sinking feet….. understanding corrections

I recently re-read your archived article from January 2006 on “sinking arches.” One of our students has high arches and is experiencing some pain in her instep, to the end that she has been crying, and one of her other teachers thinks it may be “falling” arches.

Are “sinking” arches and “falling” arches the same thing? Is there any more that you can you tell me about this particular issue with arches? I have high insteps also, but I never experienced any problem like this.

Thank you for your help.



A foot that is in neutral has equal weight on the pads of the big toe, little toe and heel. When the weight is evenly spaced like this it helps to maintain the arches of the feet.

When a foot is rolling in or ‘falling’ as some call it that is a pronated foot. This puts strain on the arch and the plantar fascia of the arch. This could be what’s happening to your dancer. I would evaluate by looking at the shape of her foot, and the shape of her Achilles tendon.

With pronation the Achilles tendon is bowed. You can see see that in the picture below left. In the picture below and on the right you can see how a very high arch can also create some problems. It is a less flexible foot and because of that there can be a pull on the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot, and/or they can ultimately roll in or pronate like the picture on the left. Both of these scenarios can cause pain and should be checked out by a podiatrist or physician. Rolling on a pinkie ball or tennis ball can help relieve some tension but ultimately the weight of the body has to be redistributed accurately over the 3 points of the foot.


Dear Deborah,

I was reading your latest blog, and I was thinking about two tools that ballet teachers often use to help their students understand what their bodies should be feeling and what they should look like. I noticed this in a recent class, with a very good teacher, and it reminded me of the many times I have heard this before. Now that I am more educated, I interpret it differently, and maybe you can confirm my change in thinking and even assist students and teachers with these two “tips”.

The first is to “tighten the knee”. The fleshy part of your quadriceps just above your knee cap should be pulled up tight. Teachers will point to this and poke it, until the student makes it “tight”.

When I was younger, I simply pushed the knee in the opposite direction (hyperextension). This achieved the external appearance the teacher was looking for, and so I thought I was on the right track. Unfortunately, as my quadriceps ballooned, I had no idea why. (other hip alignment issues helped this along) I felt like my teachers were just as frustrated with me as I was with my own body. I was only doing what they told me to do! If I had known that you could “tighten” that muscle in *two different ways* and achieve the same external result, it might have helped. Now I think of *lengthening the leg out of the hip socket* and surprise – the quadriceps “lifts”, but the feeling is much different. So now, I think I understand better what they were trying to tell me all along.

[Deb’s response: ‘Lifting’ the knee cap – or ‘tightening’ the knee both ask the quadriceps muscles to engage and contract. I have always disagreed with the idea it should be tight all the time – that only creates a bulkier muscle and fatigues it too. What you translated that correction into was wonderful. You lengthened the distance between the pelvis and the knee joint, consequently lengthening the quadriceps rather than just locking them, and it felt different. Excellent!]

The second is to “squeeze the butt”. Again, my backside ballooned a la J-Lo, and I had no idea why. So I squeezed harder, which made it worse. All the while my turnout was getting worse, not better. Only recently I understood that there are several gluteal muscles, and not all of them are engaging to assist the outward rotation of the hip. Some can actually get in the way. When I stand in first and tendu to second, and rotate the gesture leg in and out, and I focus on *relaxing* my “butt” and focus on the deep rotation of the femur, (along with the long legs I mentioned before) I find that I am more in tune with the actual rotator muscles and the gluteus maximus gets out of the way and lets my leg rotate! And my butt is much smaller (yay). And my teacher gets the physical reaction they were looking for, which is a “tight bottom”.

[Deb: Another good example that constant contraction builds bulk – and dancers don’t need to look like Mr. and Ms. Atlas! When you are standing in first and doing tendu to the side you will be be in slight flexion at the hip. Most dancers don’t have 180 degrees of turnout so if you follow the line of your first you will tendu on a diagonal forward. The main gluteal muscle does assist in rotating the leg when you are extending the hip. Meaning, it only helps when you are taking the leg behind you. Yea for finding the deep lateral rotators underneath the gluteals!]

So I am getting the same corrections, but interpreting them differently, and this has made all the difference.

Thanks in no small part to you. [Deb: Thank you for your kind words – and congrats on your new insights!]

[Deb: Ginger came to the first summer conference on Analyzing Movement that was held at Oberlin College last June. I’m firming up the date for summer 2010 – will send details soon!]

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