Our guest columnist is Annette T. Thomas, a dance teacher and choreographer, who has trained at Carnegie Hall, the San Juan Ballet Company, and the Connecticut Regional Ballet Company under world class instructors. With 30 years of dance and figure skating experience behind her, Annette is certified in Russian Method Classical Ballet, and is a member of the Professional Skaters Association, U.S. Figure Skating, the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, and the Wisconsin Dance Council. Annette began working with figure skaters in 1998 and has conducted numerous off and on-ice workshops in the areas of conditioning and artistry. She is also the author of Fundamentals of Alignment and Classical Movement for Figure Skaters, which has received international acclaim from ice and roller skaters and their coaches.
Taking time for your feet
by Annette T. Thomas
While dancers have long had a "love-hate" relationship with their feet, more often than not, skaters seem to neglect them. And yet, as dancers and athletes, our feet are the foundation of all that we do. In this article, I hope to not only raise awareness of how strong, healthy feet are vital to you as a skater; but also to help you love your feet!
A few "feet facts":
- Much of accurate proprioception comes from sensitivity in the soles of the feet. If your feet have not been included as an essential part of your training they will not send accurate information to your nervous system. This inaccurate information can cause problems in every area of your skating as balance, timing and artistic sensitivity require that the entire body be fully attuned to every nuance of movement through time and space.
- The muscles, ligaments and tendons in the feet are connected through the ankle to the lower leg. Having strong articulation in the toes and feet will greatly improve balance, jump technique and even pointing your foot accurately (toes straight and not pointing down toward the ice!).
- Even though the feet are "locked" into the skating boot, the surface quality of the ice should still be "felt" through the floor of the boot. If your feet have been neglected they will lack the sensitivity to feel the ice. This in turn directly affects edge quality and as well as whole body line.
- A thin, sensitive membrane that covers all skeletal muscles called "Myofascia" connects at the bottom of the feet and continues in one "sheet" all the way up the legs, back and neck right to the top of the eye sockets. The condition of this Myofascia can determine whether your feet, legs, lower back and neck feel "stiff" or tense, your ability to breathe deeply; and even if you have a headache. (from Thomas W. Meyers Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists (Elsevier Science, 2001) p.65)
- Holistically, the condition of your feet has much to do with the condition of your entire body. It has long been known that acupressure points in the feet lead to every organ in the body. As Eastern medicine gains recognition in the West, these concepts will increasingly become an integral part of sports medicine and injury prevention techniques.
Before and After Skating "Treatment"
Here is a quick and easy self massage foot treatment which will really do wonders for your entire body. It will help increase circulation, loosen up your calves and hamstrings, as well as enhance overall body sensitivity. Make this the last thing you do before you put your skates on and the first thing after taking them off.
Step #1: Take bare foot in one hand and with the other rub knuckles firmly into the plantar fascia from the ball of the foot to the heel. Do this for at least a half a minute.
Step #2: Flex foot and firmly stretch all the toes back.
Step #3: Crunch toes forward.
Step #4: Spread toes out as wide as you can.
Step #5: Firmly squeeze sides of foot inward toward the center. Hold in this position for five slow counts and release.
* Repeat steps 2-5 and then work other foot.
For a skater, everything begins with the blade on the ice, so actively including your feet as an integral part of your training program is essential to becoming the best skater you can be!
Annette currently teaches workshops in Russian Method Classical ballet, Folk and Character Dance, and works with skaters at the Wisconsin Figure Skating Club and the Kettle Moraine Figure Skating Club. For additional information on feet, posture, movement, and pretty much everything else that figure skaters should concentrate on, please check out Annette's website Ballet for Figure Skaters.
Article and photos are copyright 2008 by Annette Thomas. Material may not be copied or distributed without the consent of Annette Thomas.