The Beauty of Dancing En Pointe Begins With The Shoes

March 18th, 2021

The Beauty of Dancing En Pointe Begins With The Shoes

A long time ago, dancers didn’t perform in ballet slippers or pointe shoes. They wore heeled shoes that made certain movements more difficult. Imagine trying to perform a daring leap or execute the tiny steps of an allegro across the stage in hard shoes with a heel on them. Sounds impossible, right? One dancer agreed and in 1730, Marie Camargo invented the ballet slipper that most dancers know and love today. A dancer’s pointe shoes are like little portals through which she steps into another world. The softer shoe gives you the flexibility and comfort to learn and perform all the moves that will help you become a prima ballerina one day. But how did these soft slippers become the pointe shoes with satin and ribbons that we know today?

A Century of Design

While a ballerina’s first pointe shoes are often considered a rite of passage in the world of ballet, that’s not how they began. In the 1730s, Marie Camargo, a ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet, removed the heels from the traditional dancing shoe, creating the soft ballet slipper we still use today. She now was able to rise up to her tippy toes, performing the beautiful leaps and turns flawlessly with the support of her shoe. After this innovation, choreographers began experimenting with different theatrical elements, one of which was a harness-like apparatus that would lift dancers onto their toes, giving the appearance of floating. Amalia Brugnoli, another ballerina from this time period, was the first to use an early form of actual satin pointe shoes to rise up on her toes in the ballet La Fée et la Chevalier in 1823. She paved the way for a new style of dance. Ten years later, Marie Taglioni used tight-fitting satin pointe shoes with ribbons and leather soles to dance the first full length ballet, La Sylphide, en pointe. She used the style to convey character throughout her dance and most professionals credit her for the style of pointe we have today. She captivated audiences with her effortless dancing, beauty, and grace. They were in awe!

The Shoes Evolved with the Dances

Over the next hundred years, pointe shoes evolved to have more support in the toes and arches, and a stiffer box at the bottom. They were often used to show the difference between mortal characters and ethereal fairies and supernatural creatures. The creatures would be high up on their pointe shoes with movements that seemed impossible for a regular person, almost like they were floating. These roles and the abstract dances to follow in the early 20th century served to show the discipline and commitment it took to dance en pointe. Ballerinas have to learn how to move their feet, perfect their technique, and gain the strength to support themselves while keeping the dance elegant and effortless. It can be painful to practice on those shoes for many hours a day but is undoubtedly rewarding. It always results in a spellbinding performance. Strong and functional pointe shoes and a passionate commitment to the artform are key!

En Pointe for Ballerinas of All Kinds

Dancing en pointe started out as a practice for women of higher social standing and had the time and money to dance for hours a day. Today, there are ballerinas of all different shapes, sizes, skin colors, and dance style. Creativity and innovation have brought the traditions of pointe into other dance styles. New schools have made the artform more accessible, giving students places to dance and learn as long as they’re willing to commit to the discipline it takes to dance en pointe. When pointe shoes were first introduced to ballet, boys, people of color, and even tall people were not often seen on the stage. Now there are pointe shoes for every style of dance, to fit every costume, and to work with every type of dancer that wants to learn. In the past, there were only pink satin shoes that tied up with ribbons. Now, there are different colors, materials, ribbons, fasteners, and even custom-made shoes for special costumes and circumstances. Ballet, and pointe, is for everyone!

Pointework and ballet are undoubtedly two of the most beautiful and transcendent techniques in the world of dance. It can be used to tell a story and set a mood. Pointework allows dancers to participate in a time-tested and celebrated tradition. Everyone can experience the beauty and magic of dancing en pointe! All you need is the drive and passion and, of course, a pair of pointe shoes. Contact us today to find out more about how to get started.