High insteps, high arches: ballet feet

Spring break was all that could be hoped for; Lisa and Erik were very gracious hosts, and Berkeley is amazing. I’m in love with the Bay Area all over again, and can’t wait to move there in a few months! Now, there’s that pesky issue of a prospectus…

Meanwhile, I have been meaning to post for a very long time now about ballet feet, and particularly on the question of insteps. As with my hyperextension post, I’m no doctor or any other kind of authority, I’m writing strictly from my own experience, this is no replacement for a knowledgeable teacher or physical trainer, yadda yadda yadda. So! On with it.

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Ballet–classical ballet–is not a kind or generous dance form. That is, to a considerable degree, there is a very stringent and unyielding standard of what is desirable in the body of a dancer, and what is not. Attend any performance by a major company, and even a newcomer to ballet can get a basic sense of this: long and almost always thin. That said, there are ballet companies which take or even feature other kinds of bodies; the Joffrey, for instance, is known for the athleticism of its dancers. Some are downright stocky, and often very very strong, as opposed to the wispier physiques of other ballet companies.

The Joffrey aside (somewhat…their dancers are still very slim!) the prevailing trend in ballet these days is long and thin. Yet the demands that ballet makes of dancers go even beyond this already difficult to realize ideal; it extends to the very shape of the foot, and that extra inch of bone and flesh on the foot can earn a ballerina the envy of her peers. It’s no overstatement, I think, to say that dancers admire and want beautiful feet, even to the point of buying fabric inserts to give feet the desired appearance.

The ideal is, put simply: a strong yet flexible foot with a high arch and a high instep. As with hyperextension, high arches and insteps are all about the lines. When a foot with a high instep and high arch is fully pointed and stretched–oh, so lovely!

The Mechanics

The arch is the curve under the foot, between the heel and forefoot. The instep-perhaps a little counterintuitively–is the bony structure on top of the foot.

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behold, Svetlana Zakharova’s ridiculously perfect foot!

For ballet, it is more important to have a high arch; this enables a dancer to get to a high demi-pointe, and if she is dancing en pointe, to get over the box of the shoe. From my experience, the jury’s still out on the functionality of a high instep; according to one teacher I’ve had, it’s purely aesthetic; from another teacher’s perspective, it has something to do with getting over the box as well. I’m not sure about this. But it is true that high arches and high insteps tend to go together, just as low insteps and flat feet tend to go together. My own feet are an odd mix: fairly good arches, minimal insteps; strangely enough, it seems that my left instep is a little higher than my right.

Alas, there is no way to vastly improve arches and insteps. For “banana feet” such as Zakharova’s or Alessandra Ferri’s, one must be born with them. No amount of ballet will ever get flat feet to look like those. However, feet can be gently exercised to improve arches–if only a little bit. Imagine pushing your arches outward in demi-pointe. The popular plie, rolling through the feet into demi-pointe, and then rising in releve is a great way to encourage the arches. For insteps, I suppose that imagining the instep pushing outward as well would help, as would making sure that feet are fully pointed and stretched for tendus and degages. But in general–you either have high insteps, or you don’t. When focusing on arches and pointing one’s feet, be careful to avoid sickling and pushing too hard, straining the ankle.

As I mentioned in my post about hyperextension, dancers with a lot of flexibility may tend to be not as strong as the dancers with lower levels of flexibility. This goes for feet as well. Strong feet tend to be flat, and curvy flexible feet have a tendency towards weakness. Both strength and flexibility are sought-after characteristics, and strength in feet is particularly useful for pointe work. Some young dancers with curved, flexible feet may find it frustrating to build the strength necessary to support themselves en pointe.
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Dancer 1 has fairly low insteps; dancers 2 and 3 have high insteps!

A bit of historical perspective (my favorite kind of perspective)

Ballet dancers have not always been held to this standard. In the 19th and early 20th century, bodies and feet were not always pushed to the extremes that are now sought after.
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Olga Spessivtseva.

