This exercise is good for any intermediate student, female or male, pointe worker or not, as they strengthen the sole of the foot, giving that cat-like quality that Nureyev was famous for.
Prerequisite: you must be able to hold your turnout from the top of the thighs, coming from a full pointe position, resisting down through the foot, to a flat position. This exercise focuses on the sole of the foot, but any lax turnout and resulting rolling ankles, will create further irritation of tendons and ligaments.
Start facing the barre in first position. If you tend to turn out your feet more than your legs, do NOT do that for these exercises. You are not performing and it does not matter what your real turnout looks like. You are going to jump without doing a plié first. Use the strength of your feet to lift off the floor. It will feel like a hiccup. Come down through the foot as slowly as you can, making sure not to strain your neck and shoulders, but control from the top of your thighs, lower abs, and gluts (butt muscles). Plié, and return to the beginning position. Once you are used to this, do a few before you plié.
Make sure you are coming down through the metatarsal joints, as opposed to holding the sole of the foot in a tensed, cupped position. You want to release the pointed position tension from the foot (whether it is from an en pointe position, or landing from a jump), in super-slow motion, without skipping the toe joint break position. If you do it leaning on the barre a few times, you can look down, make sure you are not losing any turnout, and slow the movement down.
My students used to do this behind the barre, but that will only be possible if the barre is at a comfortable distance from the wall. That way if the back of your head or your butt hits the wall, you can correct yourself.
(Actually, I used to put everyone behind the barre for a lot of things - slow press ups for beginners, sauté in first position, etc. Then they get the sensation and muscle memory of going straight up and down).
This is a good warm-up exercise for any class, but especially pointe class. If I were teaching a pointe class now I would suggest that any boys in the school come into it for the first 15 minutes of warm up exercises, in pointe shoes, and do all the instep stretching and foot strengthening along with the girls.
Last update : Friday, 13 July 2007