Growing up in ballet classes, Visceral Dance Chicago's Paige Fraser realized that she would have to work hard to improve her feet. "I didn't have the facility that a lot of dancers are born with," says Fraser, one of our 2017 25 to Watch. "I had to learn how to make it work for me."
Some of her teachers' old-school advice—like putting your feet under the couch to stretch them—didn't work for Fraser, and aren't exactly recommended by experts today. But as she got older and began attending summer intensives, she received more sound guidance on how to improve her feet, and started developing a routine that still serves her today.
"You don't have to have amazing feet to be a dancer," says Fraser. "I want to encourage dancers that that's not what it's all about." It's about using what you have.
1. Visualize Your Dream Feet
As a student, Fraser carefully watched the dancers whose feet she wanted to emulate, noticing how they articulated through their shoes. She still uses this technique as a professional: "I visualize what the picture should be when I'm doing an arabesque," she says. "You can learn to shape your feet if you're in tune with your body."
2. Use the Front of Your Foot
"Often when you don't have flexible feet, you crunch in the achilles tendon," says Fraser. "I had to learn not to over-engage the back of my ankle when I tendu, because that can develop into tendonitis, which I was dealing with. When I started thinking about pointing from the front of the foot and not the back, the pain I was experiencing stopped."
Pratt + Kreidich Photography, Courtesy Fraser
3. Keep Up With Pointework
Even though Fraser doesn't perform on pointe with Visceral Dance Chicago, she keeps up with it so she can land extra gigs—and keep her feet and ankles strong. "Learning how to get over my box helped elongate the front of my foot," she says. She aims for taking class on pointe once or twice a week, and gets private coaching when preparing for a performance where she'll be on pointe. "Even if you don't want to be a ballerina, it creates that leg strength," she says.
4. Stretch & Strengthen Every Day
Fraser's routine includes:
- Doming, for arch strength, which involves scrunching the bottom of your foot as if you're trying to pick up a pebble
- Slow relevés and tendus
- TheraBand exercises
- Massaging her arch with a lacrosse ball
- Having friends gently stretch her feet (Students, have a teacher do this first so you know what it should feel like.)