Not only did dancers from these days tend to be just a tad more voluptuous, in my opinion, but the expected en pointe look was also quite different. Above, we can see that Spessivtseva’s left (standing) foot is en pointe, but she is not quite over the box of her shoe. (The box is the rectangular-ish part of the shoe that encloses the toes and forefoot.) These days, it is expected of ballerinas that they will be able to get over the box of the shoe. A good arch makes this possible, and a high instep enhances the look. For example:
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I think this is Zakharova again. Whoever it is, what an amazing line, from tip of her right toes to the bottom of her left!

As the 20th century progressed, dancers bodies became thinner, more streamlined, more elongated, more flexible, faster, and so on.
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long, lean, and flexible!

It seems that many young dancers feel a great deal of pressure regarding their bodies, and feet in particular–“good feet” are banana feet, and “bad feet” have low arches and low insteps. They are particularly pressured about this when they are young and their bodies still somewhat malleable. But consider Margot Fonteyn:
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Her feet are quite modest. “Bad,” even. Beyond her feet, she raised her arabesques only to a chaste 90 degrees–a far cry from the extensions in the above two photos! Yet my ballet teachers still carry on about how much she made of just a little precipite, or of such seemingly easy arabesques as above. Quality of movement, not quantity or length of extension.

I confess that I have a bit of an obsession with beautiful ballet feet. Sylvie Guillem, anyone? But in class I am always drawn to watching the dancers who are smiling, whose dancing radiates joy. Sometimes they have lovely feet. Sometimes not.
As desirable as high arches and insteps may be, it’s good to bear in mind that 99% of the audience don’t notice them–indeed, if they are in the nosebleed seats, they can’t even see them. High insteps are really a dancer’s obsession, and means very little beyond this particular group. This may be even more exclusively a ballet dancer’s obsession, as I can’t remember meeting a modern, tap, or ballroom dancer bemoaning the skeletal structure of their feet. Ballet can be exacting indeed.

Where the average viewer is concerned, what really counts is the expressive use of the whole body–think Fonteyn! Even one of Suzanne Farrell’s feet was partially crushed on one side due to a childhood accident. In terms of the feet, a pointed, strong, average foot is much more aesthetically pleasing than an unpointed, weak banana foot. And for balletomanes, the sum of the whole is much more important than the quality of the parts–even when it comes to something as basic as the feet in the pointe shoes. So in the end, as with hyperextension, slimness, proportion, line, etc, it is better to see a dancer using and celebrating what she has been blessed with, as opposed to watching a dancer with a perfect body (and perfect feet) going through the motions.

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62 thoughts on “High insteps, high arches: ballet feet

  1. Pingback: Hyperextension and ballet « wandering apricot

  2. Pingback: Topics about Ballet » High insteps, high arches: ballet feet « wandering apricot

  3. lisa

    Highly enjoyable as always. :) It’s reassuring to think of my flat feet as “strong”! I remember always thinking I had no arches, until I started pointing my feet regularly in dance class, and realized I could produce at least some kind of arch (albeit a minimal one).

    One of my yoga teachers in LA, Anthony, is obsessed with foot health and foot strength. I once attended a two-hour (or was it three?) workshop he taught specially on this subject. I am pretty sure he would be nothing but scathing on the subject of ballerinas’ feet; he’s of the opinion that all shoes are bad for our feet, and we should go barefoot as often as possible. Goodness knows his feet are as strong as they get.

    Anthony also told us about these shoes that are supposed to be almost as good as going barefoot, and now I’m dying to try them… but they’re so expensive. :(

    Reply
  4. Lindy

    The instep is on *top* of the foot? Dude. You just blew my mind :-) (But seriously, that is really counterintuitive!)

    I agree with your assessment of how the average audience member perceives these things — most audience members simply aren’t going to notice, or even be able to see, perfect feet. My mom used to take me to see the Nutcracker every few years or so when I was a kid, and my favorite dancer was always the one with the biggest smile or the most enthusiasm. I was just a kid then, of course, and maybe I’d appreciate the physical form more now as an adult. But I think passion and joy usually bring a lot more to the table than “perfect” feet.

    Reply
  5. apricot Post author

    Lisa, I’ve also heard some things about these Swiss shoes: http://www.swissmasaius.com/
    I don’t really know if they’re any good though. They’re a little ugly. I like to go barefoot too, except that I always end up stepping on unfortunate things!

