When I first started dancing after my Anorexia and concussion, I was really far behind all the other girls my age. All the other 13-year-olds were busy with pointe work and variations, and I didn't have my splits, and didn't even know all the names of the steps! I was determined to catch up to my peers, so I stretched everyday, and did a ton of exercises to strengthen my weak feet. In only 2 months, I was en pointe! I still stretch and strengthen my feet every day, using the same exercises I did when I was first starting out.
Relevés are the most simple, yet most effective foot-strengthening exercise. Whenever you have a moment, do some relevés. As part of your daily stretching, do 32 relevés first on both feet, then 32 on the right and left feet separately. If you still don't feel the burn in your calves, keep going until you do! It is amazing how much this will improve your demi pointe and pointe work!
My go-to strengthening tool is my heavy weight Theraband! If you don't already have a Theraband, it is a great long-term investment in the strength of your feet. It can be used to strengthen other parts of your body as well! Therabands come in different resistant strengths, and can be purchased using one of the links below.
Super Heavy Weight
Therabands are great for many different exercises. The simplest is just pointing and flexing. Make sure to extend through your ankle into full demi pointe, then press slowly through your toes, and use resistance when coming back to demi pointe, then to a flexed position.
To create mobility and strength in the ankle joint, draw the alphabet with the Theraband over the ball of your foot. Be sure to move your ankle through its whole range of mobility, and make each letter slow and controlled.
Another simple but effective exercise to create mobility and strength in the ankle is simple ankle circles, with the Theraband over the ball of the foot. Do 30 clock-wise, and 30 counter-clock-wise on each foot.
In your everyday classes, be sure to focus on working through your feet in every movement, especially the simple tendus and jetés in the beginning of class. Teachers and directors are not looking for perfect banana feet… they are looking at the quality of your footwork, how high and lifted your demi pointe is, and the way you work through your pointe shoes.
If you only have time to add one exercise to your daily schedule, add some simple one-legged releves on each foot. This was the main exercise I did when preparing for pointe work, and it will make a huge difference in the strength and shape of your feet (and how soon you get your pointe shoes!)
Here is an interesting article on the importance of relevés: http://balletpages.blogspot.com/2011/07/if-i-could-only-add-one-exercise-to.html?
If you are looking for more help with the strength of your feet, turnout, and core stability (all necessary to begin and/or excel at pointe work) this book is a great resource to help: Perfect Pointe Book
Here are a few helpful videos of strengthening exercises:
Also, you might consider investing in a foot stretcher. I own both the Ballet Foot Stretch, and the Pro Arch, and they are great for gaining flexibility in the arch, ankle and metatarsal area. However, you have to be extremely cautious when using a foot stretcher. It is very easy to over-stretch your feet and ultimately injure yourself if you do not follow the accompanying directions. Always use foot stretchers with caution, while warmed up.
You can purchase the Ballet Foot Stretch HERE, and the Pro Arch HERE.
Thanks for reading, and good luck in your journey towards and through pointe work!