Flat Feet & Ballet

Flat Feet & Ballet

image_51Ask any dancer and she’ll tell you– if you have flat feet, your chances of getting on pointe someday aren’t looking good.  In theory, this sounds right.  How can someone with no arch  get “Over The Box” in order to work safely on pointe?  If you have flat feet, you shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet.

The medical term for flat feet is “Pes Planus”.  Humans are born with flat, loose feet.  The arches develop as children grow.  A person who does not develop an arch by age 5-6 will most likely always have flat feet.

In some cases, people with normal arches suffer an injury or illness that causes “fallen arches” on one or both feet that can be permanent.


Two Types of Flat Feet

You read correctly!  There are two types of flat feet.  Rigid flatfoot and flexible flatfoot.

Rigid Flatfoot:  People with rigid flatfoot have feet with flat arches, and a very obvious lack of flexibility in the foot and arch.  The feet are often painful and become fatigued quickly.  It’s possible for bones to fuse together in the foot during young formative years, which can cause pain and should be checked out by a doctor.  Surgery may be needed for this type of foot.

Flexible Flatfoot:  Most people with flat feet have this type of foot.  The arch did not form during the person’s young life, so the tendons are loose causing the arch to touch the floor.  The good news is, this type of foot will also appear arched when pointed!


Pointe & Flat Feet

Dance students with flat feet shouldn’t immediately be overlooked when students are being considered for pointe class.  A simple way to determine the type of flat feet a dancer has is to ask her to releve.  If she appears to have an arch when in releve and while pointing her foot, she has flexible flat feet and will most likely have no troubles getting over the box.

A dancer with rigid flat feet should certainly have her feet looked at by a physician before beginning pointe.  This dancer may not be physically able to get over the box, and prolonged dancing on the edge of the box can result in falls and injury, not to mention lots of frustration.

A dancer with flexible flat feet should have no problems beginning pointe with the rest of her class.  She should be careful with pointe shoe fit and in practice to correctly build up strength in her loose feet.

Fixing Flat Arches

It’s important to note that it’s not possible to “fix” a flat arch without some sort of corrective surgery.  No insole, wrap, brace, foot stretcher, or foot exercise will cause your arch to lift if you have flexible flat feet.  Regular practice in dance class can help strengthen the muscles, but you can’t physically tighten the loose tendons without doctor intervention.  Here are some great products that help stretch, strengthen and alleviate pain from dancing with flat arches.


Flat Feet & Pointe Shoe Fitting

Fitting pointe shoes for dancers with flat feet can be a little challenging.  It’s important to note how flexible the arch is and how compressible the metatarsal area is.

Rigid Flatfoot: A dancer with a rigid flatfoot attempting to go on pointe should look for a pointe shoe with a pre-arched shank.  This will help her feet as they attempt to get over the box.  A flexible, pliable shank can also help this dancer use her feet to her true potential.

Flexible Flatfoot: Dancers with flexible flat feet have loose almost “floppy” feet.  The tendons are loose, which means the feet are often very compressible in the metatarsal and have a very flexible arch.  She usually has no problem getting over the box and might not benefit from a pre-arched shank.  She will need to take care to purchase a shoe with a perfect profile height and a width appropriate to hold her feet in proper position.  Too much room in the shoe can allow her bones to overlap and grind together which is not good.  A medium or even hard shank might be needed to help support this dancer.

It’s important to note that not all dancers with flexible flatfoot will be overly flexible or compressible, but just flexible enough to need a little extra support from a harder shank or softer shank.  Every foot is different!


4 Responses

  1. Ana says:

    I have a question for you. I danced pointe when I was 13/14 and honestly, it was a non-event. I went on pointe super easy and don’t remember ever feeling any pain or discomfort in my pointe shoes. I have returned to ballet classes now as an adult (37) and I am starting beginning ballet pointe classes in a week.
    I went to get professionally fitted, but now I feel discomfort and some pain. Is this normal? Did I get the wrong pointe shoes? My husband told me I weigh a lot more now than I did as a 13 (from about 85 lbs to my current 117lbs) and that of course I am much older, but It did come as a surprise as I thought this was going to be as easy as it was when I was a kid.

    • Hi Ana! High five for returning to ballet! It’s so rewarding, but pointe is so so strange as an adult! I too had a totally different experience on pointe as an adult than I did as a kid. Not sure why!

      It’s hard to say if you purchased the right shoes without seeing your feet in and out of your shoes. Discomfort is normal, that probably won’t really go away, but shooting/stabbing/throbbing pain isn’t normal. It could be coming from any number of places– what hurts? Your shoes could just still be very new, you maybe haven’t found the perfect padding to go with your new shoes (there are sooooo many choices), the shoes could be too short/wide/narrow/wrong shape/wrong anything and cause pain, too. It’s really hard to say.

      I’d recommend working with your instructor to check your shoe fit and receive padding suggestions. Often the gel pads that many manufacturers sell just isn’t the right padding for everyone. Check out my article on padding for more info on that subject!

      If after a few classes you are still having problems, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll help you any way I can, even if that means looking at pics or video of your current shoes and your foot type.

      Good luck and happy dancing!

  2. Tracy says:

    Thank you for sharing all of your hard work and research on pointe shoes! It would be great if you could add a few other brands to your fitting guide such as Chacott and Freed. Chacott was the most comfortable pointe shoe I ever wore, though I now wear Grishkos.

    I started dancing at 26 and I am 32 now. It is always a pleasure to find other adults who love to practice ballet even if we are not suitable to be professional dancers.

    • Hi Tracy, I’m happy to help! I personally was so frustrated in my search for the right pair that I ended up with all of this information and just couldn’t keep it to myself!

      I do plan to include several more brands in the Pointe Shoe Finder, including Chacott, Freed and Gamba, it just hasn’t quite happened yet! I plan to add Freed next. Thanks for stopping by!