    Lindy, yeah. Ballet dancers are often so attuned and critical of their bodies such that never does any tiny thing go without notice. But audiences are much, much less critical…yay for oblivious audience members like us :)

    Also, I understand that having very pretty arched feet can cause finding comfortable shoes difficult. And they can shorten the lifespan of pointe shoes, ranging from a few pairs a night for professional dancers, and up to 2 or 3 days or a couple of weeks for others (assuming they are dancing every day).

    Reply
  6. Laura

    If it were only up to the audiences, “banana feet” wouldn’t make any difference to a dancer’s success. But, alas, it is not the audiences who hire dancers, and so a fantastic dancer with a low instep may not even be looked at beyond the barre in an audition. They will be dismissed before they are able to show the artistic director their artistry and joy of dance. It’s the way of the ballet world. Kinda ridiculous when you realize that 99% of the audience doesn’t even notice the dancers’ feet. These days, the legendary Fonteyn would have not only been thought to have bad feet (to be fair, she thought this herself), but she would have also been thought to be too heavy to get a job in a major company!

    Reply
  7. Adam

    I really enjoy reading your posts! I’m afraid I have to disagree about the fact that good feet tend to be weaker than bad feet. Maybe at first they tend to be weaker but in the end a dancer with nicer feet is much stronger in things like quick tendus and obviously pointe work. I believe nice feet, and the ability to present the heal well, really aids in good turn out too. I was luckily born with nice feet, not so much straight legs, and it has helped me immensely with being able to turn out. My heel goes much farther forward in my right foot than my left, and what do you know my right leg turns out better too! I do envy people with hyperextension though…..I think we all want what we cant have. We just need to really appreciate what God has given us and what we can do.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      Don’t we all wish we had hyperextended legs!?

      Luckly for me, I do :D

      But my feet suck.
      Like Mega suck.
      See the problem is I can wing my foot just fine, but in order to have a high instep, you have to have high arches. And my feet are strong, and my toes and ankles point just fine, but my arches are the bad ones. But Winging

      Reply
  8. apricot Post author

    Laura,

    Yes! Where are our Fonteyns?

    Adam,

    Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad you enjoyed my posts!

    As for the matter of curvy feet vs. flat feet, I actually don’t think we disagree! :) Hurrah!

    I absolutely agree that the ideal is strong, flexible feet (high instep, high arch). Properly trained and strengthened, these feet are the best for ballet, and not just on an aesthetic level.

    The problem is, of course, that most dancers with nice feet starting out–young dancers–will often have to work much harder to get their feet strong enough to fully support them steadily on demipointe, and girls with nice feet have to practice a lot to strengthen their feet enough to get en pointe. Most of this extra work is at the beginning of their training. By the time they reach a professional level, this should no longer be an issue. In the end, dancers with good feet that have been properly trained and strengthened will find ballet easier than dancers with “bad” feet (even if the dancers with bad feet have had a lot of training). You can strengthen feet, but it’s hard to massively improve an arch or instep! So as I said, I think we’re actually in consensus on the preferability of having high arches and insteps.

    Although I would add that having low insteps/arches would not necessarily doom a dancer, especially if he/she dances something other than ballet. Good technique will also help dancers to control and compensate for some physical limitations, at least to some degree.

    Just as a general observation, it seems that dancers with nice feet also tend to be on the flexible side. (Flexible feet, flexible body!) So that would jive with your ability to turn out more easily on your right leg.

    Amen to appreciating what we have to work with! :)

    Reply
  9. puddle

    Ok, instep is mostly aesthetic – what determine whether you are ‘on’ the box is mostly to do with plantar flexion at the ankle. they used to do a test before you started ballet to see if you had enough flexion at the ankle. Unfortunately we dont do this anymore, and many many dancers are dancing who are not able to get onto the box which is dangerous.
    However, i will reiterate, the primary place we look for flexibility is at the ankle – this means that all the bones will be aligned from your ankles down when en pointe, which is maximally strong and efficient. If you aren’t flexible enough, then you are pulling back and making your feet, calves and legs work much much harder. If you have ‘banana’ feet then you’ve actually gone too far and are resting on ligaments and smaller muscles – which have to be worked very hard.
    what you want, from a strength and stability point of view is actually this
    http://www.chanhongoh.com/images/diamond_xray.jpg
    you can see the weight is carried straight through the bones – this is why the super flexy foot, while undeniably beautiful is weaker.
    dancers have to work much much harder and and much more likely to injure themselves with this sort of foot. they are also a lot tougher on their shoes. Ask any professional dancer with super bendy feet, they will say more or less the same thing. they love the line it gives them, but there is a price to pay for that.

