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The Problem with Pointe

Posted by Hans , 30 April 2008 · 262 views


I have been an advocate of less pointework in ballet for some time now, and here's why, in no particular order:

1. Having to dance en pointe limits possibilities for female dancers who may be very talented in every other way but simply don't have feet and ankles that are flexible enough to allow them to stand sur les pointes.

2. Pointe shoes ruin a dancer's jump, making it not just lower but also more noisy, no matter how well the feet are used during the takeoff and landing.

3. Pointework encourages/allows choreographers to rely on (neo)classical partnering, with the man standing behind the woman either supporting or manipulating her, rather than allowing the woman to dance for herself and freeing up the man to do the same.

4. Because modern pointe shoes are basically designed with only the idea of being sur les pointes in mind (thereby allowing the dancer to perform Petipa and Balanchine ballets) it is more difficult to perform Romantic and Bournonville ballets. Not only do these ballets use more jumps (see above) but also the necessary thickness and narrowness of the shank make it harder to perform an unsupported adagio, of which Romantic ballets make more use. The dancer may be very strong and stable, but when she is standing on what is essentially a tiny balance beam in her shoe, wobbles are inevitable.

5. Too often, pointe is used as a foot-strengthening/posture tool. While it is true that pointework makes your feet stronger and that if you are not standing properly you cannot stay en pointe, both of these qualities must already be in place before starting pointe--otherwise there is a greater risk of injury. Learning to perform various steps on demi-pointe has the same strengthening effect with a much lower injury risk.

I am not saying that pointework should be eliminated from ballet or that dancers should go back to wearing glorified technique shoes that do not properly support their feet. (Well, maybe a slightly softer shoe could be made for Romantic ballets that require more jumps and less pointe.) But as ballet moves forward, I think it is time to stop relying on what is essentially a "trick" and start focusing on developing movement that allows women to have the same freedom of movement as men.

I feel similarly about lifts--when used well they are beautiful and effective, but too often they are merely a substitute for dancing, not to mention that they are often used as an excuse to keep women thin. The fact that it is not actually necessary for a woman to be particularly thin to be lifted has not silenced this reasoning.



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