Modern Dance: No Footwear Beware!

Modern dance poses many unique problems. Unlike most other dancers the modern dancer does not wear a covering over the foot. Without a shoe the foot is exposed to significant friction against the floor. More than other dancers, the modern dancer is prone to blisters, calluses and abrasions.

Treating the modern dancer also poses a unique challenge. Applying a bandage, padding or bracing to the dancer’s foot, without a shoe, will leave the material visible during performing. Without treatment, healing and resolution of the injury will be delayed and further exacerbated. For the modern dancer, body make-up or a comparable skin-colored, cover-up material can be applied and will usually make the material invisible to an audience.

Dance surfaces for contemporary dancers are extremely important. Floor surfaces can cause damage to a dancer’s feet. And while all dancers are affected by the surface they dance on, the modern dancer is more susceptible to problems with flooring because they are barefoot. Hard wooden surfaces lacking any give and are dangerous to the lower extremities. Concrete slabs are worse, yet many dance classes are conducted on such floors. Dancing on too soft of a surface is also problematic. Thick carpet with a foam base offers no lateral stability, the ankle has a tendency to roll, making ankle sprains more likely.

In general, wooden floors offer the best lateral foot stability. The floor should be resilient and have a spring-like effect to absorb force. Concrete, asphalt, cement, and other pavements are very unforgiving on the feet. Dancers performing on city streets or in parks on hard pavements are more susceptible to traumatic injuries.

A dance floor that absorbs force reduces fatigue elements. Less force has to be absorbed by the knee, the primary shock absorber for the body, when the force is going into the give of the floor. A dancer landing from a jump creates a force equal to 4 times their body weight. If the floor does not absorb some of that force, it will go back into the lower extremity. That type of force not only affects the knee, but can also injure the foot, ankle, hip, back or neck.

The floor surface should be smooth without being slippery. Any uneven area can cause injury. The floor surface should not affect the dancer’s balance, alway inspect the floor before dancing. Water, powder, rosin, sand and any other material should be wiped away as it’s inviting cause for potential injury.

Jazz shoes are made out of a variety of materials, from hard nappa leather to the finest quality doeskin. The bottom of the shoe can be either rubber or suede. The shoe can also be flexible with a collapsible heel or non-flexible with a stitched-down heel.

For the novice, choosing a jazz shoe is often difficult. There are several ways to tell if the shoe is right or wrong. First, when toes are pointed, does the sole of the shoe cling to the arch of the foot? Second, when standing flat, is the heel of the foot squarely in the center of the heel of the shoe? Lastly, when on half-toe, or relevé, the ball of the foot flat on the floor, or does the foot feel as though it has a dent in the center of the ball? A shoe that does not satisfy in these three areas will never be right. It probably will rip from the strain on the leather before the shoe ever stretches enough to comfortable.

Jazz shoes come in several styles. The classic jazz shoe is a lace-up flat with a chrome suede sole, a rubber sole, or a stitched suede sole with a rubber heel. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, shoes with stitched soles and rubber heels are not very flexible and the stitching wears out quickly unless rosin is applied for protection.

Today, the most popular jazz flats are those with rubber soles. At first it might seem to you that the rubber sole will hamper your ability to turn, but after a short time the rubber wears down enough to make that motion easy. Rubber soles also take longer to wear out and require no rosin to prevent slipping.

Other types of shoes used for jazz range from a tiny strap of leather with a half sole to Grecian sandals (a T-strap flexible shoe with a suede bottom), to a lace-up soft leather boot. The type of jazz dancing that you are doing usually determines the type of shoe needed. Some female dancers find that taking class and rehearsing in a higher-heeled shoe makes stage dancing and auditioning easier. Female more often dance in shoes that have at least two inch heels.

Jazz shoes with heels fall into the character shoe category. Character shoes are shoes that fit into every category of dancing. They are used for ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom, folk and ethnic dance. The basic character shoe for women is a heeled shoe with the heel ranging from 1.5 to 3 inches in height. A shoe with a heel higher than 1.5 inches should have a heel that can be braced. Braces are small brackets that are placed between the heel and the sole of the shoe and hammered in to keep the heel from breaking off. Jazz shoes should also have a layer of cat’s paw rubber applied to the sole and heel of the shoe. The rubber should be attached as far as the instep of the shoe so that it will not peel off easily. The rubber protects the soft leather sole, keeps the stitching from wearing out too quickly and the bottom of the shoe from becoming slick.

Tap shoes come in every imaginable shape from high-button boots to sneakers. The important thing to remember about tap shoes is the fit of the tap to the shoe. The more space the tap covers the better. The toe tap must be flush with the end of the shoe and fit straight across. That goes for heels as well.