How do ballet dancers stand on their toes

How do Ballerinas Dance on Their Toes? — School of Ballet 5:8


Written By Ballet 5:8

If you recall from the previous blog post about the history of pointe – the pointe shoe began as a soft shoe with stitching called darning around the tips of the toes to create support. The dancers were able to stay up on their toes for just long enough to balance or do a pirouette. Pointe shoes have come a long way since then! Dancers are now able to stay on their toes for long periods of time – turning, balancing, and even jumping en pointe! And yet, the hard shoes have the appearance of being soft as a ballerina dances across the stage.

How do they do that?

Along with the strength of a dancers feet and ankles, dancing on pointe is accomplished through the support provided by the pointe shoe. The box of the shoe – the part that encases the dancers toes – is made of paste and layers of different kinds of fabric. The paste that is used is specially formulated to dry in a semi-flexible state. This allows the shoe to be stiff enough to support the dancers foot, but flexible enough to allow the dancer to move fluidly. The top of the box, called the platform, is carefully shaped and flattened to provide a surface that the dancer is able to balance on.

The shoes are also equipped with a reinforced insole, called the shank. Along with the box, the shank provides support for the dancers body weight as it supports the arch of dancers foot, allowing them to stand upright on their toes.

If a shoe is fitted correctly, the box and shank wrap around the dancer's toes and the top of the foot, providing enough support to allow the dancer to balance on the platform of the box, thus dancing en pointe! It is very important for a dancer to find a pointe shoe that correctly fits her individual foot, so that the box and shank can provide the support she needs. Pointe shoes are now made in many different shapes and sizes that accommodate wider or narrower feet, longer or shorter toes, square toes or tapered toes, and different combinations of all of the above.

How are pointe shoes made?

As we noted above, pointe shoes are constructed with layers of paste and fabric. Today, many varieties of pointe shoes are made by hand, just like they were historically - this video includes a detailed look at the process of constructing a pointe shoe by hand. As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes into constructing a pointe shoe! Though modern technology has come a long way since pointe shoes were first made, classical ballet dancers still largely prefer handmade shoes to some of the factory-made varieties now available. Some of the specific details available in the shape and feel of the handmade shoes are more desirable than the generally more stiff, boxy construction of the ones that aren't handmade.

Former Ballet 5:8 Lead Artist Lauren Ader-Cumpston was a founding member of the Ballet 5:8 professional company and performed 2012-2017.

pointepointe shoes

Ballet 5:8

Do ballerinas really dance on their toes?

23 Mar Do ballerinas really dance on their toes?

Posted at 16:46h in Adult Ballet, Ballet Lessons by vivaballet

The world of ballet is one that often takes our breath away with Ballerinas gracefully executing mid-air jumps and gliding effortlessly from one point to another on their toes. Ballerinas are often depicted sustaining a pose while balancing on their toes. This particular technique is called the pointe technique, which is when a ballerina utilizes a pair of pointe shoes to dance en pointe.

The pointe technique is employed to make ballerinas appear light and dainty in their movement. Women are usually the ones who do most of the pointe work although men can also employ this technique when necessary.

What is pointe?

When a ballerina dances en pointe, she is using the tip of her toes to fully support her whole body. When executing pointe work, a dancer has to continuously lift herself up and down on her toes. This not only requires very good balance but also expert execution of other ballet techniques such as the releve (rising on the tip of the toes) and pique (stepping with a straight leg).

The history of pointe

Marie Taglioni became an icon of the pointe technique when she performed the first ever en pointe in ‘La Sylphide’ in 1832. ‘La Sylphide’ was choreographed by Marie’s father to showcase her skills in pointe work. Back then, pointe technique did not yet exist, Marie’s performance thus became a revolutionary turning point for the world of ballet.

People started to take notice and audiences were left in awe with the effect of Marie’s en pointe that was performed with such grace and weightlessness that it seemed as if she was floating.

Ballerinas started to adopt dancing on pointe around the 19th century to depict weightlessness in their dancing. In the early days, dancers used to rely on the sheer strength of their toes and feet while using shoes with extra padding.

As the pointe technique gained popularity, dancers and ballet schools started experimenting with dancing shoes that could protect and also enhance the feet’s ability to dance en pointe.

Modern day pointe shoes came about when Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova designed a pair of shoes with hard leather soles while also integrating a flat and hard box at the tip of the shoes for her toes.

With the advent of pointe shoes, the pointe technique took flight and has now become an iconic technique associated with ballet.

Pointe shoes

Modern day pointe shoes have a box at the front of the shoes which protects and gives support to the dancers’ toes. The sole of the shoe is called a shank which is a tough material that makes for a stiff sole to support a dancer’s arch when going en pointe.

