Meet Your Feet, Part 1

The human body contains 208 bones, and 52 of them are in your feet.

bones_footYour foot is arguably one of the most complex structures in the body, especially when you consider the purpose it serves for us dancers: support, balance, and propulsion.

Much like the musician and his instrument, for us dancers it is crucial that we keep our feet in good working order.

Foot maintenance:

Dancers are notorious for their… um… not-so-attractive feet.  “Pedicure” is not in our vocabularies!  Here are some considerations for ways to prevent and treat minor injuries, and general care for your feet:

  1. Cut your toenails short, and straight across.  The nail should be straight across and not curved because curved nails or nails that are too long can lead to ingrown toenails.  The length of the nail should be *just* where the white part begins, with a very small amount of white showing.  Use clippers as opposed to scissors to get a clean, straight cut.
  2. Don’t wear toenail polish.  Polish prevents you from being able to see under the nail, so you can’t see if you’re developing a problem such as a bruised or ingrown nail.  That doesn’t mean you can NEVER wear polish… go ahead and wear it for special events and then take it off before your next class, or, wear a clear polish that allows you to see the nail.tiredfeet
  3. Learn to love calluses.  Dancers should keep their calluses trimmed if they are overly thick and causing pain (forexample, if it feels bumpy in your shoe or against the floor), but generally calluses are a really good thing.  They help protect against blisters and abrasions, so avoid the urge to file them off!
  4. If you develop a blister: Blisters are par for the course in pointe work, especially as you break in new shoes. They can also result from rubbing in soft shoes or jazz shoes, or from harder tap or character shoes. Blisters can occur anywhere on your foot, but generally tend to pop up on the surface of the toes, inside or outside border of the metatarsals, or on the heel. Blisters can be painful – even the littlest ones! Below is some advice on how to treat the two main types of blisters:
    • If you develop a clear colored blister, and the skin hasn’t broken, use a sterilized needle to pop the blister and drain out the liquid.  Do not remove the loose skin; cover with a bandaid and strip of athletic tape.  If the skin has begun to tear, use a small pair of scissors to remove any loose skin and cover with a bandaid and strip of athletic tape.
    • If you develop a red colored blister, do not pop it.  Blood blisters should be left to heal on their own; cover with a bandaid and strip of athletic tape.
    • For painful blisters you can also cut the center out of a small piece of moleskin to form a donut shape. This prevents the surface of your shoe from rubbing on the blister until it heals.  Cut a square or circle that’s bigger than your blister.  Fold in half and make a slit.  Putting the scissors through the slit, cut an inner circle the size of the blister.  Remove the paper covering and stick the moleskin pad to surround the blister.
    • Finally, check the fit of your shoe. Blisters are normal with new shoes, but if you are developing them on a regular basis you may want to see about a different style that better molds to your foot.

Take Inventory on Your Dance Bag:

Making sure you have everything you need is critical to foot maintenance, especially if you’re a pointe shoe dancer. Here’s a list of supplies I recommend keeping in your dance bag:

  • Nail clippers
  • Band aids
  • Athletic tape
  • Mole skin
  • Extra lamb’s wool or toe pads
  • Needle and thread
  • Extra elastic
  • Small pair of scissors
  • Tennis ball or foot roller

While these are the essentials, the list of what can appear in a dancer’s bag goes on and on.

Pointe Magazine does a feature called “Show and Tell”, featuring various professional dancers and diving inside their bags (sometimes including really obscure things like Kit-Kat bars, good luck charms, and Vaseline).

Over time, as you get to know your feet better, you’ll discover what you really need (and what you should include for rainy day emergencies).

Share with me:

Do you have a story and/or picture of a foot injury that you can share? In part three of this series I would like to share a few readers’ stories about your experiences with foot and ankle injuries.  Other questions to consider:

  • What do you do to keep your feet in top condition?
  • What’s the silliest/strangest thing in your dance bag?

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on the social media sites to share your experiences, or leave in the comments below.  A few reader stories will be featured in the column this March, right here on Dance Advantage!

More Meet Your Feet!

Part 2: Building stronger feet

Part 3: Acute injuries (sprains and strains)

Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke

Dance writer, educator at Art Intercepts
Lauren Warnecke is a dance writer based in Chicago, IL, and is a contributing author at 4dancers.org, danceadvantage.net, Windy City Times, and SeeChicagoDance.com. In 2009 Lauren created Art Intercepts, a blog for dance-based discourse that incorporates dance and movement research, editorial commentary, and critical reviews. She is a full-time faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Lauren Warnecke
Lauren Warnecke
Lauren Warnecke

Comments

  1. I have had several foot injuries within the past two years. From Peroneal tendinitis to my current aliment of plantar fasciitis. I have had PF for the past 8 months and I am doing everything, aggressively, to rid myself of the pain. I ice all day long, wrap it, massage the calf muscles and all lower leg muscles, stretch the calf muscles, massage the muscles of the feet, ibuprofen, elevate, wear a night splint, think healing thoughts, and have cut way back on jumping movements, and try to keep the ankle in a Doris flexion position as much as possible.

