Thursday, September 28, 2017

Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my only hope

This posting is nothing but me venting, mostly about the adult pointe class debacle. If this interests you, by all means proceed. If not, you've only yourself to blame.

Tuesday evening Susan and I briefly discussed the state of the proposed class. She said something about visiting MSD to find out where the place was, and maybe have a chat with Kim about them hosting this class. Trying a new tack I asked her if I would see her there Thursday, and she said she might stop in and take barre.

This evening I was hopeful that Susan would show up, but wasn't too surprised when she didn't. At the break after barre I asked Kim if she or one of her instructors might be interested in teaching an adult pointe class, in case Susan decided she didn't have time. Kim made it very clear that she was not interested in teaching any more classes, and added that Mané, who teaches some of the adult classes at MSB and at TWB, was not interested either.

Mané joined the conversation at this point, and we had a little chat about adults taking pointe. My argument has always been:
  1. A sizeable minority of adults want to take classes en pointe.
  2. Proper training is essential to minimize the risk of injury.
  3. There are no pointe classes available for adults in this area.
  4. Lacking classes, adults put themselves at greater risk trying to learn pointe work on their own, perhaps with some pointers from sympathetic instructors but not with proper supervision and guidance.
Mané agreed with these points, and characterized this as a bad situation. Like some other instructors, she will spend a little time here and there with those who are persistent enough. But she absolutely refuses to be involved in a formal adult pointe class.

Why, you might ask? Because not everyone is physically capable of going on pointe, and telling them that they can't is too heartbreaking. Yes, to avoid having to say no to those who may not be fit enough, no one gets to take a proper class. And this seems to be a common view among those I've talked with.

What happens instead? People try to teach themselves. At best they risk learning bad habits that then have to be unlearned. At worst they suffer serious physical injuries that could have been avoided had someone told them "this would be very risky for you, and you shouldn't try it".

I'm not criticizing Mané; she's only the most recent person to express this view. I know it's really tough to tell someone who has been dreaming about something that they aren't going to be able to experience that dream. I suspect one of the reasons that Susan is open to the possibility is that I pitched it as a series class with no drop-ins, and requiring instructor approval before registering. And she's repeated those requirements back to me almost every time we've talked about it.

But I'm frustrated. I'm pretty sure that making this class happen depends heavily on maintaining the good will of all involved, which kinda nixes my urge to get in peoples faces and demand an explanation for the lack of progress. I'm increasingly worried that I may not be able to find another instructor if Susan decides she can't spare the time. I need to back off for a while, but I'm worried that means it'll never happen.

Several people have asked why I'm trying so hard to make this class happen. I don't know. The only explanation I can give is that I'm a fixer -- when I see a problem I want to fix it. I can't fix our politics. I can't fix the conflict with North Korea. I can't fix the disaster in Puerto Rico. But maybe I can fix the lack of an adult pointe class?


  1. Ugh. I understand their reluctance (adding another class, pointe work is difficult and can result in injury, adults can't always come to all the classes because of work, family obligations, etc.), but I'm really surprised that the main reason is that they don't want to say no to people. In taking that route, they are actually saying no to everyone. I've heard of pre-pointe classes that help condition dancers to gain the strength to possibly learn pointe in the future. Of course, that doesn't mean everyone can then learn pointe (maybe some won't be able to develop the necessary strength, etc). I think if that message is loud and clear on promotional materials for the class and if instructor approval is required, that would significantly help with setting reasonable expectations. Sigh. Reece, do you think it would help if interested people called MSD and inquired about an adult pointe course? I really appreciate all of your work on this.

  2. I've heard other reasons given too. Some, mostly from those who were on the pro track or are former pros, see pointe as such an advanced skill that they think no one who isn't on the professional track should attempt it. This is much the reaction I got when I suggested to Julie Miles that it'd be nice to have an adult partner ballet class -- that this was something that only the most advanced pre-pro kids were taught, and the idea of amateur adults learning it was just too absurd to consider.

