How do we express ourselves through our feet? We think of dancers being very connected to their feet-to the expression of energy and rhythm, and shape, spatial positioning. But all who walk upright live from the ground up, in how we relate to the earth, and how we support our spines, heads, and dreams.
Feet are not blocks of wood. They are lithe instruments of perception and action. Opening them up to a greater range of motion, responsiveness allows the whole person to feel as if they are ‘growing up out of the ground’, finding better balance, and helping us to feel more emotionally centered as well. For dancers, I would call on you to experiment with openings all through the foot; not just the ability to point or plie. How easily can you stand? Can you release through the heel and ankle? Can you allow the gentle spiral of balanced rotations, of balanced supination, in the standing part of gait, to pronation in the push off phase?
The hardest thing about this for many dancers is the act of venturing outside of the limits of the training that they have received, from ballet and many forms of modern dance and jazz. If nature had intended us to have feet like pointe shoes, we would be proportioned like elephants, who are so large in relation to their feet that they are essentially always “sur les pointes”-walking on an extremely small surface area. How many ballerinas can claim the softness of gait and agility of an elephant, really?
Bodies are a constant work in progress, for better or worse. They respond to how we move, in daily life, class, at the gym or whatever. One of the theories about bunion development, for example, is that the stress is going into that part of the foot because of an overuse of the big toe/first metatarsal joint, and usually in a laterally rotated lower leg. Worse, instead of a bunion,an arthritis can develop in this joint, possibly leading to a total fusion and immobility there.
What I wonder is; what important joints and muscles above this joint are being underused, to create overuse in this area? By opening movement through the heel and ankle, we can hopefully head off this kind of dysfunction and pain. I teach my clients how to work with balls to help with this, and movement coaching in gait. A positive byproduct of this work is increased sureness in standing and walking, and more ease and confidence. I think of a sense of joy that rises up from below, naturally, like the Asian concept of a ‘bubbling spring’ coming up from the ground and through the feet. What a great idea!