Advice for Dancers: The Danger of Bunions

February 1, 2013


Is dancing on pointe with extreme hallux valgus (bunions) dangerous? I don’t see how I can distribute my body weight properly in a pointe shoe if spacers and taping aren’t enough to get my big toe in a straight vertical line. 


Address Withheld


Dancers are no different than the rest of the population when it comes to bunions. In fact, a study conducted in Sweden showed that hallux valgus was equally common in dancers and non-dancers. Yet whether dancing in pointe shoes exacerbates bunions over time remains an unanswered question. However, many professional dancers function quite well even if the hallux valgus is not completely corrected by taping spacers between the big and second toes, as you mentioned. Sufficient training may provide a protective factor. But the inability to correct malalignment could be problematic. As always, listen to your body and seek medical advice for pain. If possible, avoid bunion surgery until after you stop dancing because it will reduce the height of your relevé.


I always feel like a loser whenever someone asks me what I’m performing. Compared to dancers my age who have steady jobs onstage, I freelance and take almost any gig I can get. My teachers (who are excellent) tell me I’m talented but I don’t really believe them. Is it possible to get over my sense of inadequacy? 


San Francisco, CA


Ah, the comparison game! Unfortunately, even renowned ballerinas fall into this trap when insecurity rears its ugly head due to perfectionism, age, bad reviews, or fewer roles. In your case, it might help to be aware that most dancers freelance and few have full-time employment. Regardless of your status, comparing yourself to others is a losing proposition—there will always be someone who has something that you don’t. Keep the focus on you and your goals. If you want a steady job, networking and auditions are the way to go. Just remember that the outcome often depends as much on being in the right place at the right time as on your talent. Meanwhile, you might reassess what you have accomplished so far. Finding freelance work in dance isn’t easy and you deserve to give yourself credit for all the gigs you’ve managed to get. This could help change your self-view from that of a loser to someone who persists in the face of obstacles.


My director is making it hard for me to be enthusiastic about my dance career. He used to have a wonderful attitude that inspired all of us in his company. Now he seems unhappy with everything we do. None of his criticisms are constructive and he overreacts to the smallest mistake. His breath also smells of alcohol during the day. How can I handle this? 

Feeling Dejected

Philadelphia, PA


It isn’t easy to keep up one’s morale, let alone a company’s, when you’re dealing with a difficult boss. Yet directors are human, too, and it sounds like he’s struggling with his own concerns. It could be something personal, such as marital problems, or perhaps he’s burned out from having to juggle more responsibilities than he can handle in today’s economy. Obviously, it would help if you knew the source of his negative behavior. You might gain some insight by making discreet inquiries. Confer with the other dancers to make sure it’s not only your imagination, but avoid gossiping or saying anything insulting or sarcastic. You could also look for opportunities to step in and help, such as offering to mingle with the company’s donors or volunteering to work on a special project, like a gala. Just be careful not to overstep your boundaries. He may be going through a bad time but he’s still your director. You might approach someone on the artistic staff or administration to make sure they know there’s been a change observed by the dancers. Your director may not be aware of how he comes across. The last resort would be approaching your union, if you have one, and registering a complaint. Of course, if nothing helps, you can always scout around and audition for other companies during your breaks.



Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the author of
Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass), and co-author of The Dancer’s Way: the New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition (St. Martin’s Griffin). Her website is