Your feet impact your dance technique.
In Part 1 of this series on the feet I gave an overview of general foot care and maintenance, with specific attention given to the toes.
Now let’s take a deeper look at the mid-foot and ways to keep your feet strong, even in the off-season!
Arches of the foot
We often refer to dancers as having “high arches,” “low arches,” or “flat feet.” The way the middle portion of the foot is shaped can greatly impact a dancer’s technique and alignment.
Instead of thinking as the arch as just one “thing,” you can actually draw four arches along the foot. Their fancy anatomical names are: Medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal, anterior metatarsal and transverse.
The two longitudinal arches span the length of the foot, from the heel to the head of the metatarsals at the base of your toes. Medial indicates the pass toward the midline of the body over the great toe, and lateral passes along the outer edge of the foot from the heel to the fifth (pinky) toe.
A weak lateral longitudinal arch contributes to sickling and supination, while a weak or flattened medial longitudinal arch leads to pronation. Conversely, a dancer with a pronounced medial longitudinal arch (commonly referred to as a high arch) may also roll to the outside of the foot (supination).
The metatarsal arch spans the five metatarsal bones, and the transverse arch reaches across the lower ankle from the cuboid bone to the internal (or first) cuneform. This arch essentially mirrors the elastic on a ballet slipper. Both are used in stability and balance, particularly en releve.
From the bottom up…
Failing to pay close attention to the use of the foot can become the cause of a number of injuries.
Improper alignment of the foot in relevés and landings from jumps can lead to two of the most common dance injuries: ankle sprain and fifth metatarsal fracture (so common, in fact, that it is also referred to as the Dancers’ Fracture).
Poor alignment of the foot and arch can also weaken the ligaments that connect its many bones. A result of this can include a “fallen” arch – permanent loss of flexibility and lift in the longitudinal arches – along with a host of secondary conditions such as tendonitis, stress fractures, and integumentary (skin and nail) problems.
Because of the continual impact requested of the feet in dance, fallen arches or improper technique at this part of the body can also impact the entire alignment of the body and contribute to acute or chronic injury at the ankle, knee, hip, and/or back.
Dancers and instructors have mutual responsibility in understanding and being diligent in correcting the alignment of the feet, and building strong muscles to support the arches.
How to build strong feet:
Outside of class, there are a few exercises you can do at home to maintain and keep improving the strength in your feet. I would highly suggest investing in a theraband to assist you with these exercises, but you can also use a towel or just do them without any resistance:
- Point and flex: Sitting on the floor, pointe and flex your feet slowly with the theraband around the top half of your foot.
- Pick up the wash cloth: Sitting on a chair (or the sofa), place a small towel or washcloth on the ground and try to pick it up with just your toes. Check out this video from dancer Nikki White.
- Toe Sit-ups: pointe your toe and just lift the toes up and then back to pointe. Repeat 12 times, rest, and repeat to more sets of 12. Check out this great article from Nichelle including a video on how to do toe sit-ups.
- Ankle rolls: With a theraband, slowly roll your ankle outward 12 times and inward 12 times, articulating through the foot as much as possible. Rest and repeat two more times.
- For more ideas, visit this article from Chicago Dance Supply.
Please share your ideas and additional exercises for strong and flexible feet in the comments below!
Lauren Warnecke is a freelance writer and editor, focused on dance and cultural criticism in Chicago and across the Midwest. Lauren is the dance critic for the Chicago Tribune, editor of See Chicago Dance, and founder/editor of Art Intercepts, with bylines in Chicago Magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Media publications, among others. Holding degrees in dance and kinesiology, Lauren is an instructor of dance and exercise science at Loyola University Chicago. Read Lauren’s posts.