Do race car drivers have to have the best car possible and meticulously take care of it? Do tennis players have to use the best possible racquet? Do professional athletes also need the best possible trainers and medical care? Of course! Well, dancers are no different.
Unfortunately, while dancers often take good care of their body and seek the best doctors they can find, they frequently write off foot pain and chronic conditions as part of the deal. Dreadful feet have become synonymous with the job title “dancer”, especially “ballet dancer”.
While it is true that dance is hard on your feet and pointe work is extremely taxing and can be traumatic for your feet, it doesn’t have to be that way. Just like race cars and tennis racquets, your feet will endure a lot of wear and tear, but you can take steps to keep them strong, healthy and pain-free (or at least minimize the pain).
Your foot is a complex structure, brilliantly designed for speed, power and agility. While certain conditions and distortions have become expected, they actually make your feet weaker and could shorten your career. Sure, many extraordinary dancers have foot conditions like bunions and have long, successful careers, but imagine how much more could be accomplished with less pain and stronger, healthier feet!
We turned to BDC faculty member Joy Karley, MA, PMA-CPT for a few tips that can help everyone – dancers and non-dancers – keep their feet in prime condition. Bonus for dancers: this is like having that race car driver’s crew keep your feet ready to win!
#1. Protect your feet!
Sidewalks and other outdoor surfaces are covered with dirt, germs and other “stuff”. Thin-soled, open shoes put your feet in close proximity to all of it, risking infections. If you will be walking any distance, wear shoes that provide arch support and that are secured to your feet. Flip-flops disrupt normal gait patterns and force you to hold the shoe on with your toes and use different muscles when you walk. Over time, this can even cause or exacerbate injuries and deformities such as hammer toes. Flip-flops are great for the beach and poolside, but they are not good for walking. A good rule of thumb: if you are not wearing a bathing suit, you probably should not be wearing flip-flops.
#2. Buy shoes to fit.
Shoes should not need “breaking in”.Make sure they are wide enough in the metatarsal area (base of the toes) and that they don’t pinch your toes. If they hurt in the store, don’t buy them. Change it up! Wearing the same shoes every day can be hard on your feet. Alternate shoes at least a few times a week.And you don’t need to go grandma to be sensible! More and more shoe companies are making stylish shoes that don’t kill your feet. If you must wear the painful stilettos, put a thin gel insole in the shoe, limit your time walking and standing in them, wear comfy shoes to/from the event, then massage your feet and soak them in Epsom salts or ice water (3-5 minutes) afterward. Put lotion on them, and don’t abuse them the next day.
#3. Take care of your feet.
Clean feet with a soaped-up foot brush in the shower, and gently scrub calluses with a pumice stone. Put lotion on them before you go to bed. Use antiperspirant/deodorant on your feet before putting on your socks, and put powder in your shoes if you don’t wear socks. Spray out your shoes, and let them air out after wearing them.
#4. Massage your feet regularly.
No special training required. Do what feels good! Dozens of foot rollers and massage balls are available, but you can just massage them with your hands to relax them. For Plantar Fasciitis or just sore arches, rolling your foot on a frozen juice can or water bottle for 3-5 minutes provides relief.
#5. Exercise your feet.
Point them, flex them, clench them into little fists, spread your toes, try to move each one individually, gather up towels, pick up objects with your toes, draw circles and more. You can do this any time, even wiggling your toes with your shoes on helps. Use an inexpensive, wide, flat elastic band to strengthen feet and ankle muscles. Wrap it around your foot (not too tight) and point, flex, move it in circles, push it side to side, and push/pull it with your toes. Wrap it over the top of your foot, and pull up on it to strengthen the top of your foot and shin.
Want to make it even easier to take care of your tootsies? BDC has some answers for you:
The EHS Fabulous Foot Kit is available at the BDC Store. Created by a renowned foot and gait therapist, it contains implements to massage your feet, prep them for class and, most importantly, prevent and alleviate pain. The kit comes with instructions, but BDC staff are always happy to give you a quick demo and show you how to use it.
Take Joy’s Foot Conditioning Class to get your feet in tip top condition this summer. Your feet are your foundation and most important tool as a dancer. You’ll apply the techniques learned in Joy’s Fabulous Foot Workshop, as well as other exercises, releases and techniques to improve your strength, power, balance and flexibility! She will also address ankles, knees, hips, gait and more. Special requests are welcome and there are lots of Q&As to get your feet looking, feeling and performing at their best. The Foot Conditioning Class will be offered on Saturdays, June 16-September 1, 10:30am-12pm. Non-dancers welcome, so bring your family and friends!
By Joy Karley with Chelsea Zibolsky of Dance Informa.