How To

How to Toughen Up Your Feet to Dance Barefoot

Foot calluses can be unsightly in sandals, but for modern dancers, they’re a badge of honor that keep feet from sticking to the floor and protect against blisters and other injuries to the skin. Here’s how to build and care for your calluses.

Building Calluses

Calluses develop naturally on the balls of the feet and heels in response to the friction caused by twisting and turning barefoot on dance and stage floors. The best way to build calluses is simply by taking class regularly and avoiding callus-removing pedicure products.

If you take a break from dance, your calluses may disappear, which means that suddenly launching yourself into an intense training schedule could quickly lead to raw feet. Ease into your regimen to give your peds time to toughen up. For instance, if you take a two-hour class, wear foot thongs for the second half. Gradually work up to taking the entire class barefoot.

Callus Upkeep

Dr. Thomas Novella, a NYC-based podiatrist who specializes in the care of dancers’ feet, rarely trims calluses and advises dancers not to do so on their own. He learned this lesson the hard way: Once, he filed down a modern dancer’s callus too much and it took three weeks to rebuild.

This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore calluses completely. The surface of a callus needs to be flexible for relevés and turns. If it’s too dry, it can rip. To keep them pliable, soak feet in epsom salts and warm water. KT Niehoff, director of Lingo Dancetheater and codirector of Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, keeps her calluses flexible by applying Vaseline each night and wearing socks to bed.

Sometimes a thick, dry callus can pull uncomfortably on the non-callused skin surrounding it, in which case you can use a pumice stone, but be careful only to soften the callus. If you remove it completely, the fragile skin underneath is likely to blister the next time you dance barefoot.

Healing Splits

Always keep an eye on your feet. When calluses get too rough and hard around the edges, they can split easily. (A split is a cut or tear that exposes the delicate skin underneath a callus.)

Treat splits immediately to avoid infection—dance and stage floors are not always the cleanest. If the bottom of your foot becomes red, hot, swollen and painful, there’s a good chance it’s infected. After soaking in epsom salts, apply a disinfectant such as Betadine. Place a Band-Aid across the split (perpendicularly, as if the split is a river and the Band-Aid is a bridge), then wrap your foot in tape or an adhesive bandage such as Elastoplast. If the wrap causes too much friction with the floor to dance, put moleskin, a smooth flannel padding available at most drugstores, on the outside of the wrap. You can also dance in foot thongs until it heals.

Change Band-Aids at least once per day. To remove, press your thumb over the center, then pull one end up before the other end, keeping the split closed as you lift off the Band-Aid.

Do's

1. Do soak feet in epsom salts and warm water after dancing. When calluses become too thick, use a pumice stone to lightly rub off the top layer of skin only.

2. Do keep calluses from tearing

by softening feet with petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) or lanolin-based creams or lotions such as Eucerin. Lanolin is a fast-absorbing, deeply penetrating grease.

3. Do keep your feet clean, particularly if your callus has a split. The open area is especially susceptible to infection.

4. Do dance in foot thongs until splits heal.

Don'ts

1. Don’t cut or shave down calluses.

2. Don’t use acid-based over-the-counter callus or corn medications, because they are more likely to dissolve calluses completely. Don’t use products that include salicylic acid or trichloroacetic acid.

3. Don’t expect to build up calluses quickly. Work up to taking an entire class barefoot.

Win It
Photos by Erin Baiano

It's time to get your pirouette on! From September 5th to September 30th, we're hosting a contest to find out who's the best turner of them all.

Put together your most impressive turning combo. Post a video online. Share your turns with us and thousands of other dancers around the world. And if our editors think you're the top turner, you'll win a fabulous prize.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

All of 18-year-old Kaylin Maggard's dreams—from scoring the title of National Senior Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals to winning the 2017 Dance Spirit Cover Model Search—are coming true. And to anyone who knows the gorgeous contemporary dancer, that's no surprise.

From the moment the Dance Spirit staff met Kaylin, it was obvious her humility and talent would take her far. Not only did she go full-out during the photo shoot and class at Broadway Dance Center, but she was always cheering on, laughing with, and supporting her fellow CMS contestants Haley Hartsfield and Michelle Quiner. During the voting period, the social media world was abuzz with praise for her work ethic, positive attitude, and generosity.

Since her CMS trip to NYC, Kaylin's moved from her hometown of Columbia, MO, to the Big Apple for her freshman year at Juilliard, and is busy getting acquainted with the city. As for the future? She's taking it one opportunity at a time, but something tells us we'll be seeing this contemporary queen reach new heights every year.

Keep reading... Show less

New York City principal Lauren Lovette has become an icon thanks to her emotional maturity and exceptional musicality. The 26-year-old quickly rose through the ranks after joining the company as an apprentice in 2009, reaching principal status in 2015. A Thousand Oaks, CA, native, Lovette started studying ballet seriously at age 11, at the Cary Ballet Conservatory in Cary, NC. After attending two summer courses at the School of American Ballet, she enrolled as a full-time student in 2006. Last year, she made her choreographic debut with For Clara, her first piece for NYCB. Catch her latest work this month during the company's fall season. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

I know I'm not getting good enough dance training from any of my local studios. But I'm not sure I'm ready to move away to study at a big-name school, either. How do you know when you're ready to leave home to pursue your passion?

Marisa

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body

Instagram star Kylie Shea has built a following of nearly 170,000 with her playful workout videos, which combine traditional fitness activities, like jumping rope or running on the treadmill, with pointe shoes and sassy choreography. Shea's effortless cool-girl-next-door vibe and solid ballet technique make her vids totally irresistible.

Now Shea's using her platform to address the body image issues that tend to plague dancers. In a poignant video, she sheds her clothes and tugs at her skin. The caption explains her relationship with her body and the pressure she feels to maintain a certain aesthetic as a dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body

Physical discomfort is inevitable when you're spending tons of hours in the studio every day, but some pain shouldn't be suffered through. "Dancing through pain can make an injury worse and lead to more time away from dance," says Dr. Joel Brenner, medical director of dance medicine at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk, VA. "Failing to rest and recover when you're in serious pain could even lead to the point where you're unable to dance in the future."

That may sound scary, but there's good news: If you take precautions and listen to your body, many injuries can be stopped in their tracks. The first step? Knowing what's normal—and what's not.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
(From left) Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Yasmin Nagdhi in a still from "Duet"

Think about it: How often do you see a ballet pas de deux for two women? Almost never, right? Sometimes, choreographers will forgo the traditional danseur-ballerina pas to make a duet for two guys, since they can lift and partner each other easily. But a dance for two ballerinas is a rare thing.

That's part of what makes "Duet," a new video by director Andrew Margetson featuring Royal Ballet beauties Yasmin Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell, so compelling.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
(From left) Reese Hatala and Phoenix Lil' Mini in "LULAS" (via YouTube)

What happens when Willdabeast Adams gets two of his most amazing lilBEASTS—the pint-sized Reese Hatala and Phoenix Lil' Mini, aka LULAS ("Love U Like A Sister")—to make a video set to a throwback mashup of songs? So, so much cuteness. And so, so much 🔥🔥🔥 .

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored