The stretch ballet flat – friend or foe?
“Small changes can produce big results – but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.”
The basic stretch ballet flat is easy to fit, easy to stock, easy to wear – and wear out – and typically cheaper. The stretch ballet flat, that is little more than a glorified sock with a turning base, is the path of least resistance. Simple, easy, and on the surface at least, seems to have few down sides.
Yet is this true?
While it’s clear that the incidence of injury in dance studios is on the increase, one of the more opaque areas of concern is that many injuries in dance often tend towards being longer-term, creeping up on dancers with the affects not seen until people reach their mid 20’s or 30’s, years after they’ve typically left the studio environment.
This review supports common opinion in the current literature that dance footwear is inadequate for protecting the foot and could be a risk factor for injury to the foot and ankle. Poorly fitted shoes, the lack of adequate shock absorbing materials in footwear, and high-heeled shoes have all been identified as being causes of injury.
Effect of Footwear on Dancers – a systematic review*
And as the quote from the systematic review above makes clear, many such long-term injuries from dance start due to something as seemingly banal as badly fitted and/or non-optimal footwear.
“The best way for a foot to move – for the toes to spread and lengthen – to balance, to walk and support the rest of the body, in my opinion, is always barefoot.
Yet when it comes to ballet there are certain ‘extra’s’ occurring that make barefoot obviously impossible! Turns, jumps and simply pivoting on one leg on Tarkett require more support than bare feet can normally provide.
So when it comes to choosing footwear for dance there’s a balance I look for between allowing the bones of the foot to be in the most natural ‘barefoot like’ shape as possible, so that distortion and strain don’t creep into technique, while still having the support necessary to safely enable multiple turns and soft landings in jumps etc.
That support should ideally come as a, ‘reminder nudge’ for the muscles of the feet rather than a command, so that the dancer can adapt and grow their facility and technique sustainably and safely.
That ‘reminder nudge’ should come as support for the arches, alignment for the ankles and shock absorption during landing from jumps, yet always in such a way that it augments rather than overpowers the bare foot experience.”
Zac Jones – Founder of Heal Yourself & Move
A typical stretch ballet flat is a wonderful innovation, if you’re a professional performer with a solid, well-developed technique and your growth plates have closed and your bones have solidified.
And yet, with so much that is produced in the world e.g. protein powders, vitamin pills, water with recovery minerals etc. they’re typically products developed for elite performers to provide .01% improvement, which might mean the difference between winning or not in the professional field. Yet that market is relatively small and so producers need to find a “sell” in order to reach the mass market to make their initial R&D investment worthwhile. Whether it’s ethical or not aside, we have to then be a little savvy as consumers and ask; just because a superstar and/or Influencer is wearing, drinking or eating a particular product etc. does that mean it’s right for me? Is it a complete waste of money, or worse, could it potentially be doing me harm over the long term?
Your typical stretch ballet shoe offers little-to-no support, no alignment guidance and no impact protection. And while this might be OK for limited use for a professional dancer during performances, is this the right shoe for young children to train in?
“It can take time as a growing dancer to develop good control of the areas higher up the chain from the foot, such as knee, hip-centering and turnout control. Having something that can improve proprioceptive feedback for the feet can assist with sensory awareness and even fascial connections in the joints ‘up stream’.
In an ideal world our feet would be so strong and capable as to master any shoe we choose to wear.
In reality, it takes time and effort for us to achieve this. A shoe with no support would need a well-developed foot, both with mobility and strength, and this may not be where the younger dancer is currently at with their training and development.
There’s a difference between a shoe with no support or one with so much motion control that almost prevents movement, versus a shoe with dynamic support that works with the foot to assist with movement feedback in a way that facilitates the natural motion of the foot, and how this motion affects the joints above.”
Sally Harrison – Founder of Pro-Align & Strength 4 Dance
A child’s growth plates remain open well into their late teens. As they go through growth spurts their bones thin slightly and then thicken again once the spurt is over. During this thinning period, which can only be assessed by a medical professional, they are more vulnerable to injuries caused by impact forces.
Further, young dancers typically don’t have the technical foundation of a professional dancer. Therefore, the suite of choices we make and provide – good flooring, good syllabus, good teachers, good medical supervision and good footwear – are the core building blocks in ensuring our care and protection of their young, still developing bodies.
There’s no magic bullet to remedy all issues or build great, uninjured dancers. It’s a suite of choices, consistently applied over time as best we can, that we make as part of our community duty of care for young people.
Footwear is not inconsequential. Footwear matters. Both the fit and the quality.
MDM is dedicated to producing the most dynamically supportive dance footwear in order to help fulfil every studios duty of care toward the dancers of today and tomorrow.
Intrinsic Profile 2.0
The Intrinsic Profile combines all that is good and positive about stretch footwear, with our need to give “dynamic support” or a “reminder nudge” to developing bodies via the addition of MDM’s patented, Dance Base Support technology.
It’s the perfect balance between the freedom and comfort young dancers want, and the support and structure young bodies need.
“Many years ago, when I first started teaching, ballet shoes came with a strong leather sole providing the young foot good support, yet the foot had to work hard in these shoes.
In time, the more solid leather sole was replaced with a softer suede sole and this was much easier to dance in, yet now the feet had less resistance to work against when pointing.
Finally, we arrived with the split sole ballet shoe, which while it better articulates the shape of a pointed foot, gives no resistance or feedback.
When such footwear is coupled – especially in my home country of New Zealand – with poor quality school shoes, which do not support the young foot adequately, the consequence is that I see many feet chronically pronating and that are not properly aligned.
I’m therefore very much in favour of a ballet shoe that provides tactile feedback to the arch to encourage the foot to be placed correctly over the natural three points of support equally.
The only ballet shoe I’ve come across to give this adequate feedback to the foot, is made by MDM.”