I talk to young and adult ballet students and the questions I get asked most commonly relate to:
1. Getting onto pointe and finding the right pointe shoes
2. Get more flexible – especially doing the splits
3. Can not get enough classes in a week to advance more quickly
4. Concerns about good diet and body weight / shape
When to start taking dance classes in professional ballet shoes is a frequent discussion in dance studios. I talk very generally since I have never seen nor taught any of the students that I get into a discussion with. Basic technique has to be very strong before you can do pointe work. Posture and turnout must be correct and strong. Here is one thing you can do just as a self-test, to determine how your strength is developing.
Either at the dance studio or at home, stand next to the mirror in first or fifth position, so that you're looking at yourself sideways. With arms in fifth-en-avant (I'm speaking Cecchetti here) slowly press up onto 3/4 pointe.
Do you have any difficulty maintaining your correct posture and turnout?
Do your ankles wobble toward your big toe or your little toe?
Do you cramp right away?
Can you keep your shoulders and neck relaxed?
Can you do some simple port-de-bras without losing balance?
Can you slowly press down through flat to a demi-plie, and then do a few of these slow-motion releve keeping your poise?
If you have any trouble with this, ask your teacher what you need to work on, to get stronger for future pointe work. Have her / him watch you and correct you so that you can work on this at home. I encourage this kind of practice especially for those students who would like to take more classes but just can not. Work for some, school for others, and availability of the right classes usually results full time study.
If your ankles are wobbly, keep the legs parallel, face the mirror, and rise up and down slowly keeping the weight in the middle of your feet, so there is no sickling in or out. This must be strengthened before poise, arm position, etc., is of any concern. Also, take note that you are holding your turnout muscles even in this parallel position, as most knees roll in a little if not held in line. Once you are sure that you can feel that your ankles are in exactly the right place, go back to first position for your slow motion relevant. Pointe shoes do not matter yet, as you can injure yourself or begin acquiring tension and awkward work habits if you are not ready to do pointe work.
If you cramp right away, on your first rise, then your muscles are weak. Calf muscles will overwork if your intrinsic foot muscles are weak. There are specific exercises in pre-pointe routines, to strengthen those tiny foot muscles.
Relax and do a demi-plie (none of this should be torture). Cramping has other causes also such as dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Calcium and magnesium deficiency will lead to cramping too. You need all 12 of the cell salts to maintain your electrolytes. A good sea salt will help, kelp, other sea weed, or homeopathic 'bioplasma' or 'all 12' tablets. And of course, good proteins, lots of raw or lightly steamed green vegetables and salads, and fruits are mandatory. Did I say mandatory? Yes, I did! Your bones and muscles are MADE from what you eat. And so is your nervous system that your bones and muscles depend on.
Years ago my friend Sara Houstoun and I were taking ballet classes at Don Hewitt's in Santa Monica, California. It was summer, I was used to a cold climate – and, admittedly we were typically obsessed with being thin so we wore plastic sweat pants for classes. Afterwards we would be practically catatonic. The ONE good thing we did was pour a couple of packets of salt into our root beers as we drve home for our health food dinners. That was before we knew that sodas drain calcium from bones to …. well, that really is another article.
It looks like # 1 from above will be the next article! This article is mainly concerned with what you need before getting onto pointe. You can do daily exercise and you will get strong! Be sure to tell your teacher your goal and that you are dedicated to a specific outlet, and ask for help. Also keep up with the new information coming out from the valuable experts in the ballet field right now.
I will write more about "the splits" too, because that seems to be the # 2 goal for many.
When you are exhausted from practice, soak in Epsom Salts, then put on your favorite ballet DVD. Inspiration is important, and seeing yourself in your mind's eye, dancing in pointe shoes, is a good thing to do while you rest.
All the best!