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Hans Solo: Good Feet 1

This is the first article from team member Hans Nelson (meet the team). Hans will be contributing a series of articles called Hans Solo in which he tackles a wide range of ballet topics (all on his own).

One hears a lot of talk about 'good feet' in ballet, but what does that actually mean? What makes the shape of one foot 'better' than another? What about those whose feet aren't particularly beautiful in themselves but who use them well?

Boys from the Paris Opera Ballet School

Following is a short two-part guide about what goes into creating a beautiful foot and using it well. It is not intended to be exhaustive.

The Well-shaped Foot

Several physical factors are involved in the architecture of a beautifully pointed stationary foot in ballet, including:

1. A high arch
2. A high instep (the top of the foot)
3. A flexible ankle joint

These attributes are usually all found together, although it is possible to have a high instep without much of an arch and vice versa. It is easiest to see when the foot is pointed in profile (for example, in battement tendu à la seconde, seen from the front). If there is a pronounced curve in the under-side of the foot, the dancer has a high arch. If the curve on top of the foot protrudes, the dancer has a high instep.

David Hallberg from American Ballet Theatre

A flexible ankle determines how well the dancer will be able to stand en pointe (if female). If the dancer's knee, the middle of the ankle joint and the toes run in a straight line when the foot is pointed, the ankle has sufficient flexibility. Too much flexibility in the ankle is not usually a problem as there are pointe shoes made to assist dancers with this issue.

For the male dancer, I think the main concern with foot/ankle flexibility is the line of the feet and legs, which must be smooth (see the photo above). A foot that is not flexible enough will have a clawlike shape and will not appear pointed when the leg is extended.

Improving your feet

If your feet are not ideal, don't worry! If you haven't finished growing, there is still time to work on them. The best exercises to develop the arches and insteps are those performed at the barre: battements tendus, dégagés, pas de cheval &c., so work hard on those. Make sure you are standing with your arches lifted properly - not rolling inward - at all times, even when not in class. Practise the 'wrapped' sur le cou de pied position to shape the foot correctly.

Sur le cou de pied position, in relevé

Additionally, you can try the following exercises. If you plan on using the these exercises we recommend you ask your teacher to check you are performing them correctly.

Exercise 1
This exercise uses a theraband which is a long strip of latex that can be used for a variety of different exercises. Sit on the floor with the right leg extended in front of you. Place your right foot and toes in the middle of the theraband, and hold one end of the theraband in each hand. Flex your foot, pulling the theraband taut so it does not fall off your foot, and then point your foot, keeping the toes relaxed. Think of lengthening through your ankle, sending the ball of your foot forward as if you were going to push through the theraband. (NB your foot will not actually move forward, this is just an image to get the right feeling.) Repeat the flex and point several times with the right foot, then repeat on the left.

Exercise 2
For this exercise, you may want to stand facing a barre, or perhaps a heavy chair or kitchen counter if you are at home. Stand in first position, then place your right foot into the 'wrapped' sur le cou de pied position. Keeping the cou de pied shape in your right foot, extend your right foot out to the side in pointe tendue (with the knee straight and the big toe lightly in contact with the floor). Keeping the arch pointed and shaped correctly, allow the toes to relax so that your foot is in demi-pointe position. Bend your right knee and shift your weight onto the right leg, keeping your arch pointed. Hold this position for a moment, then return to the pointe tendue position, attempting to point the foot even more and feeling the stretch along the front of the ankle as you do so. Return to the wrapped cou de pied position to make sure your foot is still shaped correctly, then either repeat or close to first and repeat with the other foot. (Note: when you place your weight onto your foot in the demi-pointe position, be certain you do not sickle! Be vigilant about keeping your foot shaped as it was in cou de pied.)

The second part of this article looks at the foot in motion - there's no point having good feet if you don't know how to use them well. To read it click here.

1 comment:

    by Dane Youssef

    Yes, boys do ballet, too. It's sad that there are still a lot of people that honestly need to be told this....

    And actually, boys can have "great feet," too. Actually, come to think of it---It's even more important for the boys than the girls to have 'em.
    Girls can just wear their precious (yet unforgiving) Toe shoes if their feet honestly suck out-loud. Yet boys still have the easier job. Because... well, there's still a lot less boys taking ballet, sadly. Just like there are a lot less women in... well, any other job.

    But unless you’re really savvy about the craft, you must ask, “what are ballet feet? What are bad feet for ballet?”

    The kind of feet that are best equipped for ballet–high arches, high insteps that will suit jumps, Pointe, pirouette, tendus and what-have-you. From being able to arch your foot and being able to balance on the metatarsal.

    A lot of people ask, "What's with dancers and having 'good feet?' What makes them good--or bad? Does everyone in ballet just have some sick, demented, depraved foot fetish?"

    Let's just clear this up--like crystal through a summer blue sky: It's not the way the foot itself looks. Like if it's pedicured or decorated. It's the way the foot moves and Pointes on the dance floor....

    Once again, specific definition of "beautiful and perfectly crafted ballet feet": High arches, high insteps and an incredibly flexible ankle.

    It is a part of immortal history that Margot Fonteyn was not only a prima ballerina, but was named “Prima Ballerina Absolutta” by the British Empire as well as given the rank of Dame. History looks at her as one of the finest there ever was in the sport despite her notorious “bad feet.”

    Yes, that she had “bad ballet feet” is also a part of her history, her legendary status–but this is only known to die-hard fanatical balletomanes. You know, people actually in the professional dance industry.

    What this refers to is the fact that her feet had low arches, like “sticks of butter” and her legs were quite short for a ballerina. On a ballerina, long legs and arms are a must. Absolutely necessary as being able to stand up and walk. And Fonteyn’s were considerably short, and yes–flat feet.

    Look, I myself have been praised by ballet pros for my very own feet–made for ballet, which I’ve been taking for nine whole years. Take it from someone who’s done the craft and played the sport himself for almost a decade: You don’t just have to be born with it.

    If you want the glorified curve in your foot, for it to stand tall and prominent, you’ll just have to work at it. Doing Pointe exercise with an elastic band until those arches come up. Mold your feet into the proper shape like they’re made of clay.

    Yet this little woman, one Margaret Fonteyn was given the title of “Prima Ballerina Absolutta,” an honor given to the precious ballerinas who seem to be heaven-sent in the profession. Madams Anna Pavolva, Natalia Makarova, and of course, Fonteyn.

    Boys can have great feet in ballet. Ballet IS unisex. And the definition of "good feet"--well, male or female--the pre-requisite for either is the same.

    So... improve your foot. But don't wait for them--or any other part of your body to become perfect.

    We're all terminal. We're all just passing through. Dance while you can...

    --Still Dancing For Himself, Dane Youssef