Raffaele Morra of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in The Dying Swan (Roberto Ricci, courtesy Les Ballets Trockadero)

Why More and More Men Are Dancing on Pointe

Like many professional dancers, New York City Ballet's Gilbert Bolden III is totally used to sharing pics and vids of his dancing on social media. But in the fall of 2018, the corps de ballet member hesitated before posting one particular clip. "I was extremely nervous the first time I posted a video of me dancing on pointe," he remembers. "It felt like a big step—almost like coming out. But not a single person was shady or unwelcoming!"

Once pretty much limited to women, pointe shoes are now being donned by more and more male-identifying dancers—for reasons as diverse as the dancers themselves. If you, too, are a pointe-curious guy, allow Bolden and other amazing male dancers to point(e) you in the right direction.


The History of Men on Pointe

Professional male dancers have been performing on pointe at least since the late 1940s. In ballets like Cinderella and The Dream, British choreographer Frederick Ashton frequently has men wearing pointe shoes for comedy's sake. But Bennet Gartside, a principal character artist with The Royal Ballet, says that "proper" pointe technique for a man dancing in drag as one of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters is worlds away from the refined pointework of Princess Aurora. "I don't have to make it look nice or beautiful, or even be completely over my box all the time," Gartside explains. "You're expected to hoof around a bit aggressively."

You've probably heard of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male drag ballet troupe that's toured internationally since the 1970s. In contrast to Ashton's charmingly inelegant characters, The Trocks' parodies of famous ballets demand real-deal pointe technique. In fact, Trocks ballet master Raffaele Morra says that the large number of young men trying pointework these days means that the company can make its choreography even more authentic to the original ballets. "Now that dancers join having already trained on pointe, we can do Paquita's 32 fouettés with double and triple turns," Morra says. "We only need to tweak the choreography to make it funnier."

"Pointe shoes have always been enigmatic and alluring to me. After years of curiosity, I figured it was time to get a pair of my own and see what all the fuss is about. If you want to get a pair of pointe shoes (and have $100), who can stop you?!" —American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside (aka pop artist JBDubs)

Gartside as Bottom in The Dream (Bill Cooper, courtesy Royal Opera House)

What's the Pointe?

So, why are a growing number of young men putting on pointe shoes—despite the blisters, bruised toenails, and other delights that female dancers know all too well? Josephine Lee, an expert pointe shoe fitter, has recently seen more guys getting fitted for two main reasons. "First, you definitely articulate your feet and ankles differently up on full pointe," she says. "Improving flexibility and stability in your foot and ankle is one real benefit." And as societal norms have (slowly) evolved, the idea of men wearing traditionally female attire of any type has become less and less controversial. "A lot of men I've fitted wanted to pursue pointe when they were growing up," Lee says, "but it wasn't clear to them that they had the choice."

Ballet tends to attract the kind of person who jumps at a challenge and strives for constant improvement—and what's pointework if not an exciting technical and artistic challenge? "It's like saying to a female tennis player that she can't use a specific racquet because it's for men," Morra says. "Every dancer can dance on pointe. Ballet has always been the experience of pushing the body's limits, and now it's time for men to do that with pointe shoes."

Whiteside stands on pointe (courtesy Whiteside)

Bolden's motivation for starting pointework was simple: "It's so much fun! When I was younger, pointe was always in the back of my head as something I wanted to try, just from watching the female principals." Now he's discovering previously unfamiliar muscles, mastering tons of classical variations, and articulating his feet and ankles like never before. And he's found yet another benefit: "When I'm choreographing, I'll put on pointe shoes to try out the steps. You have to get in the shoe sometimes to understand what's possible."

Gartside says that going on pointe helped him empathize with his pas de deux partners in a new way. "Dancing as Bottom in The Dream for the first time really enlightened me as to what the ladies go through on a daily basis," Gartside recalls. "I could barely survive an hour, and they do this all the time. I'm just absolutely in awe."

Eric Underwood in Wayne McGregor's Carbon Life (Bill Cooper, courtesy Royal Opera House)

Pointe-ing the Way Forward

The hope is that as more male-identifying dancers reach high levels of pointe proficiency, a more gender-diverse group of dancers will have opportunities to perform in pointe shoes for an audience. Bolden experienced that thrill for the first time earlier this summer, when NYCB principal Ashley Bouder choreographed a piece for the Vineyard Arts Project that saw Bolden dancing on pointe for an entire movement. "At 6'3", I'm a big guy," Bolden says. "This ballet had me dancing with the smallest girl in the cast. Ashley wanted to show that pointe really is for everyone."

Morra, Lee, Gartside, and Bolden agree that as long as you have your teacher's approval and supervision, there's no good reason not to go on pointe as a male dancer. As Morra says, "If something is meaningful and beautiful, how can it be female or male?" Bolden takes it one step further: "Pointe is just another facet of who I am," he says. "It's definitely been eye-opening and a lot of hard work, but it's really just an extension of the ballet training I'm already getting."

Latest Posts


Courtesy Hollywood Vibe

These Dance Comps and Conventions Are Coming to a Living Room Near You

While dancers all over the world are sharing the heartache of canceled classes, shows, and projects, our hearts hurt especially hard for a group of dancers we at Dance Spirit couldn't admire more: comp and convention kids. Determined to challenge your artistry and learn from cutting-edge faculty, you dancers normally brave crowded ballrooms and nonstop schedules all year long. But just because you might not be in one of those crowded ballrooms for a while doesn't mean that part of your dance life has to grind to a halt.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Taylor Goldberg, Jordan Goldberg, and JT Church attending REVEL's virtual convention (courtesy Leslie Church)

What It's Like to Attend a Virtual Dance Convention

During this new era of social distancing, the dance world has gotten pretty creative. Tons of teachers, studios, competitions, and conventions have stepped up to the plate to help fill our living rooms with virtual dance content. But what's it really like to attend a dance convention online?

Dance Spirit followed JT Church, "Dancing With The Stars: Juniors" pro and "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" runner-up, as he spent the weekend attending REVEL's "Rev-Virtual" online convention experience.

Hey guys! I have been a special guest faculty assistant for REVEL Dance Convention for the last four years. So I was excited to find out they'd be hosting a series of online convention weekends. With everything that's going on, I've been missing conventions so much. I knew it'd be great to be able to keep up my training.

Two of my best friends, Jordan and Taylor Goldberg—I dance with them at Club Dance—asked me to come over to their home studio so we could take REVEL's online classes together. Here's how it all went.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

It’s OK to Grieve: Coping with the Emotional Toll of Canceled Dance Events

Grace Campbell was supposed to be onstage this week. Selected for the Kansas City Ballet School's invitation-only Kansas City Youth Ballet, her performance was meant to be the highlight of her senior year. "I was going to be Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, and also dance in a couple of contemporary pieces, so I was really excited," she says. A week later, the group was supposed to perform at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC. In May, Grace was scheduled to take the stage again KC Ballet School's "senior solos" show and spring performance.

Now, all those opportunities are gone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has consumed the dance community. The performance opportunities students have worked all year for have been devoured with it. Those canceled shows might have been your only chance to dance for an audience all year. Or they might have been the dance equivalent to a cap and gown—a time to be acknowledged after years of work.

You can't replace what is lost, and with that comes understandable grief. Here's how to process your feelings of loss, and ultimately use them to help yourself move forward as a dancer.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
contest
Enter the Cover Model Search