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Funny Feets and fixing them


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I'm quite new to ballet, so I've been working on foot strengthening exercises, improving flexibility, and of course basic techniques. I underpronate, so I've been keeping an eye on this (and I've noticed my walking shoes start to fit differently, so I think it's working!).


I've been warned of the toe-curling, so I was taking a look at my feet, and I was hoping someone here could give me opinions/tips.


Tendu with toes curled - obviously wrong


Tendu with toes relaxed - normal position?


Tendu with toes forced straight - totally bizarre


I would assume the "relaxed" is what I'm supposed to be doing, but my toes look curled no matter what I do. If I try to make them straight, my toes turn into a ski-jump! Should I be worried about this? It all looks fine when covered by a ballet shoe, of course, but I don't want to hurt myself or mess up my posture.


More strange is this: Tendu on left foot


What is up with my second toe?? It does not go flat unless I make it straight with my fingers..but it doesn't feel "stretched" when I do. Problem/no?

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The problem with the "relaxed" one is that the whole foot is relaxed. There is no stretch in the foot. The other two are stretching the instep, but the flat toes need to be pushed a bit more. The one you think is curled really isn't. When the toes are curled the foot is actually clenched, and yours is not. That is the better tendu.

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That seems strange to me...one the "relaxed" pic, I am pushing my ankle down as hard as I can, while leaving the toes relaxed. On the "curled," I am doing the same, but clenching my toes as hard as possible. Am I just mistaking exactly what "curled toes" is?


(I should also probably mention that I have a relatively low arch, so unfortunately my arch isn't going to look great without a lot more work on it.)

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Sorry, I do not see the ankle and the instep working in the relaxed toes photo. In shoes the toes in the first photo would not look curled. When one is barefoot it does look different. You can't fully stretch the foot with the toes relaxed.

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The one with the toes "relaxed" is the correct position for your type of foot. I have a similar foot - low arch, straight instep. When you first started, did your arch burn for the first few exercises at the barre?


Actually, the type of instep you have - straight down - is one of the strongest since it does not involve the ankle joint. Those beautiful popped insteps that we all drool over are also one of the weakest and have to be worked on constantly.


I hesitate to say "relaxed" for your toes, though. The toes don't relax really, but do stretch forward exactly the way yours looks in that second photo. You need to activate some tension in those toes, but not so much that it hits your "bizarre" level picture. Curling the toes, as in the first picture, creates that "pop" in the top of the foot that is seen in the first picture (muscle pop, I call it) - making it look fully stretched compared with your second one. However, the toe-curling is detrimental to future work.


The second picture, as I said, needs to have the same top-of-the-foot tension but with the toes pointed precisely the way they look in that photo. The ankle joint itself is stretched fully in all three pictures, especially seeing the low arch.


If/when you go on pointe, having practiced NOT curling the toes under will be invaluable. I will say that with such a low arch, it might make pointe work a bit hard, but you can do it with the right teaching, practice and shoe-fitting.


You can improve your arch to some degree but it depends on your age, actually. I managed a bit on mine in the past two years. Most importantly is to strengthen it so that you don't roll in/pronate. If you haven't seen a podiatrist about pronating, I would highly recommend it. They can fit you with orthotics for your regular shoes that will help you keep from pronating under normal circumstances. Talk with your ballet teacher about how to hold your arches up as much as possible. There are also a load of foot exercises you can do to train your arch.

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To me the whole foot looks relaxed in the second photo. It is just not receiving any energy through the leg and out through the toes.

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Just put up my leg and compared the differences in the photos. My foot looks similar with relaxed toes to StillItchy's, but there is energy when I stretch the toes forward (not like the third picture - the upper foot has a slight bulge but not as popped as the first picture).


'I hesitate to say "relaxed" for your toes, though. The toes don't relax really, but do stretch forward exactly the way yours looks in that second photo. You need to activate some tension in those toes, but not so much that it hits your "bizarre" level picture.'


