Understanding Foot Pain
The day-to-day grind of class, rehearsal and performance can, over time, strain the ligaments and tendons in your feet, eventually leading to overuse injuries. Whether from bad habits, such as rolling in and not keeping heels down in plié, or from wearing shoes that are too tight, these foot conditions plague students and pros alike. Here’s how to treat, prevent and rehabilitate three common injuries.
Definition: Inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone.
Symptoms: Achilles tendonitis is first noticeable as a mild pain during and after exercise that gradually worsens with continued use. Running and jumping generally increase this pain, and feet may feel weak during repeated relevés and fast allegros. The tendon will often feel stiff until calf muscles warm up. Sometimes there is a point about an inch and a half above the heel bone that is tender to the touch.
Causes: Tight and/or weak calf muscles, jumping without being fully warmed up, chronic rolling in and not putting heels down in successive relevés or when landing jumps.
Rehabilitation: Ice for 10 minutes, 2-3 times a day, and rest from activities that strain the tendon—especially petit and grande allegro. Release tension by massaging the calf (with hands or a small ball) while stretching. Also, pay attention to how you stand in and out of class. For example, when standing on flat, weight should be divided evenly between the pads of the big and little toes and the heel. If your arches continue to roll in, your doctor or physical therapist may prescribe orthotics—supports that are worn inside street shoes to keep arches lifted.
Dangers if untreated: Continued inflammation of the tendon can irritate ankles, including the bursas (see “Bursitis” for more on bursas), to the point of a partial tendon tear or rupture. A rupture is an emergency requiring surgery. If the tendon ruptures, you won’t be able to stand or walk on the affected leg. Rehabilitating from a tear or rupture takes much longer than treatment for tendonitis.
Prevention: Maintaining both flexibility and strength in calf muscles is essential. Warm up calf muscles with ankle circles and by sitting with legs extended straight in front of you and pointing and flexing feet 30 times or more. Release tension from the calf muscles by stretching after every time you dance. Assess foot mechanics, taking care to put heels down during demi pliés, before taking off for and when landing from jumps. Stretching the calf muscle regularly will help to break the habit of popping heels.
Definition: Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursas, soft fluid-filled sacs located between tendons and bones and tendons and skin. Bursitis may develop quickly and severely (acute) or over time (chronic). In the foot, the most common site is where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone.
Symptoms: Pain or tenderness at the back of the heel bone. Often, there is swelling or redness in the area, and movement may be restricted or painful during pliés or relevés.
Causes: Normally, bursas decrease friction between surfaces, but when inflamed, ankle movement becomes painful as these surfaces rub against each other. Bursas can inflame from a direct blow or from chronic pressure caused, for instance, by poorly fitting street or dance shoes. Pulling the strings on ballet slippers too tightly will press on bursas. Some dancers prefer to wear shoes without drawstrings or to sew elastics directly from the heels of their shoes to take pressure off tender tendons.
Rehabilitation: Symptoms subside in 7 to 14 days after the source of stress on the bursas is removed. Elevate and rest feet whenever possible to keep swelling down. Frequently massage with ice: Fill a child’s sized Styrofoam or paper cup with water and freeze, then tear a small amount from the top and massage exposed ice firmly over the injured area for 15 minutes, three to four times a day.
Dangers if untreated: The longer you take to treat bursitis, the longer the healing time once you begin treatment. Swelling may limit the movement of the ankle; repeated flare-ups damage joints and ultimately restrict dancing.
Prevention: Don’t wear street or dance shoes that pinch the backs of ankles or are too tight across the balls of the feet.
Definition: Plantar fasciitis is a painful foot condition caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of connective tissue between the heel bone and the ball of the foot. When you walk, run and dance, this tissue transmits your weight through the foot.
Symptoms: Pain on the bottom of the foot close to the heel. Discomfort is most acute when trying to walk first thing in the morning or after prolonged sitting. Many patients with plantar fasciitis also develop a heel spur—a protrusion of bone that can be seen in an X-ray jutting from the heel bone.
Causes: Pronation (rolling in), very high arches, sudden weight gain and tight Achilles tendons can all cause plantar fasciitis. Less common causes are poorly fitting shoes or running without warming up.
Rehabilitation: It may take weeks or even months to heal. After class, roll your foot on a frozen 3/4–full plastic water bottle. Massage the bottoms of feet by rolling them across a small rubber ball or tennis ball first thing in the morning and whenever you have a chance throughout the day. If your feet roll in, try taping arches during class; outside of class, wear shoes with good arch support. (No flip-flops!) Gentle and consistent stretching of the calf muscles is also helpful. When the plantar fascia flares up, take a break from big jumps in class.
Dangers if untreated: Left unattended, an inflamed plantar fascia will continue to pull on the bone spur, making it larger and more painful. Continued spur growth could require surgery.
Prevention: If you were born with high arches, regularly massage the bottoms of feet with a pinkie ball. Maintain strong and flexible feet and ankles through daily exercises with an exercise band. When dancing, keep weight equally divided between the pads of the big and little toes and the heel. Toes shouldn’t grip the floor when standing or in demi-pointe.
Neuromuscular specialistDeborah Vogel directs the Institute for Performance Studies in Ohio, cofounded the Center for Dance Medicine in NYC, and is the author of Tune Up Your Turnout.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.