Photo by Linda Yun

How Your Foot Type Affects Your Dancing

From biscuits to bananas, feet are the first thing dancers notice. They're great fodder for humorous Instas and can make for some mesmerizing lines. But on a more serious note, foot shape can impact you and your dancing in many ways. DS turned to the experts for insight into how everything from the length of your toes to the height of your arch can make a difference. So, put your feet up and read on to see what they have to say!


Toe Length

Toe length and each toe's relation to the next affects how your weight is distributed. As a result, certain foot types are more stable than others. Dr. Alan S. Woodle, DPM, Pacific Northwest Ballet's consulting podiatrist, says the more equal your toes are in length, the more beneficial it'll be.

"In general, dancers with three to four toes of relatively the same length feel that they are much more stable and have fewer complaints of pain in the toes," Dr. Woodle says. "An even toe length pattern means more even weight distribution shared across more toes."

But for those with one toe longer than the rest, weight is distributed unevenly, and the brunt of the pressure and pain falls on whatever toe is the longest, especially while dancing on pointe. Josephine Lee, founder of the pointe shoe fitting company ThePointeShop, says stability is harder to find.

"The more tapered the feet are, the more it'll affect your balance," Lee says.

In foot types with a long second toe that surpasses the first, the pressure falls instead on that smaller, weaker toe. On pointe, this can cause you to sink further into your shoe. Hammer toes—toes that curl under like claws—can occur, increasing the potential for damage to the big toe and the bones and ligaments surrounding it.

"When you curl your second, third, fourth, and fifth toes into a hammer toe position (known in the dance world as 'knuckling down'), your big toes may start to stick way out by themselves," Dr. Woodle says. "Your big toe nails can become ingrown or bruised. Stress fractures, tendinitises, and strains can occur anywhere from the tip of the toe coming up to the big toe side of the arch and all the way up towards the ankle." Strengthening the toes, not just the foot, in order to better hold them straight against the pressure can help fight these effects.

The length of your toes can also affect how you shape your feet. "Toe length pattern is one reason why people sickle," Dr. Woodle says. "If you have a really short big toe, for example, your foot may sickle to the shorter big toe side." If the big toe slants inward, bunions on the big toe joint are more likely.

Heel Shape

The shape of your heel is unrelated to the shape and length of your toes.

Lee says the most common issue stemming from heel shape is shoe slippage.

"If the heel tapers back really sharply, the heel of a shoe doesn't stay on as well," Lee said. "But if you have a wider heel or a protruding heel, your heel will have an easier time gripping the shoe."

Pronation, the inward movement of the foot (that's often called "rolling in" in the studio), is also determined by heel shape. If you roll in, the line from the back of your ankle to the back of your heel will be diagonal. This orientation of your heel can cause injuries to move up the leg into the ankles, knees, hips, and back since the feet set the foundation for your alignment. Dr. Woodle encourages dancers to focus on keeping both heels straight up and down, as if they were guided by a straight line running from the bottom of the heel through the back of the ankle.

Lee checking the fit of the heel at a pointe shoe fitting (Photo by Linda Yun)

Arch Height

Arches can range from the flattest of flat to the highest of high—and everything in between. They also have different levels of flexibility. Some people are particularly flexible and can hold their feet in the high arch position. Some have only semi-flexible arches, allowing them to partially pull their arches up. Others have rigid arches that don't move at all, resulting in flatter feet.

It's important to note that this flexibility is where the foot bends, not the ankle—you may have a high, flexible arch, but you may not have a very mobile ankle, and vice versa. According to Lee, there's a critical difference between pointing with your foot and pointing with your ankle, especially when it comes to pointework.

"Dancers who don't point with their feet but bend with their ankle are able to get over on pointe just fine. But since their feet are flat, they're not breaking through the shoe because they aren't actually bending it," Lee says "Then there are some dancers that can't get over their box even if they have really flexible feet because their ankles don't bend as well. So they're breaking through shoes incredibly fast even though they're not getting over their shoes at all."

