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Ask Amy: Are Foot Stretchers Safe?

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Are foot stretchers safe for dancers to use? —Marissa

I've often wondered the same thing myself. There are several versions on the market, all promising to improve flexibility by holding the top of the foot in an extreme point. Many dancers swear by them, but to be sure, I asked Boyd Bender, physical therapist for Pacific Northwest Ballet. His advice? Use cautiously, especially if you have feet with flatter arches. "A foot stretcher might create more leverage through the mid-foot and arch area, and possibly create a flatter and more unstable mid-foot," he says. In other words, too much pressure could overstretch and weaken this foot type, increasing the tendency to roll in. Also, he warns that if you have a history of foot and ankle injuries, use a foot stretcher only in the presence of a health professional to ensure that you're not causing additional damage.


In addition, don't expect miracles. "You can only do so much with the structure of the foot," Bender explains. While dancers can gain some mobility by stretching soft tissues, the biggest determining factor of a pretty point comes from joint mobility—which is much harder to change. "Foot stretchers will only be effective until your foot and ankle reach skeletal maturity, which happens in your late teens."

Summer Intensive Survival
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There's a sweet spot toward the end of August—after summer intensives have wrapped up and before it's time to head back to school or work—where the days are long, lazy and begging to be spent neck-deep in a pile of good books. Whether you're looking for inspiration for the upcoming season or trying to brush up on your dance history, you can never go wrong with an excellent book on ballet. We've gathered eight titles (all available at common booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble) guaranteed to give you a deeper understanding of the art form, to add to your end-of-summer reading list.

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The Royal Ballet's Alexander Campbell and Yasmine Naghdi in Ashton's The Two Pigeons. Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.

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