Pointing your Feet: Addendum

Peggy, as usual, pointed out something I forgot to address in Pointing your Feet. She is my kinesiology editor.

She said…
It’s good to reread this stuff. Thanks for re-posting. Kids have a hard time understanding how to point the whole foot when they are constantly told “point your toes!” Why are we using this language!?

I’ve started teaching my boys to sit and “reach with your feet” asking them to try and touch something just beyond the points- it’s really helped them figure out all the muscles they can use to reach the something, and not crunch their toes under.

They are also (slowly) learning that sickling doesn’t help- it seems kids tend to sickle when they try extra hard learning to point the foot. Perhaps the muscles that pull the ankle in are the most strongly developed by walking and running. Ann, I know you haven’t worked too much with little kids, but what do you think? Am I way off base?

Right on about the language! Kids (and even older “kids”) will do what they hear! My younger sister was a natural dancer, an incredible mimic. Her only training prior to college was dancing with me. We were also pom-pon girls together in high school. As far as I was concerned, Katie had terrible, tragic feet.

One day, during her college modern dance class in which I was the teaching assistant, during a stretch, I went over to just remind her to lengthen her feet…and the claws that I took for granted simply melted under my hands into a spectacular point. I gasped as she looked up in shock. She said, “Oh, THAT’S what it means to point your toes!!!” All those years she had been pointing, curling and scrunching her TOES, and she had no idea about pointing her FEET! We laugh about that to this day!

The language is so important.

Peggy, I think what you are saying to your children is perfect. It makes them work differently because they hear something different.

As for the sickling…when we work so hard to point and our toes point inwards, it is because they can. We have so much more range of motion medially, on the inside of the ankle. We will use the range of motion that we have until we are taught not to. Look at the way so many folks, especially children stand…belly forward. Why? Yes, it can be about lack of strength in the abs, but mostly it is because we CAN! We have no bony restrictions between the sternum and the pubic bone so it is so easy to let our belly move forward, distorting our posture. It is also why it is so easy to attain and habituate exaggerated, sway-backed dance postures. We do not stand with our lower back pooching out because we are restricted by our spine. Same for the ankle/foot. We have more movement inward than outward. It is a rare ankle sprain that happens on the inside of the ankle.

Did I answer the question, Peggy?

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

Pointing your Feet

(I have been asked to do a post on pointing your feet…I am pulling this info out of my On your toes post which is also about being strong enough to do ID toe stands.)

One very important thing to remember when “pointing the toes” is that a pointed foot is accomplished by movement in 3-4 areas, not just one, not just the ankle. 1st you move your ankle, then the bones in the tarsus (the area in front of the ankle), then the metatarsals (the long foot bones), then lastly the phalanges (toes). And you want your toes to remain long, not curled or scrunched up. (Pics below.)

In searching for some good visual support, I found some videos made by Lisa Howell, a physiotherapist in Australia. Brilliant. Her website is here: The Perfect Pointe Book. I have used a couple of her videos on this blog because they are relevant, articulate, and very informative.

In the video below, she talks about the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot, so here’s a bit more info before you watch it. (The following info is simplified. If you want to know more detail, please google it.)

Intrinsic muscles of the foot: these muscles are “in” your foot; they control movement “in” the foot, and all the muscle attachments are in the foot. They move your toes, and for a dancer, they are responsible for creating the shape of your pointed foot by moving the bones of your foot. These muscles should be what take you from half-pointe to full pointe back to half-pointe. These muscles are also responsible for helping to control some of the descent of your weight through the foot when you come out of a jump or from being en pointe. We instinctively know this when coming out of a jump…without controlling the descent, we would slam our heels into the ground. Learning to use these intrinsic muscles by doing the exercises Lisa shows in her videos will help you strengthen your feet which will help your pointed foot and your pointe work. (Doing the same exercises while using a Theraband will help all the more.)

