Pointe shoes have always been the most widely recognized symbol of ballet, but for young dancers, they are much more than a symbol. Getting your first pair of pointe shoes is almost like a rite of passage within the dance form, distinguishing between a mature student and a less experienced one. When I was younger, I would look at pointe shoes with longing, and at their owners with respect. I never really thought about why that was – but I now think that it was all part of that ultimate ballet dream. If you owned pointe shoes, I thought, you had arrived.
I was wrong, of course. Learning to dance en pointe has been a journey of it’s own, and I still have a long way to go. But the day I was being fitted for my very first pair of pointe shoes, I could think of little else. If I had to compile a list of personal ballet milestones, that day would have to be up there, along with show days and the day I passed my ballet exam. It would only be fair, too, for me to include my first pointe class on that list.
On Instagram, in ‘Pointe Magazine’, and just about everywhere I’d seen ballet pictures, dancing en pointe looked effortless. Even in videos, all I’d ever seen were pulled up knees, lifted ankles, and perfectly curved arches. Of course, I’d heard that dancing en pointe was no easy feat, but it was only by the time I had tied up the ribbons that I was realizing just what it was going to take.
“There’s something about pointe that is hard, and yet, in a significant way, rewarding.”
The shoes weighed on my feet like bricks, and the shanks were so hard that it appeared like I had no arches at all. As much as I tried to point my feet, the shoes remained obstinately flat. And as for turnout? I didn’t have much en demi-pointe, but en pointe I had even less. I was clutching tightly onto the barre, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to balance. Ballet had never felt as alien as it did in that first pointe class. Every movement that had become familiar now had to be reimagined and re-understood. It was not scary, and, oddly enough, it was not demotivating. There’s something about pointe that is hard, and yet, in a significant way, rewarding.
Love for pointe shoes
Right from then, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my pointe shoes. There are times when I can’t wait to get them off. Yet I wouldn’t trade learning to dance en pointe for anything. Pointe shoes embodied everything that made ballet for me: they were difficult to dance in, they hurt terribly, but they were impossibly beautiful.
“Do you dance on the tips of your toes?” As a student of ballet, I have been asked this question several times. Before, I would have responded with a lengthy explanation on how a great deal of strength and technique must be acquired before a dancer goes en pointe. Now, I don’t have to do any of that. It’s taken me years to get here, but finally I can say “yes, I do”.