Arch height can also affect how your weight is distributed. Dancers with higher arches can better distribute their weight through their pointe shoes. "But if you have a female dancer with really flat feet that stay flat when she points, her feet will slide down the shanks, as if she's going down a steep cliff," Dr. Woodle says. "She will have no arch to put any weight in at all, jamming the entire forefoot into the shoe." This can lead to increased pressure on the toes.

Lee explains that arch height can also affect your stability, particularly when coupled with weaknesses in the lower leg. "Generally, the higher arch you have, the more likely you are to roll your ankle," Lee says. "But it's not only about the arch itself. It's usually about how strong your ankles are."

Lee at a pointe shoe fitting (Photo by Linda Yun)

Asymmetry

No two feet are the same—including your own. Toes are longer, bunions are more pronounced, and anatomy can differ. Lee explains that pointe shoes, on the other hand (or should we say foot), are symmetrical. There's no right or left shoe. They're made exactly the same. The asymmetry of your foot shape, therefore, speaks to how your feet will fare in your shoes.

"The foot is not straight," Lee says. "Anything that protrudes out from the straight line is in danger of getting blistered or injured, which is why padding exists, to compensate for your asymmetrical foot shape going into a symmetrical shoe."

Dr. Woodle adds that structural differences between the right and left legs, such as extra bones, can affect abilities like the mobility of the foot and ankle. "Some girls may have a right foot that points quite nicely while the left foot is quite limited," he says. "Maybe they've inherited an extra bone behind their left ankle called an Os Trigonum that's blocking the pointing ability of one foot but not the other, creating asymmetry between the left and right feet."

Latest Posts


Because all dancers have experienced it at some point or another (Getty Images/patat)

How Dancers Can Beat Zoom Fatigue

Now that we're more than nine months into the pandemic, there's a big chance you're feeling Zoom-ed out. Read: Totally overusing the video-conferencing app for school and dance classes—and everything else. And according to dance/movement therapist Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, there's good reason for that: "Managing your environment in a virtual space is taxing on the mind, and therefore taxing on the body."

Hornthal attributes these feelings, in part, to a mind–body disconnect that happens when we use the app: Your body knows you are alone in the room, but your mind sees a group of people on screen—and managing this COVID-era reality can be, well, exhausting. But we can also feel Zoom fatigue, Hornthal says, from having to "constantly be present to the third 'person' in the room: the Zoom camera." Uh, relatable!

So if staring at a grid of fuzzy faces—or into the abyss of that cold, dark lens on your device—has you feeling less than energized, here are some ways to cope.


Take breaks from tech throughout the day

Tamia Strickland, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA dance program, trains both in person (with a mask, of course!) and online but says there are unique challenges that come with the latter. For one, she says, it's hard "to stay focused and motivated when you are in your basement or living room staring at a computer screen all by yourself—and all day long." These feelings can lead to frustration: You want to stay engaged with the class, but after staring at your computer screen for so long, you start to feel unmotivated.

As a remedy, Hornthal suggests taking breaks from your tech devices when you can. "The last thing you want to do," she says, "is exit a Zoom session and then immediately jump onto your phone." Instead, take a breather from everything virtual, and give your mind—and body—time to recalibrate. "Create space to connect or reconnect with your body when you are off technology," Hornthal says. "Take a walk, practice mindful breathing, embrace nature."

Move for yourself—and on your own

Another way to overcome feelings of online-class fatigue, Hornthal says, is to find time to move on your own—away from the camera on your device. As you begin moving for yourself, try to recognize and notice your own body wisdom. As a dancer, this could simply mean taking stock of what feels good and natural to your body as you, say, indulge in an improv sesh.

Tim Roberts, a Maryland dance studio owner and former performer, says giving his students time to turn their cameras off and work through their own movement has helped keep them motivated. "Opening that space for them is so necessary­ and beneficial, and helps them appreciate the time they do have with me," he says.

If you're not feeling up to a movement break, consider cooling down the mind and body by taking some time to stretch out and take up space in the body, Hornthal says. By encouraging greater body awareness, stretching can help give you more insight into what your body needs at any given point—a physical check-in before you head back into The Land of Zoom.

