There is probably a no more defining image in ballet than dancers going en pointe. It’s something that is an integral part of dancing and it’s one of the first things that newbies want to learn to do.
To the naked eye, it can seem like a difficult almost magical and even painful dance move. Novices often worry that is going to hurt especially when they are in ballet shoes. The good news is that those shoes hold a little secret.
What is En Pointe?
It’s a French word and means the dancer moves onto their toes and supports their weight while wearing pointe shoes.
With any pointe technique, there is an element of mechanics and artistry involved. The mechanics are how you rise safely onto your toes and stay there without hurting yourself and how your body, not just your feet, is positioned. The artistry, of course, is how pointe work is mixed into the dance routine and seems so effortless.
This is not simply standing on your toes. If you look at a ballet dancer in a profile you will see that the instep is completely stretched and the toes appear to be completely straight, perpendicular to the floor. Here another important thing is the alignment through the hips and down to the toes. You can almost see a line passing down through the knees and ankles and the joints of the big toes.
Of course, en pointe isn’t a static position. A dancer may move in and out of it several hundred if not thousands of times during a performance. Correct posture and form are therefore essential.
Does it Hurt?
While it’s a signature movement in ballet, it shouldn’t be painful to perform. That’s where the ballet shoe itself comes in. This has a protective box around the toe area which means the movement can be performed quickly and in rapid succession without the dancer coming to any harm.
If you do feel pain while performing en pointe, then it is more than likely down to poor fitting or inadequate shoes. There are several common issues that you might come across which may cause pain:
- The shoes you are wearing are too narrow and too tight which means your toes are squeezed together. A ballet shoe should fit snuggly and be relatively firm around the front of the foot but not too tight. That’s why it’s important to have your ballet shoes properly fitted.
- The box for the toes is either too wide or too short. Both these problems can mean that you either have too much room and your toes splay or not enough with the box forcing against the joint of the big toe.
- Even for shoes that fit properly, the box can rub against the skin and cause blisters and other issues. It’s important not to push through this if it is causing you pain and make sure that you take good care of your feet.
- Like most pieces of equipment, ballet shoes will degrade over time. If the material becomes too soft the foot can move too far down in the shoe.
There are instances where the foot is just too weak for doing en pointe. This often happens with new dancers, especially younger ones, where they are essentially trying to run before they can walk. As with any ballet move, en pointe takes practice and dedication and you certainly need to build up strength.