Advice for Dancers

October 20, 2009

How can I go on pointe without my toes killing me? I’ve tried everything from gel pads to lamb’s wool, but nothing works. My feet are super-tapered, with most of the pressure on my big toe. My teacher says that less padding is better, but that doesn’t work for me. Can you suggest what might work?



Aruada, CO


I’m so sorry that you’re in pain. Dance medicine specialists like podiatrist Dr. Thomas Novella tell me that dancers who start late need time for their feet to toughen up. While I don’t know if that scenario applies to you, you seem to be dealing with an Egyptian foot type, with a big toe that’s longer than your other toes. Under these circumstances, it isn’t enough to pad the big toe. Dr. Novella recommends that dancers with this foot type try shoes with a tapered box because it helps the other toes share the weight. For more information, check out



Ever since the economy tanked, the artistic director of the second company I dance with seems to be paying the most attention to dancers whose parents make donations. I’m afraid this will hurt my chances of getting into the main company. I finally got up the nerve to ask him and he did say that I was being considered. How can I stay positive? I hate not knowing.


Feeling Confused

New York, NY


I understand completely. The hardest times for everyone occur when we enter a period of ambiguity. You don’t know what’s going on and fear the worst. Yet more often than not, most of the fears are in your head. Your director has already given you positive feedback about your future prospects. It’s only natural that he would focus on anyone whose presence might help with fundraising to keep the company afloat. At the same time, it never hurts to spread your wings and audition for other companies during your free time. If you get an offer, you can go back and share this information. My guess is that they won’t want to lose you.



It’s so frustrating to struggle with my inflexible body every day and never know if there’s a better way to reach my potential. You’ve suggested several ways in this column that have helped me immensely, such as only stretching when I’m warm. My question is, What’s next? I’m eager to learn anything else that will make me a more flexible dancer.



Los Angeles, CA


There are three basic ways to stretch: These include: 1) static stretching, where you relax into a position, like the split, to the point of mild discomfort for 30 seconds, using an external prop such as the floor; 2) dynamic stretching, which involves an evenly controlled swinging motion, such as 10 leg circles, where you gradually increase the amplitude of the movement; and 3) proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching, where a physical therapist teaches you how to gently tense one muscle group for 10 seconds before relaxing into a deeper stretch. This last method helps your body safely move into bigger stretches—but don’t try it without supervision first.


I’m going on tour soon and am terrified of catching swine flu. I read that 20 dancers from The Royal Ballet caught it in Cuba and it’s circulating around the world. How can we protect ourselves and still dance?



London, England

Good question! Be sure to wash your hands as often as possible, keep them away from your face, and steer clear of large crowds as much as you can. Obviously, staying isolated is not an option for dancers. Hopefully, all of us will be better equipped as the medical profession gains more knowledge. In the meantime, several dance companies are being proactive on tour by taking about 20 doses of Tamiflu—just in case any of their dancers begin to show flu-like symptoms. You might also carry around hand sanitizer. The best news is that a number of prominent dance medicine specialists are requesting the vaccine for dancers in the fall. It helps to remember that the H1N1 virus does not appear, at this point, to be a highly dangerous flu—although children and people with health problems like asthma seem to be more vulnerable. Still, it is best for everyone to be cautious. My advice is to ask for medical help if you experience a sore throat, upper respiratory problems, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue.