A post involving pointe and stupid Titanic

Read a book a while back.
Actually, almost exactly a year ago:
A memoir by Bronislava Nijinska about her brother, Vaslov Nijinski.
And I remember getting to this one part where she described how Nijinski could rise up on his toes, like not just the balls of his feet but actually support himself on his freakin’ toes. And I remember having to put the book down to engage in a Massive Eye-Roll while thinking, ‘oh what-ever Bronislava! I mean, I get that your big brother was pretty much responsible for bringing the male dancer back into the public affection, and I get that you loved him very much and maybe kinda looked up to him just a little, right? But come on! Rising up on toes? In soft slippers? That is, like, some ridiculous super-human type stuff right there’.
So, now I’m reading Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans, and I’ve just come to the part about Marie Taglioni. Who sounds like an amazingly strong personality. I mean, sounds like her body was totally wrong for ballet, not just in her day but in any day, and she was just like, ‘Fuck all y’all! I’m a be the best ballerina you ever Seen’
And then she was!
I’ve read a ton of books crediting her with being the one who invented pointe, and these books always make it seem like she just woke up one day and was all like, ‘dang, my feet don’t hurt. I know- Pointe!’
But Apollo’s Angels does an excellent job of explaining how she adapted pointe from the Italian acrobatics-performance-based practice of, with great visible effort, kinda horking up onto the toes.
Reminds me of nothing so much as that scene in stupid Titanic where Rose, like, practically pops a goiter hoisting herself up onto her toes. For No Reason. And it’s a close-up foot shot so you don’t even get the illusion of Kate Winslet actually performing this stunt.
So, anyway, apparently Taglioni was physically, like, beyond strong. The book mentions that she could rise up and support herself on her toes. Her pointe, in fact, was in a soft shoe, with her weight supported on the pads of her toes, as opposed to a modern pointe, in a hard shoe, on the tip of the toes.
So, I’m reading that, thinking, ok, but clearly she and Nijinski were super-heroes, I mean no real person…
Until the other day in ballet class. Smirnoff stop us during the changemonts we do facing the barre. The slow ones. The ones where I start in fifth and work hard to rise as close to vertical on the balls of my feet as possible, before coming back down and closing fifth while changing the front foot to the back.
He calls out one girl to demonstrate. And I’ll be damned if she doesn’t Rise Up Onto Her Toes at the highest point of the changemont! And no, she wasn’t supporting her weight on the barre, believe me, I looked.
Blew my mind.
I mean, she was just a regular person! Not even a professional dancer person! Holy crap!
But it did get me thinking. Taglioni danced on the pads of her toes in the 19th century, and later, in the 20th century, so did Nijinski. Nijinska, however, was dancing en pointe in hard shoes at the same time her brother was rising on his toes in slippers, and photos show her pointed feet to be a very straight shot extending the line of her legs.
Nowadays, at the beginning of the 21rst century, I see photos all the time of dancers en pointe beyond the straight. Like, not only are their feet far more arched than, say, Bronislava’s, they also seem to be resting to the front of their toes, increasing the visual curviness of the arch.
Granted these are studio shots, not motion-captures, but it makes me wonder where pointe will be in another hundred years?

About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Ballerina Class, and other pointe-y stuff, Movies, tv, and live stuff, Technique and Class and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to A post involving pointe and stupid Titanic

  1. Laura says:

    Until about 2 months ago I never knew a changement was anything other than a jump. We are learning what my instructor calls “sous-sus changé” (same as what you are describing) on pointe and I haven’t figured out how to do it without feeling like I’m going to rip one foot off at the ankle.

    Another day in ballet class = another challenge to beat one’s head against.

  2. Acacia says:

    I never liked that scene in Titanic because I just didn’t believe that the steerage passengers would have really been all that impressed by Rose going up on her toes. Other than a “wow, that’s hard to do” it seems that only dancers would understand just how freaking amazing it is.

    Do you know of any good books on the social history (or just history) of ballet? I saw Apollo’s Angels on the shelf (a pending Amazon order), but almost everything else seems to be biography or technique based.

    • Jess says:

      (Haven’t seen Titanic, so just a general reply, sorry if it’s not as relevant as I think.) I don’t know about that, I have those Capezio dance sneaker things that enable a person to go en pointe but are street shoes, and I wear them to gym class because they’re so light and nice to run in. When people noticed the middle sole missing they asked if I could do it, and for a few days after that people would randomly ask for a demonstration of this novel skill. I mean, people whose name I didn’t even know. Just random kids in gym class. So even if the average person doesn’t know that it’s a difficult thing to do without training, it’s unusual enough to entertain a bunch of bored teenagers, for what it’s worth.

      • Jess says:

        (And thats with shoes on. It sounds like the Titanic girl did it without them? All the more unusual/impressive.)

        • Really don’t want to encourage you to watch Titanic, Jess, because I’m impressed you’ve managed to evade it thus far, but, well, you haven’t seen it, so I’ll just quote The Big Lebowski and say,
          “So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You’re like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…”
          But for real, the point of that ho-down in steerage scene seems to be ‘wooooooo doggies, lookit how much fun it is to be poor, y’all! Us poor will kick up a party at the drop of a hat! Not like those stuffy rich in the upper cabins! We may not have teeth, or any control over our economic future, but we got rhythm!! And lookee there, Rose is gonna join in and show us a trick! She’s no stuffy rich!’
          I mean, I’d like an Academy Award Winning Best Picture to express something less simplistic than OMGPoverty Is The Best!!! Plus Some Love Stuff!!!
          But obviously I’m in the minority.
          Go watch The Big Lebowski! Run away from Titanic before it eats your brain!!!

    • Read somewhere, maybe the prologue? that Homans was writing to fill the void in her own education. Like, as a dancer, aka someone intensely interested in the subject, she had not been given a satisfyingly full account of ballet history, so she wrote one.
      It’s very good. I’m not finished yet, and there was definitely a dry-patch I had to muscle through, but so far, very very satisfying.
      The Adult Beginner tends to be a bit haphazard in reading, and ends up with a lot of history via biographies.
      I mean, nothing wrong with that- you’re getting someone’s very subjective view on their own relatively brief period of history, but read enough of those from enough points of view and you’ve got a pretty well-rounded picture.
      I say focus on a time period and read all the relevant bios.
      Plus Apollo’s Angels.

  3. As a kid I used to go on my toes with bare feetfor fun. My sister, who never danced, did it with me sometimes. It wasnt hard, but I could never stay up for more than a few seconds. So when I heard about other people doing it, like Nijinski, the Titanic girl, or Posy in the book Ballet Shoes, I thought it was silly that anyone found it impressive. In fact I found the supposed reactions of people to be unlikely. As a dance student I never seemed to excel at much naturally – I mean really blow anyone out of the water- until we got to hops on pointe. I still love them.

  4. Nothing is better on a Saturday morning than sleeping in, hanging out in pjs and catching up on the Adult Beginner’s posts. The stress of the week just melts away.

  5. Acacia says:

    In my day-job I’m an art historian and art history is full of romanticized biographies so I tend to avoid them. I was curious about the social history of ballet because of Degas’ representations of the gawky, working-class girls in the ballet classes. Not just the brilliant prima ballerinas and dancers but the role ballet played within the culture itself. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad research project….

  6. Jean-Pierre says:

    I used to go right up on my toes in ballet class till a teacher finally noticed a year later and told me not to. I think i was able to because I was 6 and weighed 10 pounds. I’ve never attempted since!

  7. flyingwind66 says:

    actually, where you think it looks like dancers are dancing on the front of their toes instead of the tips is really just the shape of the arch. In your doodle where you’ve got 20th century would be someone with lower arches than the 21st century doodle… it’s just bone structure lol when you dance en pointe, it’s on the tips of the toes, some people just have bendier feet. Higher arches are considered make ‘prettier lines’ in ballet.

  8. Yeah, I get the difference in foot structure, but what I’m referring to is these pictures of people truly going beyond the box of the pointe shoe, an exaggerated over-pointe like, for an extreme example, this cover of Pointe Magazine’s December2010/January 2011 issue with Alina Cojocaru

  9. Pingback: This is not a post about sloths | Adult Beginner

  10. Suzanne says:

    I actually was able to stand on my toes BEFORE I ever danced en pointe.

  11. theempris says:

    I started ballet as an adult beginner, after 365 days, I made an epic ballet+travel video “The Spin Around the World (Ballet Pirouette)”! Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3ZPwS2Ww-k

    Also, check out my website, theempris.com for awesome dance, fashion, and travel content!

  12. Rio Hemmings says:

    Yes I’ve always been able to walk around on my big toes and support myself and balance on one big toe ever since I was a dot. I quit ballet at 5 years old and started again at 14! As soon as I got on pointe I found it easy, actually I find it much easier than dancing in flats, in flats my arches are not at their full potential but on pointe they are.

  13. Karen says:

    I thought Taglioni darned her shoes (so, not like a modern glue-and-lots-of-fabric point shoe buy stiffer than a slipper. Also, I thought I remembered she had TB or something when she was a child and her dad had her take class to strengthen her body Post-illness. I hadn’t ever realized she got strong by today’s standards because I’ve read she was perfection when it came to willowiness as the titular Sylph from Bournonville. But things we think of as demonstrating strength like zillions of turns and enormous jumps didn’t exist at that time, Bournonville technique notwithstanding.

    Also, interesting observation about the evolution of pointe work and LOL at your graphic. Feet have definitely gotten prettier more consistently in the last 50 years (a strong yet flexible arch is to my taste). What I don’t like to see is a ballerina who maybe overestimated how strong her feet are and so goes almost over to her knuckles or sinks down into her shoe on a sustained balance. I’m thinking (and showing my age) Gelsey Kirkland when she was in her self-destruct phase, but from what I’ve seen of Misty Copeland, she also does this. I’d rather see a harder shoe with a sustainable arch than one overly softened not matter how beautiful the foot when the ballerina’s weight is not on it. My favorite tends to be a supple arch combined with the strength and technique to be able to roll up and down onto and off pointe. My current favorite for this is RB’s Marienela Nunez, but in Gelsey’s time it was definitely Martine van Hamel. I wish there was more documentation of her work because she was extraordinary.

    Didn’t think I’d find anyone here to dish about ballet with. What fun!

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