As a ballet dancer, you subject your feet to a tremendous amount of stress, and they must be both strong and supple to absorb the constant pressure. If your feet are not in top condition or if your technique is shoddy, you increase your risk of sustaining injury. At the same time, each of your feet is a natural extension of your leg line, so proper placement is essential for aesthetic reasons. To improve the functionality and look of your feet, and to protect yourself from injury, engage in a variety of exercises to stretch and strengthen them, and be vigilant about maintaining alignment and using proper technique.
Stretch and strengthen the arches of your feet with dance-specific exercises. Stand barefoot facing the ballet barre in first position. Slowly lift your heels, pushing up gradually and deliberately onto the balls of your feet. Focus on proper form as you press your arches over the balls of your feet while maintaining upper-body alignment and straight knees. Hold briefly before slowly lowering back through your feet. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 slow rises and repeat in second position. Add ankle weights for greater resistance.
Manipulate the bony arch at the top of each foot with a gentle manual stretch. Seat yourself in a sturdy chair with your right foot resting on your left thigh. Point your right foot, grasp the foot in both hands and apply light pressure to the arch. Relax the foot, then repeat the stretch. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions before continuing with the left foot.
Build strength and increase flexibility in your ankles. Increasing the range of motion in your ankle joints will leave you with feet that are more versatile and responsive to jumps and quick changes in direction. Basic heel-raises on the edge of a step and seated ankle rotations are effective ankle exercises that involve no equipment. Use a resistance band for an ankle regimen that includes point-and-flex, inversion and eversion exercises.
Point the entire foot — not just the toes — when you dance. Aim for a long, continuous line that runs from your hip or knee and extends along your lower leg, the top of your foot and your toes. Avoid a jarring break in the line at the ankle joint when you point.
Shed tension from your feet when you point. When you fully point, your feet must remain sufficiently relaxed and pliable to execute fast, intricate footwork. Work through your feet whenever you brush them along the floor, rise onto demi- or full-pointe, and jump. Always articulate fully through the heel, metatarsal bones and toes.
Avoid sickling — an undesirable inversion of the feet — when you stand on demi-pointe. Press all of your toes into the floor equally, and press the heel of your foot upward and forward to prevent the unaesthetic line of sickling. If you began dancing later in life, you may have insufficient mobility in your feet, which can cause sickling in a high demi-pointe. Lower your heels slightly to maintain proper foot alignment.
Ensure that you wear properly fitting shoes that emphasize the curve of your foot. If you dance en pointe, experiment with different pointe shoe brands, and box and shank strengths, to find the optimal ratio of support-to-pliability. If your toe boxes or shanks have grown too soft, promptly replace your shoes to prevent injury.
Avoid using mechanical stretching devices or other extreme stretching techniques in your effort to improve your feet. Taking an extreme approach to stretching can result in injury related to overstretching.