To ensure that pointe shoes are fitted properly on a dancer’s feet, ribbons or elastic bands are sewed onto the sides of the shoes. For pointe shoes with ribbons, dancers must know the proper way to tie the ribbons all the way around their ankles.

You may be surprised to know that pointe shoes have a lifespan of a few months. Depending on how often and rigorously a pair of pointe shoes is used, it will last longer for a dancer just beginning with pointe work and for a much shorter time for a ballerina who performs and practices on a regular basis.

When to start pointe?

It is every ballerinas’ dream to be able to perform en pointe. However, ballet schools and instructors will first evaluate and observe how ready a student is to advance into pointe work.

Although dancing en pointe might look easy in the eyes of the audience, pointe technique can be very rigorous and demanding on a dancer’s body, especially on the feet and ankles.

Pointe work is usually introduced to intermediate ballerinas around the age of nine and above. Nonetheless, ballet academy teachers will usually evaluate their students individually first before permitting them to start pointe work.

Some factors that ballet teachers look into are:

  • The student’s skills

A student who wants to advance into pointe work must demonstrate that he or she has mastered all the basic and intermediate ballet techniques that has been taught to them since they first began ballet lessons.

  • The student’s physical development

Teachers will also consider a student’s physical development. A student must be physically ready to start pointe work, this means that they must have good body posture, strength and balance.

  • The student’s dedication and commitment

Students must first understand the demands of pointe work. Students have to be prepared to meet those demands of at times sustaining blisters on their feet and the rigorous ballet lessons to master pointe work. Additionally, students need to be responsible enough to know how to use and store their pointe shoes properly.

Once students are deemed ready to start pointe work, with patience and dedication, they will be ready to fulfil their dreams of being an ethereal vision of weightlessness on stage.

Pointe work in popular culture

Pointe work is often extensively depicted in movies and also ballet performances across the world. One famous ballet performance that showcases the pointe technique is ‘Swan Lake’.

Those that have had the chance of witnessing a ‘Swan Lake’ performance will be awed by the many dance scenes that feature ballerinas performing amazing feats of ballet, all mostly on pointe.

Some other ballet performances that you may be interested in are ‘The Nutcracker’ ,’Cinderella’, ‘Coppelia’, ‘Don Quixote’,  and not forgetting the one that started it all ‘La Sylphide’.

Traditionally performed in classical ballet, the pointe technique has also transitioned into the modern dance scene. This proves that the pointe technique is a timeless move that should be taught to the next generation of dancers. This is to ensure the preservation and continuous development of pointe work in the future of dance.

Learn to dance on your toes with Viva Ballet

Viva Ballet school offers ballet classes for children, teenagers and adults. Our teachers are professionals who are dedicated and committed in helping our students in becoming confident ballerinas who will have no problem executing the pointe technique and performing it on stage.

Ballet Dictionary - definition of basic terms in ballet

Ballerinas always dance on tiptoe. Wouldn't it be easier to take taller girls? joked one comedian. In fact, they do not move on tiptoe, but on pointe shoes. And we will tell you what pointe shoes are, and what all these beautiful ballet terms mean.

Just as physicians learn Latin at the same time as their special education, so ballet dancers can be advised to learn French, then in the dance class there will be no need to explain the choreography. The vocabulary of ballet comes almost entirely from French, and literally describes what the movements look like.

In the old ballet, the terms reflected some image, for example: the movement of a cat (French pas de chat), fish (French pas de poisson), scissors (French pas de ciseaux) and others.

Sign up for a trial lesson

Here are examples of generally accepted modern concepts: , raised to any height, while the supporting leg is on the whole foot, half-toes or fingers, hands are in the arrondie position.

Arrondi (arrondie - rounded) - rounded position of the hand.

Arabesque (arabesque - Arabic)

A pose in which the dancer stands on one leg, the second is laid back, the arm corresponding to the supporting leg is extended forward, the head is directed towards it, the other arm is laid aside.


Batmans (Battements - beating, blows)

A group of movements that develop strength, eversion, sharpness and elasticity of muscles. They are characterized by swinging the legs forward, backward or to the side.

Breeze (from Briser - to break or brise - light wind)

A small jump, moving forward or backward behind the foot.


Variation (Variation) is a short but complete virtuoso dance for one or more performers. It is usually part of Pas de deux, Pas de trois, Grand Pas, but is possible as an independent episode.


Glide path (Pa) (Glissade, from glisser - slide)

Progressive jump starting and ending in 5th position. Or a movement consisting of opening one leg in either direction on the demi-plié and then stepping on the toes in the same direction, pulling the other leg into 5th position.


Demi-plié (demi-plié) - that is, a semi-squat. The French prefix "semi-" can be used with other terms as well.

Divertissement (Divertissement - entertainment)

A series of dance numbers following one after the other; a concert program consisting of dance numbers of various genres and characters.


