I have been obsessing about shoes for a long time and obsessing about writing a blog about them for months. And I find that I can’t write about shoes without talking about feet!
How ironic to look back on my relationship with shoes. Maybe part of it was learned from my mother who I remember coveted shoes. My childhood memories consist of an early impression of a lovely pair of mary janes and then I used to look forward to summers when I could get a new color of Dr. Scholl’s sandals. Somewhere in the midst of a growth spurt I was observed to have fallen arches, which spawned a whole adventure in office visits to sports doctors and orthopedists. Which eventually resulted in a very ugly orthotic which could only fit in what looked like very uncool nurse’s shoes, especially when you’re a teenager. Ugh! The challenge became looking for a cool shoe that I could sneak my orthotics into.
Somewhere during my shoe adventures I took my first modern dance class – no shoes! And I loved it. I’m sure the dancing barefoot helped my feet and my arches.
So when tango came along and I had to wear shoes – let alone 3 – 4 inch heels, I thought – “no way”.
14 years of tango and several pairs of Flabella’s later I have found myself completely interested in Tango Shoes. Besides the questions that most people ask, “What makes a tango shoe a tango shoe?” I have been observing those tango shoes on the milonga dance floors and I ask more importantly, “Why did you pick that shoe?” and thus “Why do women wear shoes that don’t fit them?”
I observe toes hanging off the edge of the shoe, bunions popping out of the sides of shoes, heels dying to come out for air, bandaids crawling off the toes, toes that are too short and excess shoe exposed at the front of the shoe. Not to mention the off-the-dance-floor- conversations of “oh my feet hurt”, “anyone have a bandaid?”, “do you think I can get my heels shortened?”, “have you heard of oliva’s, petals, cushy insoles, foam padding?” REALLY ladies?
And then come the injuries – plantar faschiatis, bone spurs, shortening of the tendons in the heel, shin splints, back pain, ….. just to name a few.
So what does it take to get ladies to stop buying with their eyes and start to shop intelligently. Don’t you want a shoe that fits, actually fits your foot? And feels as comfortable as a high heel can??
One of my interests in my dance training has been anatomy and kinesiology. In a nutshell, there are 26 bones in the foot. And the miraculous design of the foot allows it to flex, point, evert and invert. And the foot does not work in isolation, there are muscles in the calf and ankle, into your knees that assist in making all those movements. The body works as a unit. That back pain? That knee pain?
So do we just blame it on the shoes? Or on our bad posture or a somewhat sedentary lifestyle? Do we all have to be buff and in shape to wear sexy shoes?? I do think that proper training, alignment and body awareness will definitely help your body and your dancing. But if you are wearing shoes that actually fit your foot that will help you as well.
I had a conversation recently with traveling tango teacher who mentioned that when she first started to dance there were only 2 places to buy shoes, only a few materials and styles available. The fact was that you would judge a woman’s dancing by looking at her feet, at her technique. And now – there is so much variety and so much choice. I have taken women to Buenos Aires repeatedly and watched them bring back suitcases filled with shoes. Some return to the US and never dance again. What would it be like if those women spent that money on lessons in order to actually dance well in a nice pair of shoes!
So if you’re not a dancer or a person accustomed to wearing high heels, let alone for dancing, you are probably asking the same question – WHY do it?
Ladies, is the only answer “the shoes are SO cute? Beautiful? Sexy? Different?”
Let’s break some of this down. I am not a shoe doctor or a shoe maker but I do have a vested interest in ladies’ technique and in the idea that we can dance for many years to come. I’ll discuss briefly the shoe, the body and foot health and make some suggestions on what to look for in a shoe.
1. The FOOT
As I mentioned, the foot has 26 bones in it. It has the possibility for many actions – if you aim your toes towards the ceiling you have flexion; you can aim the toes away from your body and point them; you can roll the whole foot towards the lateral sides and the opposite, towards the arches. These articulations are happening at what we call the ankle and a few other complicated combinations of foot muscles, tendons.
With all this potential for movement the feet carry us along, they bear our weight, and we just shove them into a lovely shoe that could be causing us some damage. Maybe not immediately but I’m sure over the long term.
