Teaching Tips

Our 5 Best Self-Foot-Care Tips for Your Post-Holiday Return to Class

Thinkstock

Snow and cold make January a rough time for teachers who need their feet to be limber and warm, especially after a few weeks off. Karin Ellis-Wentz, head of pre-professional programs at the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago, always feels the difference after vacation. "One winter break, I did TheraBand exercises," she says. "It helped to keep my feet, ankles and calves in shape, so I wasn't cramping terribly when I came back to teaching again."

Whether you've cross-trained over the break or not, returning to class means long days of teaching, demonstrating and standing that can be especially rough on your feet and lower legs. To remind you to treat your feet well, we asked the experts for their most current thinking on how to best prepare and protect your most-used body part.


Warm Up Appropriately

Physical therapist Sean P. Gallagher says point-and-flex TheraBand exercises are good, but they aren't enough to prepare your feet for a day of load bearing. "TheraBands are like five pounds of resistance, but when you go up into relevé, that's a lot more than five pounds," he says. Instead, he suggests running through a condensed version of the warm-up you'll teach students. Going through a shortened barre, for example, not only gets your feet feeling the floor and your muscles working the way you'll use them, but it helps you go over your lesson plan before you begin, he says. It also helps you practice the coordination you'll need to dance.

Customize Your Routine

Regardless of your specific warm-up, Elizabeth Maples, doctor of physical therapy at Miami City Ballet, recommends some light cardio movement of choice to begin, like 30 minutes of yoga, Gyrotonic or using an elliptical machine. After that, find what suits your needs. After spraining her ankle in February, Alexa Capareda, rehearsal assistant for Ballet Austin's second company, incorporated her physical therapy exercises not just into her own warm-up but into what she does with dancers, too. Her routine involves lying on her back and going through a series of foot-scrunching and flexing, individual toe tapping, and winging and sickling with feet on and off the ground. She also stands on one foot on a balance board and alternates slowly touching the front edge and back edge of the board to the floor. "Stabilizing exercises get the little muscles in feet and ankles, but also get yourself aligned in the hips," Capareda says.

Have the Right Gear

Footwear is a major issue for teachers, since ballet slippers lack the necessary support for a day of standing and walking. Gallagher recommends wearing sneakers but keeping ballet slippers or other soft shoes on hand and changing when you need to demonstrate.

Ellis-Wentz wears Bloch split-sole sneakers when she knows she won't be demonstrating much or that she'll be sitting in a cold theater and wants to keep her feet warm. "But when I try to demonstrate petit allégro, I'm tripping over my shoes," she says. On a dance-heavy day, she'll opt for Gaynor Minden Joy or Grishko split-sole ballet slippers, both of which she says have padding in the heel.

Maples points out that for some people, split-sole sneakers cause mid-foot dysfunction, and says a full sole may be better for teachers who are standing for long hours. If sliding on marley floors is required, suede can be pressed onto the full sole of a sneaker.

Stay Warm

Ellis-Wentz spends some of her long days sitting at a desk, so she keeps her wooden foot roller on hand and also does doming exercises while she works.

Another exercise you can and should return to throughout the day—while you're warm—is calf stretches, says Maples. She offers a variation on the standard that involves rolling up a legwarmer or T-shirt and placing it under the back foot along the inside arch, and then along the outside arch, causing the foot to supinate and then pronate gently. If you stretch with a straight and bent back leg with that variation, it stretches more deeply into the fibers of the muscles.

Recovery Is Essential

For Lynn Schwab, who teaches tap four or five days a week up to six hours a day at Steps on Broadway and American Tap Dance Foundation in New York City, recovery is the most vital foot-care component. Schwab ruptured a plantar fascia a few years ago and now puts in extra effort in keeping her Achilles and calf muscles stretched and pampering her feet after a day of heavy tapping. She uses yoga toes to spread out her metatarsals after they've been squished in a shoe and rolls out her feet on spiky rubber balls or a wooden roller. She also swears by foot soaks and Epsom-salt baths.

"Recovery is equally important to warm-up for the dancer and teacher," Maples says. "If teachers can model that before and after class, we will have healthier dancer populations."

Teachers Trending
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The author with Maurice Hines. Photo by Anthony R. Phillips, courtesy Hopkins

In March, prior to sheltering in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, my husband and I traveled from New York City to Miami to screen our award-winning documentary, Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back, at the Miami Film Festival.

Our star, Tony Award–nominated dancer and choreographer Maurice Hines joined us in Miami for the festival—stepping and repeating on the opening night red carpet, sharing anecdotes from his illustrious seven-decade career with local tap students, and holding court at a cocktail mixer with lively female fans.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Haruko Photography, courtesy ABT

Gabe Stone Shayer may be American Ballet Theatre's newest soloist, but he never dreamed he'd be dancing with the company at all. Though he grew up in Philadelphia, his sights were always set on international ventures—especially The Bolshoi Ballet and The Royal Ballet.

Even in his early training, he was learning from Russian educators: Alexander Boitsov at Gwendolyn Bye Dance Center, and Alexei and Natalia Cherov, from the Koresh School of Dance. At age 13, he transferred to The Rock School for Dance Education, where he danced until his acceptance to The Bolshoi Ballet Academy at age 14. At 16, Shayer returned to spend his summer in the States and attended ABT's summer intensive—fully intent on going back to Bolshoi to continue his training in the fall. Four weeks in, he was offered a studio-company contract. "I was so surprised," Shayer says. "Having come of age in Russia, I was very Eurocentric. Of course ABT was on my radar, I just never imagined it was for me."

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.