Do you remember your first pointe shoe fitting and your first pointe class? Although it was uncomfortable and unconventional, it was so magical to dance on your toes. Your shoes were shiny, new and so pretty and you felt like a real ballerina.
Finding your feet in pointe is a personal journey from how you sew your ribbons and break in your shoes to what style and brand you like to wear. Some dancers seem to transition to pointe like they were made to dance on their toes and others find it a challenge of perseverance, blisters, bunions and cramping arches or aching ankles. Any ballerina will agree, though, that no matter the pain, pointe is worth its ethereal illusion of weightlessness. Ballerinas are happiest when upon their toes.
Award-winning, young competition dancer and model Tate McRae, 12, started dancing at six and first started pointe about two years ago, at 10 and a half. “When I finally got en pointe, it was a dream come true,” she exclaimed. “I am finally a ballerina,” she thought.
Stretching and strengthening your feet have many benefits to your overall technique and presentation as a ballet dancer. Dancers have found all sorts of ways to stretch feet over the years using all sorts of tecnhniques like cramming their feet under a piano or couch, using tools built specifically to stretch feet, or even asking a friend to do it. And while some are effective, some other techniques can actually be quite risky and may result in injury.
A dancer strives for two things, among many others: strength and flexibility. One without the other and there is an imbalance.
Today we’ll show you a couple ways to stretch your feet that are both safe and easy.
These foot stretches are simple stretches that don’t require you to buy anything, ask anyone or use any tools.
Foot Stretch Technique #1: Grab and Pull Back
The basic idea, as you may have guessed, is that you grab your foot and pull back. Let’s take a look:
Sitting on the floor, place the foot you want to stretch over your other thigh to create a figure 4 with your legs.
With the hand closest to your heel, push into your heel. Be sure to relax your Achilles! (the large band coming down from your calf that attaches to your heel)
With the hand closest to your toes, place it over your toes and up your foot a couple inches and pull back so that your foot arches, feeling a nice stretch on the top.
And that’s it! It’s simple but effective. Need a little more stretch? Read on for technique number 2!
Foot Stretch Technique #2: Wrap n’ Push
It’s not really called “Wrap n’ Push,” as that name was made up just seconds ago. More important than thinking of a creative label, is how effective this foot stretch really is! If you find that stretching your feet with your hands hasn’t quite worked well, this one is for you. Let’s take a look
Once again, sitting on the floor, place the foot you want to stretch over your other thigh to create a figure 4 with your legs.
Lift your foot up slightly and wrap your arm (that is on the same side of the leg you bent) under your bent leg, grabbing the top of your foot toward your toes with your hand.
With your free hand, place it on top of your hand that is grabbing on the top and bottom half of your foot.
Lean slightly forward so that your elbow is tucked more closely under your calf and the top of your arm is pushing right into your calf muscle.
Now that you’re setup, be sure not to feel any tension in your knee and remember to relax your foot and Achilles.
Begin stretching your foot by pulling back with both of your hands and at the same time equally pushing your leg forward.
By pulling equally on your foot with your hands and pushing out with your arm, your leg shouldn’t actually move, but you should feel quite a bit more extra strength to better stretch your foot.
You can play around with this one to best suit it to your body, but the push and pull action that allows for the additional strength is the general idea.
Remember, you should never feel that you are straining or “working too hard” to stretch your feet. You don’t want to overstretch your feet. Ease into it slowly and take a break from time to time to let the whole foot relax. You will end up getting more out of your stretches this way.
Here is one final look at this effective stretch, but from the angle you’d see if trying it for yourself.
Why Are These Foot Stretches More Safe and While Some Others Aren’t?
The biggest reason why these foot stretches are more safe is because you are in complete control of the stretch and you are doing it with your hand, meaning you are not adding additional stress on your body. For example, other stretches may often involve the dancer prying their feet underneath a heavy object and stretching their knee until they feel a stretch. By doing so, the dancer is placing an incredible amount of tension and strain on the knee joint, muscles in the leg, and digging their heel painfully into the ground for more leverage.
You don’t want to overstretch your feet.
