Ashley Ellis, photo by Albert Ayzenberg, courtesy of Ashley Ellis

Treat Your Feet: The Foot-Care Products Dancers Love

Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.

Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.


Ashley Ellis, Boston Ballet Principal

Ashley Ellis and Eris Nezha in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

Massage tool: Gua sha. "It's an Eastern-medicine practice that uses a tiny tool that's round like an animal horn. I usually use a scraping motion along the bottom of my foot with one of the long edges and use a narrower side to get softly in between the metatarsals on top of my foot, always being careful not to press too hard or scrape directly over any of the bones. I also scrape upward along the front of my ankle and then on my peroneals and the muscles in my shin."

For blisters: 2nd Skin squares. "I cover up blisters and corns with the little blue gel 2nd Skin squares and then tape over that—it's a really good cushion."

Warm-up wear: Bbooties. "They have a really good structure with thick foam on the bottom. The company was created by former Hamburg Ballet principal dancer Otto Bubenícek and produced by his mother."

Jaclyn Wheatley, Spectrum Dance Theater

Jaclyn Wheatley in Donald Byrd's Roaming Ghosts, a piece from Rambunctious Iteration #3 "The Immigrant. Photo by Joseph Lambert, courtesy Spectrum

Favorite ointment: Bag Balm. "It's a super-thick ointment designed for cow udders. I have scary calluses that get really dry and cracked, so I lather up my feet and put on some fuzzy socks before I go to bed."

Massage tools: Golf ball and racquet ball. "I always keep a golf ball in my backpack for all the hard-to-reach places in the metatarsals, and my choice for a bigger ball is a racquet ball. They have just enough give."

Compression socks: Apolla Shocks. "Whenever I'm feeling super-sore, I'll take a shower and put on my creams—Bag Balm and sometimes antifungal cream if I have an open crack or blister—and slip my Apolla Shocks on. I always wear them on planes when we're on tour, to keep the blood flow going and make sure I don't get swollen."

Sarah Cordia, Nashville Ballet

Sarah Cordia in Paul Vasterling's Carmina Burana. Photo by Karyn photography, courtesy Nashville Ballet.

Skin care oils: Peppermint oil, coconut oil and Betadine. "I mix a couple drops of peppermint oil with coconut oil (a natural antibacterial) every night and moisturize right before I go to bed. And every morning and night I soak my feet in an Epsom salt bath. Whenever I have a wound, I use Betadine. It's good at drying things out and disinfecting but also moisturizing."

Pointe shoe padding: Half-toe sock. "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

After-hours footwear: Orthaheel. "I wear these fancy flip-flops with built-in arch support in summertime, when I'm not in pointe shoes."

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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