The Point(e) Of It All

“It is…a literal balancing act, as we create glimmers of perfection poised on the edge of a pointe shoe box.”

The art of pointe work is a beautiful and merciless one. It is both a great honor and a great responsibility when pointe shoes are bestowed upon a dancer. However, there can be many misconceptions and questions. How? When? Why???!

My feet stealing the show...
My feet stealing the show…

It is sometimes thought that these shoes are the only footwear option for a ballet dancer, serving as permanent fixtures on the ends of the toes. Not true. We all have to start somewhere, but the pointe shoe is not the smartest place to begin. Although the epitome of classical ballet is pointe work, the art form is by no means diminished in the absence of these gorgeous shoes. They are meant to add strength, height, length, and further supernatural awe to movement. The beauty of ballet is increased tenfold in a pointe shoe. A relevé is not simply a relevé, but rather an elevated height achieved by shockingly balancing on one’s toes. A pirouette is no longer stifled by the friction of a technique shoe against Marley, but rather aided in number and quality by the small, delicate balance point of a pointe shoe tip. Every line is smoothed, lengthened, and further finessed. And balance becomes a whole other “ball game”. A somewhat simple feat when supported by the strength of five metatarsals working together, balancing en pointe is another story entirely when limited to a couple of toes and the strength of one’s ankle and calf. Refining one’s balance and limiting the wobbles of a pointe shoe, is a never-ending job (when you hit a good balance en pointe in the studio, take the opportunity to wave your arms and/or scream loudly for someone to look because it might not happen again for a while).

Stepping up to pointe...(pardon the floppy wrist) Ballet Theatre of Maryland 2012
Stepping up to pointe…
Ballet Theatre of Maryland 2012

The beauty and challenge these shoes add is obvious, but how do you get to that point(e) in your training? When are you ready? Some are handed a pair of pointe shoes when they hit a certain level or reach a certain age. But pointe candidates should be delegated with care. Although one who has mastered a reasonable portion of the ballet curriculum and language may think they’re well-prepared for pointe work, it is not to be taken lightly. Everyone’s timeline, in this case, is unique. There is no need to rush. Pointe work requires a high level of strength and discipline, and starting too early can harm the body, making it more prone to injury. Frustration is understandable, but it is better to begin fully prepared for this challenge.

 

“The beauty of ballet is increased tenfold in a pointe shoe.”

En pointe... Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Swan Lake 2014
En pointe…
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Swan Lake 2014

I remember what a joy it was once I began pointe. The challenge further ignited my passion for dance. All I wanted was to learn and practice everything I could. I would race to put my pointe shoes on for class and then suffer through blisters, so I was the last to take them off. After a while the novelty began to wear off though and certain exercises started to feel monotonous. I wanted to learn more, and I couldn’t get it fast enough. But the strength gained from basic, repeated exercises is nothing to scoff at. It is now something I seek (a valuable pointe class, back to basics, can benefit any dancer). Pointe class can feel like the cruelest of torture-going back to the barre and redoing every intricacy of movement with a wooden block strapped to your foot is not pleasant, quite obviously-but it is a medicine that every dancer needs, fuel for what is to come.

Despite the beauty and despite position and experience, the challenge of pointe work never diminishes. It is like a fantastic game to be played every day-a literal balancing act, as we create glimmers of perfection poised on the edge of a pointe shoe box. Even the wrong attitude can make you fall more quickly. But when it’s right, it’s right. Your feet may be trapped and confined, throbbing and exhausted, but with the height and the balance comes freedom. We constantly dare to do what others cannot. It is an unattainable perfection that we seek, but isn’t that what makes it so intoxicating?…

 

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