Your Own Feet
by Sandi &
Posture and Balance
One of a dancer’s greatest challenges is being in balance. When you
aren’t in balance, you likely are leaning on your partner or not doing
a step properly. Posture is to blame for most balance problems, along
with not using your feet well and having a weak “core.” A body with
well-aligned posture requires less energy to move than a droopy one,
and it looks better.
Being in balance, according to the dictionary definition, means
equilibrium of all parts. As individuals, we learned long ago how to
balance ourselves over our feet and along the spine. As we move
forward, one leg swings forward and the opposite arm swings forward to
match it, a form of counter-balancing.
When dancing, we call that contra walks. Adding a partner means we have
two bodies in motion. Each needs to maintain its own central balance
point, and the partnership also needs its own central axis—between the
Good posture is like stacking blocks of wood. Stand with head lined up
over spine, shoulders over hips. Shoulders relaxed. Head up—think being
pulled up by your ears. From there, it is a matter of a few exercises
to build up the core and reaffirm the brain’s connections to the
muscles that give you stability.
Practice walking by yourself, consciously recentering your weight over
your supporting foot with each step. Take one step, with weight fully
over that one foot. Shift your weight toward the toes and then the
heels to feel the body making balance happen with each shift. Move
forward one step with a heel lead and transfer weight onto that foot,
then bring the free foot under the body without weight. Regain balance
and repeat with the other foot. This exercise will remind you to
transfer full weight from foot to foot and collect your balance.
You can do this any time: Stand on one foot, then the other while in
line anywhere. Stand up and sit down without using your hands (to
strengthen your core). With a partner, take closed position and try
walking a few steps forward and back, one step at a time, rebalancing
over the new supporting foot each time. Are you holding her too tight,
too close? Is she leaning in or clutching for balance? Make sure your
blocks of weight are balanced. Chin up to help keep your head aligned
with your spine. Try standing eight or so feet from your partner; stand
on one foot and toss a ball back and forth to each other; then switch
to stand on the other leg. You will be challenged to keep in balance.
Back to contra walks—besides needing them to do our new Charmed Life,
in an exaggerated form, they will improve your balance. Bring your
hands to your chest so your arm swing comes from your torso as you
step. Walk purposely one foot forward with opposite shoulder at the
same time, then the other. Try it; you’ll like the result (eventually).
Oh, My Aching Feet
It’s 10 a.m. and I’ve already walked 1,312 steps. I know that
because—like so many others—I have a watch that also tracks how far my
feet travel each day. “They” say that 10,000 steps a day is optimal for
good health. Lately I’ve read that even if you can’t get in that many
steps, doing as many as you can, with more gusto, has the same effect.
Dancing should skyrocket your numbers!
We have 52 bones in our two feet, about 25% of all the bones in our
body, and 7,000 nerve endings. The feet are an evolutionary marvel,
bearing hundreds of tons of force—our weight in motion—every day.
According to healthinaging.org, one in three people over age 65 has
foot pain, stiffness, or aching feet. If we give those tooties a little
attention, maybe they’ll keep us on the dance floor longer.
Did you know that a foot cramp can mean you are dehydrated? Most of us
have heard about plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar
fascia, a fibrous band of tissue along the sole of the foot. The job of
the fascia is to absorb some of the daily abuse our feet take, but too
much strain can cause microtears, giving us pain and stiffness. The
largest tendon in the body is the Achilles tendon, connecting the calf
muscle to the heel bone. It is called into action whenever you run,
walk, or jump. Shoes that fit badly and give you an “ouch” feeling are
probably compressing the extensor tendons that run along the top of the
foot and allow you to lift your toes off the ground.
Be happy if you have ticklish feet. Those 7,000 nerve endings in the
feet help you stay in balance by alerting your brain to changes
underfoot—like walking on ice, jogging across uneven terrain, or
dancing on a floor with slick spots. Those nerves become less sensitive
as we age. The magazine, The Good Life, suggests walking barefoot to
help keep them sharp.
An article in that magazine recently claimed that most people will walk
75,000 miles by age 50—roughly three times around the equator. Imagine
what dancing adds to that! Try these exercises to give your feet an
occasional “aah” moment.
With feet flat on the floor, lift toes and curl them under for 5
seconds. Repeat 10 times. Or, slowly roll a golf ball or tennis ball
under the length of each foot for 60 seconds. Or, cross a foot over the
opposite thigh and lightly grasp the toes, pulling them gently until
you feel a stretch along the arch. Hold for 10 seconds. Try picking up
marbles with your toes. Massage the calf down to the heel (for that
Achilles tendon). Rotate the foot at the ankle in a circular motion.
Apply an ice pack to help eliminate waste from muscle tissue.
Take Care of Your Fascii
If you’ve ever had plantar fasciitis, you know it can be painful and
can take a long time to heal. Did you know the body is full of fascii
that can also become inflamed and cause imbalance, poor posture, and a
host of other discomforts?
