Do ballerinas really dance on their toes?

Do ballerinas really dance on their toes?

A few pairs of ballet pointe shoes

The world of ballet is one that often takes our breath away with Ballerinas gracefully executing mid-air jumps and gliding effortlessly from one point to another on their toes. Ballerinas are often depicted sustaining a pose while balancing on their toes. This particular technique is called the pointe technique, which is when a ballerina utilizes a pair of pointe shoes to dance en pointe.

The pointe technique is employed to make ballerinas appear light and dainty in their movement. Women are usually the ones who do most of the pointe work although men can also employ this technique when necessary.

What is pointe?

When a ballerina dances en pointe, she is using the tip of her toes to fully support her whole body. When executing pointe work, a dancer has to continuously lift herself up and down on her toes. This not only requires very good balance but also expert execution of other ballet techniques such as the releve (rising on the tip of the toes) and pique (stepping with a straight leg).

The history of pointe

Marie Taglioni became an icon of the pointe technique when she performed the first ever en pointe in ‘La Sylphide’ in 1832. ‘La Sylphide’ was choreographed by Marie’s father to showcase her skills in pointe work. Back then, pointe technique did not yet exist, Marie’s performance thus became a revolutionary turning point for the world of ballet.

Ballerina tying up pointe shoe at ballet academy

People started to take notice and audiences were left in awe with the effect of Marie’s en pointe that was performed with such grace and weightlessness that it seemed as if she was floating.

Ballerinas started to adopt dancing on pointe around the 19th century to depict weightlessness in their dancing. In the early days, dancers used to rely on the sheer strength of their toes and feet while using shoes with extra padding.

As the pointe technique gained popularity, dancers and ballet schools started experimenting with dancing shoes that could protect and also enhance the feet’s ability to dance en pointe.

Modern day pointe shoes came about when Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova designed a pair of shoes with hard leather soles while also integrating a flat and hard box at the tip of the shoes for her toes.

With the advent of pointe shoes, the pointe technique took flight and has now become an iconic technique associated with ballet.

Pointe shoes

Modern day pointe shoes have a box at the front of the shoes which protects and gives support to the dancers’ toes. The sole of the shoe is called a shank which is a tough material that makes for a stiff sole to support a dancer’s arch when going en pointe.

To ensure that pointe shoes are fitted properly on a dancer’s feet, ribbons or elastic bands are sewed onto the sides of the shoes. For pointe shoes with ribbons, dancers must know the proper way to tie the ribbons all the way around their ankles.

You may be surprised to know that pointe shoes have a lifespan of a few months. Depending on how often and rigorously a pair of pointe shoes is used, it will last longer for a dancer just beginning with pointe work and for a much shorter time for a ballerina who performs and practices on a regular basis.

Young ballerina at a ballet school

When to start pointe?

It is every ballerinas’ dream to be able to perform en pointe. However, ballet schools and instructors will first evaluate and observe how ready a student is to advance into pointe work.

Although dancing en pointe might look easy in the eyes of the audience, pointe technique can be very rigorous and demanding on a dancer’s body, especially on the feet and ankles.

Pointe work is usually introduced to intermediate ballerinas around the age of nine and above. Nonetheless, ballet academy teachers will usually evaluate their students individually first before permitting them to start pointe work.

Some factors that ballet teachers look into are:

  • The student’s skills

A student who wants to advance into pointe work must demonstrate that he or she has mastered all the basic and intermediate ballet techniques that has been taught to them since they first began ballet lessons.

  • The student’s physical development

Teachers will also consider a student’s physical development. A student must be physically ready to start pointe work, this means that they must have good body posture, strength and balance.

  • The student’s dedication and commitment

Students must first understand the demands of pointe work. Students have to be prepared to meet those demands of at times sustaining blisters on their feet and the rigorous ballet lessons to master pointe work. Additionally, students need to be responsible enough to know how to use and store their pointe shoes properly.

Once students are deemed ready to start pointe work, with patience and dedication, they will be ready to fulfil their dreams of being an ethereal vision of weightlessness on stage.

Ballerina performing swan lake

Pointe work in popular culture

Pointe work is often extensively depicted in movies and also ballet performances across the world. One famous ballet performance that showcases the pointe technique is ‘Swan Lake’.

Those that have had the chance of witnessing a ‘Swan Lake’ performance will be awed by the many dance scenes that feature ballerinas performing amazing feats of ballet, all mostly on pointe.

Some other ballet performances that you may be interested in are ‘The Nutcracker’ ,’Cinderella’, ‘Coppelia’, ‘Don Quixote’,  and not forgetting the one that started it all ‘La Sylphide’.

Traditionally performed in classical ballet, the pointe technique has also transitioned into the modern dance scene. This proves that the pointe technique is a timeless move that should be taught to the next generation of dancers. This is to ensure the preservation and continuous development of pointe work in the future of dance.

Learn to dance on your toes with Viva Ballet

Viva Ballet school offers ballet classes for children, teenagers and adults. Our teachers are professionals who are dedicated and committed in helping our students in becoming confident ballerinas who will have no problem executing the pointe technique and performing it on stage.

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