Barry Kerollis' (instep enhanced) feet in Mark Morris' A Garden. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Why I Ditched My Arch Enhancers—and Decided to Work on My Feet Instead

When we watch dancers with drool-worthy arches, we assume they either worked really hard for them or they were born with them. Professionals spend years training the articulation of their foot muscles. But some of us who have made it in the big leagues still need some help when it comes to line and flexibility. Most dancers would never admit what I am about to share, but here goes: There is a contingent of artists who pad the tops of their insteps to project the appearance of naturally curved feet.


Fake arches, often referred to as "farches," are not a new phenomena. I'm not sure if any retired dancer would admit this on the record, but I've heard numerous stories from those who indulged their insteps with a little DIY padding. Today, entrepreneurs and mainstream dancewear companies offer farches to anybody seeking that oh-so-visible bump that only lucky winners of the genetic lottery can boast.

I confess, I've worn them, too. Let me share how I came to wear farches, my experience wearing them, and why I stopped.

Barry Kerollis in Mark Morris' A Garden while at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

When I was 20 years old, I was thrilled to receive a corps contract with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Time and time again, they have been branded a "legs and feet" company—and by no account was I known for these attributes. After receiving the job offer from former PNB co-director Francia Russell, I felt proud for achieving what I thought was an impossible feat. But I also felt like a fraud who had somehow smuggled my mediocre hooves into hallowed stomping grounds.

It took a few years in the company for me to fake my feet. While changing after a performance, my friend revealed to me that he had started padding his insteps. While I didn't wholly account his recent success in the company to his new feet, I couldn't help but feel a little hurt. So, I went home and immediately purchased my first and only pair of farches.

When they arrived, I was believing in miracles. But once these foam-filled pads were hugging my feet, I found them to be extremely obvious. The company's one-farch-fits-all assumption just didn't hold true, because all dancer's feet are different. Flat-footed dancers need more arch underneath, not on top. Others, like me, need more flexibility near the base of the ankle. I struggled getting my farch to align with the exact point on my foot where I needed it to bump out. And there was no chance I could wear them without tights or socks. Yet, I was determined to make them work.

For a while, I would tape the farches down to keep them in place. To avoid getting found out, I would perform this ritual before class each morning in my apartment. But the thickness of the pad and sweating of my feet meant the tape didn't keep them in place. And because the enhancers wrap underneath your feet, I always felt fabric shifting. I even cut its seam to pluck foam out with tweezers to make them less obvious. In reality, I spent as much time customizing my farches as most women do preparing a pair of pointe shoes.

Kerollis' feet, au natural

Shalem Photography, Courtesy Kerollis.

After a while, I became frustrated that it was almost impossible to hide what I was doing. One day a dancer walked up to me in class and queried if I was wearing padding. I asked how they knew, and they responded, "All I had to do was look at your feet while you were standing." I peered down to see an irrefutable drop-off from the farch to my real foot. Soon after, I stopped padding my insteps, exasperated. I found myself obsessed with the possibility that the audience, or my boss, would recognize I was faking it.

Because we performed so much Balanchine repertoire, our classwork often required lightning fast footwork. In order to focus on my feet the natural way, I put in additional work outside of class, slowly and meticulously practicing their articulation.Observing the many beautiful insteps in our company helped me realize that the key would be to work on my demi-pointe position as I prepared to fully extend my foot in everything from tendu to grand battement.

I still look back at this period and chuckle. The following season in my annual evaluation with artistic director Peter Boal, he noted that my feet had improved. Without thinking, I exclaimed, "I was wearing fake arches for much of last season to impress you. But in the end, I decided it was better to just work on my feet." I smiled sheepishly and realized I had just put my foot in my mouth…sans farch.

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

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CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

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KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

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A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

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NEW YORK

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June 14–25 and July 12–23

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A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

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SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

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UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

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A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

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Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

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Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

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