All About Pointe > History of Pointe

by Eliza Gaynor Minden

A history of pointe shoes is also a history of pointe technique. They evolved together; they created each other. But the pointe shoe itself is seldom given recognition for its role in steering the development of technique.

The Italian princess Catherine de Medici married the French Henri II and introduced ballet de cour, or "court ballet" to the Court of France in the sixteenth century. From these early productions featuring masked and costumed courtiers, dancing at court developed into lavish spectacles and extravaganzas, from which a codified vocabulary of steps eventually emerged-- the same steps and the same basic positions that you do every day in class.

In the 1600's, King Louis XIV especially loved dancing and starring in court productions. When he grew too old and fat to perform he continued to be one of ballet's greatest patrons. He founded the Académie Royale de Danse, which would later become the Paris Opera Ballet. Ballet had a political advantage as well in that Louis surely used his ballets, in which the courtiers bowed and curtsied to him in a variety of elaborate and elegant ways, to celebrate and glorify himself, to associate himself with divinity, and to reinforce the power of the throne.

It was however, a man's game. The ballerina as we know her had not yet come into existence. Women really couldn't participate in the way men could, in large part because of their clothes. Men got to wear tights, which gave them more freedom of movement-- they were able to jump and beat. Women had to wear heavy wigs and enormous headdresses, full, heavy skirts and shoes with heels, and-- don't forget-- tight corsets that restricted breathing, not to mention bending. There were, of course, popular female dancers in the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century, such as Mme. Lafontaine, Mlle. Subligny and Marie Prévost, but they were limited by their costumes. The men got to do all of the good steps. To make matters worse, as ballet dancing moved out of the ballrooms of royal palaces and onto the proscenium stage, women had to overcome society's disapproval of female performers.

© 1998 Gaynor Minden, Inc.

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