Corps de ballet (corps de ballet, literally - the composition of the ballet). The main part of the troupe, artists performing crowd scenes together.

Croisée (Croisée, from croiser - to cross)

Classical dance pose, built from the 5th position by moving the leg forward or backward. The pose can also be performed in the air, on a jump.


Pa (Pas - movement, step).

Just movement, the leitmotif on which the dance is built; in a more general sense, a complete dance phrase or a whole composition.

Pas de deux (lit. "dance of two")

Musical and dance form adopted in ballet since the 19th century, consisting of Entrée (beginning), Adajio (adgio duet dance), Variation (variations of a ballerina and dancer ), Coda (final part).

Plie (Plié, from plier - bend [knees]). Squatting on two legs in any of the existing positions.

Pointe shoes — women's ballet shoes. Pointe shoes allow the dancer to take a position with a point of support on the tips of the fingers of the outstretched foot (French sur les pointes - on the tips of the fingers / on the toes)


Tour (Tour) - turn

F Fuete (Fouetté - from French fouetter - beat)

Movement performed by a ballerina en pointe at the end of the Pas de deux. A series of consecutive rounds in place, free leg swinging, assisting the rotation.

Physics in ballet - Informio

Dancers - athletes of God

Albert Einstein

Ballet is the art of plasticity, inspired, filled with feelings, expressed movements, life, embodied in choreographic vocabulary; this is one of the most famous theatrical performances, the basis of which is dance. Not everyone thinks about how much effort a dancer puts in to master his body, learn the subtleties of ballet mastery, and achieve ease of performance.

The weightless, floating, striving movements of the dancers seem to be arguing with the laws of physics itself. As much as we would not like to believe in the magical mystery of choreographic art, it is worth noting that it is this natural science that creates the entire dance, embodies the ideas of the directors and helps us understand body language.

If classical dance could be expressed by a formula, it would look like this:

Physics + prepared body of the performer + emotions and acting = BALLET

A hypothesis arises: knowledge of the laws of physics and their application in the work of dancers will help them perform elements and reduce the likelihood of injury to artists.

In order to confirm your hypothesis, you need to analyze the following points:

  1. Equilibrium. Balance is an important part of the barre and exercise. Quite often, it is difficult for beginner dancers to maintain balance, even with support. For example: rond de jamb en l'air (rond de jamb en leer), battement fondu Fig. 1 (batman fondue), Arabesgue (arabesque).

Standing confidently, and often even on one foot, will help to follow a simple rule: the vertical projection of the center of gravity must be inside the support area. A clear example of this law is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it does not fall, because the pattern is observed (a slight violation is permissible, since it is dug into the ground). If the center of gravity of the performer shifts, then the person has to step over and take a new position. The dependence also works: the higher the center of gravity, the more difficult it is to maintain a stable position. So, for example, in tumbler-type toys, it is located very low, so they are stable.

  1. Rotations. The rotation technique is also not unimportant in classical dance, oddly enough, they directly depend on balance, but in these cases slightly different laws apply. Examples of rotations: pirouette (pirouette), fouetté (fouette), etc.

We will be able to understand how a ballerina performs rotational movements with great speed if we analyze the position of her body. The performer stretches out, like a string, and puts her leg or arm perpendicular to the movement being performed. It seems as if she is repelled each time from an invisible wall. In fact, the dancer's main assistant is the law of conservation of angular momentum - in order to increase the speed of rotation, you need to reduce the mass or bring it closer to the axis of rotation. This is done by pressing the arms or legs to the body.

- Pirouette (pirouette)

Starting the pirouette, the dancer puts her supporting foot on her toe, pushes off the floor with her working foot, giving herself a rotational impulse. In a fraction of a second, she takes the necessary position, which corresponds to the moment of inertia, so the initial speed of rotation of the performer is quite low. The ballerina presses her hands and lowers her leg. The moment of inertia is reduced by 7 times, the angular velocity increases by the same amount - due to which the ballerina makes several quick turns on the toe, and in order to stop spinning, she again raises her leg and arms, the speed decreases, and the dancer stops.

- Fouetté

When performing fouetté, there are two principles - manifestations of the law of conservation of angular momentum. It is known that the angular momentum is a vector directed perpendicularly (in our case, vertically upwards) and proportional to the speed of angular rotation.

There is a trick that is used when making a fouette: the dancer raises her hands to the 3rd position, thanks to which she starts to spin faster. This is also carried out because of the same law.

So, we can conclude: all shocking rotations are the correct application of the law of conservation of angular momentum and rotational momentum.

  1. Jumping. Jumping is the most time-consuming part of a classical dance lesson. Preparing for jumps takes a huge amount of time in order to strengthen the muscles and build leg strength.