For those with achilles tendonitis: Tendonitis can be the result of trying to point the foot using the ankle only. Learning how to use and articulate the intrinsic muscles in your feet can help alleviate the pain of tendonitis because you are no longer trying to use only your ankle. Trying to get more point out of your foot by pulling hard on your heel bone is a main cause of this problem because you are fighting a losing battle. What moves the ankle to begin pointing your foot? The gastrocnemius and the soleus. They have no attachments in the foot beyond the calcaneus, the heel bone, so they cannot help you move any other bones in your foot. To move the tarsals, metatarsals and the phalanges into a pointed foot position, you have to use the other intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot. Yanking as hard as you can on the heel bone to move the ankle in an effort to point your foot better will not only prove useless, but may very well be the cause of or give you a terrible case of achilles tendonitis!

Extrinsic muscles of the foot: these muscles have one of their attachments (the origin) outside the foot, on the lower leg, and the other attachment in the foot. They control the movement of the foot as a whole, as a lever.

Here are the bones of the foot:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And here are the muscles.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Here Lisa explains how to use these muscles to point your feet and for ballet pointe work: the muscles work EXACTLY the same way for toe stands. This is simple but SO, SO important.

This next one talks about working through the foot.

And here is a very clear video showing a ballet dancer rolling through her feet in her point shoes. It is my belief that an Irish dancer should also have this ability and strength to protect her feet before toe stands are part of a dance, especially since the ID hard shoe is not designed for it!

I cannot tell you the number of students I would get at the university who were suffering from having been poorly trained en pointe or worse yet, from having been told that all they needed to do was STRETCH their feet and ankles to CHANGE their feet….ARGH!!! What they were changing was the length of the ligaments that held all of the bones together…and this cannot be reversed without surgery. We of course worked to strengthen all the muscles to support the feet, but the best piece of news that I gave to many of them was this: you cannot dance on pointe ever again. Only once did someone argue…the rest were so relieved.

Some stretching will of course help to give your pointed foot the best shape, because it will allow the foot to have use of its full range of motion, but without strength in the intrinsic foot muscles and an understanding of how a pointed foot is accomplished, all the stretching in the world will not help. Instead you will have a beautiful floppy thing more prone to injury.

Here is a clear demonstration of using a Theraband to strengthen your feet for a better point.

More: Pointing your Feet: Addendum

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology


This came in this morning…

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post “Dance Teacher Education“:

Fantastic information on this! I am so thrilled. I am a new dance teacher with CLRG and have just set up my school. I feel so strongly about this issue and thank you for your advice. You wrote exactly what I felt: Where do I go to learn? How do I learn? I have a very strong sense of responsibility to my future students and want to give them the best. With your wonderful source of information, I now have a place to begin. I thank you wholeheartedly.

You are so very welcome!!!

Butterflies, Flutters, etc…

I think some folks also call them double lifts. Makes for interesting discussions on the boards as folks try to decipher what others are talking about!

I find the naming conventions for Irish dance to be interesting. It seems some steps have 1 or 2 names and most folks use them. Other steps are called different things in different regions and even in different schools. I am especially enamored of the animal names like the deer jumps and butterflies.

A butterfly is called entrechat quatre in ballet. This is the jump in which you switch your feet 2 times in the air to land back in the same starting position. How is this accomplished?

Many times, I see dancers wiggling the feet back and forth with bent knees and a jerky twist in their upper body. This is as common in ballet as it is in ID. This happens because the dancer’s attention is focused on the feet. Instead, the focus should be on the hips.

First, let’s look at just a simple changing of the feet. If the right foot is in front to begin, jump to switch your feet in the air to land with the right foot in back. In ballet, this is called a changement de pieds which translates as “change of feet.” Most folks simply say “changement” (shawnj-mah). This link takes you to a little 3 second movie: changement.

Notice how long and straight his legs are. When he performs this movement, he is not thinking about moving his feet. Instead he is thinking about his hips, about changing the position of his feet via the small movements of his thigh bones (femurs) in the hip socket.

He starts with his feet crossed which is accomplished first by outwardly rotating his thigh bones in the hip sockets and then crossing his thighs (adduction). At the top of his jump, he opens his thighs (abduction) just enough so that he can then cross them (adduction) the other way. In the process, his feet change position.

