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Your Body: Can Crunches Fix Bunions?
How cross-training your core, hips and calves can help
Photos by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Eva Solnick of Joffrey Ballet School
Leanna Rinaldi never expected demi-pointe to be the most difficult part of her first season with Miami City Ballet. But a painful bunion on her left foot made one of the most basic steps in ballet incredibly difficult. “I couldn’t flex my toes and rolling up to pointe was hard,” she says. “I could hardly dance.”
For many dancers, bunion pain is an all-too-familiar reality. But it doesn’t have to be, according to Kathleen Davenport, MD, a dance medicine specialist and company physician for Miami City Ballet. “People think there is nothing you can do about it,” she says, “but that is just not the case.” In a report published in the July 2014 Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, Davenport and her colleagues explain that proper technique, strength and flexibility in a dancer’s core, hips and calves can impact the formation of a bunion.
Also called hallux valgus, bunions are progressive deformities of the big-toe joint. Although they typically develop in middle age due to genetics, Dr. Jeffrey Oster, a podiatrist who has worked with dancers at BalletMet Columbus, says he has seen bunions in patients as young as 12 or 13. “For the unlucky who have early onset,” he says, “there are usually biomechanical factors at play.” One of those factors may be wearing shoes that are too tight or taper too narrowly at the toe—pointe shoes, for instance.
The first stage of a bunion’s development looks like a small bump. In stage two, the bump grows bigger. In stage three, the toe joint begins to buckle because the end of the first metatarsal begins to angle outward while the toe is pulled inward by tendons and ligaments. “There is often a constant low-grade ache and signs of arthritis,” says Oster. Stage four bunions require surgery to cut the two bones of the joint and pin them together, which can result in a limited range of motion. “It is very difficult to perform ballet after surgery,” says Davenport. “You are probably not going to get that full demi-pointe where it was before.”
That’s why prevention is key. Taking a closer look at alignment throughout the body can both help prevent the formation of a bunion, and keep small bumps from growing. “I see dancers rolling in on their feet constantly,” says Davenport. “This puts so much stress on the part of the foot where a bunion can develop.” Strategic cross-training can help a dancer avoid this pronation so they don’t aggravate the joint and make a bunion worse.
The core of the body is a dancer’s control center. When it’s weak, turns are sloppy, lines are disjointed—and the feet don’t stand a chance. The pelvic bones tilt forward and the hips internally rotate. This rotation continues down the legs, resulting in pronation at the feet, shifting the distribution of weight to the big toe instead of spreading it evenly across the foot.
To strengthen: Performing crunches and leg lifts on a large exercise ball engages your entire core. First, do three sets of 15 to 20 crunches with your back on the ball and feet on the floor. Keep the elbows wide. Next, in a “plank” with the ball under your stomach and hands on the floor, lift one leg and the opposite arm. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 times, alternating sides.
The range of motion in the hip joints directly affects the alignment of the feet, particularly in first and fifth positions. When rotation is limited, dancers often find 180 degrees at the feet by “sticking” them to the floor, twisting at the knees and rolling in at the ankle.
To stretch: Lie on your back, bending the hips and knees to 90 degrees and opening the legs wide. Rest your hands on your open knees, and hold for 30 seconds.
To strengthen: Tie an elastic band around the knees while lying on one side, then open and close the knees, clam-style, keeping the feet together. Do three sets of 15 to 20, then repeat on the other side.
Because the calf muscles and the Achilles tendons push dancers high into the air, and absorb shock upon landing, they need to be strong. But they also require flexibility to distribute the force through the foot, says Davenport. Otherwise, demi-plié will become limited, so the foot will roll in to compensate.
To stretch: Standing with your toes on a step, lower one heel down at a time. Wear shoes for comfort and hold on to a railing for balance. Keep the working knee straight and turn the toes in slightly, making sure that the foot does not roll in. Let the standing leg bend to allow the other heel to lower fully. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
What About the Foot?
In addition to cross-training, local remedies can also help relieve bunion pain.
Doming Exercises: Keeping the toes long, slowly pull a towel toward the heel by bending at the base of the toes. Widen the toes to straighten the big toe. Strengthening these intrinsic muscles can increase joint stability and improve shock absorption.
Toe Spacers: A spacer or makeup sponge between the first and second toes can improve the alignment of the big-toe joint.
Bunion Pads: These doughnut- or horseshoe-shaped pads can help decrease the surface area of the inflamed bunion that comes into contact with your shoe.
Proper Fit: See a professional pointe shoe fitter. A too-short box may not offer enough support, allowing more angling, while one that’s too tight can irritate an inflamed bunion.
Ice: The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons recommends ice as one of the first lines of treatment for bunion pain. —RBM
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection
Today, American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to foster the development of choreography by company members and freelance dancemakers. Aptly titled ABT Incubator, the program, directed by principal David Hallberg, will give selected choreographers the opportunity to spend two weeks workshopping new dances.
"It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a press release from the company. Interested? Here's how you can apply to participate.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.