Pointe | The World From the View of Two Teenage Girls: Pointe

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


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This year is my 4th year doing ballet "again".  I did it for 3 when I was little, but then I only did jazz for a while.  I only started doing ballet again because it was a requirement to be on the competition team at my old studio.  Competing sounded like fun (this was pre-Dance Moms), so I figured I'd give it a go.

Turns out, it probably would've been better had I been doing ballet for a lot longer.  That's probably the only thing I'd go back and change in all honesty.  But, after 2 years of throwing myself in and doing everything I could at the studio, we found out that it really wasn't professional enough and if I wanted to continue to grow I'd have to move to a new studio.

I honestly hate change.  It sucks.  I'm no good at talking to people I don't know.  Surprisingly, moving studios wasn't as bad as I thought.  I was horribly scared though and really didn't talk to anyone the first few months, but then people gradually started talking to me more and more.  I really, really, like it there now.

Anyways, one of the reasons we chose that studio was because they had an in house company- Ballet Theatre of Illinois.  Last year, my first year at the studio, I decided I would audition for it, and I actually made it.  I was pretty amazed as I didn't expect that at all!  But, it kept getting better.  The first day of classes, my teacher told me that she wanted me to take pointe 1.

Pointe is ballet where you stand on the tips of your toes.  Classes are by invitation only and a pretty huge deal, in my opinion.  It takes a crazy amount of strength as well as technique and you can easily hurt yourself if you're lacking in either of those.

Taking pointe now meant that I had to dance en pointe in our performance for Ballet Theatre of Illionis.  I was freaking out to say the least.  On Halloween, we got to go up and walk across the room for the first time without an aid.  I was in love.  I thought pointe was the best thing in the world!

Then, we started rehearsals for BTI.  Pretty much everything changed.  We had to do things in our dance that we hadn't yet learned in class.  It was a huge push and was also pretty scary.  I started coming home with bad blisters and bruised toe nails.  I couldn't wait until rehearsal was over!

This year, I'm taking 3 ballet classes a week.  These classes include 1.5 hours of ballet, then 45 minutes of pointe.  The first few weeks I was dying I just couldn't keep up with all the other girls!  They were easily doing double pirouettes and I was still scared to do singles!

I went back and got another fitting on the 7th of September.  I left with brand new shoes and determination. I've been working really hard outside of class as well as inside and trying things that I'm scared to do.  I realized that the worse that could happen is me falling.  I've already done that plenty of times in other classes, so there's no need to worry about it here. After that, things have gotten a lot better.  I haven't had any bruises since and I'm no longer scared of my shoes!

I think just doing pointe in general was a huge milestone for me and I'm extremely proud of how far I've come.  Even if this isn't something I wind up doing, it really helped me learn that I won't be perfect at everything I try, as much as I'd like to say I am.  But, if I work hard enough at it, I can do it and actually be half good.