Another popular (for unknown reasons) method for stretching feet is asking a friend to stretch your feet. For this to happen, the asker first must assume that the stretcher is actually okay with touching his or her feet. Then the asker usually sits on the floor with a leg stretched out in front while the stretcher pushes down with a lot of force. This is basically the same idea of prying your foot underneath a heavy object, but now you are at risk of your friend pushing down with enough force that by the time you yell out “Ouch!” its too late and you’ve overstretched your foot. This technique, though popular in schools, is not recommended for many reasons, besides safety, you are now relying on someone else to do the work for you, which is like asking someone to do all of your homework while you get the credit.
Still, Always Be Careful
Stretching your feet is always recommended, so long as you aren’t facing an injury of course. But that being said, you always want to be careful. Don’t stretch your feet so much that you’re actually causing them to be weak, which leads us to our final tip. Also, be sure that you stretching your feet in a sickled position.
Always Wrap Up With a Few Strengthening Exercises
Now that you’ve stretched your feet so well, you want them to be able to get there on their own without help from your hands. There is little chance that will happen without adding some exercises to strengthen your feet in the range of their new found flexibility. After you’ve done some foot stretching, be sure to grab a therapy band for some strengthening exercises or do some tendus.
A dancer strives for two things, among many others: strength and flexibility. One without the other and there is an imbalance. Weak but very flexible feet can be just as much of a hurdle as strong but flexible feet when it comes to ballet technique.
As if dancing on my toes wasn’t painful enough, I suffered from ingrown toenails for years. It got to the point that I didn’t even know what a healthy toenail was supposed to look like. I saw a podiatrist who said that I should have surgery to remove part of the ingrown toenail. The recovery time would take two to three months before I would be able to dance again. I didn’t want to miss out on dancing for that long so I suffered through dancing on four ingrown toenails.
One of my colleagues told me about an old wives’ tale to get rid of ingrown toenails. I was so desperate to try anything that I gave it a try. It worked! Not only did they go away, they have never come back!
According to the old wives’ tale, you cut a V-shape into the center of the toenail. The nail gravitates toward the weakest part of the nail, so if the sides are weak, the nail will grow toward the side resulting in ingrown toenails. By cutting the V in the center of the nail, it starts growing toward the V to close the gap. The nail starts growing in rather than out. This is such a simple yet effective cure and I’ve been cutting a V into my toenails ever since.
For those of you who do not have ingrown toenails, I’ll tell you how to prevent them. Cut your toe nails straight across, then use a nail file to smooth the sharp ends of the nail. Stop somewhere around the tip of the toe before it becomes too short to prevent sensitivity. If you keep your nails square, you will be able to avoid ingrown toenails.
I am not a podiatrist, but I hope this simple trick helps you either get rid of ingrown toenails or prevent them from ever happening. Happy dancing!
We often think of using food as fuel: ingest it, burn it, use it for energy. However, food and beverages are what our bodies use for every function, from muscle contraction to nerve impulse to new cell formation! Many foods, especially natural and minimally processed foods, provide us with many nutrients that our bodies use in a myriad of ways. For example, the mineral calcium is well known for being a hugely important part of bone health by helping us build and maintain bone density. But, did you know that calcium is also critical for creating an electric impulse that travels down a nerve, or for allowing a muscle to relax after contracting? Our bodies host a complex orchestration that allows us to function under conditions ranging from maximal exertion to complete rest.
There are six nutrient groups: Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals and Water. Most foods contain more than one nutrient but it is important to eat a wide variety of food to make sure we get them all! ALL are important, so do not cut any out of your diet.
Carbohydrates are primarily used for short-term energy while fats are primarily used for long-term energy, insulation and cell formation. Proteins make muscles and many other cells, and we need to consume enough carbohydrates and fats so that we aren’t using up our proteins for energy. The only complete food source for protein is meat, so vegetarians must make sure they eat a good variety of plant-sources to get all the essential amino acids.
