by Diana Devi
Part 2: Exercises and Massage
For Part 1 of the Series - See here
We walk on them all day; we dance on them all night. We all know that when our feet hurt, nothing is enjoyable. This is one major reason why we must take proper care of our feet. Another motivator is that we want to dance until we are in our nineties, just as we have seen in Buenos Aires at the milongas.
So how do we get our feet to take us there? Last time we talked about simple foot care. For this segment, we will focus on exercises and methods to massage, stretch and strengthen our feet. The first set of activities will focus on massage, the second flexibility, and the third on stabilization and strengthening.
None of these exercises should be painful. If you are experiencing pain, STOP what you are doing! Pain is a warning signal from your body telling you something is not right. Please pay attention when your body speaks to you.
The following exercises I have developed over time, designing my own regimen while incorporating relevant components from teachers like Ms. Judith Bragg, my first point teacher; evolving through all of my bodywork and dance experiences including most recently a workshop with Diana Cruz, international Argentine Tango performer and instructor.
Sit comfortably in an upright position in a chair. It is important for you to sit up in the chair. Place one foot on the floor and cross the other foot over that leg, resting your ankle on the knee of the first leg.
Start by massaging the foot beginning at your heel. You can see the areas of the foot here:
Now trace the entire heel area of the foot with your hand, massaging and exploring the area. Feel the inside and outside edges of your foot as well. Do you feel any tension or tightness in the area? Now move down your foot to massage the underside of the foot (the arch) and also the top of the foot. Notice the bones and muscles of the feet. Is the arch tight? Is it tight in one place or in a strip along the bottom? Is it soft? Is it tender to the touch? Notice all of these things. Moving down the foot go to the ball of the foot, gently rub each individual joint, moving from the big toe joint to the smallest toe. Is there tightness between the joints? It is soft and pliable? Again, be an observer! Gently grab the toes with your hand and slowly pull them to extend out from the foot.
At first, go easy –there should be NO PAIN. Want to see if the massage changed anything? After massaging one foot, go for a walk around the room. What do you notice? Does your foot contact the floor differently? How is your balance? Most people notice a big difference. Now repeat on the other side. Try to do this daily, but a minimum of 3 times a week.
To increase flexibility in your feet, I have my students start with stretching the underside of the foot. Many times when we are dancing the arch area becomes tight or shortens, especially if we wear heels. Gently is the name of the game here! You can use a tennis ball or golf ball or any ball in between their sizes for this.
Place the ball in a sock to help control the movement of the ball. I recommend standing beside a chair when you do this exercise so you can control the amount of pressure you place on the ball. This will make more sense in a minute. Place the ball that is in a sock under the arch of the foot farthest away from the chair. Move the ball around until you find a place that is tender. GENTLY apply a small amount of pressure for 15 seconds then slowly release. Move the ball to the next tender spot and repeat. Investigate the entire arch, including the area in front of the heel and both the outside and inside edge of the arch. The whole process can take up to 10 minutes depending on how tight your feet feel.
After you have finished on one side take a walk around the room. What did you notice? Now repeat on the other foot. This can be an intense process so remember to be gentle!
Moving your toes: Start simple and work up from there. I usually sit on the floor for this portion but I have students that do these exercises while sitting in a chair. Find a comfortable position to sit in with one foot on the floor bent at the knee. Place you hand gently over the four smaller toes and raise the big toe up off of the ground. If needed, you can help the big toe move. This movement is not a large movement. The objective is to wake up the big toe.
Next, place your hand over the big toe and raise the other four toes off of the ground. If this is too easy, repeat without the use of your hands. Now move on to lifting one toe at a time while keeping the others pressing into the floor. Challenging to say the least!
Strengthening and Stabilizing
The big toe provides a great deal of stability! Is your big toe trying to meet your little toe by bending towards the smaller toes? If so, there are exercises that can help straighten out the big toe.