    Reply
  10. Yvonne

    I’d agree with puddle. I have basically “nice feet” with good arches and insteps, but ankles that are not quite as flexible as would be ideal (one is more flexible than the other). My ankles are definitely what made the difference both in terms of line/extension and pointe work when I was a serious ballet student.

    Reply
  11. Monica

    I found this so interesting. my daughter’s new tumbling class wanted them to wear shoes because they do not have a spring floor. I was looking at dance shoes to find something light weight and flexable when I ran across this. My daughter’s arches are so high I always thought her feet were ugly. A podiatrist treating her for planter’s warts said that when she was older she would need surgery because her arches are so high. You are showing feet like hers and talking about how beautiful they are. I now see my daughter’s feet in a new light. that with her strength and flexability. I beleive we should now take up dance instead.

    Reply
  12. apricot Post author

    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for dropping by! If your daughter has such feet, along with strength and flexibility, then dance might be a good option. You definitely want to talk to an experienced ballet teacher, and also with a podiatrist (perhaps a different one for a second opinion) or possibly a physical therapist who specializes in dancers to make sure that this is safe and appropriate for your daughter.

    Happy dancing, and happy feet to your daughter! :)

    Reply
  13. Albanaich

    Interestingly there is another group in which a high arched foot is much sought after – for much the same reasons. The infantry, especially so in countries and units where the ‘speed’ or ‘assault march’ is still valued.

    A high arch brings with it the strength to carry wieght at speed over distance.

    Unlike sports exercise combat marching is relentless, much the same as a ballet dancers performance training regime, with the emphasis on endurance rather than power.

    Reply
  14. Dane Youssef

    by Dane Youssef

    It is a part of immortal history that Margot Fonteyn was not only a prima ballerina, but was named “prima ballerina absolutta” by the British Empire as well as given the rank of Dame. History looks at her as one of the finest there ever was in the sport despite her notorious “bad feet.”

    Yes, that she had “bad ballet feet” is also a part of history–but this is only known to die-hard fanatical balletomanes. You know, people actually in the professional dance industry.
    But unless you’re really savvy about the craft, you must ask, “what are ballet feet? What are bad feet for ballet?”

    The kind of feet that are best equipped for ballet–high arches, high insteps. That will suit jumps, pointe, piroutte, tendus and whathave you. From being able to arch your foot and being able to balance on the metatarsal.

    What this refers to is the fact that her feet had low arches, like “sticks of butter” and her legs were quite short for a ballerina. On a ballerina, long legs and arms are a must. Absolutely nessicary as being able to stand up and walk. And Fonteyn’s were considerable short, and yes–flat feet.

    Look, I myself have been praised by ballet pros for my very own feet–made for ballet, which I’ve been taking for nine whole years. Take it from someone who’s done the craft and played the sport himself for almost a decade:

    You don’t just have to be born with it.

    If you want the glorified curve in your foot, for it to stand tall and prominent, you’ll just have to work at it. Doing pointe exercise with an elastic band until those arches come up. Mold your feet into the proper shape like they’re made of clay.

    Yet this little woman, one Margaret Fonteyn was given the title of “prima ballerina absolutta,” an honor given to the precious ballerinas who seem to be heaven-sent in the profession. Madams Anna Pavolva, Natalia Makarova, and of course, Fonteyn.

    Makarova is one of all-time favorite ballerinas, and I don’t feel she gets the noriety she oh-so richly deserves. She should be right up there with Baryshnikov and Balanchine. And Nijinsky, even. Now Makarova had all the advantages. The lucky commie bitch was practically born with them.
    She was a mere 5’3″, but her arms and legs were long and willowy as a tree. Makarova had an impossibly slender body, cheekbones that stood out prominently on her , and feet that were long and yes, very well-arched. She was pretty much born for ballet-pro.

