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About pointe...and men


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#1 su-lian

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Posted 16 April 2003 - 01:06 PM

I had never really thought of that until the other day, a friend asked me why men don't dance on pointe. I had to admit I didn't really know why and told her some did some pointe work to strengthen their feet etc. So she asked why they don't dance on stage with them. I said that in some particular choreographies they do and said that it wasn't in the traditions for men to do pointe and more or less that history wanted it that way. Guess what she asked next..."Why isn"t it in the traditions? Why didn't they start pointe at the same time as women?" Until then, I thought I hadn't done too bad, considering I didn't know anything about it and had never thought of it like that, but there, I was really stuck. Besides this tradition point, what would you say are the reasons for men not doing pointe (performing with them)?
Su-lian.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 16 April 2003 - 02:00 PM

The tradition had a reason behind it -- not all women were on pointe at the beginning, either, and there was a distinction between demicaractere work (which was often on demi-pointe) and character work (which is in shoes or boots). Only fairies and other worldly creatures were on pointe; there was a point to it. :) As pointework developed, it became associated with the feminine -- part of "feminine beauty and delicacy." (Look at all the old lithographs with a tiny little thing balancing on a flower.)

There is, too, the theory that men, being heavier (usually) than women, have trouble working from so small a base. It may be because they start pointe late, but I've never seen a man in one of the drag companies whose pointework was something I'd like to see outside of a humorous context :)

It was Balanchine that made put pointework (nearly) everywhere, and he also is quoted to have liked a "speedy leg." "Boys don't have a speedy leg," he said. [curiously, I just read the exact same quote attributed to Bonfanti 100 years ago; it must have been part of the tradition. Boys are made to jump and lift; have bulky muscles. Girls have speedy leg.]

#3 su-lian

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Posted 17 April 2003 - 01:55 AM

Thank you!
That's interesting about men being heavier, and now I've learnt something (as I always do).I'll be able to tell my friend also.
Su-lian.

#4 citibob

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Posted 17 April 2003 - 06:29 AM

It was Balanchine that made put pointework (nearly) everywhere, and he also is quoted to have liked a "speedy leg." "Boys don't have a speedy leg," he said. [curiously, I just read the exact same quote attributed to Bonfanti 100 years ago; it must have been part of the tradition. Boys are made to jump and lift; have bulky muscles. Girls have speedy leg.]


This might be the crux of an issue. Balanchine is the one who said "Ballet is Woman". And his male stars not withstanding, there seems to have been some truth in that for Balanchine. Someone in our audience told me the other day, "I was up at Sarasota watching NYCB last week, and your men do a LOT more than theirs."

With that in mind, it would be no surprise that Balanchine did not attempt to develop pointework for men, whatever possibilities may or may not lie in that area.

As for speedy legs, that is a matter of training. My legs are rather fast, in fact; but you have to train them for length and not bulky muscles. I have seen even faster legs on men at NYCB (Woetzel I remember in particular had VERY fast feet and legs, and the choreography displayed that).

Fast twitch (vs. slow twitch) muscle fiber would probably be the biggest determining factor in how hard it is to develop speedy legs. And I've never seen any study finding any gender-based difference in the fast:slow proportion.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 17 April 2003 - 07:08 AM

Clive pointed out something on a panel discussion a few years ago regarding both Ashton and Balanchine, that when looking at their choreography for men, it must be remembered the level of male dancing generally -- beyond the stars, but at the soloist and demisoloist level -- that existed during the '40s', '50s and '60s. Meaning, when they had good men, they used them.

I think the "speedy leg" problem is more related to tradition than gender-specific anatomy, and related more to selection of dancers than male musculature generally. For nearly 100 years, men were chosen to be porteurs; it became a self-fulfilling property. I think the reason that so many Danish men have been useful to NYCB is because the Bournonville training was the one Western tradition in which the men were NOT porteurs -- and have very speed legs, indeed -- and that's all related to citibob's point about muscle differences.


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