"You Have Good Feet."
“You have good feet.”
Being on the receiving end of this statement feels great, but if you have never heard that from your teacher in class, and instead hear, “point your feet” when you believe that you are… you might begin to think that you’re not cut out for dance, ballet in particular. You may feel frustrated because you believe that you are pointing your feet because you feel the effort, but you are not achieving the beautiful arch you believe you need to be a “good dancer”. What is happening!!!
Over the years, I have heard moms and students say that they would have continued with dance, ballet in particular, if they “had the right feet”. Conversely, I have heard moms say that, with ballet in particular, their daughter’s thing is ballet because she has beautiful feet. I say, let us not judge potential success based on the foot. The foot is only one aspect of dance and the foot alone does not a good dancer make.
The foot is a complex area of the body to begin with and is prone to injury due to poor biomechanics (muscles use, forces and loads, control; technique). It is required for all activities from walking your dog to balancing when reaching for a plate, to running to class to pressing the brake peddle in the car.
Fact: the dancer’s foot must remain healthy, or the dancer will be required to stop dancing until the foot is healed. Healing may take a long time (months), and the injury site is now compromised.
So, why push something so important as the foot?
If you are pushing this super important part of the dancer’s body to duplicate what is seen in a ballet meme or online picture of a professional dancer in a pointe shoe, please stop. These images are not just about the dancer, but also about the talent behind the lens; the talent of the photographer. These images also do not capture genetics. High arches and “flat feet” are inherited through genes. Biomechanics (good training and technique) can enhance what is there, or strengthen what is not there, but biomechanics cannot reshape your foot (neither can gadgets).
The Foot and the Ankle
The structure of your foot and ankle greatly influence the shape of your foot while you point it, regardless of effort felt, and if you are not aware of the structures, then you will not know how to work with what you have.
The talus connects to the end of the two leg bones (tibia and fibula). This forms the ankle joint. The ankle might be more flexible in one dancer than another during plantar flexion (this action points the foot down at the ankle joint), or eversion (this is what produces the “winged foot” look for the foot). We do not have control over the length or detailed shape of our bones. We can use good biomechanics (techniques) to enhance what we have. The "winged foot" is not natural for everyone. Train using proper ankle alignment and train for a stable joint that will not roll in either direction (during a jump or stationary position). Protect your foot by working toward proper ankle alignment in dance. It is all connected, and poor ankle alignment will produce negative results in your foot.
Toes to Ankle
When we think about toe bones (phalanges) we think about the bones that we can see; but, what about the bones that we cannot see?
The metatarsals are the part of the toes that we do not see, and these bones give the foot its arch. These bones are connected to the phalanges (the toe bones we see). There is also another bone called the cuboid bone. This bone is one of seven that connects the foot and ankle, and provides stability. Plantar fascia... Oiy. Fascia is dense connective tissue that helps support spaces. Plantar fascia supports the arch, which means it supports the metatarsals.
It's important to remember that the length of these bones will be different from person to person, and will change the way the foot looks while pointed. If you have shorter toes than your friend, then your foot might not look as pointed. This is an illusion, and yes, you are pointing your foot. And if your big toe is longer than the rest of your toes, then your foot might appear sickled. This is also an illusion. The idea is to work with what you have, and use proper technique (solid biomechanics) to strengthen what you have.
On the topic of pointing the foot, there is one muscle that, in my opinion, is superior to the others while the younger dancer is in training. This muscle is flexor hallucis longus. This muscle points the big toe at the foot (metacarpals), and helps pull the ankle into plantar flexion. It's worth getting to know.
I want to talk about sickling because this should be presented less as an aesthetic issue, and more as an issue of damage to the foot over time if not corrected. I have seen posts on social media blasting dancers for the sickled foot, or going on and on about what the sickled foot looked like. I want everyone to explain to the dancer that a sickled foot results in damage, period. It should never be about what it looks like.
I spend months, and sometimes years, helping a child redirect their movement out of a sickled foot. I will not allow a child to move up in class until she/he is able to feel that sickle on her/his own, and correct it her/himself. It is that important. That one thing, the sickled foot, will and should keep a child in a lower level until it is completely eliminated (and the winged foot provides an environment for ankle rolling and sprain... I don't support that either if it isn't already present). And there is nothing bad about being in a lower level class. Lower level classes provide a slower pace where the dancer is able to master everything she/he needs to become the strongest advanced dancer over time.
Also worth noting: "sickling" in relevé will provide height in relevé, but it is a false sense of accomplishment. Teachers who ask for a higher relevé might want to take a step back and make sure that the student isn't compromising proper ankle alignment to reach that higher relevé. This will, over time, damage the foot.
Having Trouble With Your Feet?
If you are having any chronic foot trouble, or think that your foot is unusually restricted in its movement, please make an appointment with your doctor or a podiatrist. Dance teachers are often teaching what they were taught decades ago when they were in class, and dance is an activity where more than half the injuries presented are related to the foot and ankle, and many of these injuries happen in adolescents and is caused by stretching too far, or failing to strengthen a limber joint.
These feet that we try to get, the ones that we worship in memes and online pictures, have a lot to do with genetics and movement is somewhat inherited. Your feet will be the ones you dance in for the rest of your life, at least, this should be the goal. You are able to enhance the presentation of the pointed foot, but please benchmark yourself against yourself.
Learn how protect your feet with proper biomechanics, and see a licensed medical healthcare provider if you there is something going on that is preventing you from moving without pain, or moving freely.
Go for style when you dance, and never think that you are beyond taking a beginner level class again, or a second or third, or fifth time, when it comes to biomechanics. And protect your feet!