    Ballet master and innovator himself George Balanchine critiqued the first lady of Royal Ballet herself Margot as, “Hands like spoons, bad feet, can’t dance at all.” But he also attacked Rudi as, “a passable dancer who’s problem is he always tries to be the prince.” Mr. Balanchine wanted the only star of his ballets to be his own choreography. Any dancer who’s career and reputation outshined his own made him feel threatened. He founded a school and company where he was God. That’s why he called his students/employees “dear.” He liked to think of them as his own children. One of those true artistes’ who was all ego. Look, I’ve been praise by ballet pros for my own feet–made for ballet, which I’ve been taking for nine whole years. You don’t just have to be born with it.

    If you want the glorified curve in your foot, for it to stand tall and prominent, you’ll just have to work at it. Doing pointe exercise with an elastic band until those arches come up. Mold your feet into the proper shape like they’re made of clay.

    Look, kids: Technique is one thing. But Margot had a way of onstage, a charisma and persona that isn’t really taught. Makarova’s technique was flawless. She was born for technique. But technique can be taught. Margot had a way that transcended mere skill or exact body type.

    Fonteyn was an icon in her field, regardless of how goddammed “proper” her feet (or her short legs) might have been. There is more to the ballet than mere physical dance. She was a ballerina.

    So take this to heart, dear friends and readers, scholars of the ballet: the exact body type, feet, etc. is not written in stone or law. While the conventional way increase the odds of you getting classical roles and employment sooner–perhaps–remember, the ones that break the mold are the ones people remember. The ones who are granted Damehood. Absolute Prime Ballerina.

    Remember, dance is an art form. A form of self-expression. And when you are not true to yourself or don’t have the faith, there’s just nothing there at all. No art. No dance. No beauty. No truth.

    Nothing.

    by Dane Youssef

    danessf@yahoo.com

    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=58175682

    http://www.imdb.com/user/ur2718160/comments?order=alpha

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/User:DANE_YOUSSEF

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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DANE_YOUSSEF

    http://surfur.listal.com/

    http://www.youtube.com/SURFUR

    Reply
  15. Katrina

    Hey, i just read this. This article is so true. But, I’m only 15 and i’m applying for dance colleges in london and I really enjoy ballet the most among the rest of the dance styles but I have the worst feet and that’s doubting me if I should continue ballet. And i’m doing everything I can to have better feet but it seems to be not enough. Thank you for making people like me feel good. :D

    Reply
  16. CHU :D

    Wow. And I thought I was the only one obsessing about those feet! Those photos are terribly beautiful, I want such feet! ):

    Reply
  17. apricot Post author

    Thanks for commenting, guys! Highly-instepped-highly-arched-feet are an asset, it’s true…but I stand by the assertion that they are certainly not the end-all-be-all of beautiful feet. It really is all about how you use them.

    Katrina and Chu, good luck with your ballet studies. :)

    Reply
  18. Katrina

    As a dancer beautiful feet are beautiful but alot should be stressed on the presentation. I know dancers who have been successful with bad feet Margot Fonteyn is an example. The dancer that comes to my mind is woman by the name of Susan Jones, She was never “prima status” her present position is with ABT, she is in charge of corp. She started her career @ Washington School of Ballet then went Joffrey (back in the day when Joffrey was in NYC not Chicago, and then went on to ABT. If you watch the Nutcracker w/ Barynikoff (sp) and Gelsey Kirkland you will see Susan Jones as one of the child dancers, short w/ long brown hair she was an adult playing a child. The point I am making is to look at her body structure you don’t see ballerina what always made her unique is her stage presence so learning to work with what gifts you have is key to attaining success.

    Reply
  19. Ameca

    Hey… I Always Wanted To Try Ballet And Well, I Have “Bad Feet”, They’re Almost Flat, But They’re Pretty Strong, I Can Stand “En Pointe” For And Walk, Or Just Stand Without Shoes… Should I Try To Dance? Im Not Looking For Being A Profesional, It’s Just A “Hobbie”… BTW Im 17!!! :S

    Reply
  20. apricot Post author

    Puddle, thanks again for the reference. You’re full of information! :)

    Ameca, if you’re interested in ballet, you should certainly talk to a teacher at a ballet school, preferably one who specializes in teaching adult beginners. If you’re just looking to do ballet for fun, it doesn’t really matter if you have “bad feet.” Of course, you should wait until your teacher says you are ready before you try to dance en pointe; if you’ve never danced before, it will take at least around 3 years of classes before you are ready. If you are 17, you still have a few more years to stretch your feet and possibly see a difference in your arches. But regardless, go have fun!!

