Monday, February 10, 2014

First Year Pointe Student Asks...#5

She asks: "Why are my toes numb in my shoes? Is this something I will simply have to get used to?"

Short Answer: "Your toes are not working.  And hopefully not."

The longer answer is, well, more involved. First identify why this could be the case for you.  The likely culprits:

1. You have too much padding around your toes. Gel pads, toe spacers, toe pads, and so on are great to give your feet a bit of cushion, especially if your skin is soft and you have no callouses built up. But the flip side of that is that you are not able to move them. Your toes should be straight up and down in the box of your pointe shoes but you should be able to roll up smoothly through demi-pointe using your toes, not merely lifting your heels.

If you can't wiggle your toes while you are standing en pointe at the barre, try less padding. You don't need resort to a wisp of lamb's wool and adhesive tape (like we did back in the old days!) but you do want to build up some tougher skin on the balls of your feet and knuckles.

2. You are skipping demi-pointe as you spring up to pointe. Whether you roll or spring up, you need to move through demi-pointe. When you don't do this, your toes become inactive.  Gotta work 'em!

Some exercises to practice:
--stand facing the barre in first position, start full pointe, then roll down to a 3/4 demi-pointe and back up to full without ever going to actual demi-pointe or flat. Alternate very slow roll-ups with quick ones to activate your toes and increase their flexibility.

--stand facing the barre in fifth position, rise to demi-pointe, hold for 2 counts and then spring up to sousous from the demi-pointe with and without demi-plie. This is a strengthening exercise for your toes and calves and will get you in touch with the muscles you need to activate to spring up to pointe, rather than only using your quads.

3. Your weight is on your heels and your knees are locked. When you shift your weight back on your heels, your toes become inactive and, again, numb.

Whenever you stand at the barre in pointe shoes, particularly with one hand, avoid the temptation to shift back on your heels to maintain your balance.  Instead, concentrate on keeping your weight centered over the arches and balls of your feet.  Lift your core (front and back muscles of your torso) and activate the tops of your legs, rotating outward from the center where your thighs meet.

Remember: when there is pain en pointe, there is a reason for it. Very rarely is pain something you simply need to get used to. Pointe is a lot of things - exhausting, challenging - but it should not be painful.

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