Patterns of a Longer Leg

It’s not unusual to have small differences in leg length. It’s often hard to know whether to balance out the difference with a heel lift. If you have questions about whether to use a lift I would encourage you to start with an assessment by a PT or sports physician. They will look at the spinal curves in relationship to the hips and legs. Sometimes the spinal curves even out with a heel lift – other times it might make the spinal curves worse, in which case you would not correct the leg length difference and focus first on balancing out the spinal curves and rotations.

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There are some common patterns with uneven leg lengths. When you look at the picture on the left you see the dancer has a pelvic shift right, torso shift left. The common pattern is to stand on the long leg, because to stand with more weight on the short leg would require you bend the long leg. You can see her left leg is the shorter leg.

Typically you come down heavier on the short leg side on each and every step. Many dancers prefer to stand on their short leg and use their longer leg as the gesture leg – although I have seen the opposite preference also. It certainly can influence the turnout too. More often I see the long leg side having more challenges with turnout. It is easy to understand that for fifth position this dance would prefer to stand on the longer right leg and put their shorter leg in front.

The dancer in this photo improved her spinal curves and standing alignment by putting a small lift under her left heel. It evened out her shoulder line as well as equalizing the amount of weight through both legs. She put a lift in her every day shoes – as well as in her soft slipper. No need to put a lift in a pointe shoe.

For modern dancers sometimes it is enough to have a lift in your street shoes – keeping the musculature working evenly for the majority of the time, then dancing barefoot without the lift. I worked with a Graham dancer back in the day that continued to perform by taping a lift to her heel every day for class and performance. That made all the difference to her knees and kept her from continually stressing them.

With a significant leg length difference it’s important to look at muscle imbalances. If you find the muscles around the right hip tighter, but weaker, then do more stretching and strengthening on that side. Don’t feel you need to do your workout exactly the same on both sides. It is very common to have one iliopsoas muscle tighter than the other and I tell people if you only have time to do one side – do your tighter side, as many times as you can throughout the day. Then as the two sides feel more even, you can reflect that with stretching more equally.

Leg length differences certainly do not need to be a deterrent to your dancing. Everyone has some spinal curves, some muscular imbalances, some postural habits that take us out of symmetry. The goal always is to bring ourselves back into center – to work as evenly as possible between the two sides of our body so the physical stresses from dance do not result in injury.

To your success,

Deborah

2 replies
  1. Anouska Moore
    Anouska Moore says:

    Love this article Deb! As a teacher, I’ve just recently implemented a heel lift for myself in every day and especially for teaching. What a difference! I’d love to know how the Graham dancer taped it to her foot because the sweat is driving me nuts haha. One question I had was: Have you found dancers who’ve implemented the heel lift have some progressive muscle “switching on” as their skeletal/spinal curves are balancing out?

    Reply
    • deborah
      deborah says:

      So glad you have found relief with a heel lift. As far as the Graham dancer she used athletic tape for performances. If you are wearing shoes try attaching it underneath the insole, or some put it in their tights or socks (although that always felt a bit too precarious to me for sliding around) I did have a couple of clients with significant differences and they took the shoes that they wore all the time and had the shoemaker put the lift on the sole of the shoe.

      Yes – I have found dancers and gymnasts change both their curve and their musculature around the spine. Consistency is key for changing postural and muscular habits:)

      thanks for your comment!

      Reply

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