    Reply
  21. Ameca

    Thank U Very Much For The Information… I’ve Been Wondring About All These Little Things About Ballet… I’ve Always Been In Love With Ballet And Gimnastics, But I Never Had Enough Money To Afford A Class, Until Now… And I Dont Know What To Choose!!! They’re Both Difficult But Ballet Scares Me A Little Bit Because Of This “Feet Thing”… I Dnt Worry To Much About Flexibility Because I Always Strechted At Home And Im Done With The Splits (YouTube Always Helped Me LoL)… But I Dnt Know What To Choose!!! I Think Ballet Is Sooo Beautiful, But Most Of Times I Feel Too Old For This!!! :(

    Reply
  22. apricot Post author

    Ameca, if you’re in love with ballet, you should definitely give it a go. You’re not too old. I see 60 year old ladies in class, and have known people who started in their 40s. So it’s certainly not too late for you!

    And as a personal note, I started when I was 19. And I’ve managed to keep it up, so again, 17 is quite young (for us recreational dancers).

    The feet thing, again, is not serious for non-professionals. If you are just doing this for fun, then don’t even worry. Just go in and do it! I’ve seen some very flat feet in class looking beautiful.

    Reply
  23. MS Moroz

    I read with interest your blog on ‘dancer feet’ and the specificity of the ballet form. My daughter is experiencing the same – but within the Irish step dance venue. Her judges’ comments of late are all about increasing the arch of the foot. More arch, better arch. I took note that you mentioned some professional dancers who did not have “beautiful” arch. Turn out is also a particular nemesis. This was not an issue at all 20 years ago. Now, all dancers must have a very defined turn out. Ballet is not the only dance form to expect a high level of physical perfection in its steps!!

    Reply
  24. Corinne

    Apricot, you said “The feet thing, again, is not serious for non-professionals”. I add it is not serious for professionals, either. If a ballerina can really dance, high instep or not, she can and it will show, period.

    For instance, check out Elisabeth Maurin, an Etoile from the POB who retired in 2005. This doll-like ballerina, who was promoted to Etoile by Noureev in 1988,

    1 – is too short (barely over 5 feet)
    2 – has no instep and (so they say) short arms.

    Yet, she was an absolute delight to watch onstage. Such perfection…

    Here’s an article about her
    http://auguste.vestris.free.fr/Essays/Maurin.html

    You can see her on youtube… don’t miss her in “the Nutcracker”. I am confident she will be a confort to all the girls who don’t have the “proper” instep.

    By the way, please forgive my dodgy english; I am french.

    Reply
  25. apricot Post author

    Thanks for the correction, Andrew.

    Corinne, what a lovely dancer Maurin is; it’s nice to see that she was from the Paris Opera Ballet, also, because from what I have heard the standards for body types are especially strict there. Glad to know that’s not entirely true. Your English isn’t dodgy at all. :)

    I think so much depends on the dancer’s training. I *do* know of some schools and teachers that will more or less discount a girl’s chances for a professional career if she has the wrong feet. I guess it’s like having a big bust; if you’ve got a big chest or “bad feet,” it’ll be hard to make it as a ballet pro depending on who’s training you, who’s judging your potential. So much depends on finding the right teachers!

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  26. Mary

    I just found this, and it’s a very interesting read! I don’t dance ballet myself, was just googling for infos about how to strengthen feet and ankles. I like the informations (which are precise and understandable for an amateur like me) and the pictures you added, and I like very much that you qualify the infos in the end: banana feet (which look a bit on the strange site to a non-balletomane!) aren’t the end-all of beautiful dancing.

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  27. luci

    great article!
    im obsessed with ballet feet!
    love to know that fonteyn has flat feet, gives me hopes, like me
    i also love to know that they are stronger.

