Tuesday, April 05, 2011

To Heel or Not To Heel - That is the Question

I was reading a blog post recently which was about the effect that your wardrobe has on your dancing as well as on the dance scene as a whole. This was on a blog written by brilliant Lindy dancers Dax Hock and Sarah Breck... so I decided to have a peek around and see what else I could find. The very next article I stumbled upon, was one that addressed the idea of wearing heels when dancing. (Why Women Should Wear Heels) I was really surprised by the vehemence with which some of the people responded to this post and the refusal by some to accept that there could be any benefit to wearing heels whatsoever.

All through my training and in many different shows, I have had to get used to the idea of wearing heels to dance. In fact, when it came time to do my showcase at college, my 3 inch character shoes were deemed too small a heel for my height and foot size and so I was sent on a mission to find 4.5inch heels that I could wear instead. I then not only had to do the show and all rehearsals in these new shoes, but also all my Jazz classes as well. From beginning warm-ups to turns and big jumps, my high heels were there. Though the reason for the boost in heel hight was initially a cosmetic one, I very quickly found certain things out about my dancing which I was then able to address both when wearing heels and not. It made me a stronger dancer and  I became very comfortable in my heels. To this day, I prefer to dance in at least a bit of a heel for most styles.

Dancers in the Ballroom world also have the issue to heel or not to heel. Both guys and girls have the choice between different heel heights and the difference between Ballroom and Latin shoes can be extreme. Everyone has their preference and many people remain at the lower end, especially when learning, in order to maximise stability and control.This is sensible and heels also shouldn't be worn purely to prove that you Can.

In the Lindy scene, heels are far less common and I know a lot of people that flat out hate to dance in them. But I think that Sarah's article has a point. Although postures are very different between Ballroom and Lindy, there is something to be said about being placed in a situation which forces you to evaluate exactly how much of your core you really do activate or how you use your contact with the floor to provide momentum and impetus.

Now, no one is saying that every person needs to dance in extremely high heels. Even though I did manage to get through every aspect of my 4.5inch heel experience, I could still jump far higher and with more control when I wasn't wearing them. (The landings were always a little tentative in them... and rightly so!)

And I do recognise that the long term damage of wearing very high heels has been shown in society in general. However, all too often it is the shoes which get the blame when, ultimately, it is the wearer that could have prevented a large part of the problem in the first place. If you know that you are spending a night dancing, a day walking around, or a long work day in heels and don't stretch out your calves afterwards... then I wouldn't blame the shoes when you are a bit sore the next morning! And on a long term basis, preventative maintenance to your feet and calves (as well as lower back) can do a lot to combat the negative effects of high heels AND flat shoes that simply aren't supportive or well made. (High heels aren't the only culprit of damaged tootsies!) As with all dancing, you need to know how what you are doing is affecting your body and take action to prevent injury or long term damage. Warm-ups and cool downs can help tremendously, but how many of us honestly do them to the extent that we know we should?

So Sarah, I have to say, I am on your side. Even if it feels initially a little uncomfortable or tentative - sometimes downright scary - the benefits of working through that process and getting to know yourself and your dancing better is one that I believe is truly worth it.

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