Pointe shoes are an all-important feature of the advanced ballerina’s dance. Learning the correct way to do pointe work is vital, as incorrectly going en pointe will leave the ballerina with foot and ankle injuries that may never recover.
Marie Taglioni’s dance in La Sylphide is credited with bringing into popularity dancing en pointe, though others danced this way before she did. But they only did so very briefly. However, Taglioni ushered in the Romantic era of ballet with her dance, and pointe work was then a required skill for all ballerinas.
Today’s pointe slippers are not the same as those Taglioni had to wear. She stiffened the toes of her slippers by darning them. Today, pointe slippers are stiffened with layers of satin and glue, and shaped into a box at the toe. Each shoe is made to fit, and principal dancers go through a pair for each performance – sometimes more.
However, before you get to the stage of doing pointe work, you must spend a great deal of time strengthening the feet and ankles to be sure that no injury is done to them. No child should go en pointe until the age of twelve, because the bones of the feet have not ossified enough until then. The student needs to have good mastery in doing demi-pointe and be well aligned and balanced.
Special shoes are available for practicing demi pointe, but they are not essential. They should never be used for dancing en pointe, as the shank is not strong enough to support the foot properly. If the student tries to use them for pointe work, she will likely suffer serious injury.
Moving balance is as important as stationary balance, so the student needs to have good control of doing retire and arabesque, as well as the pirouette and promenade. If the student can do much of this work without the aid of the Barre, then she has progressed to a suitable level for pointe – as long as there is enough strength in the feet.
The teacher must carefully watch the student to see if there is sufficient strength while doing petit allegro. She will also see how the jumps are managed and whether the foot is fully pointed while in the air. The descent is important too, with full control needed. The student must not be overweight either, or severe damage can result. Bones are made to bear our weight, but the position of pointe is not a natural one. Therefore, damage can result of the person trying to practice en pointe is overweight.