The Unrecognized Difficulties of Pointe
By: Rachel Dakermanji
Marie Taglioni performed an entire show en pointe for the first time in 1832. The version of pointe shoes that were used at this time were “nothing more than modified satin slippers,” yet now, there is an extra leather sole where the arch of a foot would go for more support, and now ballerinas use toe pads for protection as well (“The Pointe Shoe, A History.” 1). Even with differences between the design of the shoe, including how the box was originally made with wood and is now made with layers on top of layers of cardboard and paper glued together, the point of dancing en pointe has never changed. Dancers en pointe are supposed to look graceful and beautiful while performing and pointe shoes are there to make the performance look even more weightless. Yet, while watching a professional prima perform a ballet may make pointe look quite effortless, the actual dance requires all of the ballerina’s effort and more to perform to the expectations. Performing a ballet is incredibly difficult no matter how easy it may look because it’s required for all ballerina’s to have a wide knowledge of ballet terminology, exquisite technique, and strong, flexible muscles.
A ballerina will need to be knowledgeable when it comes to ballet terminology. Remembering all ballet terms may be arduous because of the fact that there are so many, and they are in French. For example, some terms are jeté, grand jeté, développé, rond de jambe, tendu, and many others (“American Ballet Theatre – Ballet Dictionary.” 1). A non-French speaker will obviously have more difficulty learning all of these terms, but still, having a vast knowledge of ballet terms is absolutely necessary when it comes to taking pointe. So, part of the difficulty of pointe comes just by having to memorize all of these terms outside of dance before starting pointe. Only with a wide knowledge of terms can you go en pointe because without one, there could be a possibility of injuring another dancer. If a choreographer were to give you a routine without demonstration like some professional choreographers might, the dancer without the knowledge of terminology may complete the wrong steps, and therefore injure someone. They could also injure themselves because the transitioning between steps may not be suited to the incorrect steps that this dancer is doing. Pointe is already dangerous based on the fact that it requires dancing on the top of toes, so being unaware of all ballet terms will just make pointe even more dangerous. Knowing ballet terminology is useful when performing perfect technique during the time that they are dancing.
In continuation, while technique may be slightly overlooked, it is extremely important when dancing en pointe. The major point of dancing en pointe is to have dancers “appear weightless” (“Toe Shoes, Pointe Shoes And Pointe Technique.” 1), and technique plays a big role in this. Technique allows a dancer to look as graceful as possible, and makes dance look neater and sharper. For example, the plié before a grand jeté can make a dancer look extremely effortless during the leap itself, as well as the leap’s landing. If the plié does not get low enough, the dancer will struggle to get high off the ground so their legs can form a split position, and may land heavily on their feet making a large sound, which is never wanted during a dance. This is a prime example of good technique, because with the plié, the dancer could’ve been graceful and effortless which is ideal during pointe, but instead may have had a heavy-looking or weighted leap. Furthermore, incorrect technique can be the cause of injuries. This is not a risk while only dancing; incorrect technique may cause injuries in many other sports, as well. Improper technique will eventually cause overexertion in joints and muscles in the body if it is continuously used (“Poor Technique – Causes of Sports Injuries.” 1). It is completely vital for a dancer to use prim technique in order to retain strong muscles and joints in their body so they will not put a pause to their career or the overall use of their body.
Another essential aspect of dancing en pointe is having strong muscles. In order to complete even the most simple steps, many different muscles are used. Abdominal muscles are one of the most important when it comes to dancing, especially for pointe. Abdominal muscles are needed for balance, and the only way a ballerina will be able to stay en pointe for extended periods of time. When completing a turn, like a pirouette or foutté combination, a dancer is supposed to “pull up” with their abdominal muscles in order to stay on relevé and continue turning, which is another example of why abdominal muscles are important. Other than abdominal muscles, flexible and strong calves are necessary in order to complete simple steps including a plié which is crucial before any leap or turn. In order to hold a relevé, it is also required to have calf muscles that are strong. Finally, specifically for pointe, dancers are obligated to have strong feet muscles. Since dancing en pointe is literally on the tip of your toe, and your ankle is constantly being pushed straight down, they are forced to be strong or else a dancer will not be able to dance en point for consecutive amounts of time (Biersdorfer 1). Overall, a dancer needs to have strong and flexible muscles throughout their entire body in order to dance and the most common examples are abdominal, calf, and ankle muscles.
Contrary to beliefs after watching professional ballerinas, pointe is extremely difficult because it entails an advanced understanding of ballet terminology, amazing technique, and strong, flexible muscles. Comprehending ballet terminology is arduous because of the large amount of terms to remember in a different language (unless the dancer speaks French) and so there is no possibility of hurting another dancer. Dancing with amazing technique is vital to look as graceful as possible and to not injure oneself. Having strong and flexible muscles throughout the body is mandatory to balance, stay en pointe for long periods of time, and to complete simple steps. Now, whenever anyone watches a ballet with prima ballerinas, it will be easier to recognize the strain pointe entails on a person, and can appreciate the beautiful form of dance that came after Marie Taglioni performed a ballet en pointe for the first time in 1832.
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