As Irish dance is an artistic sport that always striving toward the ultimate goal of flawless technique, we’re back with another aspect to concentrate on and work on at home. The term “arching” is a pretty descriptive one even for non-dancers—and from day one in dance class (across disciplines) every dancer in history has heard the same refrain, on endless repeat: “Point your toes!” But arching is so much more than simply pointing your toes!
First off, a more apt description than “pointing your toes” would be “pointing your feet.” True arching is an extension of the line of your leg, meaning curling the toes is only the beginning. Your ankle must also become a part of this extension, with your ankle continuing the line in a movement not unlike when you’re pressing down on a car pedal. This clean line extends through the rounded top of the foot and through to the toes to make one seamless arch. Mastering extending both the ankle and the arch of the foot simultaneously can be a struggle for some dancers, usually choosing one over the other—watch out for that!
An even more critical issues to watch out for in a dancer’s arch is sickled feet. Sickling your feet is the rolling of the ankle either in (pronating) or out (supinating.) This can be a part of a dancer’s natural anatomy. The easiest way to see if your natural tendency is to sickle your feet is to have someone look at your feet from the back while you stand straight—if the sickling is severe it’s best to consult a doctor as injury can result, whether or not you’re dancing!
But, most sickled feet happen when a dancer “overpoints.” While a strong point is, of course, a need for any dancer, overpointing is the over-extension of the foot and toes, the force of which comes from the ankle and thus causes a dancer to pronate or supinate. Not only does this break the clean line of the arch you’re looking for, it can lead to weakness in the ankles and imbalanced muscular development.
Another anatomy-based issue that can affect someone’s instep (another term for arch!) while dancing is being born flat-footed (though one can also develop flat feet!) This essentially means your feet, when you’re standing straight, are literally flat to the ground from every angle. Once again, flat feet don’t only cause a problem for dancers—they can lead to increased stress on your knees, back, and spine whether or not you know how to jig!
But how to improve? One thing to keep in mind is what you’re trying to strengthen. Make sure any additional research you do is tailored to the specific issue you’re combatting—pronation versus supination, etc.—or you can end up exacerbating the problem.
But if it’s general arch and ankle strength you’re looking for, theraband exercises are still the go to. Don’t worry if you don’t have one! There’s plenty of exercises you can do with household objects—like Miss Courtney’s suggestions: laying a towel on the floor and using your toes to scrunch it together or putting Legos, marbles, etc. on the floor and using your toes to collect them! (Which also sounds pretty entertaining.) Or check out this list of easy household exercises that Feis America Magazine contributor Caitlin Buck has put together!
This post is part of a series. Check out our last technique post, all about height on toes, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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