The butterfly (as our former school called it) is known as entrechat quatre. “Entrechat” means interweaving or braiding and quatre is the number 4. The jump is named according to the number of times each foot changes position – if we begin with the right foot in front, in the jump the right foot moves twice (back then front again) and the left foot moves twice (front and then back again) for a total of 4. If you change your feet one more time in the air (right foot:back, front, back; left: front, back, front), this is called entrechat six (6).

This next link shows 4 jumps: saute (jump with no change of the feet), changement (single change of the feet), and then entrechat quatre and entrechat six. You will notice that when the dancer performs the entrechat quatre (butterfly) that his feet fly wide apart. This is just a particular way of doing them that highlights how quick his entrchat quatre is and how high his jump is. This link takes you to an 8 second movie: jumps.

Again, notice how long, strong and straight his legs are. And again, his leg movements are originating in the hips socket, not at the feet. When he performs the relatively small movements of the hips, it allows him to keep his legs long and straight as it produces the desired movement in the feet. This then eliminates the bent knees, wiggling feet, and jerky body movements.

More kinesiological analysis: Movement of the human body is a result of resisting gravity using our system of pulleys and levers. Our bones are the levers and our muscles are the pulleys. All movement is a result of muscles pulling on a lever that has a fixed point.

In the case of the butterfly, or entrechat quatre, the legs are the levers (specifically the femurs, the thigh bones); the pulleys are the outward rotators, hip extensors & flexors, abductors and adductors; and the fixed points are the hip sockets.

Let’s just think about one leg. In this movement, the leg (femur) is a third class lever:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This is a pic of another third class lever:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Notice the fulcrum/fixed point (at the housing), the lever (the long metal section extending to the right), and the pulley/the effort. This is the same as your leg, although your leg in this step in straight down below you.

The fulcrum (pivot, fixed point) is the hip socket. The effort (the pulleys) are the muscles (the outward rotators, hip extensors & flexors, abductors and adductors) and the load is the entire leg. In order to produce the desired movement at the non-fixed end of the entire lever (the foot), the pulleys (muscles) manipulate the femur in the hip socket. This movement is small in relation to the movement in the feet. This is efficient movement.

This video below is of fly fishing. Why fly fishing? Because it is a fantastic example of a third class lever being used in an extremely efficient manner. Notice how far the end of his line flies, how he manipulates it. And then notice how relatively little movement there is at the wrist and in the arm. The effort is focused and applied where he is holding the fishing rod (the fixed point), and then all of that focused energy flies through the pole, into the line, and then out the end. The fisherman is in full control of where he wants to place that tiny end.

In a butterfly, you want your feet to move precisely and efficiently without flapping in the air, without bent knees, and without a jerky body. Keep your legs and feet long and straight, and move in the hip socket.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

Teacher Responsibility

On one Irish dance message board, there is a posting and discussion about toe stands…the usual one about the teacher simply putting toe stands into a child’s dance because she is 12 now…the usual one asking how they are done…on a message board……can you see where I am going with this?


Someone suggested reading On your toes and another answered: “Thank you SO MUCH for the “Taoknitter” site-my daughter is starting toe stands too-this info is invaluable for saving her feet! Amazing how many kids do it in an injury prone way…” Gratifying to read that…but there are 2 issues that this answer brings up.

1) Notice her statement about “how many kids do it in an injury prone way…” Where does the onus lay in that statement? On the kids. Where should the onus lay? On the teachers.

2) The mind set of this and the other posters is that it is ok that the dancer must figure out how to do toe stands on her own. It is ok that mom is on the boards asking for help…and other folks are being helpful. But no one has pointed out that the TC has failed the student. It seems to be ok that the students are left to their own devices. Why?

Makes me sick to my stomach.

Is this mind set unique to ID? No. Is this behavior unique to ID teachers? No, as illustrated by this interesting comment that came in on “Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…”.

From Anonymous:

“It’s interesting that the post providing a link to your kinesiology posts has been removed AGAIN from the TCRG voy forum.

