Learning to Articulate the Feet: A 3-Step Guide
In speech, to “articulate” means the ability to express oneself clearly and fluidly. Likewise, a dancer needs to have the ability to move certain parts of their body in a smooth manner that doesn’t look choppy or disjointed. Learning to articulate the feet results in clean lines, and is vital when preparing to dance en pointe. For stronger, elegant feet, follow this 3-step guide.
1. Gain awareness of your feet.
The best way to become acquainted with your feet and how they work is to focus on the basics of ballet technique in flat shoes. First, make sure your technique shoes are professionally fitted. A properly fitted shoe will feel slightly snug around the sides, but your toes should not feel crammed. Once you’re in class, take time to become aware of how your feet feel by walking around the studio. Can you feel the floor underneath you? Or do your feet feel unduly constricted? As you practice plié, are your feet lying flat? When your weight is properly distributed, your feet should feel like miniature tripods, an imaginary line running from your heel, through your arch, past the balls of your feet, connecting to your big toe, then to your little toe, traveling all the way back down to your heel. Like parts of a machine, the different muscles and joints in your feet work together to create specific movements. The more you’re aware of how your feet feel and move, the more you’ll be able to articulate them.
2. Strengthen your ankles.
You can’t articulate your feet very well if your ankles are too stiff or too weak. Many factors contribute to ankle instability such as tight calves, prior injury, or pronation issues. Massaging tight calves and the arches of the feet will help to break up adhesions and increase flexibility. Muscular stiffness, of course, is only one variable of limited function. Tendons connect muscle to bone, and ligaments connect bones to other bones; both work together to create proper joint mobility. When either of these is impaired, range of motion is compromised, making it difficult to point or flex the feet. When working properly, the ankle joints assist the feet to wrap around the leg in coupé, or help you balance in relevé. Taking a few extra minutes before class to warm up the calves and achilles tendons will aid in better performance.
3. Practice correct pointing.
Contrary to popular belief, pointing the foot does not mean simply pointing the toes. To properly point the feet, you must use the muscles from the heels and arches to propel the pointing motion all the way to the tips of your toes. Like a row of dominoes that follow one after the other, your feet begin in the flexed position, and gradually progress into an arched position, with the toes pointing at the finish. The ability to move smoothly and quickly through the flexed and pointed positions is articulation of the feet. For instance, when performing frappé, are you able to strike the balls of your feet in a flexed position to pointing your toes immediately after, returning to the flexed position immediately after that? If you’re considering pointe work, you need to do an honest assessment of your technique to see if you are you able to link your movements together with ease. Pointe shoes are not soft like flat shoes, and they pose greater risk. If you’re unable to successfully master basic ballet technique in flat shoes, attempting to articulate the feet in hard pointe shoes will prove to be an overwhelming, and possibly dangerous, task.
Proper articulation of the feet, with all its specific maneuvering, is like cursive handwriting; the arches of the feet create curved lines, the movement of the feet is like writing beautiful, invisible script, and the pointed toes are like the ink that dots the i. When practicing cursive, you wouldn’t draw random loops on notebook paper; you would start with a particular letter, and follow the ink in one continuous flowing motion, until the word you’re writing is complete. Likewise, when articulating the feet, a dancer must learn how to skillfully create movements with the feet that accomplish a specific goal.