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Though genetics determines a large part of your arches and your capacity for pointe, you can significantly enhance what you are born with by gently stretching the ligaments and strengthening muscles over time.
Though there are many things on a dancer’s wish-list, like flexibility, musicality, fast allegro, an exquisite arabesque, but the most yearned after feature for every ballerina is a beautiful pointe. Ever since Marie Taglioni brazenly went to new heights by stepping ‘en pointe” back in the seventeenth century, the dancers have aspired to elongate their body lines and hoped for beautifully pointed feet with a high instep. As a dancer, whether you are a professional ballerina or a beginner, you know the importance of your foot arch.
As you yearn for high arched, articulate feet a la Sylvie Guillem, we share with you how we can work around what we have.
Either you have a high arched foot where ligaments are generally stronger, so the arch is higher even when you are standing. The other type is the flat foot, where the ligaments are weak, and as a result, they may not be able to point if it is too rigid. For those who have relatively flexible flat foot, gradually developing strength and flexibility of ligaments helps dancers perfect their arches when standing.
The bad news- there is no magical way to change the bone structure of your foot. You can not improve a flat foot to become a perfectly arched pointe. But there is some good news too! There are ways by which you can enhance the overall look of the foot when pointed. With a flat foot, you might not get the same height in the middle of the arch, but you can improve the flexibility and strength so that it appears more arched in the shoe. You can improve the line of the foot with practice and exercises.
The beauty of your foot arch is that it gets stronger with stress. The harder you push down, the tighter its parts – 26 bones, 33 joints, 12 tendons, and 18 muscles, mesh.
Christopher Mcdougall, the author of the bestseller "Born to Run" talks about having strong arches-
“Feet live for a fight and thrive under pressure; let them laze around... and they'll collapse.
Work them out, and they'll arc up like a rainbow."
Sure, you have to live with the shape of the foot you got. But with these pro tips that professional dancers swear by, you can improve the shape of your arch.
The working leg is the most important leg is a myth. When working on pointe, dancers tend to focus only on the working leg. But what you are doing in a relaxed position plays a crucial role.
Vicki Negus, the West Australian Ballet's resident physiotherapist, notes: “ Some people are very focused on improving their arch on l’air and in tendu and so on, but don't look at what their arch does as a supporting leg. If you let your arch collapse when it is weight-bearing, all the bones of the arch have rolled in and will get strong in that rolled position. If you lift your arch when you are standing on it, you are strengthening it in the correct position. Arch control is important for balance and landing jumps."
Try this ballet foot stretcher to ensure your entire foot, including your supporting foot, get some real stretching and workout.
Improve all the muscles that contribute to the arch of the foot. To make significant improvements to your pointe, you need to build strength and stability in all the muscles that are involved in the process of plantar flexion, i.e., foot pointing. Calf muscles and intrinsic foot muscles should be strengthened. Try to isolate the muscles in the foot itself without engaging the long toe muscles.
Even the best exercise and stretching session could fail if you don't follow through. Once a month or a week is not enough because if you want to see improvements, you have to be conscious of how you use each element of your foot every time you are in class. Strengthening your feet and ankle muscles daily will help. Consistency help in achieving better results.
A chiropractor, a dance physiotherapist or a podiatrist can explore what is affecting your feet and suggest treatment specific to your needs. But make sure you do a thorough check before you commit to anything. Many traditional podiatrists may prescribe expensive orthotics or arch supports rather than suggest ways to strengthen your feet naturally. Understand the risks involved in each line of treatment.
And we are talking about your regular footwear.
According to Dr. Ray McClanahan, modern footwear commonly weakens arches, not only with arch supports but also the thick heels that place your feet on a ramp and position the ends of your arches unevenly. If you want stronger arches, look for footwear that has flat zero-drop soles with no arch support, no toe spring and no tight or tapered toe boxes that pinch your toes together. Thin and flexible soles will also help you bend and flex your feet naturally. Toe Spacers like these could come in handy to expand and liberate your toes.
Strength and flexibility complement each other. Just like there is no point being able to do splits if you don’t have the muscles to lift and support the leg during a Penché, you need to gain additional strength to control the extra flexibility you have achieved through exercises and stretching. To balance out, try this foot stretcher that helps you balance strength as well as flexibility.
You need to improve resistance; whether you do it using the dance floor, or use conditioning aids like the resistance bands, you have to make your feet work through the demi-pointe and all the intrinsic muscles and don’t forcefully stretch them beyond their natural range of motion. Don't force it though. You can't get straightened knees by asking your friend to sit on them or wedge your toes under hard surfaces. At best, these will cause permanent damage to your ligaments. Be gentle and build up your range of movement gradually.
Every dance movement has two stages, concentric –where all the "action" happens, e.g., extension part of a tendu, and eccentric- where the muscles used to act must relax to return the body to its resting state (the closing portion of tendu). Make sure muscles are working in both stages. Because the energy and power it takes to lower the leg with control and replace it in the position take a lot of work. Eccentric control allows you to land without a thud or a jerk while you are jumping. When you focus on working the muscles of the foot through the eccentric stage of each exercise, you have greater control and manipulation over your pointe.
Think of yourself as a dancer with the most incredibly supple, fluid feet with incredible arches. When you are in class, try visualizing the exact fee you would like and maintain this perception all through your practice. Treat every movement like a chance to show them off. When you focus on your feet, you will be able to work with them as much as possible. The best way to improve your feet is to fake great poise and posture, and it gradually becomes a habit!
Massage is a great way to loosen muscles and improve mobility in your feet by promoting better blood flow. Tight muscles in your legs and back can lead to tense foot muscles. Getting acupuncture or a professional full body massage helps you deal with this. Or indulge in some self-massage.
You can also use handy tools like this massage ball regularly, for a deeper d.i.y massage to your calves, upper legs, and most importantly, arches.
Foam rollers are also a great way of massaging your overall body as well as tired feet and arches. This Foam roller at our shop is just the right thing. There are endless exercise resources available on the internet using a foam roller.
➤ Some Quick Tips:
Pronounced arches not just become an extension of the line of your body, it is also a point of pride amongst dancers. Keep practicing and improving your range of movement and you can look forward to a whole new pointe with your same old arched feet!