When I was in high school (several decades ago), I hated gym class. Actually, I always hated gym class and any form of body-movement activities. It was always presented to me as a form of punishment (“You are so awkward, so I’ve signed you up for tap dancing…”)

One particular gym class is still very memorable. The teacher (name and face long forgotten) had hauled out the “gymnastics” equipment. There was a set of uneven bars. We all stood there looking at it wearing our bright red, IRONED, cotton “gym suits”. She explained that in a few weeks we would be graded on a routine and some itsy-bitsy little girl went up to the bars to demonstrate. First thing she did was haul herself up around the lower bar feet-first. Now I could sort of do it the other way – straight arm up and then let gravity do it’s work and around you go. But this way? It was a mystery. “How do you do that?” I asked the girls who could. They didn’t know, they just did it. The rest of us (most of the class) just stood around and stared. We were told to do it.

We did not have the upper body strength to pull into the bar (not that we even knew that was what we had to do). Did the teacher ever have us do any conditioning exercises for this activity? No. When we couldn’t do it, she just told us TO do it and don’t be lazy. I didn’t get an “A” in gym and just hated it even more.

Here’s my point. Any of you TCRGs out there reading this: It is all well and good if you can recognize the steps and moves and know whether they are executed well, but if you can’t help a student get to the point where they CAN dance those steps, you aren’t worth any more than my long-forgotten gym teacher. Reminding a student to turn out or get up high on their toes is not the least bit helpful to the dancer who can’t. The good teacher needs to be able to sort the CAN’Ts from the WON’Ts. The can’t-do-it-yet dancers need background strengthening work and encouragement that they will someday be able to dance the way you want. The won’t-do-it-yet dancers are the ones that benefit from the “reminders” because they can do the move, but aren’t doing it consistently. Nagging a CAN’T only makes them feel worse.”

This way of teaching, this neglectful technique, is wrong, lazy, ineffective, counter-productive, ignorant and even dangerous. Why do people accept it?

Demand more. Demand and expect that your teachers know their craft, that they KNOW HOW TO TEACH!!! Change the mind set that teachers are gods that cannot be questioned. Question them all!!! The good ones will smile and and answer every question, even if it is to say, “I do not know the answer to that right now, but I will when next I see you.” The bad ones get mad…and then behave badly.

I like to think that there are more good teachers (of all kinds) out there than there are bad ones. We just hear more about the bad ones because the good ones do not send you off to the message boards to get answers.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

More on Dancing Children

(I know…I have been on the computer an awful lot today. Not feeling so well and staying in bed does not make me feel any better. Net surfing is a great distraction.)

For those who have asked me for more info on the growing dancer, read this: Position Paper: The Challenge of the Adolescent Dancer

Very interesting and thorough discussion.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

More Turn-out info

Doing a bit of surfing and found this in an article by Rachel Rist. Putting it here because it is important, and I could not have said it better myself:

“‘Push your turn out’

No one ever thinks they have enough turn out. I remember sitting in “frogs” for hours to try to gain more. I hear of horror stories of people who sit on each other’s thighs to get more turn out. Turn out depends on many factors, mostly predetermined ones:

1) The depth of the socket in the pelvis.

2) The length of the neck of the femur.
3) The angle at which the femur is placed in the socket.

4) The elasticity of the Y shaped ligament at the front of the hip joint.

5) The age at which dance training is begun (ie. how early this Y shaped ligament is encouraged to stretch).

These are mostly congenital factors over which a dancer has no control, rather like having blue eyes, or brown hair. The one thing that the dancer can do is strengthen the muscles of turn out, and this should be encouraged. Damage caused by forcing turn out is severe and long lasting and can affect the spine, hips, knees and feet. I have seen huge bunions on young children, combined with dropped arches and sore knees; all too often the result of over enthusiastic turning out from the feet.”

Pics for your enjoyment:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket



The Y ligament is shown here.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

To learn about the hips and find a simple exercise to train the hips to turn out correctly, go here: Hips and Turning out

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.



Previous Older Entries