Tango Feet - Shoe Selection and Injury Prevention

Those shoes aren't made for walkin' . . . While they have ankle straps for support, the platform bottom reduces the ability to flex the feet. The wearer isn't stable (either because the heel is too high or the shoe is poorly balanced) because her toes are "gripping" the shoe. She has no room to spread her toes increasing her instability.

I've been overwhelmed with emails so I've gotten behind on responding to this topic. A lot of the questions have the same answers, so I'm going to share them here as well as answer in pm or email, because there seem to be so many common threads.

1. If, when wearing your tango shoes, you cannot put all 5 of your metatarsals (the joints of the ball of your foot) evenly on the ground when you walk, you won't be dancing at your best. This is basic biomechanics - the ball of your foot needs to be completely on the floor to achieve stability.  The same goes with being able to move, and spread, your toes. I'm currently working with a dancer who has been dancing in shoes that allow for only the 1st and 5th metatarsal to land - 2,3 and 4 are pushed up in a cramped arch. Her balance, strength and posture have all been negatively impacted by this. (I received her permission to share that information.)

2. If you cannot flex (roll through your entire foot with your step) your foot, and you're landing your foot in a near-solid block, you can't dance at your best. Your foot needs to be able to flex to do its job. It can't if you've essentially wrapped it in a cast.

3. If, when you are standing with your legs straight (without bending your knees), you cannot raise your heel 1/2 an inch off the floor - the heel is too high for the current flexibility of your foot. You can change that, but it will usually take training your foot, not just wearing the same shoe around hoping it gets better.

We all know that the high heels are not good for our feet, legs and back and we also know that we're going to keep wearing them anyway. Such is tango life. What is essential at this point is treating and training our feet well when we're not in the silly shoes to help alleviate some of the negative consequences. It is also imperative to wear shoes that truly fit your feet well. When I try on tango shoes I don't even look at the color or patterns anymore. I don't care. I care if the shoe fits. I'll wear the damned things with solid black if I have to. As Daniela Arcuri told her Women's Technique class, your shoes need to work for you, not the other way around. If there's a pair that really fit well and feel great - I don't care what color they are. Likewise, a pair of shoes that are a work of art don't do me a bit of good if they negatively impact my dancing.

These things don't just impact your ability to dance well now, but to be able to dance well, and pain free, for a lifetime.

I'll get off the soap box now.
For long enough to get some coffee anyway.

3 comments:

Jane Prusakova said...

Thank you for a great post! Excellent points - every one of them.

Anonymous said...

Could you explain nr 3 again? Is it just about going on tippy-toes while in heels? I've been trying to work on exercises that increase my balance and flexibility, so it would be nice to get an idea of how to test that. Thanks!

Mari Johnson said...

@Jane - you're so welcome!

@Anonymous - For this test, yes, while in your high heeled shoes (and keeping your knees straight) go up onto the balls of your feet, lifting your heel as high as you can. Take a look in a mirror, or have someone look for you, and see how much clearance you have off of the floor. You need *at least* half an inch of clearance under your heel to know that you are able flex your foot when you walk.

When testing this in your shoes, it's important to note that this isn't just about the flexibility of your own foot - but of your shoes as well. If your shoes are very hard and stiff and don't allow for flexing your arches - you will end up with the same problem in decreased stability and a rocky walk.

It's a good idea to go up onto the balls of your feet without your shoes as well (onto "demi-pointe" in ballet terms) to see how much flexibility you have with no foot wear at all. That will give you a baseline of what your foot is currently capable of doing.