“Let’s get up and move a little (dance).”
Probably something that is getting more and more important in our times, when we work from home or study from home. It is too easy for any body to sit for long hours and feel, “Oh, so comfortable.” Unfortunately, as many would have been through the experience, the body will suffer the consequences of the long hours of sinking into gravity in oft times, odd ways the moment we really get up. By getting up, the first thing that we do is, plant our feet onto the ground. Either with both feet together or one foot at a time.
*TRY IT! Get up now!
Needless to say, footwear and of course foot care is one of the many important parts of dance and even just general movement, such as walking. Let’s dive into the first of the “Dance, Bottom-up” series by Tarinao, where we will be covering the essentials of dance and movement you need to know, beginning from your—feet!
How to decide what to wear?
1. Dance styles
You need different footwear for walking, running, hiking, diving and skiing; you need different footwear for different dance styles. Why? Let's picture this:
Running with slippers vs running with light sports shoes built specifically for running.
Walking on heels vs walking with orthopaedic sneakers
Ballet class barefoot vs ballet class with well fitted ballet shoes
Could you imagine the pain of wearing the wrong footwear for an 8-hour day? The pain on the feet causing the inability to walk properly or even stand, let alone dance. The right footwear for any specific dance style is important to ensure that you can keep standing on your own two feet for a sustained amount of time, with proper support and maximum comfort while preventing unnecessary pain and injury. Some footwear is more intricate (e.g., ballet pointe shoes) and would require you to work with a trained expert or professional fitter to get the best shoes that could bring out your feet's highest potential, in terms of aesthetic, strength, and of course freedom of movement.
Types of footwear, but not limited to:
Barefoot—contemporary, Indian dance
Jazz/Tap shoes—jazz/tap dance
Sneakers/Sports shoes—street dance
Latin shoes/Heels—ballroom, latin, pole dance
Ballet shoes—ballet, Chinese dance
2. Flooring types
The material on the outermost layer of a dance floor, which is the part that your feet will be coming into contact with, directly sends feedback to your body, on how to move. For example, if you are moving on a slippery floor, your body will respond by dancing more cautiously. It can be hard to control the environment we dance in, but we can always learn about it through the feedback we get from moving in space and adapt whether through our movements or through a more suitable footwear.
Types of flooring, but not limited to:
Sprung vs non-sprung
Sprung floor is one the best flooring a dancer can dream about. And every studio and performance space should always aim to install a sprung floor if they do not already have one installed. There are many ways to create a good sprung floor by creating pockets of air through layering of flooring. Sprung floor with the below characteristics may help improve performance and aid in injury prevention (Luke & Alycia, 2017):
It acts as a shock absorber—force reduction, reduces impacts on joints hence decreased risks of joint and muscle inflammation. Also allowing dancers to move with more fluidity.
It has trampoline-like qualities for bounce—high energy return, releases the landing force from dancers back to the dancer, preserving the dancers' energy.
It has consistent stability or hardness—low area of deformation, when dancers or objects (props/sets) move together in space, it doesn't cause deformity like memory foams does, which could be hazardous.
Determine what dance styles you're doing. Make sure that you wear ballet shoes for a ballet class; sneakers for a hip hop class; and tap shoes for a tap dance class.
Right fit .
Wear the right size of shoes. Make sure that they fit snugly, not too tight, not too loose. Being comfortable in your shoes is an important part of injury prevention.
Make sure your shoes have the right grip for the type of flooring you'll be dancing on. Not too sticky (i.e., I can't move at all), nor too slippery (i.e., I may slip and fall) so you can move freely without hindrance or fear.
How to care for one’s feet?
The very first step to caring for anything is to first understand the function and role of what you're caring for, in this case, feet. With knowledge of your feet's function and role, you can maintain their health with more wisdom and efficiency, while keeping your dollars.
