(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

The Ins and Outs of Sickling and Winging

We've all seen that photo: an otherwise lovely dancer, posed in first arabesque, with a glaring blemish at the end of her leg—a droopy, sickled foot. Swap that image for a photo in which the dancer's foot gracefully swoops, or “wings," up from the ankle, though, and bunheads will start to drool. That one small detail makes such a huge difference.

But what's wrong with a straight, neutral foot? Technically, nothing. When New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin partially tore her deltoid ligament four years ago, she temporarily lost her ability to wing. “It's not the end of the world," she says. “Just make sure you're pointing as hard and as straight as you can so that your foot completes the line of your leg."

Besides, sickling and (at times) winging can create instability. “A neutral foot is the healthiest option because you're more properly aligned," says Shannon Casati of Ballet Austin's physical therapy team. Still, ballet dancers are often encouraged to enhance their line by winging. The key is knowing how and when to do so.


Improve Your Line

What is it about sickling that makes ballet dancers shudder in horror? For one thing, it's just kind of ugly—especially in a pointe shoe. “You always want to accentuate and elongate your leg line," says Rose Taylor, a ballet instructor at the Kansas City Ballet School. “But a sickled foot immediately breaks and shortens that line."

Additionally, sickling can be dangerous, especially during relevés and jumps. “You can easily sprain your ankle when you roll towards the outside of your foot," Casati says. “And once you've stretched out a ligament, it's permanent."

While some dancers can easily shape their feet correctly, others have trouble moving beyond a sickled line. The reason? “Genetics," Casati says. “Two heel bones—the calcaneus and the talus—have to move up towards your head to point the forefoot down and create a pretty shape. Some people have a lot of play in those two bones, which allows them to point from higher up in their ankle, while others don't."

Luckily, basic classroom technique can help those who struggle with sickling. Tendu, which leads forward with the heel and back with the toes, is a perfect example. “Work segmentally through the foot to engage all of the muscles," says Casati, who is also a former professional dancer. “I had a teacher who called it 'pushing your pennies': Imagine you have a pile of pennies in front of your toes, and push them away from you so that you're articulating your toes like fingers."

Patricia Delgado, a principal dancer with Miami City Ballet, has always struggled with her less-than-ideal feet. She noticed a vast improvement in her line when she started wearing pointe shoes at the barre. “You can use the floor as resistance during tendu and dégagé," she says, “and because a pointe shoe is much harder than a flat shoe, it strengthens the muscles in your foot and ankle."

Thera-Band exercises also help. Sitting on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you, loop the band under your forefoot and pull on the ends to create resistance. Casati recommends practicing pointing, flexing, winging and sickling your foot (10 to 20 repetitions per direction) to build strength in your ankles and feet.

Building flexibility takes time. “Don't force your body to do things it can't do—you'll be more susceptible to injury," Casati says. “You have to make peace with your anatomy."

Form vs. Function

If you're blessed with flexible ankles, be aware that winging has a definite time and place. “Wing your foot when it's in front of you or behind you, whether it's touching the ground in tendu or up in the air," Hyltin says. “But not in à la seconde—then it looks like you're not pointing."

“A lot of times students misinterpret winging and contort their foot until it's actually flexed," Taylor says. “It's important to understand that the line should be pleasing on a 360-degree plane. If you're doing a promenade, the audience will see your foot from all angles. You always want the foot to appear fully pointed."

Sometimes dancers push over towards their big toe on demi- and full-pointe to create a winged look, but this can create problems like tendinitis and heel stiffness. “Ideally you want a nice, neutral foot in relevé, with your weight between your first two toes," Casati says. “When you're always grinding one side of the ankle, you create a lot of wear and tear, which can lead to arthritic issues down the road."

Delgado is sometimes asked to dance over her big toe to create a better line. “But I know that functionally it's more important to be over my second toe and rotated from the hip down through the knee," she says. “Function first, then create the line."

Everyone is built differently, so it's important to understand your foot—and its limitations—to create the most flattering line. “It's about figuring out when to wing," Delgado says. “Spend time examining your foot in the mirror to determine what's best for your own line."

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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