“Fascia” in Latin means bands, and the fascii throughout the body are
elastic bands that encase muscles, organs, nerves, and blood vessels.
This connective tissue is not like ligaments, which join one bone to
another bone, or tendons, which join muscle to bone. In some places,
they hold organs in place; in others, they form sliders for muscles to
move across. In the foot, where the fascii runs from the toes, over the
heel and up the back of the leg, they support the arch.
Scientists have discovered 12 sets of these fascii connecting seemingly
unrelated parts of the body, from the toes to the top of the head. When
they function properly, they look like wavy folds that stretch and
retract. Stress, trauma, poor posture, and inflammation cause them to
lose pliability, and that restricts muscle movement. It has been said
this is the source of most chronic pain problems that have no apparent
A new book called Anatomy Trains maps the fascii of the body and shows
their interplay with movement and stability. It has evolved into a
course for massage therapists, yoga instructors, chiropractors, and
personal trainers, on the basis that fascii respond to massage and
Stretching before you get on the floor is good, to get the kinks out,
as some would say. An Oberlin College dance instructor has introduced
stretches aimed precisely at the fascii, as reported in the recent
Dance Teacher magazine.
Here are some warm-ups being touted on the internet to improve balance
and fascii: 1) Prop your toes up against a wall, keeping your arch and
heel flat so the toes stretch. Hold for a count of 10 and repeat. 2)
Roll a frozen water bottle slowly under your arch. 3) To relax your
shoulders so they don’t scrunch up around your neck, stand with hands
over head, grasping left wrist with right hand. Gently pull the elbows
away from each other, activating the muscles in the shoulders and arms.
Bend at the waist to the right, feeling a stretch along the left side
of the body. Rotate the elbows so you are looking at the floor. You
should feel a ripple through the fascii to the lower back.
Once that water bottle thaws, be sure to drink up. Fascii can become
dehydrated if you don’t drink enough and then are subject to micro
tears and lose their stretch, and you’ve got that creaky, achy feeling.
Bobbie Childers carries a golf ball to stretch the fascia in her feet.
To prove how it helps, her therapist had her bend over to touch her
toes. “I did alright,” she said, “then he had me roll each foot over a
golf ball, standing and putting pressure into the ball.” When he asked
her to bend and touch her toes again, she was amazed at the difference
it made. “Now I take a golf ball whenever we travel. It really helped
last year at ICBDA.”
The Neglected Joint
We ask a lot of our ankles, without knowing it. They are one of the
most important joints in the body, for dancers, but the most neglected.
The unfortunate result of that neglect is sloppy feet (not pretty for a
dancer), stunted movement, or even injury.
The ankles’ main job is flexing and pointing. Unlike the knee or elbow,
which can bend safely only one way, the ankle can move in many ways.
Just when you circle your foot, you are asking your ankle to do many
functions—pointing, flexion, inversion, and eversion (rolling the foot
in and out).
The ankle is the joint that works hardest in rise and fall. In all the
smooth dances, that basic technique requires articulation of the ankle
and balance. In tango, many steps are taken onto the inside edge of the
foot, which requires strength in the ankle to evert (roll outward). For
ladies in high heels, the ankle has to work even harder to get the heel
off the ground when dancing a step onto the ball of the foot.
Because of all that rising and falling and walking on the ball of the
foot (as in latin), dancers generally have better ankles than the
average person. Beginning dancers haven’t yet developed that strength
from using the ankles as more experienced dancers do routinely. Many
people claim to have poor balance but according to authorities, they
probably have weak ankles that are incapable of balancing them.
Even experienced dancers get sloppy and forget the importance of their
So how do you get and keep those beautiful, well articulated ankles? At
a seminar we attended once with British champion Joanna Bolton, she
suggested standing on a step as thought walking up the step, with the
ankles hanging over the edge, then repeatedly rise and lower, letting
the ankle go below the edge of the step.
Another simple exercise is standing on one foot, the other elevated off
the floor. Draw a circle in the air with the toes of the elevated foot.
Don’t let the leg move. Do it one way, then circle in the opposite
direction, and then change feet. This will strengthen the muscles and
tendons around the ankle to help avoid future injury.
It is also a good warm up for anyone before dancing.
Try standing and holding onto a chair or table for balance, legs
straight, then shift your weight forward onto the balls of the feet,
allowing heels to come up. Stand as long as you can, then slowly lower
back to a flat foot. A balance exercise recommended for seniors is
standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or waiting in the
grocery line, or standing on your tiptoes while washing dishes.
If you have wobbly ankles, you won’t have good balance, and bad balance
can lead to falls. Now you have another reason for getting your rise
and fall in order.
newsletters, Feb. & March, 2014, and Dec. 2018,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, January 2019.