By Rebecca Grant
How BTM prepares each of its dance students for dancing on pointe.
By Rebecca Grant
At age 11, Sophie Davis has achieved a lifelong goal: she’s dancing in ballet pointe shoes.
The glossy pink satin shoes with ribbon laces and stiff leather soles ending in a hard toe box enable ballerinas to dance on the tip of their toes. “As I got the feel of the shoes, I went up” with ease, Davis said.
Davis is part of a new crop of 11 and 12 year old intermediate-level dancers now working on pointe with Ballet Theatre of Maryland, headquartered in Annapolis. Earning pointe shoes opens the door to ballet’s most famous roles. “These young dancers are able to go all the way up on pointe with straight legs on their first try, which is the hardest part to achieve,” reported Ballet Theater of Maryland’s Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto.
Credit that moment to intensive preparation. Ballet Theatre of Maryland shepherds young dancers like Davis through a special class of rigorous pre-pointe exercises drawn from physical therapy. That’s in addition to the sessions of barre and floor work several days per week.
“It’s like training an athlete,” explains Cuatto. At Ballet Theatre of Maryland, Cuatto emphasizes correct anatomical development along with regular and rigorous training. Soft tissue in the foot strengthens for pointe work around age 11 or 12 but is not fully set until age 18.
Rushing backfires. A teacher put Cuatto herself on point at just 8 years old. “I could do 32 fouettes, but with knees bent. We didn’t know it was wrong,” she recalled.
Fortunately, Cuatto soon switched schools where the prestigious Ballet West in Utah retrained her correctly. She danced major roles in Swan Lake as a teen and rose to Principal dancer, ballet’s top professional rank.
Does Cuatto favor one body type for the professional company at Ballet Theatre of Maryland?” “Absolutely not,” she says. “Dancers I choose have a wide variety of body types and heights.” She tailors training for extra strength or flexibility depending on each dancer’s physique.
Professionals or students, they all put in hours in the studio each week. Dancers like Davis take about of nine hours of class per week to prepare them adequately for the rigors of point work. Rehearsals for The Nutcracker and other Ballet Theatre of Maryland shows add hours more.
Moms can’t force that level of commitment. “I love dancing all the steps with my friends,” says Davis, who is in the sixth grade at School of the Incarnation in Gambrills.
The Ballet Theatre of Maryland School curriculum provides a pre-professional training track. But Cuatto also sees a wider mission. “Many students won’t be professional dancers, but ballet is a wonderful program to pursue through the high school years,” Cuatto adds. “Dancers build discipline, posture, strength and life skills when trained properly.”