Ballet dancers’ awe-worthy movements really take it out on their bodies. The energetic leaping, tiptoed spinning, and fast jumping are unnatural moves that strain dancers’ feet especially. Can ballet’s extreme steps and sequences put so much stress on dancers’ feet that their appearance changes in undesirable ways?
Ballet dancers are at high risk for developing foot conditions and injuries that cause imperfections such as toe deformities, claw-like toes, black or cracked toenails, bunions, bruising, swellings, raised areas of hardened skin, and extremely thick, yellowing toenails.
With their crooked toes, bumps, and blemishes, ballet dancers’ feet have such a distinctive look that there’s a condition named after them: dancer’s foot. All ballet dancers experience foot problems, but dancers practicing the pointe technique are most vulnerable. Let’s see what’s lurking inside the pretty satin ballet pumps.
Does Ballet Make Feet Ugly?
Ballet tests the limits of what feet and ankles can endure, often pushing them to breaking point. Many ballet injuries can be felt but not seen, such as a pinched nerve, but others reveal themselves in rather unattractive ways. Most of ballet’s unsightly by-products show on the toes.
Here are eight ways ballet can spoil the appearance of dancers’ feet.
1. Ballet Can Cause Hammertoes
Hammertoe is a joint deformity that can affect any toe but usually occurs on the second or third toe. This condition causes the joint in the middle of a toe to bend downward instead of forward, making the toe look a bit like a claw.
Hammertoe can also make walking uncomfortable and cause pain when stretching or moving the toe or its neighboring toes.
People who have bunions, calluses, or corns (all of which dancers are vulnerable to) have a higher risk of developing hammertoes.
Most cases of hammertoe are treatable. Permanent damage can occur if this condition is ignored.
2. Ballet Can Cause Thickened Toenails
With this nail disorder (medical name: onychauxis), toenails grow extremely thick – so thick that they can become too thick to trim.
The nail plate can also start to curl, turn white or yellow (or even red or black if the condition is left to develop), or become loose. This condition also comes with potential crumbling around the nail edges and an increased risk of fungal infections.
If left untreated, thickened nails can cause permanent damage.
3. Ballet Can Cause Black Or Broken Toenails
The extreme pressure ballet dancers put on their toes can break the blood vessels beneath their toenails. This under-nail bleeding makes the nails look black.
Dancers’ toenails can also crack under pressure. The constant knocks these toenails experience can make them flake, break, or split.
If broken nails aren’t looked after, they can get infected, bringing on symptoms in the affected skin like swelling, warmth, and redness.
4. Ballet Can Cause Ingrown Toenails
Another way ballet can change toes’ appearance is by triggering ingrown toenails.
This toenail abnormality happens when the corner or edge of a toenail (usually on the big toe) curls and grows into the skin. As the toenail digs into the surrounding skin, the affected area often gets red and swollen and can experience a fluid build-up and thickening skin.
It’s a good idea to treat an ingrown toenail as soon as it’s identified to prevent an infection, which has symptoms including increased redness and swelling, warmth in the affected area, pus, throbbing pain, and an unpleasant smell.
5. Ballet Can Cause Corns
Corns are hardened, rough, tough, yellowy, bumpy bits of skin that form on the feet.
Corns can strike all over the feet, from the sides and soles to the tips of toes (or even between the toes).
If untreated, corns can become ulcers and cause irreversible damage.
6. Ballet Can Cause Blisters And Calluses
Blisters and calluses make dancers’ feet all lumpy and bumpy.
Blisters are fluid-filled lumps that form where feet experience friction.
Calluses are hard bumps made up of lots of extra skin layers. These raised areas of skin are usually harmless and tend to form on the heels and toes. If a callus changes color, bleeds a lot, or produces pus, have a doctor check it out.
Dancers who find calluses uncomfortable or ugly might try to cut them off their skin, but this causes more problems by inviting infection into the area.
7. Ballet Can Cause Bunions
A bunion is an unmissable bump on the side of the big toe. The foot bones push the big toe toward the second toe, creating the nasty bulge. Bunions are often red and accompanied by thick skin on the underside of the big toe and calluses on the second toe.
If neglected, a bunion can squish all the toes together, creating pain and a potentially lasting deformity. Untreated bunions can also irritate the fluid-filled pocket that protects the toe joint, resulting in discomfort and restricted movement of the toe joints.
Read more: Best Ballet Flat For Bunions
8. Ballet Can Cause Ankle Sprains
Tell-tale signs of a sprained ankle are swelling, bruising, discolored skin, stiffness, and pain.
Sprained ankles are common injuries in the world of professional ballet, where dancers spend hours and hours practicing while overworking the bands of tissue that connect the leg to the foot.
Ankle sprains should be treated quickly to prevent lasting problems.
How Can Ballet Dancers Treat Their Ugly Feet?
Sure, many conditions stand in the way of ballet dancers having beautiful feet. Though, a lifetime of avoiding sandals isn’t inescapable.
Blisters, black or broken toenails, thickened toenails, ingrown toenails, corns, and calluses either heal on their own or are easily treatable. Hammertoes and bunions are trickier but not impossible to treat.
Many foot conditions are linked – for example, bunions, calluses, and corns up the risk of hammertoe, and bunions make calluses more likely. So, it’s a wise move to quickly treat troubled feet to stop the conditions from multiplying.
The type of treatment for ballet-related foot damage depends on its severity and ranges from at-home care to surgery.
For example, treatment for mild calluses can be as simple as soaking your feet in warm water for 20 minutes, towel-drying them, and then trying to gently rub away a layer of the callus with your fingers. Don’t aim to remove the whole callus in one go; rather, rub away one layer at a time over several foot soaks.
On the flip side, treatment for severe hammertoe is more complicated, involving surgery to remove deformed bone and get the toe’s position back to normal.
A doctor, podiatrist, or orthopedist with experience in working with dancers can recommend treatment options.
Ballet dancers’ feet take a beating that leaves them looking worse for wear. Toe deformities, cracked toenails, lumps and bumps, rough patches, skin that’s black and blue, super-thick toenails, swollen ankles… All sorts of imperfections can make dancers want to keep their feet hidden in their ballet pumps.
Maybe we really do need to suffer for beauty, and worn-out feet are just the price dancers pay to be able to move so exquisitely.