The acceleration of the dancers during the jump is comparable to the results of the best athletes (high jumpers). The dancer's body during the jump develops a speed of up to 4.5 m/s in about 0.25 s. Divide 4.5 m by 0.25 s, and we get an acceleration equal to 18 m/s (2g). For example: an elevator, starting to move, has an overload from 1.3 to 1.6 g.

Find the power of the ballet dancer's jump. Let's assume that the mass of the dancer is 65 kg, which means that the work is equal to 650 joules (0.16 kilocalories). Therefore, the power of a jump lasting 0.2 seconds is 650 J/0.2 s. we get 3250 watts (3.3 kW), which is approximately = 5 horsepower. In order to shoot up, the performer needs to make as much effort as possible in order to change the horizontal component of the gained speed into a vertical one. The horizontal speed of the dancer is approximately 8 m/s, and the vertical speed is 4.6 m/s.

- Grand jet

How do dancers achieve the "flying illusion"?

Performing grand jet, the dancer seems to be flying over the stage, but in fact her center of gravity describes a parabola, like any object during the fall is guided solely by the gravitational force. But the human body changes configuration during flight. When jumping, the ballerina expands her legs and arms. Such a maneuver makes the landing (fall) almost imperceptible and creates a feeling of weightlessness of the performer.

- Pas de Chat

Another jump that creates a similar illusion is Pas de Chat (cat's step). The dancer makes a plié, and while increasing her step, she sharply raises her knees in turn, it turns out that at the moment of the highest position, the legs are in the air at the same time. The dancer seems to freeze in the air for a split second. Landing, she lowers her legs also in turn, which makes the fall soft and smooth.

The ability of a ballerina to hold a position in the air is called a balloon.

Landing is an important part of the jump, as the laws of physics dictate that momentum must be dissipated. A heavy landing would destroy the whole illusion of lightness, and, perhaps, injure the dancer. The secret to solving the problem is a floor designed to absorb impact. Also, the ballerina bends her knees (plié) and stretches her leg from toes to heel. This is necessary not only for the artistic intent, but also for the safety of the performer. This technique should be taught by competent teachers.

To cope with her part, the ballerina seems to defy the earth's gravity, working to the maximum. The fundamentals of physics and the science of human perception provide an understanding of how this is achieved.

  1. Supports. Support is one of the most beautiful elements of ballet numbers. (Appendix Figure 3-5)

In a circus, for example, one artist can hold the whole group, balancing a little, so that the center of gravity of the entire “construction” passes inside the support area. A ballet dancer hardly has to keep more than one partner. Therefore, he easily maintains stability when performing various supports, making sure that the general center of gravity of the performers is always exactly above his feet.

  1. Pointe dance. Pointe dance is one of the enchanting art forms, it seems as if the performer is levitating, smoothly crossing the stage space. (Appendix, Fig. 8) The elements made by the ballerina are light and intangible. Working on tiptoes is a titanic work that is not visible to the viewer. The muscles of an ordinary person are soft, while those of a ballerina are more like iron rods, strong and hardy. After all, in a different scenario, the dancer would not be able to keep her weight on the heel of her toe shoes (Appendix, Fig. 6) with an area of ​​2 cm2.

As they say, "the dancer's feet are fed", but this is actually not a joke. If a dancer injures his legs, which happens very often in the field of choreography, but he cannot recover for a long time and goes out of shape.

The ballerina's feet are doomed to injury and torture. (Appendix, Fig. 7) This is the other side of the coin, which the viewer does not see. The most common professional injuries of ballerinas are sprains, dislocations, fractures and injuries of the ligamentous apparatus of the joints. All this will lead to inflammation of the pelvic organs.

Suppose the ballerina's mass is 50 kg, let's calculate the pressure with which she presses on an area of ​​2 cm2.

Given: SI Solution:

S=2cm2 2*10-4m2 P=F/S

m=50 kg F=m*g



P=10 m/s2*50 kg/2*10-4m2=2500000 Pa=2.5M Pa – pressure produced by one foot.

For comparison, this is 100 times the pressure exerted by a tracked tractor on the ground.

Such enormous strength hides under the guise of a fragile, almost transparent ballerina.

Comparison of the laws of physics and elements of classical dance

An element of classical dance.

The law of physics.

Arabesgue (arabesque) - a position when the dancer balances on one leg

Stable balance, center of gravity


Law of conservation of angular momentum of a body


Law of conservation of angular momentum of a body

Grand jet

Gravitational force, center of gravity

Support, ballerina upper support on one arm

Stable balance, center of gravity

Pointe Dance

Solid body pressure, stable equilibrium

Everything that happens on the stage of the theater is a gigantic, collective, hours-long work. Sitting in the auditorium, it is impossible to imagine that every dancer devotes his whole life to the art of ballet, exhausting training.

Learn more