Stretching feet the wrong way will only lead to injury. Photo by Thinkstock

7 Habits Your Podiatrist Wishes You Would Quit

When caring for your feet or trying to make them look good, it's tempting to seek shortcuts. Bad ideas—like dangerous stretches that promise perfect lines or ointments that were never meant to go on your toes—catch on all too easily backstage.

We asked podiatrists who've seen their dance clients try it all share the habits they'd like to see gone for good.


Using Anesthetics

Numbing ointments can mask infections. Photo by Thinkstock

Numbing agents like lidocaine or benzocaine—the active ingredient in Orajel—should never be applied to corns or blisters. These products can lead to serious skin infections. Thomas Novella, a podiatrist in New York City, says he has sent dancers to the hospital to be treated for blood infections from infected corns masked by lidocaine. If corns become painful, see a podiatrist.

Defaulting to the Same Shoe

Getting re-fit for pointe shoes could help you find a better option. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Ordering online may save time and money when replacing pointe shoes, but don't assume that if you've been fitted once you're set for life. Dancers, especially students, should get professionally refitted for pointe shoes once a year, says Frank Sinkoe, an Atlanta podiatrist who specializes in dance medicine. In particular, see a fitter if you're experiencing foot pain. Your feet may have changed.

Getting Foot Peels and Pedicures

Taking care of your own toenails is safer than going to the salon. Photo by Thinkstock.

Thick or painful calluses can be removed by a podiatrist, but otherwise leave them alone. Novella suggests skipping the salon altogether: The pedicurist may cut the sides of your nails too far back into the grooves of the nail bed or push back your cuticles, both of which can expose protected parts of the toes to infection or lead to ingrown toenails. If you do go, ask the pedicurist not to be aggressive with pushing back the cuticles or separating the skin from the nail, says Sinkoe.

Overstretching

Strengthening will do more for your feet than stretching. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe.

Sticking feet under the piano or couch is a quick route to injury, not more beautiful arches. The gliding joints of the mid-foot, Sinkoe explains, cannot be forced to bend like the hinge joints of the toes, and bending a foot like that can damage ligaments or cause tiny bone pieces to break off. "It's muscles within the foot that, if contracted properly, will arch the foot," Sinkoe says. Keep up the Thera-Band exercises, doming and towel scrunching with straight toes to make those muscles stronger.

Assuming It's Infected

Treating for infection could make allergic reactions worse. Photo by Jim Lafferty

An infected area will be red, swollen, painful and warm, says Novella. If one of those four criteria is not met, it could be something else, like an allergic reaction. See a podiatrist to be sure. Some people are allergic to Neosporin, for example, and if you keep applying the antibiotic ointment to what you think is an infection, you'll only be making it worse.

Sacrificing Safety for Looks

Smart sewing provides better ankle support. Photo by Erik Ostling for Pointe

Sewing your pointe shoe ribbons closer to your arch may exaggerate the shape of your foot. But that tailoring undermines the ribbons' ankle support, says Novella. Similarly, three-quarter–shanking pointe shoes by cutting away the heel increases strain on the mid-foot, potentially causing pain and making you more vulnerable to injury.

Massacring Your Blisters

If you need to drain a blister, leave on the layer of skin that protects it, and cover with a bandage before class. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Sometimes a blister just has to go. If it's clear—a red blood blister should be left alone or seen by a podiatrist—you can puncture it with a sterilized needle and gently drain the fluid. But don't remove the roof, the layer of skin covering the blister. Leave that natural protective barrier on, let the drained blister air out, then dress with antibiotic ointment and bandage for class as necessary.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021