Words by Eva Devore | Photography by Mia Maraschino
“Point your toes!!” is a battle-cry you’ve no doubt heard from every one of our instructors during class. The icing on the cake for any pose or trick, and the secret to .beautiful shapes, the pointed foot is essential to most dance styles. Some lucky people are born with natural flexibility, and pointing is easy as walking! However for many of us, it is a constant struggle to remember our lines and points as we perform tricks and choreography. Luckily, pretty points are something we can develop with training! This week, we are looking at exercises you can do to help train strong, steady and beautiful points.
Did you know that a perfectly pointed toe actually uses muscles in your whole leg? Your toes really aren’t doing much work at all! A pointed foot comes from the ankle, and from the calf muscles. By using your calf muscles to push your ankle joint forward, you can create the smooth lines that are so coveted in dance. A combination of muscle strength, and flexibility through the ankle and foot is what creates the pointed shape. By adding exercises that focus on your calves, ankles and feet to your training regime, you can take those points to the next level!
Points aren’t just for the bare or stocking-clad feet of our aerialists either. If you wear heels to dance, whether that is for Pole Dancing, exotic styles or in Burlesque, training up those ankles and feet is just as important! Strong ankles will help to support you in your high heels, ensuring that you don’t wobble or roll off your shoes and injure yourself. Pointing your toes in heels requires even more strength than with bare feet, as you push the shoe down as well as your foot!
The following exercises are just some of the ways you can start to improve your points. Remember to take it slowly, and if anything hurts, don’t do it! Pushing your ankles too far can result in injury to your muscles and tendons, so be careful around your body’s limits.
Demi-pointe is where you lift your heels up off the ground and stand on the balls of your feet. This exercise warms up your ankles, and strengthens your calves!
Step One | Lift your right heel
Start with your feet parallel, and close together. Lift your right heel up, straightening your ankle. The ball of your right foot will stay on the ground, along with all of your toes. Try to keep your ankle straight, and avoid sickling (curving) your ankle to the side.
Step Two | Lift both heels to a relevé
Lift your left heel off the ground to meet your right, so that both heels are together, and you are balancing on the balls of your feet. You can hold on to a barre, a chair or a wall as you do this if you need help maintaining your balance.
Step Three | Lower your right heel
Lower your right heel, leaving you left heel raised, effectively swapping over. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
You can do this move slowly to strengthen your calves, or quickly for a calf and ankle warmup.
Relevé is the term used in ballet for raising yourself up, either to demi-pointe (on the balls of your feet) or a full pointe (like ballerinas do!)
Step One | Start in first position
Start with your feet in “first position.” This is where your legs and heels are together, with your toes pointing diagonally outwards. You don’t need to point your toes out at an extreme angle, just comfortably turned-out.
Step Two | Lift your heels up off the floor
Engage your thigh and calf muscles, and lift your heels up off the ground, balancing on the balls of your feet and keeping your toes on the floor. It’s important to use the muscles of your legs for the raise, rather than just using your ankles.
Step Three | Slowly come back to first position
Slowly lower your heels back down to the ground, keeping the muscles in your legs engaged. You want to gently place your heels down, not slam them into the ground! Repeat for at least 10-15 reps. You can hold a barre or wall if you need!
A theraband is a stretchy band of thin rubber used to aid stretches by providing resistance. You can find them at most sports shops, or even at Kmart here!
Step One | Start with your foot flexed
Sit down on the floor. Find the halfway point of the theraband, and loop it around the ball and toes of your foot. Keeping your foot flexed, toes relaxed, gently pull the band back towards your waist, until you find the level of resistance that works for you. The tighter you pull the band, the more resistance!
Step Two | Press through the ball of your foot
Press the ball of your foot forward, creating a demi-pointe shape with your foot. Keep your toes relaxed. Your ankle will lengthen out and straighten. The resistance in the band will get your ankles and calves working!
Step Three | Push your toes forward
Slowly curl your toes forward to a full point. You want to imagine you are pointing forward with your toes, rather than curling them under. This will create a cleaner line and avoid cramps! Slowly return to the flexed starting position and repeat 10-15 times.
Top Foot Press
This exercise stretches out the top of your foot to create a beautiful curve from your shin to your toes.
Step One | Cross your legs at the shin
Start in first position (heels together, legs straight with toes turned out.) Cross one foot over the other at the shin, so that the backs of your toes are resting on the floor. Ensure your ankle is straight- don’t sickle your ankle!
Step Two | Bend at the knee, pressing down through your foot
Bending at the knees, press your top foot into the floor. This will create a stretch that you will feel across the top of your foot and ankle. You can hold onto a barre or wall while in this stretch.
Alternative | You can also do this with your foot behind you
If crossing over your legs is too intense, you can also do this stretch while standing normally. Just ensure that your ankle is straight and not sickled, and that you maintain your balance!
Strengthening your toes will improve your balance, and foot flexibility! This exercise is easy to do anywhere - all you need is a towel!
Step One | Start with your feet over the edge of the towel
Lay a small towel, like a hand towel or tea towel, flat down on the floor. Place your toes over the edge of the towel with your heels off the end, on the floor.
Step Two | Use your toes to scrunch up the towel
Use your toes to grab the towel, scrunching it and pulling it up underneath your feet. Release your hold on the towel and reach forward with your toes again.
Step Three | Keep scrunching up the whole towel
Repeat this motion until you’ve scrunched up the whole towel, then you can reset and do it again. For more of a challenge, you can try doing it with one foot, or add a small weight, like a book or water bottle onto the edge of the towel.
Toe lifts are designed to improve your control and dexterity in your feet. This leads to better balance, stronger points and curvier arches!
Step One | Start with your feet flat on the floor
You can do this exercise standing or sitting. Start with your feet flat on the floor, and parallel to each other with your toes on the floor.
Step Two | Lift up your big toe, pressing all other toes down
Try and lift your big toes up off the floor, while pushing all other toes down. Keep the balls and heels of your feet flat on the floor too.
Step Three | Press your big toe down, and lift your other toes
Place your big toes back down flat, and try and lift your other toes up off the floor. Continue to alternate for 10 or 15 reps. You can also try lifting one toe at a time for more of a challenge!