Whether you are still training or mid-career, finding the right routine
for highlighting your feet can be a moving target, a dizzying mix of
sorting through the right shoes, exercises and tricks of the trade. “I was
always very self-conscious of my feet,” admits Kathleen Breen Combes,
a principal dancer with Boston Ballet. “Over time I have literally tried
everything—trial and error is huge.” Stay open to the experimental
nature of the process. As Combes puts it, “If you haven’t been given
perfect feet, you have to be open to everything.”
THE MYTH OF FLAT FEET
“Most people, let alone dancers, have enough range of motion to go on
pointe,” says Mandy Blackmon, a physical therapist for Atlanta Ballet.
“It is almost always a strength problem. Floppy or flat feet may be the
result of weak intrinsic foot muscles.” Strengthening these tiny
muscles can help improve your line, as well as your balance, proprioception and the way you absorb the shock
of jumps. Two of the best exercises for them are:
THE CLASSIC TOWEL PULL
Sit or stand with your feet in parallel, toes on the
edge of an unfolded towel. Balancing on your
heels, lift all 10 toes and spread them out on the
towel. Use your toes to grab the towel and pull it
in towards you while keeping your arches lifted.
Repeat until all the material has been gathered.
You can also try reversing the process—lifting the
arches, curling the toes in, and then spreading the
towel out as your toes extend.
Sitting or standing with the whole foot on the floor, press down into your
smaller toe knuckles and pull your large toe knuckles in a little closer
to your heel, causing your arch to lift. Try to keep your toes long and
Make it harder: Try this with the toes lifted off the ground.
STRENGTHEN YOUR ANKLE ALIGNMENT
For Mariaelena Ruiz, director of the professional program at Cary
Ballet Conservatory, developing beautiful, articulate feet comes down
to focusing on the alignment and placement of the feet during your
strength training. “You can’t get strength if you are not properly
aligned,” says Ruiz. “Your weight needs to be placed evenly and you
cannot be rolled out or in.”
For young dancers, Ruiz divides the foot into eight parts
and asks students to use a full eight counts to achieve a
high demi-pointe or full pointe and another eight to roll
down. “Speed comes later, after strength,” says Ruiz.
For more feedback on your alignment during
Likewise, working through your full
relevés, Ruiz suggests looping one end of an exercise
band around the leg of a barre and the other around
your heel and ankle, tying it in a circle. Working
in parallel, resist as you roll up and down,
striving to maintain a balanced alignment
through the middle of the foot.
pointe while seated on the floor with an
exercise band is a time-tested warm-up,
There is no getting around it: Dancers are a
foot-obsessed bunch, forever looking to push
their arches to the max. So what can you do
to improve what you have and achieve a
superlative line with what you were given?
BY CANDICE THOMPSON
intrinsic foot muscles
can help improve
your line and your
balance. F r o