The muscle that is responsible for pulling the big toe away from the other toes is the abductor hallicus. If you are interested, you can Google it. This is the site that I recommend (linked from the image):
See the muscle on the left side of the image. This muscle holds the big toe in place to help us be stable when we walk. So, keeping the big toe in the right place is important, particularly when you are walking backwards as you do so often in Tango.
Another way to stabilize your body is to make the ball of the foot wider; the wider the ball of the foot, the more stable we are. The wider the better! The next set of exercises will help to widen the foot and straighten the big toe, which will stabilize you.
To activate the big toe sit in a chair with one leg on the floor. Cross the other leg over, resting it on the stable leg so you can easily reach your foot. Place your thumb on the outside of the ball of the foot below the big toe. With your index finger gently move the big toe away from the other toes. The movement will be very small. This should not hurt. Gently allow the toe to move back, repeat the process several times.
This exercise is waking up the abductor hallicus muscle. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you like. Notice what other parts of your foot and leg are affected by this change. You may notice over the next day or so that the muscle close to your shinbone feels different. That is because you are using your foot in a different way. Repeat this exercise on the other foot.
Now move to a seated position on the floor, legs bent at the knees with your feet on the floor. Place your ankles so they touch each other. Do the same with your big toes. Try to keep the big toes together and spread the toes out as far away from each other as you can while keeping the big toes touching. This can be a challenge, especially for the big toes!
Need help? Place a thick rubber band joining the two big toes at the joints furthest away from the foot. This will help to keep the big toes together. Spread other toes away while keeping the big toes touching each other.
Remain in this position to proceed to more exercises.
Begin by raising the heels off of the floor while keeping the toes spread, big toes still touching each other. Now lower the heel back to the floor again keeping the big toes together. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times slowly, each time thinking about keeping the ankles and the big toes together. It does become easier over time!
For our final exercise, straighten your legs out in front of you while the big toes and ankles are still touching. While still stretching the toes as in the exercise above, flex the feet as you spread the toes to point upwards. Now move your feet down half way to the floor while continuing to spread the toes. Finally, move the foot to point the toes straight outward, yet not quite touching the floor. Your toes should be pointing straight ahead, not curled down.
Now reverse the process, go back up to the 1/2 point, then to the flex foot position. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you like but start with 5 then work up from there.
How do these exercises help? Begin to think about spreading your feet, just like what we did in the exercises every time you take a step. It does not matter if it is forward or backward. Be more conscious of how you use your feet.
I perform the exercises twice daily and at least 5 times per week. The upside is that I am so much more stable and my feet do not hurt as much after a night of dancing!
In addition to this, I wear gel toes or toe spreaders on my feet. I have included a picture of these! Start slow with just a few minutes with the gel toes more toward the end of your foot. As your feet begin to open up you can push the gel toes closer to the ball of your foot. I wear them once or twice daily for at least 30 minutes. If you are ambitious you can do the toe exercises listed above with the toe gels on. The toe gels can be ordered on-line.
My students have reported immediate benefits from these exercises and stretches. I hope the same for you. I have many more exercises but have chosen ones that can be easily explained and do not require a lot of time.
If you want more information or help, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in Part 1 of this blog series? Click here!
on 2014-09-25 03:42 by Oxygen Tango
Diana Devihas a unique approach to Argentine Tango instruction. Her rich background in dance includes classical ballet; tap; jazz; contact improve; modern dance; Middle Eastern and East Indian dance. She is also an educator in Nutrition for the dancer’s body; Gyrotonic for strength and flexibility; Alignment/balance combining the Gohkale and Mahler-Klein methods. From this diverse expertise, students gain tools necessary to sculpt their bodies for sustainable support of their tango dancing. Visualization and meditation are used to reinforce learning.
In the classroom Diana is known for quickly identifying key adjustments necessary to release obstructions or create foundations for better dancing. Students equally appreciate her expertise in tango techniques and her sense of fun. Diana studies with well-known masters in and outside of Argentina. She has performed and taught internationally and is presently teaching and dancing Argentine Tango in Minneapolis Minnesota, where she served as President of the Tango Society of Minnesota for several years.