WEST COAST SWINGTreat Your Feet Sweet

by Jeannie Tucker

If the average person takes 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day, imagine what the average syncopating, fun loving, convention going, non-stop swing dancing enthusiast takes!

Each one of those steps puts 1 1/2 to 2 times your weight onto your feet. If you wear high heels then the weight is directed onto the ball of the foot. If you wear flats you get more of the impact on your heels. The foot, with it's 26 bones, 33 joints, and a multitude of muscles and ligaments, is truly an amazing feat of engineering. But even the mighty foot has a limit as to how much it can take.

I spend a lot of my time teaching my students to understand the body as a whole and to respect it and treat it well. In this they learn how to keep the machine in shape to do this thing we call dance. The feet are so important in what we do, and yet they are so very neglected by most of us. We dress them up with fancy shoes and paint the toenails, but thatís all on the exterior. Inside they are usually crying out for attention. We dance all weekend at a convention and appear shocked when our feet hurt us so much.

I, myself, am very demanding of my feet and since I have danced professionally all my life, they have tolerated years of abuse. You would think that we all would put time into keeping our bodies and feet in condition to dance and perform well. Especially if our income depends on it! Sadly, it isn't true! We take our feet for granted and wait until they are screaming at us with throbbing pain before we pay attention to the care of them. Over the years I have learned ways to preserve my feet and their ability to deal with all that I expect of them. I hope the following information will help to ease the pain and keep you dancing comfortably.

First of all, if you currently have a foot problem of any kind, I encourage you to see a Doctor. Donít wait until you have to sit and watch the dancing instead of participating.

We all understand that if you did the same motion with any part of the body over and over again, you would eventually wear that particular joint out. Well the same applies to the feet. If you wore the same pair of shoes, requiring the feet to always stay in a particular position, you would wear them out and create all kinds of foot problems from calluses to stress fractures. With that in mind I absolutely suggest that you change shoes, and heel heights, often throughout a long period of dancing. For ladies, going from closed to open toed shoes also allows the toes a change of position. Foot doctors can spot a professional dancers feet a mile away. The daily abuse is easy to see. I have, in an effort to avoid that kind of recognition, changed shoes almost every hour throughout my teaching days in order to keep me on my feet for extended periods of time comfortably.

The next thing I would bring to your attention is the subject of conditioning. Yes, the feet need to be in shape to dance. There are a number of foot exercises that I have found to be especially good for dancing.

For flexibility, and to warm up prior to dancing, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and weight evenly distributed between them. Raise up onto the balls of both feet and then lower. Each time a little higher. You want to really work the foot. The tightness you feel in your calves is a good thing. Next, shift your weight to one foot and point the toes of the weight-free foot. Relax it and then point it again. Work both feet. Then curl the toes of the weight free-foot under and roll them onto the ground to stretch the top of the foot. Do these exercises ten times each, every day.

For overall strengthening, and to help when you feel pain on the balls of your feet, put a small hand towel on the floor and pick it up by curling the toes towards you and gripping it. Do this five times and relax, then repeat. Another trick is to put a few dozen marbles on the floor with a small bowl beside them and pick them up with your toes and put them in the bowl one by one.

To deal with cramped arches you can take a golf ball and place it on the floor under your foot and roll it around the arch of the foot to massage the area. In general, you should try to circle your feet in clockwise and counter clockwise circles from the ankle joint and keep your feet as flexible as possible.

Another important point to bring up is the pedicure. It is not a luxury for only the rich. Keeping the feet groomed is part of conditioning and you will be less likely to stub a toe, hurt or (even worse) tear a toenail, if you keep them trimmed short. You can soak your feet in warm water, then use a pumice stone on any calluses, and trim the toenails. Finish off by rubbing in some soothing lotion. It can be very relaxing.

After a night of dancing, I have been known to sleep with my feet elevated on a pillow to ease the swelling that can accompany a full night of syncopations. And you will never see me turn down a friendly foot rub!

How you dance will dramatically affect your feet. If you can learn to control your movements and weight changes smoothly, you will avoid some of the ballistic effects that dance has on the feet, and the skeletal system, in general. Dance, especially lots of it, is hard on the body and feet. But with the assistance of a good teacher, you can learn to utilize the shock absorbers within the body, learning to make more fluid and controlled motions.

The better you learn to drive, the less wear and tear you put on your machine. Now donít be imagining that Professional Dancers remember to do all of these things. I have had to learn to be kind to my body and to my feet and still I find myself demanding too much of them. The key word is moderation. Be sweet to your feet and keep them dancing!

Jeannie Tucker, World Swing Dance Jack & Jill Champion, has an extensive resume in dance and acting having appeared in numerous Commercials, TV, and Theatre Productions. She has over eighteen years as a Dance Coach and Choreographer and can be reached by: Snail Mail: P.O. Box 30474, Tucson, AZ 85751 or E-mail: jeannie@jeannietucker.com