Tap into your other senses

When you're on Zoom, you're constantly using your eyes—to learn choreography, to support fellow dancers, to catch physical cues from teachers—so it's important, Hornthal says, to give yourself screen breaks. As you give your eyes a rest, take time to whet your other senses: Squeeze a stress ball; smell the outside air; gulp a tasty green smoothie; listen to your favorite playlist. The key here is to take in stimuli that trigger your other senses, rather than continuing to use (or overuse) your sense of sight.

And as a golden rule for your overall Zoom-life health, always remember: "It isn't just dance that is happening online—our entire lives are virtual," Hornthal says. "That means we have to be intentional with our downtime, and turn off technology, so we can tune in to ourselves."

Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Cory Lingner

How Broadway Dancer Cory Lingner Perfected the TikTok Duet

With #SocialDisDancing still very much in place, it's a challenge for dance partners to perform safely, and even harder to perform safely together.

But Broadway's Cory Lingner may have found the solution—on TikTok. He's using the app to tap alongside some of the most iconic movie stars, including Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, Ann Miller and Shirley Temple. And, no, he doesn't have a time-traveling device.

Lingner has perfected the use of the app's duet feature. On one side of the video is a clip of the tap-dancing icon and on the other is Lingner, dancing in unison. And as a bonus, Lingner's also giving viewers facts about the stars and the performances as they watch.

Lingner's danced in everything from On the Town to An American in Paris, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Carousel. But still, his tapping TikToks may be one of his favorite challenges yet. "I've gotten very lucky to do shows on Broadway," Lingner says, "But I haven't actually gotten to do as much tapping as I'm doing in these videos."

When Broadway shut down last March due to the pandemic, Lingner was in rehearsals for Love Life with New York City Center's Encores! series. Without a stage and a live audience, he's getting his fill of performing from his social media duet series. And it's so popular on TikTok, he's gained more than 8 thousand followers in a mere month.


@corylingner

##duet with @tcm & Gene Kelly!! Couldn’t think of a better way to make my TikTok debut! ##genekelly tapdancechallenge ##tap ##tapdance ##dancechallenge

♬ original sound - Turner Classic Movies

Dance Spirit: How did your "Cory's Duet Series" on TikTok get started?

Cory Lingner: It was kind of just a spur-of-the-moment thing. The very first spark of inspiration was another fellow tapper, Nicole Billow. She actually did the first side-by-side with Gene Kelly from An American in Paris. I watched it and I was like, "This looks really fun." I went ahead and made a TikTok account and made my first duet. I posted that thing with zero followers and by the end of the night, there were 500 followers and it was blowing up with views.

DS: How do you pick which numbers you're going to do?

CL: Well, part of it is going down the YouTube rabbit hole looking up performers that I'm familiar with. The majority of what I've tried to focus on is introducing new performers so I don't repeat dancers too much. The last time that I repeated was with Vera Allen in White Christmas, since it was the holiday.

I also try to find sections where not only I can do the choreography in my limited space, with my little piece of plywood, but also if they're able to stay on a single camera shot for long enough for the 20 to 30 seconds.

DS: How long does it take you to learn the dances?

CL: It depends. If I'm a bit more familiar with it, I can probably pick it up quicker. Sometimes it takes 15 to 30 minutes. One that I worked on that I'm going to share is with Ginger Rogers. That took about an hour and a half. Luckily, I've always been a visual learner.

DS: What do you think about the skill level of some of Shirley Temple's tap steps?

CL: It's remarkable the fact that she did that many films and had that kind of tap dance skill set at such a young age. It is so impressive to me. People were commenting on that video too, writing, "Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize what she can do. That's very impressive."

DS: It seems like we don't see this style of dance anymore, since the Golden Age of the Hollywood movie musical. How do you feel film choreography has changed since then?

CL: This style of dance definitely does feel different. I've always admired it and gravitated towards it. It's fascinating to picture how these choreographers even conceptualized sequences where the stars are dancing all across these sets and sound stages.

I find myself wondering, "Did they have the set to begin with and then worked on it, or did they come up with ideas and then that gave set designers ideas to build?" The rhythms and the tap melodies are pretty bright, and that makes it really fun for me and exciting for anyone watching.

DS: What is some of the feedback you've been getting?

