AskDefine | Define pointe

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see Pointe



From French pointe ‘point, tip’.


  • (UK) /pwæ̃t/
  • (US) /pwɑnt/


  1. In the context of "ballet": The tip of the toe; a ballet position executed with the tip of the toe.
    • 2007: Classical dance manages to get along without too many momentous events shuddering beneath its pointe work. — The Guardian 5th Jan 2007, p. 3



From Vulgar Latin puncta, from Latin puncta, from the feminine past participle of pungere ‘to prick’.


  • /pwɛ̃t/
  • /pwE~t/


fr-noun f



Extensive Definition

Dancing on pointe, or en pointe (pronounced /ɑ̃ pwɛ̃t/, often anglicised as /ɑn pwɛ̃t/ or /ɑn pɔɪnt/), is the act of standing on the tips of the toes while performing steps from ballet. Also known as pointe work, it is performed using hard–toed and stiff-shanked pointe shoes. Dancing en pointe requires strength and skill and is a central part of a female ballet dancer's training and repertoire.
Pointe work is delicate, and all pointe dancers should be aware of the injuries that can occur. Pointe dancers endeavour to protect their feet from calluses, corns, bruising, etc.


In 1832, the ballerina Marie Taglioni danced the full length of the romantic ballet La Sylphide en pointe and, although she was probably not the first ballerina to raise en pointes (Amalia Brugnoli danced en pointe in 1823 ), she is credited as the developer of the modern pointe technique. Taglioni first rose en pointe with soft ballet slippers that had a reinforced toe area, although not nearly as stiff as modern pointe shoes. The area was reinforced by stitching around the front and sides of the slipper. Unlike today, the moments en pointe were very brief and consisted of mostly balanced poses and relevés. Although a development of romantic ballet and a central element of ballet dancing in general, other dance forms such as jazz dance, street dance and tap dance also have short steps that are performed on the toes. In tap dance this is called a "toe stand."
In the 1920s and 1930s, Harriet Hoctor, a burlesque and vaudeville dancer, wore pointe shoes fitted with steel shanks and platforms to allow tapping en pointe and backwards bends whilst en pointe. Other dancers fitted ball bearings inside between the platform to allow for faster turns but the dangers of the steel shanks snapping meant that such practices quickly ceased.

Preparing for pointe

Young girls usually start dancing en pointe between the ages of nine and fifteen years; they are not considered ready for pointe work unless they have been studying classical ballet for three or more years, with a frequency of two or more classes per week. The reason that girls do not start when they are younger is because the bones in their feet are still soft and can be permanently damaged. They should also be in an intermediate or advanced level of ballet, be able to hold their turnout from the hips while performing center combinations and hold a proper ballet position (straight back, good turnout, etc.). No one should start pointe before told by a teacher under any circumstances. In the more serious dance academies, a physician's advice is required to make sure the dancers' feet have ossified sufficiently; serious foot deformities can result from starting pointe too early. Injuries, such as breaking the ankle, can occur because of young, weak, and untrained bones and muscles. Pedicures are not a good idea for pointe dancers and pointe dancers must always make sure that they cut their toenails at least one day before dance class or concerts to let the toes adjust to the new length of the nails. Layers and layers of dead skin, calluses, etc. on the feet are helpful, like insulation against the strain of the shoe. Things like blisters, boils, athlete's foot, cuts of the feet, and even bleeding are to be expected. Some girl's feet have more arch than others and are therefore weaker and the dancer will need to work harder to strengthen her feet.
Dancing en pointe requires one to use the entire body for support, including the legs, back, and abdominal muscles.
Once a dancer is ready, preparation for pointe work is a gradual process. At first, it is just strengthening exercises at the barre - for example, simply rising en pointe and returning. According to the teacher's preferences and syllabus, the dancers might first be taught to "roll-through" from flat to half-pointe to pointe and down again (unless the Russian or Italian method is being taught, in which the dancer springs directly from flat onto pointe). Another example is learning how to properly wing out the foot and point the foot as the dancer would do in technique shoes. Then variations in speed and position may be introduced -- for perhaps no more than five or ten minutes. It is often only after six months to a year of such exercises that the student can start dancing en pointe in the center.
The first exercises at the barre are usually relevés and échappés done on both feet. Only once the student is fully comfortable in executing the steps on both feet (and the tendons are strong enough), steps ending on one foot are introduced, such as pas de bourrée en pointes and retiré en pointes, first at the barre and later on in the centre. In centre practice, Mme Vaganova suggests as first exercises on both feet temps levés (same as relevés) and échappés en pointe.

Preparing the Shoes

It is advisable to go to an experienced fitter for shoes. A fitter will have the dancer try on a variety of shoes, based on the size, length, width, arch, and other measurements of the foot. Some may recommend elastic to be sewn on to prevent it slipping off a narrow heel. Some shoes come with ribbons, sometimes elastic or ribbons are sewn on at the store. Most students are required to not dance in their shoes before the first class in case the teacher would like to make sure the shoes fit properly, and advise them as to where the best place to sew the ribbons might be.
After the ribbons and elastics are sewn on, the shoe must be broken in. Pointe shoes are not like regular soft technique shoes; they consist of satin, with a shank--or sole--comprised of stiffened leather, canvas, and burlap sealed with glue. The box, or reinforced toe area of the shoe is made of stiffened and reinforced canvas and/or burlap. They also have no right or left, and can be exceedingly uncomfortable when new. Because of this, most dancers like to prepare a new pair of pointe shoes before wearing them for the first time. Preparation usually consists in making the hard shank more supple, so that the shoes can actually bend in half pointe; sometimes sensitive spots on the box can be softned to offer less friction against the feet. One simple method is dampening a towel and applying a bit of water to the box, although students should not attempt this without consent and proper instruction from a teacher (the shoes could be irremediably damaged by water). Some dancers cut the shank where his/her arch is, and then spray the box with some water. Some dancers don't break them in at all, others "kill" brand new shoes, in other words, do what ever they can to make them soft enough.
A variety of padding is customary as well, protecting the skin from the roughness of the shoe as well as small relief from the pressure. Although most beginners use a commercial form of padding, students training at professional schools as well as professionals themselves sometimes do not use it.
Many dancers use 2nd Skin, by Spenco, to help releave the pain of pointe shoes with blisters. They can also use "Jet glue," a glue that hardens the shoes and makes them last a little longer. Jet glue can be found in most dance stores, or at, a dancer's supply website. 2nd skin, however can only be found at some dance stores but can be found at most drug stores.

Pointe technique

There are several methods that dancers use to rise on the toes. In one method (French school, RAD syllabus), the dancer rises on her toes by passing through half-pointe or "demi-pointe"; in the second method, the dancer springs onto her toes with a small hop (Russian and Italian schools). In the latter case, less stress is put on the calf muscles. More experienced dancers use a combination of the two techniques, usually rolling through for adages, and springing on pointe in allegros combinations. The two techniques arose early in the history of pointe technique, as the Italian cobblers designed harder toe boxes for the Italian ballerinas (for instance Pierina Legnani - the first ballerina to regularly perform the 32 fouettés of Swan Lake); this allowed them to execute more difficult steps and stand on their toes for longer. To imitate the feats of the Italian dancers, Russian ballerinas introduced even stiffer soles to support them during these difficult steps. As it was nearly impossible to pass through half-pointe in these hard shoes, the small hop was introduced (also compare modern day French shoes with Russian ones: the latter have a very stiff shank). The effort exerted to remain en pointe must be shared by the whole body, not only the legs; the abdominal muscles must be engaged and the back should be kept straight, while the neck muscles should be relaxed.

Common injuries

Dancing en pointe can place stress on the dancer's feet. Common injuries related to dancing en pointe are: ;Athlete's foot : Athlete's foot is a fungal infection which grows in a dark, moist environment such as that of a perspiring foot in tight, closed shoes. It is also contagious. It can be prevented by washing the feet once a day and if contracted, can be cured by over-the-counter remedies or a prescribed anti-fungal.;Bunions : a bone deformity usually in the dancer's big toe, caused by cramping of the toes within the shoe's box. Dancers can prevent bunions by putting a spacer between the big toe and the next toe and wearing properly fitted shoes.;Bursitis ;Bruised toenails : caused by heavy pressure on the front of the nail when the nail is not cut short. This can be very painful and may cause the dancer to burn a hole in the nail to relieve some of the pressure.;Contusions ;Cuts between the toes : Cuts can occur between toes as a result of the pressure of a dancer's toenails digging into the toes next to them. However, with proper trimming, filing and fitting, this can usually be prevented. ;Dermatitis : Dermatitis is caused by allergens or stress, resulting in skin irritation which manifests in itching, burning, or reddened areas. Contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with an allergen; neurodermatitis is related to stress.;Extensor tendinitis ;Hallux limitus and rigidus ;Heel bruises ;Ingrown toenails;Neuromas ;Plantar warts ;Sprained ankles ;Thickened toenails

General Injury Prevention

Because pointe work can cause friction between the toes and the hard box of the pointe shoe, dancers use several methods to prevent chafing and blisters. Dancers often use lamb's wool or "toe pads" made out of soft material or gel. Folded paper toweling is also a popular padding material. Wads of lamb's wool may also be used just in certain areas where a dancer feels the most pain. Any type of padding can be used excessively, and using it in excess impairs the ability to "feel the floor." Many dancers also use sports tape to tape around their toes in order to further prevent blisters and bruised toenails. Also, keeping the toenails clipped as short as possible (without bleeding) is useful in preventing bruised toenails. Some pointe dancers, however, are able to wear their pointe shoes without any padding to protect their feet. Injury can also be prevented if you do not start before you are ready or a teacher gives you permission to.


External links

Dance en pointe
pointe in German: Spitzentanz
pointe in French: Pointes
pointe in Indonesian: Pointe work
pointe in Italian: En pointe
pointe in Japanese: ポワント
pointe in Russian: Пуант
pointe in Finnish: En pointe
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