Tap Happy Feet

Tappers may use their feet more than any other type of dancer, as they slide, jump, slap, stomp and balance on the balls of their feet, quickly shifting into various positions. “Tappers use all points of the foot in contact with the floor in different percussive or frictional ways,” says Megan Richardson, a clinical specialist and certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. The percussive nature of tap dance poses special issues when it comes to injury and foot care. Help your students prevent the following common tap-related problems.

Blisters

Friction, moisture and poor-fitting shoes cause blisters. If a student reports redness and sensitivity around an irritated spot, have them place a gel patch or blister pad on the inflamed area and do 10-minute-long cold foot soaks until the pain is gone. Wearing properly fitted shoes and moisture-wicking socks will ultimately help prevent blisters.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis is caused by repetitive stress or overuse. It commonly occurs when students first begin tapping or increase their dance load, since their muscles and tendons may not have sufficient strength to endure repetitive classes and performances, says Terry Sneed, owner and director of Elite Physical Therapy & Wellness Center in Washington, DC. (Sneed also served as a touring physical therapist for Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk.) A gradual build-up is necessary, she adds. Watch out for chronic soreness around the ankle joint or a nagging pain in the heel. This pain is usually not severe and worsens after activity. Relative rest, icing feet, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), stretching, strengthening, taping and correction of technical faults are a few necessary actions to avoid tendonitis. For further prevention, always take students through a thorough warm-up, and encourage them to stretch before and ice after activity.

Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains happen with traumatic force as the result of missed steps or untreated injuries. “Some injury-causing movements unique to tappers include ‘flash’ steps, like wings, and turns and jumps that require constant, intricate foot and ankle movement,” says Kendra Sakamoto, a tap dancer and athletic trainer for Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA. The constant pounding of the foot and ankle, the type of footwear and poor technique are all factors that can contribute to ankle sprains. Be aware of sharp pain, noticeable swelling and difficulty continuing activity. Advise students to take the same precautions as with any muscle injury. Some treatments may call for crutches, stabilizing braces and professional medical assistance. Take extra time for ankle-strengthening exercises, and pay special attention to body alignment, especially when the student is wearing heeled tap shoes.

Stress Fractures

Tappers are prone to metatarsal stress fractures, because they jump, pound and stomp their feet in shoes that lack shock absorption. “At first, the muscles absorb the vibration of the floor, then the bones,” says Richardson. “Wear and tear of that nature can give tappers stress fractures.” These fractures can be tricky to spot, but if a student complains of constant pain that doesn’t go away and worsens with weight-bearing activities, look for swelling and point tenderness as a sure indicator. Sometimes these injuries are better diagnosed with an X-ray or MRI. Rest, ice and NSAIDs will help ease the pain, but a walking boot with crutches may be needed, depending on severity.

Ingrown Toenails

Tight or poorly fitted shoes that allow the foot to slip and slide can cause ingrown toenails (as will toenails that are too long). Along with discomfort, tappers might notice redness and swelling around the affected area, typically in the big toe. Soak feet in a tub of warm, salty water two to three times per day and pad the toe for relief. Have students see a doctor if there is an infection. Keeping toenails trimmed and wearing the right shoes (or at least padding) can alleviate the pressure. DT

Nina Amir is currently writing a book about mentoring boys who want to become professional dancers.

Foot Care Tips from Famous Tappers

Chloé Arnold

“I aim to stretch before dancing, and that definitely includes rolling through my foot. I soak my feet when I can. I try to know when to rotate my shoes out and get a new pair to protect my feet. In high heels, I always have a gel pad. If I am sore, I try to ice. It brings down the pain and reduces the swelling. I have a foot roller and use that, and I’m in the process of trying out different insoles that address my high arch.”

Derick K. Grant

“Stretching. It took a while for me to make the connection with this one—I’m lazy by nature. But since the feet have all the nerve endings, pain is usually the result of something going wrong somewhere else in the body. So, when I experience cramping in my feet, I start stretching right away.”

Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards

“If I am dancing every single day, I’ll rub my feet every day, especially the parts that are tender. I use a hard ball or a rolling pin and roll it back and forth. I make sure my toe nails are cut low, and I try to wear shoes that are comfortable for my feet. I have to be able to wiggle my toes in the shoes. I have a wide foot and narrow heel, so sometimes I need a heel grip. If the shoes are hard at the bottom, I’ll go a half size bigger and put an insole inside to help with the pounding and pressure.”

iStockphoto

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.