1. Foot anatomy and exercises
Made up of bones held by ligaments, moved by contraction of tiny muscles attached to bones via tendons. Ensuring foot health is a balancing act between strength and flexibility (range of motion).
Ensuring foot health is a balancing act between strength and flexibility.
Strength exercises⏤Repetition and consistency is key.
Exercise 1: Slow foot rises (rélevés) on flat surfaces and or raised surfaces like staircases.
Spread toes as wide as possible and evenly distribute your body's weight on your five toes, ball of foot, and heel. Imagine your feet are doing a thumbprint for your official identification purpose. Make sure you print evenly on all sides of your feet.
Making sure that your second toe is in line with your knee, and that the inside of your foot is on an imaginary electrified line.
As you slow rise or lift your heels off the floor, make sure that the inside of your foot never touch the imaginary line (unless you want to get electrocuted, ouch!).
Lastly, as you lift your heels, be sure to spread your toes even longer and further apart to give you the most stability, and of course, don't forget to BREATHE with your eyes looking ahead to stronger feet.
In parallel on both legs (or one leg at a time, making sure to give equal attention to both sides of your legs)
In natural turn out position on both legs (or one leg at a time).
Exercise 2: Elastic band workout on the toes and arches for strength and somatic awareness. To maintain perfect alignment and strength, also a great warmup for your cold feet.
Elastic band was hard to get in the early Y2K. Now you can practically get it from any of your local sports shop or online shopping platforms. Are there any best ones? As long as they are made of rubber, and of weak-medium strength, they shall do the job for the foot resistance exercises. Personally, we prefer longer, and wider ones as pictured below, which can be more versatile for your training.
If you haven't got one, go get an elastic band. It is a pocketable item that is super slim and lightweight, which you can carry with you from studio to studio or one space to another.
Place the band on the floor, make sure that the bottom of the band is around the middle of your foot; and the top of the band covers all of your five toes when stretched (leaving around 2 inches of the band above your toes).
Grab the band, at equidistance with your foot as the centre, i.e., 1' to the right and 1' to the left. Further or closer to your foot depending on the strength of your band and your feet.
Stretch your foot in front of you, very similar to the slow foot rises, always make sure your second toe is in line with your knee, seated upright (if for any reason, sitting upright is difficult for you, you can sit on top of a cushion or a yoga block to give you more spinal support).
Start pointing and flexing your toes slowly, feeling each instrinsic muscles in your foot, going through the half-pointe (ball of the foot) then full-pointe (all five toes stretched, with your toes feeling as long and wide as possible (again, similar to the slow foot rises exercises!).
Don't forget to do it on both feet.
How many times should you do it? Until the muscles in the sole of your foot starts to feel sore and reaching it's maximum load or limit, add another 2-3 more repetitions.
If you're feeling lazy, there is a lazy way to do this resistance exercise, but you might need to stay with the band for longer. Which is: write "A-Z" with your toes with the band on. Are you proud of your handwriting, if not, that's ok, just make sure your toe-writing is neat and tidy!
Stretching exercises⏤To increase flexibility through strength and adequate recovery time, a.k.a REST.
Since the muscles in the feet are so tiny, how do we actually stretch them? If you haven't noticed, watch again here. The muscles in the feet are linked to the calves. By stretching and strengthening the calves, you can optimise the flexibility, or rather the range of motion already inherent in your feet, to achieve that idealised line in the foot.
Exercise 1: Calf stretch
Find a wall/barre or any stable support, feet in parallel, hip width apart, gently kick one leg to the back and land it behind with the other leg bent.
Making sure that both knees are in line with your second toe to optimise the stretch, engage the front of your calf, gently bring your heels down firmer into the ground, if you have a longer Archilles tendon, you can move your hind leg further from your front leg to get into a deeper stretch.
And of course don't forget to breathe. Stay for about 1-2 minutes. And do the same for the other leg.
