Marie Taglioni (1804–1884) with her weightless technique and uncanny ability to balance on her toes in darned, soft-toed ballet slippers, was the first to make pointe work popular in the ballet. It was her artistry, particularly in her signature role in La Sylphide, that inspired a devoted following and forever changed the artform of ballet. She will be remembered in the ballet world because of the descriptions of her: “She floats like a blush of light before our eyes” “She achieves the office of wings without their encumbrance” were the quotes of the early nineteenth century.
The pointe shoes of today are no longer stiffened and strengthened by darning as Marie’s were. They are constructed of satin with varied degress of support in the sole. The shoes are hardened with glue and built to support the foot strongly with out interfering with flexibilty.
The elegant advantages to pointe work are easy to recognize. They are the elongated line of the leg and the illusion of weightlessness. There are also practical assets, sush as the less resistance to the floor in pirouettes, the refinement of the calf muscle by having the weight of the body directly over the supporting toes, rather than slightly behind as it would be in ballet slippers, and the necessary strengthening of the foot which takes place while training to stand on pointe and which helps efficiencey in other steps. Nearly all experienced dancers prefer working on pointe, whether in class, rehearsal or perfromance since, once mastered, dancing on pointe, becomes automatic and less tiring.
The year at which a young dancer should begin pointe work is a matter of controversy. Because so much depends on the physique of the dancer, the standard of her technique and the rate of progress, it is imposible to set an exact age. A dedicated dancer, who loves to come to classes and makes no excuses for other actitivies, who has had continual ballet training for a minimum of three years and is twelve years old or more, would be a good candidate. It is extremely unwise for dancers under the age of twelve and without sufficient training to work in pointe shoes. The too soft bones of the feet can become dislocated because muscles used for the lifting of the weight of the body on to the toes are not yet sufficiently developed to protect them.
The structure of the foot has its advantages also. The foot that has toes that are not too long and the first three being even in length are the ideal feet for pointe work. When standing on pointe, the toes should never curl under so that the weight of the body rests on the joints. This occurs when the pointe shoes are too big and don’t hold the foot, particularly the toes, firmly together.
Once on pointe, the dancer needs continual ballet technique work as well as pointe class. Several ballet classes per week are reccomended once the dancer decides that pointe work is for her.