    I also have a photo of my black toe nail that I wear with honor. I got it the second time I wore a brand new pair of pointe shoes. It was a different brand that I never had tried before and it completely smashes my toes when I wear them. I’d be happy to send the photo to you.

    Lisa

  2. Lisa, I’d love to chat more with you about your injuries, and yes, I’d actually love a photo of your bruised toenails! Can I follow up with you by email?

  3. Estefanía Vargas says:

    Hi Lauren, thanks for the amazing article. I started ballet when I was 5, and stopped at 15 because of a plantar fascitis, misdiagnosed as a sprained ankle that eventually gave me a tendinitis… Well, as you can imagine, the pain was horrible, but the frustration more so… Anyway, since then (I’m 27 now) I’ve been coming and going as far as dance goes (tango, ballet, latin), but since last year I’ve been doing flamenco and feeling great. Now, yesterday I started ballet again. It wasn’t as bad as I thought I’d be, but yeah, the cramps just wouldn’t stop… Maybe you cold give me a piece of advise??? How should I take care of my foot, avoid the cramping and the pain…? Will I ever be able to do pointe again (’cause it scares the hell outta me…)? Thank you so much!!! God bless!!!

  4. Estefania, I’m glad you’re throwing your hat back in the ring and trying ballet again! Since ballroom and flamenco are so different in terms of how the feet are used, it makes sense that you might experience some cramping in your feet. It would be essentially the same way your bigger muscles would fee if you hadn’t worked them out for several years! The pain and cramping *should* subside as you take more ballet, and in the meantime try rolling your feet out on a tennis ball. If you’re finding that the pain isn’t going away after several weeks, or you experience any sharp, piercing pain, then it’s cause for more concern. Have fun!

  5. At my dance studio, we do a special foot rub every week to relax our feet. It helps so much when your feet are hurting. After we do our foot rub my feet feel so much better and flexible and I find its easier to go on releve. I love it!

  6. swasti kapur says:

    Hi! So im from india, started pointe work 2 minths back. But havent yet overcome the issue of blisters. They are killing me. Was taking google’s advice on it, and found your page. So, my blisters, never really make noise untill they burst. And they are quick that way. I had a 2 hour class of pointe work yesterday, and after the class, i remove my shoes and bam! I have blisters that have already poppen in my shoes, on my big toe’s side bone. Its crazy. I havent been able to dance or walk. They are seriously killing me. Even after puuting powder, taping them, bandaids and what not. They still come up and burst in my shoes. And hurt crazy after that, so that i burst out into tears.
    Now that they are popped already, i need them to heal ASAP. I have a show coming up. Cannot take a chance of not performing . Could you help me, as to how i can heal these burst blisters? In desperate need for them to heal. Cannot cannot camnot let them kill me everytime i walk. HELP!!

    • Hi Swasti! I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having so much distress with blisters. They can definitely be painful. Because you are rather new to pointe, it’s not too surprising, though, and I suspect as you continue your feet will develop calluses and you won’t blister as much. I would suggest that you make sure your feet are cool and dry. For example, if you sleep with socks on or your feet wrapped in covers, try airing them out overnight instead. If it continues, you may also want to check the fit of your shoe. Perhaps there is another shoe out there that will fit your foot better and rub less on your big toe. Without knowing you or your feet, it’s hard to say for sure what’s happening, but I hope that helps and wish you the best of luck!

  7. Hi – I came here looking for advice to make sure my daughter takes good care of her feet – that is my biggest worry with the amount of dancing she is doing – hip hop, modern, and ballet. I have seen dancers with very nice feet and some with horrifying feet and would like to help her have nice feet. One thing that I did learn, from my son who was a competitive gymnast, is that preparation-H really helped shrink swelling and keep calluses pliable enough that they wouldn’t then “rip” which is what happens to gymnast’s hands on the bars. Maybe it can do the same for dancer’s feet – and it feels very cooling and soothing! -

    • Excellent – thanks for the preparation-H tip, Stephanie! As for keeping your daughter’s feet nice, a dancer’s feet work hard and they will definitely show it over time. But though she might not ever qualify for being a foot model, it is possible to keep her feet healthy. We will continue to try and provide resources that will help her do that. Thanks for reading!

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