As any ballet dancer knows, dancing en pointe takes a major toll on your feet. Some of the most common foot problems dancers experience affect the toes and the balls of their feet. For the most part, ballerinas top five foot complaints are:
- “My big toe hurts”
- “The balls of my feet hurt.”
- “My soles hurt when I walk.”
- “I have pain on the balls of my feet when I’m dancing”
- “The bottom of my big toe hurts.”
Many different conditions can be responsible for these nagging problems. Bunions, joint instability, plantar fasciitis (inflammation in the tissue that connects your heels to your toes), deep bruising and rubbing joints are all commonly seen in dancer’s feet, and all can be treated in different ways.
Dancer’s spend hours padding their bunions, icing their bruised feet and watching their blackened toe nails slowly fall off. It’s almost a point of pride in the sport—the uglier the feet, the more professional the ballerina! But what if, instead of just accepting and treating dancer’s foot problems, we could prevent many of the issues from ever developing? For one Israeli artist, this question pushed her into finding what she thinks is the ultimate solution to ballerina’s aching feet!
A Different Way to Dance
While they may look pretty, a ballerina's traditional pointe shoes are known to be the cause a lot of their ugliest injuries. Still, for years, the pain of pointe shoes was considered to be the price you paid for fulfilling your dancing dreams. Now, however, one young student is changing the entire sport of dance with her invention of personalized, 3D printed dance shoes! In her vision, ballet shoes are adapted to fit the user's foot, instead of making dancer’s feet conform to rigid slippers.
Hadar Neeman, a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel was inspired to come up with her creation after taking a look at the feet of one of her dancer friends, noting all her bruises—and her crooked toes! "The more I learned about pointe shoes," she says, "the more I realized there was a lot of potential for improving the existing shoe."
With that goal in mind, Neeman turned to her 3D printer and came up with P-rouette, the first 3D printed sportswear for dancers! In order to create a pair of P-rouettes, dancers first scan their feet using a mobile app. That scan forms the basis for a detailed map and then a 3D model. The sole of the pointe shoes is modeled using a lightweight lattice polymer to perfectly fit the contours of the foot. Next, the shoe's fabric upper is created from an elastic material that imitates the look and feel of satin, Finally, with the help of a special shoemaker, the upper shoe is integrated into the 3D fabricated sole during the printing process. This integration means there’s no need to glue the toe shoes, or to take any further steps in the shoes production.
A Ballet Game Changer
Not only does Neeman believe that the shoes will cause less damage to dancer's feet, she also thinks they will offer better value: traditional toe shoes succumb to wear and tear after approximately 10 hours of training. P-rouettes, on the other hand, are designed to last three times longer tha
n their traditional competition.
For serious dancers, these innovative new shoes might just be the foot-saving devices necessary to avoid a life long battle with foot pain! I sincerely hope that these toe shoes can deliver on all their lofty promises.
Of course, even without technological advancements, there are some simple steps that dancers can take to protect their feet.
First and foremost, dancers basically need to keep us podiatrists on speed dial: proactively caring for foot pains and problems as th
ey come up will help ballerinas extend their feet’s longevity.
Next, it’s crucial that dancers never self-diagnose or treat their own foot problems. I know how tempting it can be to grab scissors and snip off that dead toenail or hanging piece of skin, but I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous this practice can be: it can lead to infection and far more serious problems down the road.
Also, when not in the studio, dancers need to go to extreme measures to properly protect their feet. This means: never wearing high heels and keeping your feet clean, especially at the sight of his wounds—an easy spot for infections to set in and take hold.
Basically, common sense is key when it comes to protecting dancers’ feet. Wear the best shoes available to you at the time of your performance, and take precautionary steps before or after every workout to keep your feet looking and feeling as good as they can!