Not everyone is born with the “perfect” foot structure, and even some of the top ballet dancers did not naturally have the overall glorious look to their feet. So you may want to start ballet, but have heard about and are now concerned that the arch of your foot is not ideal for this art form. Worry not, as there is much more at play here than meets the eye, so are high arches beneficial for ballet?
Male ballet dancers are less likely to find high arches a problem. Still, a high arch is beneficial for females as it allows for a greater likelihood of getting to a high demi-pointe, especially in soft ballet shoes. Additionally, this is a factor for over the box and overall en pointe positions.
Many dancers who practice ballet are envious of those with naturally high arches, as it allows for ease in specific movements and the correct execution. Something they likely are not aware of, though, and which someone with high arches will discover, is that there are indeed downsides to having this shape to their feet. So, to learn more about the pros and possible cons, be sure to read on.
The Benefits And Downsides To Having High Arches For Ballet
When it comes down to it, two primary things dictate the ideal ballet foot: the arch, the curved crescent under your foot, and the other is the instep of ones’ foot. The instep refers to the bone structure on the upper part of the foot, and if you have both a high arch and instep, you fall into the category of genetically lucky dancers.
The gift is twofold, unfortunately, though, and although in some areas a true blessing where it allows for better articulation of the foot and its expression, as well as ease of balancing en pointe, there is a downside as well. This comes in the more flexible and high arch/instep foot being more susceptible to injury as it offers lesser stability, which is usually seen in pointe shoes.
If you fall into the grouping of those with high arches, then as mentioned, there are pros and cons; one thing you should do before executing any en pointe movement, though, is to have your foot examined for any potential weakness.
Looser shoes may likely be a problem, and your feet may well fall out of them. Also, it is wise to practice strengthening techniques; speak to a physical therapist regarding this. And find out what you can do to help alleviate potential issues from occurring.
This derives from your gorgeous feet, and most likely incredible flexibility can result in mid-foot injuries and quite possibly weaker ankles that are put under strain. You may find that you exceedingly go over your box in pointe shoes, which can result in injuries such as damaging or encountering inflammation of your Achilles tendon.
The exercises you may be prescribed to perform may include calf raises and relevé for multiple repetitions. However, be sure to build up the volume of these exercises and instead focus on genuinely working the surrounding and supporting muscles before you start to add higher volume. You eventually want to build up to where you can perform these without holding the barre.
How To Improve And Increase The Arch Of Your Feet
If you happen to fall in the faction of the population that has not been gifted with high arches and insteps when it comes to your feet, fret not as there are exercises that we shall break down that will aid you in improving this. Some of the recommended practices include:
The Seated Arch Stretch
As the name suggests, you will be in a seated position while performing this exercise. What you want to do is hold one of your heels and, with the opposite hand, press the front of your foot downwards and hold the stretch for 5 to 10 seconds at least. The stretch should be felt in the arch of your foot.
The Toe Stretch
Stand against a wall for support and place your hands behind you to adjust your position. You want to lift your heels off of the ground and stretch up as high as you can. This is similar to calf raises; you do not want the weight of your body on the balls of your feet, instead transfer it onto the toes (if possible), and try to lean forward without tipping.
The Toe Press
A similar exercise to the toe stretch is the toe press. Now you are also in a standing position. You want to bend one of your knees and lift that heel from the floor. You want the front of your foot (primarily the toes) to press down onto the ground; while you stretch out the rear end of your foot and ankle, try to raise these parts as high as you are comfortably able to do.
The Reverse Toe Press
Standing as you were for the toe press, bend one knee and transfer most of your weight onto your other foot. Now instead of raising the back of your foot extensively, rather you will tuck your toes under your foot and press down incredibly gently while moving the rear part of your foot forward. Try to feel as great a stretch in the toes and top of your foot as possible.
The Toe Flexion
Once again, you start in the same position as you would for the toe press, but now you will be lifting your foot slightly off the floor. You can then place your hand under your toes and pull them as far back as your foot will allow without hurting yourself. You should note an opposing stretch as your toes go back; your ankle will automatically want to push forward.
What To Avoid When Trying To Improve Your Foot Arch For Ballet
Getting your foot to an optimal level of flexibility and improving the arch of your foot will take time, commitment, and consistency. You cannot expect the results to show immediately, but instead, they will come in small increments over time. Therefore, follow the stretches recommended above or speak to your ballet instructor for variations to try.
However, with this being said, some people want to see definitive improvements faster than is likely to happen. So, things to not give in to doing include:
- Having someone apply weight to your foot during the stretches or allowing more of your body weight to sit on it than is comfortable.
- Using a foot stretcher – although this can be tempting and may even be encouraged by some, they are just a sure-fire way to ask for trouble. This instrument offers you quick, effective results and allows you to push your feet further faster than they naturally would.
- Any stretch that hurts or presents discomfort. These could even include some of those we have recommended. Listen to your body and progressively work your way up to new exercises, and do not force your body to do what it is unwilling to.
- Following on from the previous point, you also do not want to force your feet into positions that they find disagreeable. As suggested, your body will delineate its restrictions, so adhere to the limitations it informs you of and steadily work your way up to more complex and demanding stretches.
Differences Between Low And High Arches
Many ballet dancers who have high arches and insteps have no difficulty obtaining height; however, at times, they go over and can stand on the entire platform of the pointe. They also have more balance once in a raised position than those with low arches. There is one avenue where people with lower arches supersede, and that is in their control when coming down.
So, although people with higher arches can reach pointe with far less hassle, they struggle to maintain the position, will potentially shake while up, and are less eloquent in coming down. People with lower arches do not suffer from this issue, but it is often much more challenging to get up, and they usually dance on the ridge of the shoe instead of the platform.
There are distinct differences between people with high and low arches in their feet, as far as ballet is concerned. Although a blessing, people with high arches need to compensate for shortcomings (such as strength in their feet and surroundings). In contrast, those with low arches struggle to get en pointe, but once able to; they show more grace and elegance in coming down.