Vitamins and minerals are used in many different bodily functions. Fat-soluble vitamins are easily stored in the body but water-soluble vitamins are easily flushed out so we need to consume them on a daily basis. Did you know water is a nutrient? It is so vital to your health that losing only 1% of your body weight in water can result in the ill effects of dehydration. Plenty of research has shown that losing even 2% can result in huge deficits in physical and mental performance!
This sounds like a term more suitable to carrying boxes! Basically, we do not want to overwork our bodies by doing too much too soon. We should make physical changes gradually. Research has found that dancers tend to get injured when they have a dramatic change in their workload, either a rapid increase in the amount of dancing or a quick transition to a new style of dance for which the body is unprepared.
How can we prepare our bodies for such changes? Rather than jumping right into a new schedule or new repertory, we should do what we can to introduce our bodies to the change by taking time to increase the volume and/or intensity of physical load. This could mean gradually increasing the number of classes we take as we transition from time off back into our full dance schedules. Or it could be increasing the number of repetitions we do of class combinations to improve strength or endurance in preparation for starting a new rehearsal period.
Another example might be as specific as introducing our bodies to a new dance style or choreography. A little research will go a long way; if you find out you will be doing modern rep and you are not used to working in parallel, start doing some exercises at home that strengthen your adductors and internal rotators. If you know you’re going to be doing a high intensity dance that has you sweating and panting, add some cardio exercises and increase your reps in class until your endurance is spot on. When you know the demands, you can make smart adjustments and prevent overuse and fatigue.
Read the full article here for more injury prevention information.
Looking for the perfect cross training exercise to enhance your dance technique?
Pilates may be just the thing to help you strengthen your core while increasing flexibility and it happens to be lots of fun too!
Dance greats like Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Rudolf von Laban, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham all used the Pilates method!
WHAT IS PILATES?
Pilates is a mind-body exercise program developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. Pilates uses movement and breath to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. Full body movements performed on a mat, or using specially designed equipment, focus on the core muscle groups of the abdomen and the back.
THE PILATES – DANCE CONNECTION
Although founder Joseph Pilates was not a dancer, he worked with many famous dancers when he moved to the United States from Europe. Dance greats like Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Rudolf von Laban, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham worked with Pilates and often sent their dancers to see him for injury rehabilitation.
So why did these dance masters, and hundreds of dancers since, take to Pilates so eagerly? For one, both disciplines use the whole body, and focus the mind in their movements. Both Pilates and dance tend to create long and lean muscles, and use resistance and momentum to work on strength, flexibility, and posture.
In addition, many of the exercises in isolate key muscles used in dance technique, thus naturally strengthening dance movements. When I studied dance in college, Pilates training was part of a body alignment class I took. After several months of working on the Pilates Reformer apparatus, I noticed my balance in ballet class had improved, as did my pirouettes, and strength in jumping.
She’s not just her multiple pirouettes. She’s not just her gorgeous lines. Dusty Button, principal dancer for Boston Ballet, is so much more. She is a choreographer, dance fashion line designer, car enthusiast, dedicated wife and an inspiration to young dancers everywhere.
Dance Informa was fortunate enough to chat with Button about her inspirations, what a day in her life looks like and her advice for dancers wanting to pursue a career in ballet.
Tell me a little bit about where you’re from and your dance training. What made you want to pursue a more ballet-centric career?
“I am a Southern Bell, having grown up in South Carolina, and the training was much slower paced than that of London, New York City and Boston, as I learned once leaving home at a young age to pursue my career. I am very structured and of all genres that I studied, ballet seemed to be the one with the richest and most structured history. With a foundation like that I can only see room for growth.”
This Sunday mark your calendars for Dance NJ’s “Show Up and Dance” showcase. Dance NJ is a service organization committed to reaching new audiences and promoting dance education in the state.Dance NJ has organized this amazing event which will feature several talented artists who will showcase their choregraphy.
Show up and Dance will feature the following dance companies/choreographers..
Nai Ni Chen
10 Hairy Legs
Alborada Dance Theatre
Somerset County Vo-Tech Highschool
Breaking Waves Dance Academy
Performing Arts Ensemble
Shoreline Dance Academy
Don’t miss out on this opportunity to be inspired by amazing choregraphers and the art of dance!