Our feet need care. Consider some relievers, some stretches and regular attention. Please feel free to submit your favorite foot care routine so others can benefit as well.
I am a big fan of hot and cold foot baths. Even if it’s not a full blown bath I often stay in the shower a few extra minutes with my feet sitting under the faucet running only cold water. I love Epsom salts in warm water too. And definitely do not shy away from cold water especially after a long night of dancing your feet will thank you later when you wake up!
There a lot of cool devices on the market too for foot care. But even just a tennis ball to place under your foot and roll it around feels good. I have a fantastic wooden rolling pin-like device that has little ridges on it. It was a gift from my modern dance days and I use it every day. I sit at my desk and roll my feet on it while I’m working. Massage is good, theraband stretches are great and easy enough. You can take a theraband or even a towel and wrap under the metatarsals (just under where your toes articulate on the bottom of your foot) and pull those toes towards your nose.
As with any stretching, I highly recommend breathing and taking it easy, don’t over do it, and be gentle with your body. Don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities. So this means listening to when it hurts and stop!
There are so many more feet exercises and I highly recommend getting into some routine to save them and keep them healthy. After all they do keep you walking and dancing, they deserve a little love!
2. So what do I think about The SHOES
I think it is so wonderful that we have choices. But we have sacrificed nice foot work for a cute shoe that we can barely walk in, let alone dance in.
So let me share what I look for in a shoe. When I try on a shoe I stand up in them to see what happens. There are some shoe brands that when I stand up my foot slides forward and thus my toes go to the edge if not hang off the front of it. But if I stand up and there is no sliding and my heel is intact in the back, there’s no excess hanging out the arch-side or the toe side I am almost happy. I also feel where the bulk of my weight lands in the shoe. I enjoy using my feet when I dance. I want to be able to feel an important articulation indicated in this picture by the purple area. As I dance I am using my whole foot. Not just landing on the metatarsals (balls of the feet) or just using my heels but using the whole foot and trying to keep my torso aligned over this purple area. So I want a shoe that supports this for me.
I also think that working your way to a higher heel is the way to go. If your foot has never needed to bend or flex then waking up the feet, taking care of them, and starting out in a lower heel is definitely sensible.
As I mentioned before, we are lucky to have choice. Try on many brands of shoes, they are not made the same. The relationship between between the arch and the heel are not created equally. This is why if you have a higher arch sometimes a higher heel actually feels better if the arch of the shoe makes contact with your arch. (Shameless plugs in a minute.)
I also just recently read a blog The Science of High Heels (http://www.totangoblog.ca/the-science-of-high-heels/) and I appreciate the research they have done however, my only question for them would be to clarify the position of the pelvis.
Many of you have read my blog on the pelvis and I do believe that the posture in Tango is becoming compromised and that more injuries are on the horizon due to bad posture and the heels. I go back to what Graciela Gonzalez has taught me, which is to have my torso, from crotch to head over my foot, just beyond the arch towards the toes and to use my whole foot when dancing. There is relief here. I dance my body and I definitely want to continue dancing for many years to come.
3. Shameless Plugs
I have not tried on every shoe that is out there but have been lucky to have tried on and tried out many. I have been a pretty loyal Flabella shoe wearer for my entire tango career. Don’t roll your eyes! I’m not talking about anything else except the shoe that fits my foot and that I can wear dancing all night right away. My first official tango shoes (after the hand me downs my teacher gave me) were from Flabella and the leather was soft, the heel was low and I loved them.
In 2010 I bought my first Soy Porteñas and was worried about the height of the heel. I ended up wearing them for several hours for an entire weekend for my first Tango Competition. I couldn’t believe how great they were. They are my new favorite shoe brand. They have recently come out with a lower heel height and I have to say that the lower heel, for me, does not help to place my body where I need to be on my foot. Go figure!
In summary – pay attention to your feet, soak them, rub them, roll them, have someone do all that for you, but take some care of them. My reflexologist said to me that the feet are like the bottom of the ocean, they collect sediment too. And secondly, shop around for shoes. Try not to fall in love at first sight but at first try on instead.
And finally, I am really happy that so many people are taking an interest in learning more about their feet and their bodies. There are several articles and blogs available online about feet and high heels. Ask more questions and try on many pairs!