En pointe dancing in ballet involves standing on the toes, requiring special shoes and years of practice. Male dancers rarely dance en pointe due to the difficulty and lack of choreography. Exceptions include Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where male dancers dance en pointe in ballerina attire.
Dancing en pointe in ballet means standing up to your toes, so that your entire body weight is concentrated on that small area. Pointe dancing usually uses special pointe shoes, which are substantially reinforced, often made with canvas or leather. Though rare, men do indeed dance en pointe at times. This is by far the exception rather than the rule, and there are a number of reasons for this.
En pointe dancing first became popular in the 1830s and was most often used in romantic ballet. A ballerina’s look when she’s en pointe is meant to be otherworldly, conveying the etherealness of the female form and reinforcing the graceful, flowing movements already present in romantic ballet. Male dancers are not meant to understand this ideal to the same extent, and therefore need not be made to dance en pointe.
Preparing the body for dancing en pointe is quite a difficult ordeal. Most female dancers spend at least a few years of regular practice before they are considered ready to dance en pointe. The bones must be fully formed to ensure that the pressure does not damage the developing foot, and great care must be taken to use proper form and build sufficient strength. Strength training can be a rigorous endeavor, and injuries are by no means uncommon.
These challenges are all very real for ballerinas, who often weigh less than 100 pounds. For male dancers, who often weigh much more, the challenge is even greater. Care must be taken in developing strength in the arch and ankles, and for many male dancers, being able to dance en pointe is simply not worth it. At the same time, some male dancers, including Baryshnikov, have argued for the value of dancers learning to dance en pointe, if only as an exercise in strength and balance, and to foster greater empathy and understanding with their female counterparts.
If you ignore weight as an excuse, there really isn’t a good reason why more men aren’t dancing en pointe. The general consensus is simply that you don’t see male tiptoe dancers because choreographers don’t tend to come up with compositions for them. There are a few exceptions to this, including some Cinderella performances and Sir Frederick Ashton’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Bottom the donkey dances en pointe to represent hooves.
Another notable exception is the all-male corps de ballet of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, in which a number of dancers wear ballerina attire and dance women’s parts. Since the corps primarily focuses on classical and romantic ballet, this means that most of their shows feature many male dancers dancing en pointe. Although the body is presented as a parody in many ways, the technical skill of the dancers is still quite formidable and shows quite clearly the male dancers’ ability to dance en pointe with great skill.