Updated: Apr 13, 2020
As of September 1st, U13 dancers are allowed by CLRG to begin going on their blocks (en pointe, toe stands, etc) in their hard shoes. But many times, dancers struggle to get up on their blocks and can’t confidently execute the choreography. They repeat the movement over and over but roll over on their ankle, or bend their knees, or lean forward (does this sounds like you or someone you know??).
There are so many questions:
How do you safely prepare to dance on your blocks?
How do you improve your block work?
When are you ready to begin block work?
Why are you not allowed to begin block work until U13?
We’ve got all your questions covered in Target Training’s two part series,
Going on Blocks in Hard Shoe.
WHY ARE YOU NOT ALLOWED TO BEGIN BLOCK WORK UNTIL U13?
The An Coimisiún le Rinci Gaelacha (CLRG - one of the governing bodies for Irish dance) states in their Rule Handbook that,
4.6 Toe Movements
4.6.1 No block, en Pointe movements, stationary or moving, are allowed to be performed for all ages up to and including the under 12 age group.
4.6.2 However dancers who are moving into the under 13 age group in January will be permitted to do block / en-Point work from September 1st of the year prior to this date. For Regions in the Southern Hemisphere a different date may be applied in the case of this rule, on the advice of the appropriate Authority. (1)
This rule is put in place to protect the safety and well-being of dancers and is most likely adopted from the well established and researched “pointe readiness” guidelines used in ballet. Guidelines for ballet recommend that a dancer can begin pointe work at 12 years of age with the understanding that the dancer would be at least in the 4th year of ballet classes at a dance academy with a program designed to train professional ballet dancers. The dance program would progressively increase the intensity and frequency of skills and technique in the first few years developing the dancer for pointe work. By the age of 12, it would be expected that the dancer would be dancing four times a week having developed sufficient foot and ankle strength, trunk and pelvic control and proprioceptive skills. That being said, it is also important to keep in mind that no two 12 year olds are alike physically especially as they begin a rapid growth period and pointe readiness should be considered for each individual dancer. (2)
WHEN ARE YOU PHYSICALLY READY TO PERFORM BLOCK WORK
The International Association of Dance Medicine & Science lists the necessary determining factors of pointe readiness as
quality of trunk, abdominal and pelvic control (“core stability”),
leg alignment (hip-knee-ankle-foot),
strength and flexibility of feet and ankles.
These same factors are true for Irish dancers beginning block work. When a dancer attempts block work too soon without developing the proper strength, stability and alignment, they are at risk for injury.
RISK FACTORS FOR STARTING BLOCK WORK TOO SOON
Hypermobility - When a dancer has an “over-arched” foot due to hyper mobility in their foot and ankle, they are at a greater risk for injury when going on point as they often lack the required strength, stability and postural control to be on their blocks safety.
Immobility in ankle - On the opposite end of the spectrum, a dancer with an immobile, inflexible foot and ankle (and thus a lack of plantar flexion - pointing) is at risk when going on their blocks too early as their leg and foot are not in alignment. This can result in bent knees or leaning forward.
Now that we understand why there are age guidelines placed on when dancers can start block work and the risk factors associated with block work, what can we do to better prepare our bodies for block work?
All the answers coming soon in part 2 of our series, Going on Blocks in Hard Shoe!
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2. Weiss, et all. Guidelines for Initiating Pointe Training. Journal of dance medicine and science. 2009;13(3), 20-22.