It’s important to stretch and strengthen the feet for pointework, especially during pre-pointe and beginning pointe. When your feet are both flexible and strong, you have the best chance of developing good technique and protecting yourself from injury.
Moderation is best
It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, though. Recently, we have heard from some pointe fitters that many young dancers are over-stretching their feet, trying to get “banana feet” (super-high arches and insteps) before beginning pointe or during their early training.
Over-stretching can be dangerous for developing bones and muscles, and the resulting hyper-mobility can hurt your pointework, cautions Susie Eckert, owner of Carolina Dancewear in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sometimes during a difficult fitting, she has looked at the dancer’s feet and noticed that their toes seem to have been over-stretched, curling under when the foot is pointed.
Respect YOUR feet
Susie advises young dancers against trying to emulate the highly arched feet they see in photos of professional and pre-professional dancers. First, she explains, photos don’t always tell the whole truth; the feet may not be as “perfect” as they appear.
Second, the function of the feet on pointe is much, much more important than the appearance, so that it’s not worth damaging the function to change the appearance.
“Listen to your feet and ankles,” she advises, remembering that they are yours, with your unique shape, not someone else’s.
The math and science of pointework
Susie also advises keeping in mind geometry and physics! “A straighter line is better,” she says. “With a higher arch it can be harder to stay vertical.”
In fact, highly arched feet can present challenges for dancing on pointe. When the weight of the body is being held by the curved shape of a high arch and instep, there can be greater stress on the foot. (Russian Pointe’s Pre-Arched Construction can help!) Higher arches can also make it more difficult to keep the foot from popping out of the top of the shoe.
The right stretch
“We try to give our young dancers very careful, detailed instruction as to how they can stretch their feet and other areas of the body at home safely and effectively,” says Alyona Yakovleva-Randall, Indiana Ballet Conservatory’s founding artistic director, master teacher and coach.
She calls ages 8-12 a “critical stage of development,” and believes that teachers should keep a close eye on dancers “so as to build the proper foundation for the next stage of their training.”
In turn, “students and parents should speak with their instructors to determine which exercises and stretches may be appropriate for them, and which are not, as every dancer and body is very different from the next,” she adds.
Exercises to try
If you’re looking for safe and effective exercises to strengthen and stretch your feet, take a look at Dr. Lisa Shoene’s set in the Perfect Fit resource section of the Russian Pointe website.
Whenever you try new exercises, including these, please consult your dance teacher. Any time you exercise on your own, remember that moderation is going to help you more than overdoing it, and that you should always include a balance of strengthening and stretching in your exercise regimen.