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The feet.

Dancers depend on strong, supple feet to finish a line, support a jump's landing, and provide stability. But strengthening the feet, in both modern and ballet, can become secondary to working on larger body parts. "We spend so much time on alignment and the core that sometimes the feet are forgotten," says Deborah Wolf, who teaches modern dance at Cornish College for the Arts. "Dancers who know how to let weight fall through the feet into the floor have a beautiful sense of transition between movements, as well as ample cushioning for jumps." DM explored how to break bad feet habits with help from Wolf, Vera Timashova of Canada's National Ballet School, and Ballet West's physical therapist, Kevin Semons.

HABIT: Sickling Sickling the foot (pointing, but turning in) not only breaks the line of the leg at the ankle but also puts you at risk for injury. Semons notes that the foot is more likely to sickle when lifting off the ground. "If the foot is pointed on the ground, you have the nerves giving feedback from the floor of what part is touching," he says. "But when the foot comes off, you don't have that feedback anymore, and sickling can occur."

* BREAK IT: According to Semons, the muscles that pull the foot into a sickled position--the inside of the calf and arch--are often stronger than the muscles on the outside of the foot, which are responsible for "winging." To strengthen those outer muscles, sit on the floor, wrap a Thera-Band around the arch, and pull the foot into a winged position. Do three sets of 15 repetitions, first with the foot pointed, then flexed. Repeat the exercise with the ankle perpendicular to the floor (sitting in a chair, feet flat on the ground) to mirror the position of standing.

HABIT: Uneven Weight Distribution Resting into one part of the foot might feel natural when standing in place, but it poses problems when it comes to balancing and moving through space. Semons says this habit often begins during downtime in class. "When dancers are standing around, there's a tendency to roll into the arch," he says. "Eventually the habit creeps into dancing."

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BREAK IT: When dealing with a weight imbalance in the foot, the first place to investigate, says Wolf, is the pelvis. "Check to see if a dancer's pelvis is neutral and if they are truly turning out from the rotators. If not, they will have a lack of connection down the leg into the foot." For balancing in releve, Wolf recommends the following exercise: Think about a tripod of weight distribution, the two outer edges of the ball of the foot, and the middle of the heel. "Fire the hamstrings, and lift the heels a half inch off the floor," she says. "Hold for 32 counts, then lower and repeat. If you can maintain the weight correctly at this starting point, you'll be able to do so throughout full rising and lowering."

HABIT: Disconnect from the Floor Directing weight through the feet into the floor creates a grounded, fluid quality of movement; it also generates the downward energy needed to propel the body upward. Wolf refers to performers without this connectedness as "shape dancers: dancers who copy what they see and only go for the end result. There's a lack of moving through the metatarsal with articulation."

* BREAK IT: Timashova says a connection with the floor comes first and foremost through a deep plie, which energizes the entire leg. She also recommends focusing on brushing down through the ground when working in tendu. Wolf's advice: "Breathe into the body, and then down into the feet. Think about how you work through all the stages of even a simple step like a tendu. Throughout each moment, let the energy drop down and out through the feet and then into the ground."

Lauren Kay, a Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.
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Title Annotation:BREAK YOUR BAD HABITS
Author:Kay, Lauren
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2010
Words:658
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