Technical Mistake #1: Sickled Feet
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I so appreciate my lovely students, Emily, Sophie, and Irena, for agreeing to model both the incorrect and correct positions for this blog! Thanks, you guys!
This is the first entry in a series of posts on common mistakes in technique. Anyone who has competed in dance knows that a huge chunk of the potential points awarded to you by the judges is in the category of technique. For more on what technique is, check out my blog entry entitled “What is technique, anyway?”
Today’s topic is probably the most common fatal flaw among dancers. Sickled feet are probably one of the ugliest mistakes a dancer can make on stage and, unfortunately for the dancer, it is readily noticed by the judges. To any dance professional, seeing a sickled foot is like hearing fingernails run down the chalkboard.
Picture this from the view of a competition judge: A new young dancer takes the stage. She enters with a couple chaînés, and then settles into a B+ to wait for her music to start. If that back foot in the B+ is sickled or turned in or both, she just lost MAJOR points for her technique score and she hasn’t even started dancing yet! If she keeps up the sickling throughout her routine, especially on those steps which are the most sickle-prone (arabesque, tendu, attitude, or on the passé foot in pirouette, she will continue to lose points every single occurrence.
Not only are sickled feet hideously ugly to dance professionals, but they only act to get in the way of the dancer. Try to imagine dancing pigeon-toed, for instance. You’ll fall all over the place!
So, how do we fix sickled feet in dancers?
I have found that the first step in ridding a dancer of the habit of sickling their feet is to take the time to make sure that the student understands what you mean by “sickling.” Make them do it! Actually make them sickle their feet and then make them correct it. Then, again, make them sickle, and make them correct it so that they can develop a sense of the control they have over their own ankle and foot.
Second, I ask the dancers to stand facing directly to the side of the studio so that they can see themselves in profile in the studio mirrors. I then ask them to place the foot closest to the mirror into sur-le-cou-de-pied at the ankle of the supporting leg. Sur-le-cou-de-pied is a French term translated into English as “at the ankle” (the phrase “cou-de-pied” literally translates as “neck of the foot,” which is the French term for “ankle”). In this position, they place the heal of the working foot directly up against the shin of the supporting leg and then wrap the working foot around the supporting ankle so that the big toe comes to wrest around the back of the ankle with the toes pointed as much as possible.
I tell the students to remain in this position for quite a while and ask them to memorize what it feels like to have the heel pressed that far forward and the toes pressing back. Then, from sur-le-cou-de-pied, I have them take that working leg, without moving a single muscle in that foot, and ask them to extend it into tendu, often front, side and back, all the while having the dancer watch themselves in the mirror to make sure that the foot not only doesn’t fatigue and go into a sickle, but also that it stays in that elegant and beautiful “anti-sickle,” as I call or it, or, as I also refer to it, as the sur-le-cou-de-pied foot. Many of my students experienced an “oh wow!” moment the first time I tried this exercise and they commented on how pretty of a shape this is.
I do this in every technique class, and, once you have a term for the correct shape of the foot that the dancers can recognize, it becomes easier to correct it later on in class. And you MUST insist on them correcting sickled feet whenever they occur. Eventually it will become second-nature and they will begin to experience the nails-on-chalkboard sensation when they notice other dancers sickling their feet!
Let me know how this works out for you!
Best of luck!