Jennifer Nichols performing despite a dangerous infection

The Dangers of Dancing Barefoot: One Dancer's Extreme Story & Tips for Safety

Jennifer Nichols was rehearsing barefoot this winter when she got a split in the bottom of her foot. An independent choreographer, she was preparing a self-made solo to be performed as part of a new music show in Toronto, and the studio's Marley floor was usually used by winter boot–wearing musicians.

A split may not seem like a big deal. But this one led to a serious infection that would land Nichols in hospital and almost end her performing career.


barefoot dangers Nichols performing the piece, Lilt

By the time the show came, Nichols was barely able to put weight on her foot. But she performed the premiere as planned, "on an insane cocktail of drugs and in excruciating pain," she says.

The next day, she ended up in the emergency room, hooked up to an IV drip of strong antibiotics and bed-ridden for more than a week. A surgeon eventually had to cut into her foot to drain the abscess. Its infection had spread to her ankle and lower calf, and threatened to corrode the bones of her second, third and fourth metatarsal.

"My body couldn't get rid of the infection because it was not accessible by antibiotics, trapped in the abscess in a very tight spot under a thick callus from decades of dancing," she says.

barefoot dangers Nichols runs her own Extension Room dance-fitness studio and performs part-time with Opera Atelier's baroque dance ensemble

"I am very lucky, but I have also been challenged in an extreme way," says Nichols. She is slowly healing but now worries about how the resulting scar tissue will affect her dancing.

Wanting to warn other dancers of the perils of unwashed floors, Nichols offers up what she's learned about safely dancing barefoot:

1. Take extra care to clean your feet the moment you finish rehearsal when dancing barefoot.
2. If you have developed any splits or blisters, clean with an antiseptic, not just water.
3. Tape your feet before rehearsing if you have splits or are prone to them.
4. Examine the state of the floor before rehearsing, particularly if it's a room not typically used for dance. If it looks in need of a cleaning, do not hesitate to ask the rehearsal director, stage management or any member of the production team to have it cleaned. Be gracious about it, but do insist.
5. Pay attention to your body. Look for these telltale signs to know if you have developed an infection:

    • increasing pain throughout the whole area, not just localized to the spot of the split or blister
    • swelling
    • redness, especially redness which is spreading or developing into a line
    • fever, headache
    • pus oozing from the area
    • heat in the area
    • swollen glands near the area or in the corresponding limb
    • worsening symptoms

6. Go directly to a doctor, not a physiotherapist or massage therapist. See someone who can perform tests to confirm whether there is an infection.
7. If your symptoms do not improve, get a second opinion. "I had to seek out five opinions before my abscess was properly diagnosed!" says Nichols.
8. If a doctor prescribes antibiotics and after a few days your symptoms are worsening, insist on an ultrasound or a CT scan to rule out an abscess.
9. Never forget that your body is your most important tool. Do not take any concerns you may have about something that seems amiss lightly. Advocate for yourself.

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Courtesy Schelfhaudt

These Retired Ballroom Dancers Started a Dance-Themed Coffee Company

Like many dancers, when Lauren Schelfhaudt and Jean Paul retired from professional ballroom dancing in 2016, they felt lost. "There was this huge void," says Schelfhaudt.

But after over 20 years of dancing, plus United States and World Championship titles, reality shows, and high-profile choreography gigs (and Paul's special claim to fame, as "the guy who makes Bradley Cooper look bad" in Silver Linings Playbook), teaching just didn't fill the void. "I got to the point where it wasn't giving me that creative outlet," says Paul.

When the pair (who are life and business partners but were never dance partners—they competed against one another) took a post-retirement trip to Costa Rica, they were ready to restart their lives. They found inspiration in an expected place: A visit to a coffee farm.

Though they had no experience in coffee roasting or business, they began building their own coffee company. In 2018, the duo officially launched Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters, where they create dance-inspired blends out of their headquarters in Belmont, North Carolina.

We talked to Schelfhaudt and Paul about how their dance background makes them better coffee roasters, and why coffee is an art form all its own:

GO DEEPER