Dancing on pointe was a defining innovation of ballet’s Romantic period (1827-1845). Dancers of that era appeared ethereal and otherworldly when they danced on the tips of their toes in soft white tutus in ballets such as La Sylphide.
Among the first dancers to learn to dance on pointe was the Paris Opera ballerina Marie Taglioni, whose father crafted her pointe shoes and taught her how to dance delicately and lightly on the ends of her toes. Today’s pointe shoes are still handmade and are essentially hard-soled ballet slippers whose tips are hardened into a "box" shape with glue, cardboard and fabric designed to support a dancer's foot as it takes the weight of the body on her toes.
Pointe class has become an important part of a female dancer’s training, as mastering pointe technique is required for a career as a classical ballet dancer. Only when a student is sufficiently strong and technically advanced will she begin to take pointe class.
The fitting and preparation of the pointe shoe is an involved process and unique to each dancer. The pointe shoe lengthens the line of a dancer's leg and creates a pinpoint taper at the foot, enhancing the elegance of classical ballet technique. Working on the very small surface of the pointe also allows for faster and more numerous turns and movements, increasing the impression of speed and precision. In order to maintain the iillusion of lightness, a dancer must learn to seamlessly roll up and down in hard shoes and learn to run and walk in pointe shoes without making noise.
Pointe work requires strength and can be very challenging. Occasionally, choreography will call for a dancer to hop on pointe as in the "Doll Dance" in the Act I of the Nutcracker.