“Do You Do Toe?…” – The Biggest Misconceptions About Pointe Work

“…For the love of the art, we find a way. We make it work, and develop a thick skin…By no means should worst-case scenarios deter young dancers…from taking the next step in their growth as artists.”

This year I have the pleasure of preparing four of my dance students for pointe work. Every Monday, we gather for 45 minutes to practice the “bread and butter” of pre-pointe – Theraband exercises. Now that we are nearing the halfway point(e) of our dance year, tensions and questions have mounted regarding pointe and its intricacies. So, let me take this opportunity to clarify some of the classic tall tales of pointe work.

Da boots.
Da boots.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me “do you do toe?”, I would be a wealthier chick for sure. No disrespect at all, but I would like to clarify for any non-ballet readers, that “doing toe” is not a phrase that is ever used in the dance world. I do understand the confusion, since the toes are most definitely involved in the process, but when discussing the matter with dancers stick to the word pointe. While on topic, please also note the ‘e’ at the end of the word.

Aside from the name confusion though, the art of dancing en pointe has gained a gory reputation in the general media. Nearly every classic ballet film portrays the turmoil of pointe work. Center Stage, for example – Jody Sawyer takes it upon herself to have a late night private studio session in the dark, furiously practicing bourrées back and forth across the studio (“Flutter Jody! Flutter!!”). Upon removing her shoes, she reveals her feet – bloody, with a blister on practically every digit. Then, of course, there’s the more current ballet horror film, Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s hopelessly innocent character, Nina, decides to practice fouettés in her bedroom (Of course. Who doesn’t do that?) before auditioning the following morning for the role of the black swan. A few turns in, a grotesque crack is heard, and she falls to the floor in a heap. Upon further examination, she realizes she has completely split her big toenail in half – lovely. Even in the current melodrama Flesh and Bone, courtesy of the Starz network, Sarah Hay’s character, Claire, reveals a similarly tragic broken toenail. She bites her tongue at the pain, lets a few small tears surface, and boldly packages her toe back up in her pointe shoe, proceeding through her major company audition.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me ‘do you do toe?’, I would be a wealthier chick for sure.”

Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse
Toe defense. Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse

I’ve had many a blister or toenail disaster of my own, but by no means is this kind of thing happening every time a pointe shoe is laced up. These challenges present themselves frequently, yes, but the tricks of the trade are abundant nowadays, and the injuries of pointe work don’t quite plague us as much as they used to. Even when they do, for the love of the art, we find a way. We make it work, and develop a thick skin (quite literally – calluses). By no means should worst-case scenarios deter young dancers (and their parents) from taking the next step in their growth as artists.

Although pointe work is a serious undertaking, it should not be avoided in fear of a bounty of foot issues. Yes, it is hard on the body, but the strength that is gained can be extremely valuable. A dancer who has done a significant amount of pointe work not only has strong feet, but also strength and awareness throughout the entire body. In the most advanced stages of the art form, the dancer should feel as though they don’t even have pointe shoes on, but, rather, that the shoes are a natural extension of the foot. With this unique form of movement and bodily awareness available, the resulting choreographic options are many. Not only does pointe create an additional challenge for the ballerina, but it also adds an effect of beauty that is unlike anything else that meets the eye.

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