You may also go to a wall, keeping knee in line with second toe, bring one foot to the wall, just the five toes on the wall, and the heels on the ground, keeping the knees stretched this time, move your whole body towards the wall (as if leaning into your lover or friend for a hug🥰).
Also stay for about 1-2 minutes, depending on the condition of your muscles, increase or decrease the stretching time. Breathe. And make sure your knees are in line with the second toe at all times (a mighty good habit to have 😉).
Exercise 2: Massage
Essentially, induced relaxation through pressure, onto deep muscle tissues. There are multiple approaches to massage. Swedish massage is one of the most popular in the West among dancers and movers; whereas in the East, you have many more options for a deep induced relaxation for you to breathe better and get better circulation into your tired muscles and connective tissues. Massages can be expensive plus it is getting harder to travel around even within your community during the covid pandemic, it is always good to learn some self-massage technique. In saying so however, it is important to acknowledge that if you are in acute, sharp, or persistent pain, even if it is just niggling, stop immediately and seek for professional help before the condition gets worse.
Massaging with tools
Massage balls (spiky ball, tennis, ping pong, golf balls)⏤simply step onto the balls whilst standing, and roll out the soles of your feet, putting as much of your own body weight as you feel comfortable, roll for about 1-2 minutes.
Massaging without tools
Oils commonly stored in the kitchen: olive oil, coconut oil, nut oil
Body lotion (any store bought lotion)
Essential oils with carrier oil, i.e., jojoba oil (chamomile, lavender, frankincense, ginger, lemongrass...)
How to self-massage the feet?
Seated cross legged (in half lotus or one foot on top of the other thigh) so that your feet are facing you. A few techniques you can follow (potentially thousands you could source online), but this is a foolproof one we love from heel-to-toe:
Soles⏤hug your feet with both hands, rub the centre of your foot upwards with your right and left thumbs, alternating right and left, repeatedly.
Ball of foot⏤continue the rubbing towards the ball of the foot, this time trying to split the foot apart.
Toes⏤Lastly rub upwards to the five toes one thumb (left or right) to one toe at a time.
Pinch and pull:
Heels⏤pinch and pull your heels with your thumb second finger's side using the strength of your thumb and second finger's PIP joint [proximal inter-phalangeal joint] like flight attendant doing headcount with the clicker counter.
2. Foot soak, ice or warm, why not, both?
Foot soak (for about 15-20 minutes) can not only reduce your risk of infection and inflammation. It is also believed to benefit your body's overall muscles and nerve function, reduce stress and muscle cramps (WebMD, 2020).
Ice⏤reduce inflammation, use only ice soak if your feet are swelling. You want to first reduce the swelling before you head over to warm soak or alternating warm/ice soak.
Warm⏤around body temperature is the best temperature for the best metabolic reactions or healing.
Mix with epsom salt (found in your local pharmacy), lemon, or vinegar (found in your kitchen)
Mix with essential oils
Balance stretching with strengthening exercises.
Never stretch or work on injury, bones or nerves.
If you have pain, STOP and seek professional help.
By establishing a strong foundation⏤feet, choosing the right footwear and taking care of your whole body's foundation, you will be able to tap into and optimise your core muscles better to move with improved efficiency and freedom. Incorporate foot care into your daily routine, one step at a time, and start pampering your feet to enjoy your body better while moving in space.
Visiblebody.com. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.visiblebody.com/hubfs/Lab%20Manuals/AP%20Lab%20Manuals%20-%20student%20fill%20in/lab%20manual_lower%20limb%20pelvis_a+p.pdf> [Accessed 20 May 2021].
WebMD. 2020. Health Benefits of a Foot Soak. [online] Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/health-benefits-of-a-foot-soak> [Accessed 20 May 2021].
Luke, H., & Alycia, F. (2017). The Dance Environment. In W. M. Virginia & K. Donna H, Dancer Wellness (Kindle Ed. loc. 239-278). Human Kinetics.