How a dancer begins to make bunions
One of the questions I am always asked is why I do not have bunions ! And my answer is always the same - I did not develop them by curling my little toes under and rolling my arches inward....
The other day, after a productive private session wiht a young competitor on pointe, she asked me to look at her big toe joint which was beginning to ache.
Dancers build bunions for very specific reasons. For a young child the ankles are very pliable. The alignment of the legs allows for a great deal more movement than the ballet world wants to see in every combination. This is healthy and allows for self correction finding balance in every position.
If the young dancer is forced into turning out before they have learned how to feel and use their feet and toes lined up with the knees, it is more than likely that the arches will roll inward in an effort to keep her/his balance.
This is the reason why beginning ballet classes for young children choose a natural first position which is not turned out 180° so that the legs lineup safely over the toes. This alignment is necessary for accurate, sustained pointe work and for the extreme jumping expected of men.
Often the ballet slippers are very loose, so the foot can easily roll around inside the shoe. The first ballet training really ought to be done with bare feet in the parallel so that the child can see and feel what their feet and toes are doing and how the middle toe lines up with the kneecap right from the very beginning of their training.
Going past that to someone who has been pushed beyond their current capabilities, and with the pressure of the competitions to be exaggerated at younger and younger ages, I find that many dancers been standing in first position with their little toes off the floor.
When they return to straightened legs from a demi-plié or a grande plié the very last movement is one where the ankles help themselves from the lack of ability to align by rolling the arches so that their whole body weight goes directly to the inside of the big toe joint. This uses the joint sideways- instant bunion effect. Then the toes cannot flex so relieve is done rolling on the metatarsal instead of standing on the long bones of the toes.
After that, when the foot is taught to point using the phrase “point your toes”, a young child will curl just the toes from the metatarsals to the toenails in a manner which cramps under the arches trying to make the shape of a banana. This is neither correct nor comfortable nor ineffective. This way of curling the toes and not extending the ankle instead, also makes a tighter aches which then has no pliability for landings.
So the teaching of stance in the feet and the teaching of the pointing of the whole leg - most specifically the lengthening of the toes not curling in the metatarsals, gives the dancer a chance for the weight to travel out the ends of the tips of the toes.
In that way when plie a is done without the toes rolling around and the return from plié is done without the ankles rolling, then the dancer can go to three quarter point and eventually to point, and finally return to a safe elegant landing from big jumps.
One of the markers for a teacher to look at in the development of the bunions is to look at the child's standing parallel with the feet apart a little bit and regard where the toenails are facing. When they are facing the ceiling is the padding underneath the big toe. Look carefully to see if the padding is underneath the toe, to the outside of the toe, or to the inside of the till closer to the second toe. In other words where are they bearing weight specifically under the end of the big toe. Gentle practice sessions keeping the padding of the big toe under the big toe and keeping the ankles and arches from rolling will begin to promote a healthy aligned big toe joints and no bunions will develop.
After that, overwork may make that joint uncomfortable with long hours of rehearsing on point, but the journey on the way to point will not be fraught with a pain that one must work with in denial all the time.
This is an art form not a military form, therefore, it should not break its host , be unbearably painful , or destroy it - it should enhance it.