Some pointe history---
Pointe work is a technique inside of ballet, consisting of steps where the dancers stand on the tips of their toes.  To dance en pointe, the dancer must have strong ankles and core so they can balance.  Pointe technique hasn’t always been the same as it is now.  Over the years, pointe work has developed from a trick into a commonly practiced technique with the aid of pointe shoes.
Pointe work started as a stunt, but over time evolved into more.  Originally considered a trick until Marie Taglioni got involved (Minden).  The first dancers to rise up en pointe did so with the aid of “The Flying Machine”, an invention by Charles Didelot (Homans 138).  Pointe shoes that were worn when using the flying machine were soft and provided little support for dancers (Homans 138).  After some time dancing, Marie Taglioni began developing pointe; it wouldn’t be where it is today without her.  She is thought to be the first to rise up en pointe without the help of “The Flying Machine”.   In 1832, Taglioni danced the ballet “La Sylphide” completely en pointe (Minden).  This was the first time anyone had danced something this long, completely en pointe, in front of people.  Doing so, she modeled her new technique, as well as the improved shoes she had developed that allowed her to go en pointe without assistance.  If Marie Taglioni hadn’t been a dedicated dancer who worked so hard, dancers today might still need aid to rise up.
Essentially, the original shoes were just ballet shoes.  These shoes, however, were not used to go up en pointe without the aid of wires used in “The Flying Machine” (Minden).  The initial pointe shoe design, made for use without aid, is not far from today’s design.  Marie Taglioni’s shoes were made of soft satin and had a leather sole.  They also had darning on the sides and bottom, but not the tip, where dancing was done (Minden).  These shoes were very similar to what dancers wear today, but did not provide as much support. The next shoes were made with satin, leather, paper, and glue (Minden).  These shoes added a lot more support than Taglioni’s shoes. These are almost the exact same as what dancers wear today.  Despite what some may think, there is no wood used in pointe shoes still to date.  Paper mache is used and forms to the dancer’s foot better over time.  Paper mache does wear out, and goes quicker when sweating.  After around 10 hours of use, dancers must get new shoes.  It is also common for dancers today to put pre made pads or formed pockets of lambs’ wool around their toes to provide more support.  This also decreases the chance of blisters if used correctly.  Fewer blisters equates to a longer career dancing.  Improvements to pointe shoes allowed dancers to do more en pointe, which expanded the art as a whole.  At the end of the 20th century, the technique had evolved a lot, and was much more demanding.  However, dancers would not be able to perform their 20th century steps in 19th century shoes (Minden).  Pointe shoes haven’t changed much over the years, but the few changes were very important to the evolution of the technique.
Pointe first became popular in Italy and they enabled it to grow a lot.  Marie Taglioni, who worked very hard on developing pointe technique as well as shoes, was Italian (Minden). This gave Italy a step up on all the other countries.  Italians also had access to better shoes than Russians (Minden).  Better shoes meant they could do more leaps and turns en pointe.  The Italians also had a secret: spotting (Minden). Spotting is the act of focusing on one thing as the dancer turns and continually whipping their head around to find it each time they rotate.   Spotting made turning in general easier- when you spot you don’t get as dizzy.  Spotting is especially helpful on pointe.  With the combined help of their stronger shoes and their spotting, they could do 6 turns instead of just 3!  Italy was able to fully take on pointe work.
With the expansion of pointe technique, dancers have been able to lessen the likelihood of traumatic injuries caused by pointe.  When dancers first started dancing en pointe, they were not all the way on their box, the flat part on the tip of the pointe shoe, and their hips were not directly below their shoulders (Minden).  Not having their body in line as well as not being over the box can result in many injuries ("Pointe Technique").  Today, proper technique is for dancers to stand with their shoulders and hips in line and be all the way over their box.  Friction, created by the pressure of the dancer’s weight along with the movement of their toes in the shoes can lead to chaffing and blistering ("Pointe Technique").  With the pads now commonly used in shoes, fewer blisters occur.  Since dancers are dancing on their toes, which aren’t meant to hold up their whole body weight, some injuries will always be possible.  The development of better shoes, as well as better technique has helped to and will continue to make injuries less common.
            Pointe shoes haven’t changed much, but pointe work definitely has.  The technique of pointe is still being expanded today.  People are still amazed when they see proper pointe work.  From a stunt, to an unbelievable dance move, to what is now a style of dance that’s still expanding, pointe work has developed greatly over the years.
Works Cited
Homans, Jennifer. Apollo's Angels A History of Ballet. First Edition. Random House, 2010. 138. Print.
Minden, Eliza. "History of Pointe Shoes & Technique."Gaynor Minden . Gaynor Minden, n.d. Web. 5 Mar 2013. <dancer.com/hist.php>.
"Pointe Technique." Wikipedia. N.p.. Web. 20 Mar 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/En_pointe


  1. I love pointe. I wanted to work my way up to it so bad but life happened and eventually I stopped dancing. I miss it everyday!

  2. Awww. I'm sorry to hear that! Hopefully you can take class later in life too! There are lots of people in their 20s and 30s that take class at the studio. Have a lovely Wednesday!

  3. That is awesome that you faced your fears and did pointe!!!