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  28. kristine

    fantastic read! thank you. i may not have bought any new clothes this year, but damned if i don’t have premium orchestra season tickets to San Francisco Ballet, sometimes even in row A. and you can bet that a good portion of my time in that seat is spent solely focused on insteps, shoes, articulation, etc.–that is, with their feet, both the mens’ and womens’. obsessed.

    Reply
  29. Anonymous

    I have been dancing for ten years and I’m on the “professional track”. This is really what I want to do, but unfortunately, I have flat feet. I have a great ballet body, flexibility, strength, good technique…. it’s just my bad feet. I was told that I’m lucky that my feet are flexible. Though they’re not ideal, I have an arch when I point my feet and I do get completely over my pointe shoes. Do you think I have a fair shot? Also, does anyone have exercises to help the flexibility in my feet?

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  30. Scarelette

    I have a very high arch but my instep is horrible like dancer 1 in the second photo. What can I do to improve my instep? If you could email the information that would be great! Thank You!

    lyla97@gmail.com

    Reply
  31. lauren

    My feet are “flat”. My pointe in tendus, degages, and frappes is incredible. I’ve bent my feet over a dictionary (a thick one), and was able to touch the floor with no popping of the knees. Having just gotten back into ballet, my feet are still the same, just less strong (need to build that up again). I’m quite glad I’ve got such flexible, flat feet. It’s a good mix, and I’m quite glad. Great post. I very much enjoyed reading it.

    Reply
    1. lauren

      Also, I was always taught to be on the box, not over the box. I despise knuckling. I’d rather have someone just under the box then have someone over the box.

      Reply
    2. apricot Post author

      Glad the post was useful. Yes, I think there’s a lot to be said for strong, flat feet. And if you’re so lucky as to have flexible ones too, then all the better! :)

      Reply
  32. jade

    Thank you so much very interesting indeed.Ii am just tweleve and have just started pointe work. I have very low instep and my left foot is much weaker then my right. My dance teacher noticed it when i was doing pointe work in the centre of the room. Do you think there is anything i could do to make my left foots arch and its instep stronger?

    Reply
    1. apricot Post author

      Hi Jade,

      Sorry for the late reply–I’ve been busy and haven’t had much time to blog!

      I suppose you can try to strengthen your left foot’s arch by doing more repetitions of movements that would build strength–ask your teacher! Good luck!

      Reply
  33. Anna

    This was very encouraging to read. I have “bad” feet and it is a bit hard to watch girls younger than me with “perfect” arches/feet not have to work as hard to get over their boxes etc. However, the fact that I am stronger than the large majority of the other girls in my class has always been a good confidence booster :) I’d never heard of Margot Fonteyn so it was really awesome to hear of a professional ballerina who maybe didn’t have perfect feet usually expected for dancing.

    Reply
  34. jessicamjonas

    Thoughtful article–I like your balance between the devotion to the ‘perfect’ ballet feet, and acknowledgment that this is a particularly esoteric fixation, and not the sole determination of a beautiful dancer. My feet are pretty awful. Moderate arches, barely any instep worth mentioning…sometimes I’m shocked I made it en pointe at all. But I did! My mom and fiance both have lovely arches and insteps (I’m hoping the fiance passes his foot genes on to any future daughters of ours), but neither one was involved in ballet, so my feet get to be the strong ones, I suppose.

    Beautiful photos, also, augh. I’ve been out of the ballet world for two long years now (in grad school, and don’t have the funds or work schedule for classes), and the images both soothe the hurt and start it all over again.

    Reply
  35. jade

    thanks so much i asked my teacher and she gave me some useful tips and exercses to help strenghten my foot

    Reply
  36. aravis

    apricot, I have a normal arch and a high instep. I’ve been wondering what sort of shoes to purchase and wandered into your blog.
    It’s funny that medical terminology equates the instep and the arch.
    From the PubMed website http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002241/
    “High arch is an arch that is raised more than normal. The arch, or instep, runs from the toes to the heel on the bottom of the foot. It is also called pes cavus.”
    I think the Wikipedia definition is better: “The instep is the arched part of the top of the foot between the toes and the ankle.”
    Love the photographs!

