(These exercises are illustrated further in The Perfect Pointe Book, with many others to prepare you for pointe shoes.)
If you are in a pre-pointe class, or organizing your own pre-pointe practice, you can learn four basic exercises to strengthen the sole of the foot muscles, and then do them with a stretchy band. Feet and ankles must be strong enough before starting pointe work, for slow releves through the metatarsal area, and slow controlled lowering, without any sickle in or out of the ankle joint.
"Toe swapping" is done starting with the feet flat on the floor. Simply lift the big toes up, leaving the foot and the other toes flat. Do not lean the foot toward the big toes, the sole of the foot should rest on the floor with no twisting. Place the big toes down, and lift the other four toes.
You may cramp, in which case stop and roll your foot over a tennis ball or pinkie ball, to relax the muscles.
Do this 10 times, a total of twenty lifts. Initially, you may find that your brain can't even find the muscles to do this precisely - but your brain-to-foot communication will improve.
When your movements are precise, you can add the stretchy band. Sitting down with your legs straight in front of you, flex the feet and place the stretchy band behind the toes.
"Playing the piano" with the toes is just like it sounds - lift all toes to start, and place the big toe, the next toe, the next and so forth. Do the reverse, lifting the little toe, the next, and so forth.
Relieve cramping if necessary, and do both movements 10 times each.
Once your movement is well-defined, add the stretchy band, sitting, feet and toes flexed, with the band behind the toes. Your toes will keep contact with the band, with more resistance when pressing against it. If you use the band before your movement is exact, it will not do much good. Try it and you'll see why, nothing really happens.
For ankles, if you are wobbly going up and down in slow releves, in soft shoes, you are not strong enough to be in pointe shoes. You must check your overall posture, use of the core muscles, turnout and how your feet rest on the floor when flat. Wobbling can be for many reasons. But, back to the ankles,
If you get corrections for sickling in where your weight goes towards the little toe: sitting, legs straight, loop the band around your right foot, at the metatarsal area.
Hold the band ends with your left hand. Pull the foot outward, and you will feel the muscles on the outside of the foot/ankle area working. Pull and hold for 10 seconds 10 times. Repeat other side.
If you go up onto demi pointe or pointe and your weight leans onto your big toe, you would loop the band and pull your foot inward, working the muscles on the inside of the foot/ankle area.
Another strengthening exercise is (sitting, legs straight out in front) to slowly stretch the feet, splaying the toes apart and stretching them long.(Meaning, DO NOT CURL YOUR TOES).
Here is an excellent video by Lisa Howell demonstrating lengthening of the toes, and with an extra tip for strengthening at the same time:
You can use the theraband around the metatarsal area for resistance, except for one instance.
If you have highly mobile ankle joints, repetitive pointing and compressing a pointed position can irritate the back of your ankles. You do not need that particular movement at all. You DO need to increase strength in the soles of the feet and to control slow rises with no loss of ankle control.
If you are a late starter or adult beginner in ballet, start these exercises now.
The Perfect Pointe Book shows you all the details.
Doing these exercises 5-6 days a week will diminish the gap between your understanding of ballet technique, and the strength needed to do it.
In your slow releves onto pointe, and back down, your ankle should not lean or change angle in any way.
If your big toe is much longer, you can use toe levelers in your pointe shoes.
If your second toe is longer, you need to fit the shoes so that it can straighten, using padding for your other toes.
Even with exactly the right fit in ballet pointe shoes, the shoes lend SUPPORT, your feet provide the CONTROL.