  3. Hi Reece -- thanks for your persistence. I am disappointed that this fear of saying "no" to adults who may not be qualified to take pointe (and I admit I may be one but at least let me find out for sure) prevents instructors from even offering an adult beginner class to begin with. I agree that setting clear expectations up front (i.e., instructor approval, flexibility, strength) should be enough -- we are adults after all, so we should be given enough credit to be able to take criticism. Maybe in the past adults who try were not ready to be on pointe insisted and the instructor wants to avoid this situation again. That is a shame and spoils any chance for future interested adult students of pointe. Like Michelle, I am wondering how I can help.

  4. I've got some suggestions that are hopefully helpful!

    My school treats going onto pointe not as something you are or aren't ready for but as part of a process that the dancer can work on. It starts with pre-point classes that include conditioning of the whole body, strengthening the dancer in all the ways needed, and then when they're ready, they are able to then progress to being en pointe.

    The really workable solution to who is allowed to go en pointe and saying yes or no, is actually an assessment by a physiotherapist, who assesses the dancer's strength not just in their feet and lower legs but knees, hips, core etc.

    And here is the really important helpful bit that avoids the teacher being brave enough to say no(or prepared to risk losing students to other schools with less scruples) If the student doesn't pass the assessment, the students get a report that tells them what they need to work on to be able to pass, and therefore start pointework. It puts that decision into the hands of a physiotherapist, which is where it actually belongs.

    This then makes starting pointework part of a process that the student can work on, not a yes or no scenario.
    It also gives the student a clear goal to work towards, which helps motivate them.

    Ok here's some other stuff I hope really helps. This is actually recommended resources for teachers by Cecchetti Organisation Australia.

    However if you look at this page, there are a lot of resources for both the student wanting to go on pointe, and students who are on pointe to improve.

    I'm working towards getting my Cecchetti teaching qualifications, and I've managed to afford most of them but not the perfect pointe system.

    However what I found in My Beginner Pointe program was a system of exercises to help the student be strong enough for pointe, and then a graded system of going onto pointe very safely and gently.

    The REALLY good thing is it is designed for - for eg - classes that have many levels of students in it - including pre pointe to much more advanced pointe students. So you don't have to have 10 different levels of classes for the students, you can have one class, and the pre-pointe students benefit from being in a class with more experienced students and the more experienced ones benefit from the reinforcement of safe and effective pointe technique

    If I were running a class using this resource I'd probably do an hour and a half, the last half hr for more advanced students to go and have some fun doing their level of dancing, and the people who weren't at that level yet (again there are tests and stuff to determine who would be at that level) could stay behind and watch and learn and even say do it in flats.

    (Can you tell I've been thinking about how to run a pointe class for adults??? *grins*)

    Anyway I can't recommend these resources highly enough. I've bought other stuff in her range and wow, totally. I'm learning learning learning all sorts of things that as a dancer with good technique, I understood instinctively, but now understand exactly what and why it's good, and how to capitalise on that good stuff, not get tired or frustrated and lose it.

    Just a heads-up though. She has an Aussie site and an international site for purchasing, I'm not sure which I've linked you to. But you'll work it out!

    I really hope some of this helps.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It's clear you really have given this a lot of thought, and you bring up some really interesting points. Certainly asking for a medical clearance before starting pointe work would take the pressure off the instructor, but I'm not sure how well it would be received here in the States.

      I'm familiar with The Perfect Pointe System. I haven't gone through all the materials but it seems well-structured. Clearly focused on children, but most of it is as applicable for an adult. Maybe I'll write a separate blog post about this system after I've had a chance to go through all the materials.

      My biggest problem is that I'm acting more as a facilitator, trying to make an adult pointe class happen while being neither studio staff nor teacher. I'm not even a potential student (insufficient range of motion in my ankles).

      Thanks again for the comment. I hope you'll continue to contribute here!


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