Why don't male ballet dancers dance on their toes? Is it something in the anatomy of the male foot, or possibly a weight distribution problem? The only answer I've received, "because no choreographer wrote a ballet calling for male toe-dancers," seems to be begging the question. Certainly Baryshnikov on his toes would have novelty value, if nothing else.
I recognize that the following explanation lacks a certain je ne sais quoi, but the fact is that male dancers don’t dance en pointe (or “on point,” as we simple folk put it) basically because no choreographer ever wrote a ballet calling for male toe-dancers. From a physical standpoint males are perfectly capable of the maneuver.
The idea in toe-dancing, which first appeared in the 1820s, was to portray women as ethereal, sylphlike creatures, rather than as the lumbering hippopotamuses that had been the predominant female characterization up to that time. Just about the only time you’ll see men on their toes is in certain Russian folk dances. I doubt male dancers are complaining–after a ballerina has bounced around the stage all night her big toe has gotta look like she pounded it with a hammer.
However. I have had occasion to see a unique ensemble called Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which specializes in–I’m not making this up–all-male drag ballet. Therein one may see not only men dancing en pointe but a host of other extraordinary sights besides. Don’t miss ’em next time they come through town.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.