Pointe shoes look dainty, but they really aren't. The tip of the shoe is a rigid box made of densely packed layers of fabric, cardboard and/or paper hardened by glue.
Pointe shoes enable the dancer to balance, spin, hop, pounce, slide, and linger on the tips of her toes. Before the advent of the modern reinforced pointe shoe, around 1900, ballerinas wore soft slippers and could not perform the steps, turns, and sustained balances on pointe that we expect of today’s dancers. Pointe shoes provide the necessary support for toe dancing by allowing the dancer to transfer her some of her weight to the shoe in two critical places, under the arch and around the toes.
But pointe shoes alone are not enough. Although the shoe helps the dancer to stand on tiptoe for long periods of time, it is her strength and technique that bring her from the normal standing position through a mid-position, “demi-pointe”, to the full-pointe position. Once en pointe she continues to work hard, maintaining a contraction of the muscles of the feet, ankles, legs and torso to pull herself up out of the shoe. No one lacking proper technique and adequate strength should attempt toe-dancing.