Things You'll Need
- Tennis Ball
- Elastic Band
Because of the nature of their craft, ballet dancers spend a great deal of time thinking about – perhaps even obsessing over -- their arches. Some women are blessed with naturally high arches, which contributes greatly to the line they achieve in pointe shoes. Others struggle to add height to their arches and often wonder if there are any shortcuts to achieving the look they want. Improving your arches may be possible with sensible exercises and controlled stretching, though it may be wiser to focus on developing overall strength and flexibility in your feet.
Stretch your feet after working at the barre. As reported in Dance Magazine, Joffrey ballet mistress Charthel Arthur suggests a stretching exercise that begins in a standing position facing the barre, with feet parallel. Keep your feet several inches apart. Bend the knees very slowly in demi plie. Lift the heels from the floor, stretch the arches as far forward as possible and keep your weight over your toes. Be careful to press all your toes into the floor and avoid sickling. Hold the demi pointe as you slowly straighten your knees. Reverse the sequence by bending the knees, lowering the heels and finally straightening the legs. Repeat the stretch eight times.
Wear your pointe shoes even after the shanks soften. Avoid relying too much on a hard shank to support your weight. According to Arthur, wearing a softer shoe requires dancers to develop greater strength in their feet and legs. Stronger feet enable a greater range of motion and maximum point for your particular foot.
Target the muscles that support the metatarsals through "doming" exercises. Sit in a chair with your feet flat in front of you. Keep your toes and heels on the floor while lifting the arches as much as possible. Avoid tensing the toes as you hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 15 to 20 times. Certified athletic trainer and clinical specialist Megan Richardson suggests rolling out the feet on a tennis ball after doming exercises.
Promote ankle and toe strength through the use of an elastic band. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Relax your feet as you wrap the band around the ball of one foot. Grasp the ends of the band while gently flexing the upper part of the foot toward you. Keep hands close to your body and elbows pointing backward throughout the exercise. Keep knees long and heels on the floor. Hold the flex for about three seconds and then relax the toes. Continue to grasp the band as you reverse the direction of the toes, stretching them away from the body. Hold the forward stretch for three seconds and then relax. Repeat the entire exercise three times and then continue with the second foot.
Take the arch of the foot in your own hands and gently stretch into an arched position. Release the foot and attempt to maintain the arch. Dance Magazine quotes dance instructor Dana Hanson, who prefers gentle manual stretches of this sort to devices that stretch the feet. Dancers should maintain complete control over how much pressure they apply to the arch, says Hanson, and such devices make it difficult to accurately gauge the degree of pressure to the foot. Podiatrist and dance injury specialist Dr. Thomas Novella points out in Pointe Magazine that stretching devices should be avoided by dancers with loose ligaments.
Maintain reasonable expectations. Note that younger dancers will experience better results from stretching their arches than older dancers, due to their greater flexibility.
Do not dance on pointe before your teacher evaluates your strength and readiness and gives you the go-ahead. Do not permit someone to stretch your feet without proper, professional supervision. Overstretching the tops of the feet can lead to strain and will not improve your arches. Avoid exercises that place undue stress on the bony arches of the foot, such as placing the toes under a low couch.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.