"Ballet: Agony of the Feet" by Tim Burton Taken from The Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, September 6,1998
Ballet dancers have a secret. It is hidden under satin, and we are further distracred by the grace and the beauty of a dancer's body in motion. Insiders are hesitant to reveal the secret for fear of embrassing the dancers, but the truth remains.
Dancers have ugly feet.
The years of pounding and strain that their feet endure create crooked toes, discolored nails and skin rubbed raw. Not to mention calluses, corns, and bunions.
The wear and tear is endured to achieve performances that appear graceful and effortless.
"It looks so beautiful but it's physically brutal," says Lisa Hansen about the ballet.
Hansen is one in a group of physical therapists from Orlando Regional Rehabilitation Services who completed baseline screening for the Southern Ballet Theatre last week. Along with an orthopedic physican and an athletic trainer, they donate their expertise to measure and record the dancers' basic range of motion and fitness as a background for an future injury treatments.
The first stop for the dancers in the afternoon of measuring everything that bends was to step on a large protractor. They pointed their toes outward, toward ballet's "first position." The dancers casually swivel their toes toward 80 or 85 degrees. the extra push to a perfect 90 degrees is easy.
The dancers can bend so easily, says Hansen, because they have all started stretching out pliable limbs as childern in early dance classes. As adults their overall range of flexibility is off the charts, even compared to athletes the therapists normally treat.
The dancers have superb strength. Usually, the therapists see either strength or flexibility in athletes, but not both. The dancers, says Hansen are in better shape than almost any football player.
The dancers also can bend their knees slightly backward into hyper- extension. It's a talent that may come back to haunt them.
"It's good for ballet," concedes Hansen, "but it's bad when you're 60.'
From Barefoot to Balanchine: How to Watch Dance by Mary Kerner (1990) pages 124-125
Before every performance, ballerinas execute a variety of rituals to don their pointe shoes. Some wet the shoe's heel to help it adhere better to their tights, while others place glue inside the heel of the shoe. Preparation of a dancer's pointe shoes may take as long as the entire time allocated to makeup, hairstyling, and costuming.
All those layers of stiff materials interspersed with glue that compose the box lose their body with repeated dancing--and foot perspiration. When the box becomes too soft to perform in, the shoes are either discarded or worn in place of technique slippers for class...After dancers have left the theater, the dressing room floor is strewn with worn-out shoes--some pairs used less than an hour...
Each ballerina has her own method of ensconing her toes in Band-Aids, adhesive tape, or lamb's wool to prevent or protect blisters while dancing for so many hours on the tips of her toes. Although feet toughen and form calluses after years of dancing on pointe, blood from blisters rubbed faw against the stiff box may cake and dry in the toes of pointe shoes. It could seem a prardox that something so beautiful onstage can cause pain, but New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine saw no reason why offstage realism should affect an audience's enjoyment of the performance: "Women who dance have ugly feet. Their feet aren't pretty anymore, but they're professional." The man who made ballet for women, a supremacy that had been developing since the day she first stood on her toes, said: "It takes fifteen years to acquire the technique of pointes."
From Ballet Life Behind the Scenes by Wendy Neale (1982) page 33
A girlís feet take the most excessive abuse during her years in ballet. From the
beginning she must build up calluses for protection when doing pointe work,
and there will be very few moments while she is dancing that her feet are not
Dancers wear various forms of protection around their toes. Lambís wool is
recommended, although it is by no means used exclusively. Tissue or pieces of
thick plastic bag are frequently wound around toes before they are put into