12 has been chosen because it assumes the dancer began structured ballet classes at the age of 8 and has been studying consistently for four years.  This age guideline also assumes that the student is at a level that requires four ballet classes a week and has developed the necessary strength and neuromuscular control required for pointe work.

            Since every school is different, and there are few other universally accepted guidelines for beginning pointe work, it seems to be an area in which dance and exercise science experts can and should work together to promote dancer health.  No studies have been done to determine if beginning pointe training too early is connected to injuries; however,  when one considers the fact that dancing en pointe places a force equivalent to twelve times the dancer's body weight on her feet, it seems logical to assume that a dancer whose body is not ready or trained to handle that force will be injured.  Additionally, students who are not ready may struggle and develop bad habits, grow frustrated, lose self-confidence and/or quit dancing.

            A survey of dance schools and criteria used for assessing pointe readiness found that 73% of institutions with no company affiliations made decisions about pointe readiness without the assistance of a health or exercise professional while almost 50% of schools with a company affiliation consulted a health professional. (1)

            In 2010, health professionals from The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries developed criteria that could be used to assess point readiness.   These criteria assess balance, proprioception, leg and ankle strength and control, core strength and control and neuromuscular control.  The authors recommended that these criteria be used in conjunction with other information gathered on age, years of training, level of training and injuries and the dance educator’s observations to determine pointe readiness. (2)

            Hiring an exercise science professional to conduct pre-pointe evaluations in dance institutions is a way to make the procedure objective, identify areas of weakness or imbalances, begin to develop universally accepted guidelines for pointe readiness and contribute to the health of dancers and the longevity of their careers.

            For information on having pre-pointe assessments conducted at your school or studio, please contact me at

(1) Helldobler, R., Hess, R., Meck, C. & Roh, J. (2004). Pre-pointe evaluation components used by dance schools. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 8(2), 37-42.
(2)Richardson, M., Liederbach, M. & Sandow, E. (2010). Functional criteria for assessing pointe-readiness. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 14(3), 82-8.
(3)Weiss, D., Rist, R.A. & Grossman, G. (2009). When can I start pointe work?  Guidelines for initiating pointe training. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 13(3), 90-2.