CL: Oh, my goodness. It's so lovely, all the comments and messages. There was a grandmother that said, "I think you just inspired my 3-year-old grandson to start taking dance." It warms my heart. From what I'm reading and seeing, it still resonates with so many people.

DS: What are some dream duets that you need to do?

CL: I've gotten a lot of people up requesting the Nicholas Brothers. They're the best. I'm going to try to see if I can find something to do them justice and try to keep up with them. But with my little piece of plywood, there's no way I can do their iconic jump into the splits because I'd get splinters.

There were other duets people were recommending, like James Cagney. So I'm trying to find a moment when he stays still. I learned "Moses Supposes" from Singin' in the Rain many years ago, which would be really fun to tackle again. Maybe I'd do that one in two separate sections, so I can do one with Gene Kelly and one with Donald O'Connor.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer and choreographer Hope Boykin (center) after teaching a master class at the Center for Civil and Human Rights (Emily Hawkins, courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

4 Dance Works Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Social justice has a been a prominent theme in many Black American dancemakers' repertoires. Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day­—and in the midst of ongoing social and political turmoil in America—this theme carries new resonance.

Dr. King's legacy has spurred the creation of many dance works, with many creators using his words to respond to the social issues of the moment. So, today, in celebration of MLK, Jr. Day, here are four of those dances which honor the legacy of the late civil rights leader.


"r-Evolution, Dream." by Hope Boykin

Set to a soundscape that includes music by jazz musician Ali Jackson, narration by Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom, Jr., "r-Evolution, Dream.," performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, debuted in 2017. Choreographer—and Ailey vet—Hope Boykin was inspired to create the piece on a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. "I got a chance to listen to Dr. King's voice and watch the footage of his funeral with the casket running through the city," Boykin said in an interview with the L.A. Times. Boykin says she was especially stirred by the cadence and sound of his voice.

Moved by the timeliness of Dr. King's teachings (over a half century after he first orated them), Boykin set out to create a ballet that, in effect, translated some of his most famous sermons and teachings into movement. The ensemble piece, which also features solos and sets of pas de deuxs, is a powerful reminder of the long fight ahead for racial equality in America.

"Bodies as a Site of Faith and Protest" by Tommie-Waheed Evans

First performed by Dallas Black Dance Theatre in 2018, "Bodies as Site of Faith and Protest" also transcribes Dr. King's words into dance—only this work zeroes in one particular speech: Dr. King's "We Shall Overcome."

The most resounding imagery in choreographer Tommie-Waheed Evans's work is the clump of dancers at center-center, who march and march with searing purpose oozing from their eyes—yet seem to arrive nowhere. It's as if Evans puts on display the historical, present, and future conditions of the Black American: That the battle for equal protection under the law will be ongoing.

"Dougla" by Geoffrey Holder

In response to the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, Arthur Mitchell, then a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, felt compelled to take action. His efforts would culminate in the formation of Dance Theatre of Harlem.

The ballet troupe performs everything from classical rep to new works—one of the most iconic is Geoffrey Holder's "Dougla," with movement that depicts the wedding of a Dougla couple, in which one partner is of African descent and the other of Indian descent. The ballet features a spectacle of costume, with a thumping, grounding pulsation of drums beneath movement that, in of itself, is bold and unafraid of making a statement.

Perhaps most memorable about this piece are the moments done in unison, when everything is "working together at once," as Carmen de Lavallade, who helped restage the piece for DTH in 2018, said to theNew York Times. The power in these moments of togetherness conjures scenes of Americans marching in unity for social justice, echoing the very reasons Dr. King worked to lead change before his death.

"Deep Blue Sea" by Bill T. Jones

In an interview with our sister publication Dance Magazine, Jones says the work deals with one overarching question in particular: "Are we really still this beacon, this light on a hill, this conglomerate of disparate groups and stakeholders that we call American democracy?" As a young child, he believed that the Black community could overcome the effects of systematic racism, said Jones to DM. Now, he has less faith—and "Deep Blue Sea" dives into the reasons why.

Intended to be performed at the Park Avenue Armory, the cast included not only the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, but also nearly 100 members of the New York City community.

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search