The sight of a woman’s leg probably was an unusual and exciting event considering that hemlines up to and including the nineteenth century were kept conservative, confined to floating between floor- and ankle-length. That is, of course, with the exception of dancers. Always shorter than the skirts of non-dancers, the hemline of the ballerina’s tutu was raised even higher, hitting the summit of the knee, in the eighteen-forties (Soloman-Godeau 1986). The dance critic, Theophile Gautier’s extended discourse on Elssler's knee demonstrates how remarkable the sight of a woman’s lower leg was and how worthy of detailed observation. This fascination with the female leg was even given an element of the divine, once again conflating the physical and the spiritual: “She is the priestess of the chaste art; she prays with her legs” (Lee 1999, p. 155).
This fascination for the leg was underscored and enhanced by the pointe shoe: while hemlines were shortened to increase the expanse of exposed leg, the foot rose to the occasion to lengthen its appearance. When the shoes were coupled with tights of the same colour (usually pink), the foot of the dancer sur la pointe disappeared, affecting the illusion of long, continuous legs. The feet and legs that made it possible to represent the otherworldly creatures of the Romantic ballet, were also the site of the fetishistic desire and erotic titillation of the male spectator.