Protecting the Dancer’s Feet: In Search of Safer, Healthier, Longer Dance Careers
By Samantha Brey, EMS Marketing
As a girl who has spent time at a dance studio, I know about the pain that is caused by dance shoes. Dance is a vigorous activity that requires a lot of energy and endurance; the movements and exercises involved can be rough on a dancer’s body, especially their feet.
Dance shoes can be the defining aspect of some types of dance, and in others they are completely unused. There are many different kinds of dance and each one has a different style of shoe, but most of these shoes don’t have protective padding or shock-absorbing material. Some dancers spend as many as 6 hours in these non-supportive dance shoes, executing difficult movements and routines. A great deal of stress is placed on the joints and ligaments of a dancer’s body, causing 57% of all dance related injuries to be in the foot and ankle. These injuries have forced many dancers to put their lives on hold, and have even ended some dancers’ careers.
Jazz, ballet, lyrical, and pointe shoes, and even Irish dance Ghillies, are all designed to make dancing easier for the dancer, not to protect their feet. Dance requires flexibility and movement that more supportive shoes might hinder. Dancers need to “feel” the floor, something that would be nearly impossible if they wore heavily padded shoes.
There are dances that require less feeling and more energy, like tap, ballroom dance, and hip hop, and it is much easier to find protective shoes for these dances. Dance sneakers for hip hop have shock-absorbent material in the heel of the shoe, and tap shoes and ballroom shoes often contain insoles that are cushioned with shock-absorbent material.
The most damaging form of dance is en pointe, where dancers wear pointe shoes that allow them to dance, spin, and leap on the tips of their toes. These shoes have a stiff toe box at the end of the shoe and are secured by elastics and ribbons. The only padding used in these shoes is soft material wrapped around the feet to keep the pointe shoe fitting perfectly with no extra wiggle room. This padding can be made of various materials such as lambs wool, Band-Aids, and synthetic fabrics sold specifically for this purpose.
Pointe shoes are made by many different companies, and dancers can decide which brand works best for them and their feet. Some companies have begun making protective pointe shoes that last longer. The shoes have elastomeric toe boxes and shanks, eliminating the need to “break in” new pointe shoes and allowing dancers to wear them for five times as long as traditional pointe shoes before they wear out. Made with high performance polyurethane foam, the shoes protect dancers’ feet by absorbing the impact of spins and leaps.
These companies are not well known, and unfortunately are sometimes dismissed as providing “cheater shoes.” Because the shoes require no breaking in and are easier on the dancers’ feet, some pointe teachers believe the shoes take the tradition out of pointe and refuse to allow their students to wear them.
Despite this, the pointe shoe industry is not doomed to be forever stuck in the 1900s. Progress is being made, as dancers are beginning to actively seek out these more comfortable alternatives to traditional pointe shoes. Someday, shock-absorbing material will be in all dance shoes and dancers’ feet will be safer and healthier, allowing them to continue doing what they love.