Some people are amazed when they see a dancer on pointes for the first time, as hopping around on the tips of the toes appears to be painful for the dancer. But pointe shoes support a dancer's feet from underneath the arch by a stiff insole, or shank. The front portion of the shoe, known as the toe box, encases the toes tightly allowing the weight of the body to rest on an oval-shaped platform. The outside material of a pointe shoe is usually made of pink satin that can be dyed to match costumes for performances.
Although pointe shoes enable a dancer to stand directly on her toes, she must use her own strength and technique to achieve a full-pointe position from a normal standing position. Once she reaches a full-pointe position, she must continually contract the muscles of the feet, ankles, legs and torso in order to pull up and out of the shoe. Because of the strength and technique required for pointwork, a dancer must train in soft ballet slippers for several years before attempting to wear pointe shoes. Trying to dance en pointe too early can cause significant injury.