Flat feet? Always wished for beautiful arches? I have news: you can actually INCREASE your pointe range!
If you've struggled with foot envy and restricted pointe range your entire life then this message is for you. Here's why...
An arched foot is central to the aesthetics of ballet. That's why it's understandable that every ballet dancers lusts over gorgeous feet. My good friend had killer arches: they were so hyperextended she had to sew extra elastics over them just to keep her feet from rolling over the shoe.
Alas, this isn't the case for most of us...but there is still hope: you can actually alter your feet! With a few daily exercises, you can increase your pointe range by 8 degrees or more, WITHOUT using a foot stretcher. Foot stretchers can damage the back the ankle, so try to avoid them. Here are some safer practices to get more beautiful, pronounced arches and increase your foot mobility:
GOLF BALL MASSAGE - this not only reduces cramping, it increases the flexibility of your feet. Australian dance therapist Lisa Howell recommends soaking your feet for 15 minutes in a warm foot bath prior to massaging. Getting that heat into your foot and warming up the muscles facilitates their stretching during the massage.
HAND MASSAGE - hand massaging your feet can really loosen the tension restricting your pointe range. Massage all through the sole of the foot, under the big toe, and around the arch to release the muscles keeping the foot rigid. You can ask a loving friend to do this, or ask a professional therapist.
RESISTANCE - resistance is key. Whether you're using the floor or using artificial resistance (such as a thera-ball or thera-band), try working your feet slowly through demi-pointe and articulating all the way through the intrinsic muscles to a full pointe. This type of resistance/articulation work will strengthen the key muscle group used when you pointe. We recommend using thera-balls instead of therabands for foot articulation exercises as shown in the last part of this video.
EXPAND YOUR FOCUS - think about the muscles beyond your foot: those involved in the process of pointing. This includes all the muscles of the posterior calf:
To exercise this set of muscles, try doing calf raises through plié:
1) With your feet in parallel, standing at the barre or near a table or chair for balance, bend into a demi plie keeping the knees directly over the toes.
2) Whilst in the plie position, gradually lift your heels off the ground, rolling up through the intrinsic muscles of the foot and extending to your highest demi-pointe.
3) Keeping the heels as lifted as possible, straighten the knees so you’re standing in a turned in first position on demi pointe.
4) Now slowly lower the heels returning to a relaxed position. Repeat several times, then perform with the feet in first and second position.
5) Finally, repeat the whole process in reverse, starting with a rise onto demi-pointe, then gradually bending the knees to a demi plie-level, and (working the feet as much as possible) slowly lowering the heels, maintaining the plie, before finally straightening.
DE-SHANKED POINTE SHOES - wearing de-shanked pointe shoes is similar to wearing demi-pointe shoes. Use them just as you would a soft shoe...and don't freak out it if it feels pretty weird the first time you wear them. Your feet will feel tired because they are not used to working so hard when articulating through the shoe. Over time, taking ballet class in de-shanked shoes over soft shoes could really develop the proper muscles used for pointe work as well. Tendu, balances, and jumping in de-shanked pointe shoes may be harder but that's the "pointe"! :)
Let us know what kind of results you see! Here's to gorgeous feet and a wonderful week filled with dancing.