Dainty ballerinas float effortlessly across the stage, dancing en pointe as if they were born to move on the very tips of their toes. The male ballet dancers hypnotize the audience with their powerful yet graceful floorwork and athletic movements in the midst of supporting and lifting the ballerinas. They are seldom seen performing en pointe, though. Can male dancers go en pointe?
Male ballet dancers can go en pointe. Historically this has been almost entirely part of the female dancer’s style, but some modern schools have begun to encourage it. It is a complex discipline for both genders, but size, weight, and tradition have held some men back from going en pointe.
Nowadays people are constantly challenging stereotypes, that of men dancing en pointe included. Although male and female dancers are capable of pointe work, we see much more of it performed by women. Many male dancers have begun to dance en pointe recently, but it is a trend that will take time to become the norm.
Can Male Ballet Dancers Go En Pointe?
Men can and do go en pointe, although those who do are still in the minority. However, some outstanding all-male ballet companies have broken tradition, with men playing female roles and dancing en pointe. Examples would be the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Les Ballets Eloelle, and Les Ballets Grandiva.
Criteria For Danseurs Going En Pointe
Going en pointe requires several years of intense ballet training, and students must satisfy their teacher’s criteria for moving on to pre-pointe classes. Apart from technique capabilities, the student must attend a few regular classes a week. The bones in their feet must be fully developed to prevent injury. This usually only occurs at around 11 years old.
Although pointe work was developed around female characters, a student doesn’t need to be female to go en pointe. Few traditional ballets have pointe work choreographed into male roles, so danseurs looking to perform at this level often find themselves in comedic ballets or parodies.
The Slow Progress In Danseurs Going En Pointe
We also need to remember that pointe work was developed around the roles of female ballerinas. The idea that only female dancers should be en pointe is being challenged in our modern era. Still, firmly entrenched practices take time to be replaced by more liberal ways of doing things.
Dancing En Pointe Was Designed For Female Ballerinas
Dancing en pointe became popular in the 1830s when Marie Taglioni danced in the first pair of pointe shoes, made by adapting her ballet slippers. She portrayed the role of the La Sylphide, an imaginary spirit of the air. The pointe work and the sylph’s wings were designed to enhance the ethereal and feminine qualities of the enticing dancing spirit.
La Sylphide is one of the most well-known romantic ballets. The sylphe entices a young Scot named James to desert his fiancé on his wedding day. He runs off with her to the forest and dances with his dream for a few glorious moments. As Taglioni danced en pointe to emphasize the alluring feminine beauty of the sylphe, a genre of ballet was born around the female dancer.
Dancing en pointe requires strength, alignment, rigorous training, incredible discipline, and some physical criteria. Traditional male choreography, particularly in romantic ballet, though graceful, is powerful and athletic as the danseur supports the ballerina. But if it is to remain true to its original form, it is choreographed to be dainty, elegant, graceful, and feminine.
A Male Dancer’s Physique Can Make Pointe More Difficult
Dancers spend years training to go en pointe, and they need to be careful to use proper form and build sufficient strength to put their weight onto their toes. Ballerinas going en pointe can weigh around 100 pounds, and it can be challenging to achieve this without injuring themselves.
A male dancer usually weighs substantially more than the average ballerina. They have to put in much practice and effort to strengthen the arches and ankles. It can be an even greater challenge and risk for them. With fewer roles choreographed for men en pointe, many feel it is not worth putting themselves through the pain.
One of the physical requirements for going en pointe is having flexible ankle ligaments and joints. Although male and female dancers can struggle with tight ligaments, it occurs more often in men. Lack of flexibility in this area puts a dancer at risk of serious injury.
One of the most famous male ballet dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, believed that danseurs should all train to go en pointe to practice strength and balance. And that it would teach them to have understanding and empathy for their female counterparts.
Aesthetics In Classical Ballet Counts Against Men En Pointe
Part of the beauty of classical ballet comes from the symmetry derived from the complementary dancing styles of both male and female dancers. Male ballet roles display more strength and athleticism, and the danseurs support the ballerinas with a more powerful choreography. Dancing en pointe was developed around the female form for female roles.
The musical and visual symmetry would be lost should both danseurs and ballerinas dance their classical roles en pointe. In many instances, it could prevent the male dancer from supporting the ballerina in her role and diminish the emotional intensity of the performance.
Stereotyping Prevents Male Ballet Dancers Going En Pointe
Many ballet schools require or encourage male dancers to study pointe work to build strength, flexibility, and proper form. But the roles in traditional ballets are still set according to gender. Ballet has not yet fully moved the times of embracing both genders in either part, which means fewer roles are available where men perform en pointe.
A Brief History Of Male Ballet Dancers
The art of ballet was born in the fifteenth century in the Italian and French courts. Up until the nineteenth century, men were considered the stars of ballet. Graceful and delicate traits were a sign of power amongst the men. They began to do ballet to showcase their ranks in society. Louis X1V established the first ballet school called Academie Royale De Danse.
Men can go en pointe, and many do, but certain factors make it less feasible for men to pursue this discipline. Their size and weight can be a deterrent, and historically pointe work has always been used for female roles. Many more danseurs go en pointe nowadays as they strive to bring ballet into the modern era.