    Anna, I can’t believe you dance ballet and yet have never heard of Fonteyn! Prima ballerina assoluta!! I hope by now you’ve checked out her videos on YouTube. :-)

    Reply
  37. Odile

    I have feet like Zakharovas. But somehow you´re right. I have also hyperextensions and in my childhood I was bad in sports because I was so weak. But then I did an extra strenght training and now I´m a strong girl and have the most muscles in my ballet class xD. I must only be careful with wearing “normal” shoes like chucks. If I walk longer in such shoes my feet hurt. So I´m wearing for long walks high shoes. Believe it or not but it´s good for my feet. I love my feet I´m not trying to be arrogant but I´ve the best feet in my academy. They are my fate.

    Reply
  38. Pingback: 6 navel-gazing facts about my body | Goju Blogger

  39. Akiko

    Thank you for this post! I have a really high arche, and I believe it came from starting intensive ballet a bit young. It is a pain since I am no longer dancing (though my career is still on the stage in opera) and it’s so hard to find shoes that fit me. BUT your article made me appreciate dance again. Thanks!

    Reply
  40. Lita

    I know this is an old post, but I just found it and wanted to comment. I have high insteps, and I believe the fascination with them is purely aesthetic. The curve on the top of the foot creates the illusion of a more flexible ankle and a higher arch.

    However, there’s a downside, as I’m learning. Because of my flexible feet and high insteps, the very top of the supported area of my pointe shoes are digging into my insteps when en pointe. I have to hand-massage and smooth out the area in an attempt to get the stiff area where it needs to be to lay across my instep nicely.

    Reply
    1. apricot Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, Lita. I’ve heard dancers with high insteps complain about this problem–also that their shoes tend get broken down more easily.

      Reply
  41. Leah

    Thank you for all the lovely comments on high arched feet and high insteps. I have feet with no high arch and this article has really helped me learn how to work with my feet and how to improve my arch and instep to the maximum. I enjoy ballet so much and I want to excel in the profession as a career. I am now working, strengthening and improving the flexibility of my arch and instep every day and I hope that this will make a difference and improve my feet!

    Reply
  42. stellapips

    Much prefer Fonteyn’s feet to the woman’s in the fourth picture. I don’t know why, but I think her feet look almost mutated as opposed to pretty. I prefer a slight bump and medium arches instead of toes-touching-the-floor-when-you-point-them-sitting-down kinda thing. :)

    Reply
  43. Kathryn

    Thank you for such a wonderful, clear and consice answer that I have been asking for decades! I am currently the principal dancer of my living room and every show ,dvd and documentary comments on the dancers feet.

    Reply
  44. Zsmendel

    Wow, I have really weak and flat feet, as well as lower extensions. I’ve always wanted to be Alessandra Ferri or someone, but really now I’m pretty content knowing now that not everybody thinks its the most important thing, I’m really relieved. thanks!!!

    Reply
  45. Cam

    Have you ever seen Hannah Bettes’ feet? Trust me, they’re worth it. I might even dare to say that they rival Svet’s. I love articles like these which show the other side of beautiful feet- you have to truly strengthen them! I have very hyperextended legs but relatively flat feet- my only consolation is that my toes literally bend at ninety degrees! However, as a young dancer, the dance insustry is getting harder and harder to suceed in without having literally everything. Sorry for ranting! Anyway, thank you for the pros AND cons of feet like these.

    Reply
  46. PHK

    apricot,

    thanks for the article.

    i’m also an adult student (took ballet as a kid briefly; didn’t continue)
    my feet also have low instep — like the 1st student in the studio but my arches are a little higher than hers also the lovely Fonteyn)
    there is not a “curvy hump” like those banana feet. the line is more straight. i wish my insteps were better. but i can still get over the boxes en pointe all tight. Margot didn’t have great feet but she has such lovely lines & stage presence. oh, well, at least they’re serviceable!

    (others probably think we have a “foot fetish” the way we are obsessed about tiny details of feet! haha)

    cheers,

    Reply
  47. pam

    ps. i don’t know why you think Margot’s legs are short.
    unless you’re comparing her legs with those “super leggy” dancers. her legs look quite long to me. (actually her whole figure looks very proportional, slim yet still womanly)

    cheers

    Reply

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