That will give a similar look in the ankle to the first picture (stretched) without curling the toes. Curling toes is not the way to show the foot being fully stretched, in my experience and opinion.


I wonder if StillItchy's toes are tapered, as well. That will create a similar effect of curling without actually being curled. Stretching the first toe properly won't make a difference to the rest of them - they still curl of their own accord. It's annoying but uncontrollable. At least, for me, they don't do it pointe shoes.


Practice the second photo look but put strength into the toes, without making them look like the "bizarre" picture.

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Sorry, I do not see the ankle and the instep working in the relaxed toes photo.


I'm very much a student, and not the professional dancer and teacher with the long experience of Ms Leigh, and I can see exactly what Ms Leigh means here. It struck me, StillItchy, that the issue is not your toes so much as the flexibility and stretch of your calf, ankle, and foot.


I was always taught that the toes finish off the line, but that the line and work of my foot is through the ankle and instep/arch. Which is what Ms Leigh is saying (I think!). I have strong feet but fairly flat arches/insteps, but I often get a nod about the way I work my feet "good use of feet" -- I think a lot about the action of 'peeling' my foot on and off the floor. The toes are important in that, but actually stretching through my ankles and insteps is the main thing -- really working all the bones in my foot. Actually, I know that I'm working my muscles! But my visualisation is of my skeleton.


Edited to add: I see elsethread that you're a very new adult beginner, StillItchy. Congratulations! But remember -- and this is one of the difficult things -- it's a long slow process. The "banana feet" we see on a lot of professional dancers are created by years and years of slow, careful work of the whole body. What you might think about is developing as much flexibility as possible in your ankles and toes -- there are loads of ideas on this web-site, from theraband exercises to agility games such as picking up tea towels or handkerchiefs from the floor with your toes.

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I agree with Redbookish that it's more about the ankle and foot flexibility that shows rather than the toes, although you do have to add the tension to the toes. They do not relax, they just don't curl under.


The kitchen towel exercise is great. Lay it flat on the floor, lengthwise, then scrunch in up till it's fully bunched up. Then unscrunch it to get it flat again. When you can do that easily with a dry towel, wet the towel and do it. Mind, it will ache in the arch!


Theraband exercises are good as well - using the theraband, apart from the "normal" ankle movement exercises, wrap it around your toes and just flex and point the toes using the theraband for tension. You should feel a good burn up the top of the foot and into the shin if you do it enough. I worked up from about 5 when I started to about 30 times now, before I feel the burn. I can roll up easily on pointe in two different types of shoes.


Another is picking up marbles from the floor and putting them in a bowl, with your toes. I have another diabolical arch exercise that one of my teachers taught me a few years ago, but it's too complicated to describe online. It has to be taught in person because it's hard to visualize.


Those of us who live with your sort of foot and have done so for many years know precisely what you are going through. :-)

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I think that we may have a misconception here in terms of what curling the toes really means. When you point your foot barefoot in a tendu, the joint of the toe bends. If you put any weight into that foot, it will "crunch", which is totally incorrect, of course. In a ballet shoe it will not look curled, just pointed, as long as the foot is fully articulated, with the energy going through the leg and ankle and instep and toes. In pointe shoes the shoe keeps them straighter. The foot in the first photo would look very good if there was more flexibility in the ankle and more instep, however, with a beginning adult student it is not at all unusual to not have any of that flexibility yet. After all, if you don't grow up learning tendu, the foot doesn't just DO it. It takes a while. A long while, and a lot of correct usage.

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Have a look at this video:


And at this thread: Curling Toes

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So, would you say, then, Clara, that the first picture is actually *not* curling the toe - that it's expected the toe joint will bend a bit?

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Clara is teaching today, and I'm not speaking for her, but I think that the video makes it quite clear that the toe joint will bend a bit, just not to the point where it is curled under, which is what happens when the weight moves onto it. The video shows the really curled toes very well. In the first photo our OP is not doing that.

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I thought that might be the case. The OP thinks that the first picture is her toes curled under.

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