Did you know that with strong feet you are able to move each of your toes separately? And that a mysterious type of feet muscles is responsible for most of the precision and sophistication we need in tango?
Why do we need to strengthen our feet muscles?
We often talk about how the core muscles control our body’s balance and posture, but the muscles of our feet play a huge part too. They correct our weight when it shifts to the outside of our body, thus ensuring that the movements of our centre remain subtle and precise.
They also ensure that when we transfer our weight from one leg to the other, the transfer happens gradually. Let’s take the example of a backward step: there is a crucial moment when the weight is transferred – before we land – that needs to happen gradually: instead of landing with the whole foot all at once, using all the muscles of our feet to roll out the feet gradually from toes to ankles makes the dancing much smoother.
The intrinsic muscles of the feet
The muscles of the feet are incredibly complex – and aplenty: we have more than 100 muscles in our feet and ankle. But basically there two types of feet muscles: the intrinsic muscles and the external muscles.
- The external muscles start in the lower leg or tibia and are linked to the bones of the feet.
- The intrinsic muscles are the ones that interest us here. They are small muscles that start and end within the foot. They are 4 layers if them in each of our foot and they are key in all the subtle weight shift work that we use in tango.
Strengthening and lengthening
These muscles can be strengthened: you’ll be glad to hear that it’s possible to move each of our toes separately. Yes. Which it’s a long way from where most of us stand, with completely underdeveloped intrinsic muscles. Apparently, our urban lifestyle is at fault:’walking barefoot on different kinds of ‘floors’ (sand, wood, grass…) is the best way to develop those muscles – but not really what we do every day in the center of the city.
So, us city dwellers need to strengthen and lengthen them consciously. The good news is: it’s quite fun to do.
I went back to the websites I used when I danced ballet (ballet dancers are the best when it comes to feet muscles…) and it looks like the best exercises are also simplest. So here is an exercise from Lisa Howells, a renowned physiotherapist best known for her work on ballet dancers’ feet. Please watch the video below as she’s a great teacher, but basically, the exercise is: sitting in the floor, with the legs stretched in front of you (hips lose), slowly extend the feet into demi-pointe, then pointe. Then slowly come back into demi-pointe, then relaxed feet.
Do this every day for the next two weeks and we’ll see the results on the dance floor:)