Part of the grace and beauty of ballet is that the performance hides all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating that performance. While ballerina foot care is essential, ballet is as competitive as any sport. Dancers who would be ballerinas will look for any advantage they can find. Dancers with flat feet or tight ligaments can find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to mastering en pointe work and choreography.
Enter the foot stretcher.
A foot stretcher is a device that forces the foot into the elongated, arched position that mimics going en pointe without the physical pressure. Part of the foot stretcher is made from a hard material molded into curves that support the ankle, heel, and arch into a full arch. The second part is a flexible wrap or sock that keeps the foot in place against the hard mold.
Why ballerinas would want to use a foot stretcher
To understand why a ballerina would use a foot stretcher, it’s necessary to understand what it’s doing. Ligaments hold bones together while allowing for a certain range of movement. If they’re too tight in the wrong places on the foot, a dancer will have a hard time getting her foot into a full arch en pointe. By forcing the foot into the arch position, the foot stretcher passively and slowly stretches the ligaments. The foot’s range of motion improves as the ligaments stretch out.
A full arch and loose ligaments can put a foot into a position where its top flattens out to nearly 180 degrees to the rest of the leg. The result is a beautiful, clean, and stable line from the toes through the knee and up to the hip. This is the ideal look a ballerina wants. For young dancers, they may be eager to transition to en pointe work. Perhaps they just started some pre-pointe classes and want to accelerate their progress.
There are old school tricks to stretching the foot ligaments. Ballerinas in past eras would sit with their feet underneath the couch, so they were forced into that flat position. Some would sit on their ankles. These types of home remedy passive stretches may have been popular, but they’re imprecise and can be dangerous.
Ballerinas like the idea of passive stretching because they can stretch their feet while multi-tasking. They can wear foot stretchers while reading, watching TV, anything they can do without having to stand on their feet. In contrast, they could add active foot stretches to their exercise routine, but that takes more time. A foot stretcher can seem like a useful shortcut.
Staying mindful of a ballerina’s foot care while stretching
The challenges to ballerina foot care come in making sure that a foot stretcher is stretching the right ligaments in the foot, and in making sure it doesn’t overstretch them. Since ligaments are holding the bones together, they’re also the material that provides stability. No small matter when going en pointe. If a ballerina stretches foot ligaments without building foot strength, she’s risking injury.
There’s a lot of controversy and discussion on the pros and cons of using a foot stretcher, or if they’re even safe at all. Take a closer look at the information about foot stretchers, and how and when to use them safely, so you can help guide parents as they consider this issue for their students.