Saturday, June 30, 2007

Steps: Good feet

Hang around balletomanes long enough, and you might wonder if they all have a foot fetish problem. It seems no ballet dancer can escape having their feet judged and commented upon by knowledgeable fans.

And can how we blame them? Great ballet dancers have feet that are as expressive as their hands, and fans have been known to rhapsodize at considerable length about their favorite dancers' feet. So what makes a good ballet foot, and how can we recognize it?

According to this post on Ballet Alert's very interesting and worthwhile Details blog, there are three important factors for a good foot:
  1. A high arch
  2. A high instep
  3. A flexible ankle
While the Details post does an admirable job describing these factors, a picture is worth a thousand words. We've marked up a photo of a very nice foot to better illustrate these points.

In the first picture, the red curve under the foot shows the arch, and the arrow shows the height of the arch from the bottom of the foot if the foot was standing flat against the floor:

The foot's arch

In the dance world, the instep of the foot refers to the top of the foot. The curve following the top of the foot shows the instep, and the arrow shows the height of the instep from the foot's unpointed, flat position:

The foot's instep

Ankle flexibility is the angular range of the foot from the ankle. In the following picture, the angle the foot makes with the leg is compared with the bottom of the heel:

The ankle's flexibility

However, as we hinted earlier, and as the Details post we linked very carefully points out, having a good foot isn't enough. Dancers must also possess the experience, coaching, good taste, physical strength, and about a million other things in order to use their feet to best serve their performance. A good-looking foot is a useful, desirable tool, but it is only a tool.

Dancers on stage are trying to express and project something in their mind to the audience, and it's the dancers' job to figure out how to do that with the tools (ie. the various parts of their body) they have, whether the tools are good, just adequate, or even sometimes unavailable, like when they're dancing with an injury. The best dancers always find a way to do this despite their body, because, with perhaps one exception, no one has a perfect body for ballet.

So now you know what makes a good-looking foot, and you may find yourself watching your next ballet performance from a new perspective as you try to spot the nice feet on-stage and how they're used. And there are still plenty of summer performances left if you're impatient to apply this new knowledge!

1 comment:

dane youssef said...

by Dane Youssef


Boy, it's perplexing, isn't it? In the ballet profession--in the ballet world, so much is made "good feet."

Good? What, are they all fetishists? "Ballet feet." What are "good feet"? What's the difference between a good foot and a bad one?

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, pirouette, tendus and whathave you. From being able to arch your foot and being able to balance on the metatarsal. And a flexible ankle.

It is a part of immortal everlasting 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.
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.

Look, I've been praised left and right by the 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. Fonteyn 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: the exact body type, feet, etc. is not written in stone or law. While the conventional way Make your own physique work in the dance. Remember, dance is an art form. And when you are not true to yourself or don't have the faith, you will not produce any worth anything at all.

No art. No dance. No beauty. No truth.

Nothing.


by Dane Youssef