How to Do Hops En Pointe

They are performed 28 times in Giselle’s Act I variation, 30 times in Raymonda’s Act I grand pas variation, and too often to count in Flames of Paris. For flexible footed ballerinas, they are the dread of every pointe class; for those with ankles of steel, they bring a welcome challenge; for the audience, they look either injurious or else utterly impossible. They are hops en pointe—also known as toe hops—a part of every ballet, and a skill to be mastered by all who wish to perform on the big stage.

Performing small jumps, while taking off and landing from a full pointe position, can be daunting and difficult! But don’t worry—if you’re struggling to execute toe hops, whether on one foot or two, these simple tips will help get you on track and onto the stage like a true virtuosa!

Go Through the Motions

The first step towards performing any kind of hop is to put on your point shoes and head to the barre for some toe hop and ankle strength work.

Here are a few exercises that, done progressively, will strengthen your ankles and get you more comfortable with the overall feeling and position of hops en pointe:

  • Facing the barre, stand in fifth position sous-sus en pointe. Keeping your feet en pointe, slowly plié, clenching your ankles to prevent going over the platform of the shoe. Do slow, eight count pliés in fifth position, eight for each side.
  • Start facing the barre in fifth position, feet en pointe in sous-sus. Raise your front leg to a low attitude devant, approximately 45 degrees. Holding the standing leg en pointe, slowly plié, clenching the ankle like in the previous exercise. Repeat this with the working leg in attitude a la seconde and attitude derrière, eight times per side on each leg.
  • Repeat the previous two exercises with only one hand on the barre, when you feel ready.
  • Go to the center and pull up into fifth position sous-sus en pointe. Repeat the first exercise, but do four count pliés instead of eight.

Therabands Are Your Friend

Buy a theraband (if you don’t already have one). Not only will using one regularly help your hops en pointe, they can also facilitate a general strengthening program for the feet, leading to more brilliant pointe technique and greater articulation.

Work with the theraband daily. The increased resistance will strengthen your feet faster than just tendus.

Here are some basic ways to work with a theraband:

  • Sit with your back straight and your legs straight out in front of you. Loop the band around the ball of your foot, pulling it taut with your hands.
  • From the starting position, slowly point, then flex the foot approximately 20 times. Switch feet.
  • Holding the theraband taut, first wing, then sickle the foot from a flexed, then pointed position, 20 times per position (making a total of 40 wing/sickles per foot).

Hot Tip: Get Shoe Help

While you should never rely on your shoe to do the work for you, don’t let it work against you either. Dead or extremely soft pointe shoes allow the foot to go farther over the platform, which is exactly what you don’t want in hops en pointe. Practice in harder, newer shoes–especially at first–so that you have a stable base for your standing foot.

Practice the Position

The position of the foot in hops en pointe is different than any other skill used in ballet. Namely, the foot is not pointed, but rather clenched to achieve the proper stance. The ankle is held by gripping the muscles with the toes pulling back from the front of the box and making a grabbing, clawing pose, like a bird on a perch. This unattractive position is not recognized by the audience (remember, they cannot see your toes!) but greatly increases stability in the foot which allows the dancer to hop en pointe without falling over the box.

This is one position where you want to stay over the center—if not pulled back a little—of the platform of the shoe.

Take the Stress Off

While it’s easy to focus all the attention on the feet and ankles, don’t forget the important role the rest of your body plays in this tricky step.

Proper upper body technique will relieve the stress on your feet: Hold your arms (dead arms are dead weight), push down your shoulders, and engage your core muscles. The better your overall form, the lighter you will feel and the easier it will be to move.

Turn Up Your Turnout

A dancer’s first instinct when doing hops en pointe is usually to become nervous and turn-in—but this reaction will only make performing the skill more difficult. When you tur- out both legs, you engage active muscles that help stabilize the body. Additionally, turning-out allows for greater hip mobility, which is especially useful during one-legged hops, since they often involve ronde de jambs en l’air and require maximum turnout (or else they look like can-can kicks).

If you’re having difficulty maintaining turnout, focuses on really engaging the muscles just below your butt—these muscles hold internal rotation from the hips and act to stabilize the pelvis.

Fun Fact:

Hops en pointe didn’t exist their invention in the late 19th century by choreographer Marius Petipa. Previously, pointe shoes were so flimsy that complicated turns and long balances were impossible. Once shoes became harder and more supportive, choreographers took note and began to create moves such as hops en pointe to make good use of the additional comfort.

Use Your Head

Do not let your head disengage. It can be hard to focus on such a seemingly small detail, but that does make it any less important. If you drop your gaze, your chest will inevitably follow suit. When the chest is dropped, the body tips forward, making it feel heavier and more difficult to sustain balance.

Try and focus your gaze slightly above the horizon and fix on one specific point on the wall, rather than just letting your eyes disconnect from the rest of the body. This not only prevents the upper body from tipping your upper body, but will also prepare you for performing hops on stage, when you have to direct your gaze to other dancers on stage or out toward the audience.

They look dazzling and impressive and are one of the few parts of ballet that haunt the flexible-footed ballerina. But don’t be scared of hops en pointe—with these simple tips and consistent practice, they’ll soon be as natural as breathing (or pliés)!

Share the knowledge