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I know I need to be supporting my feet and ankles with supportive shoes, but I don’t want to wear running sneakers everywhere I go. What kinds of street shoes should dancers wear to protect their feet? —Katie
I spoke with Dr. Alan Woodle, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s foot and ankle specialist, about what types of street shoes dancers should wear. In general,he recommends a leather lace-up walking shoe available at stores like The Walking Company. “With lace-up shoes you can fine-tune snugness, which is good for stability” he says. For unstable ankles, look for high-tops, like a lightweight but firm hiking boot or, if you’re heading out on the town, a flat or low-heeled dress boot. However he advises to stay away from casual (and, of course, trendy!) sneakers. “Shoes like Converse Chuck Taylors are making a big comeback,” he says, “but they’re just flimsy, even the high-top versions.”
What about when we want to dress things up a little? Dr. Woodle says to keep an eye out for shoe shape. “Look for rounded or square toe boxes,” he says. “Tapered toe boxes may aggravate bunions and cause other foot problems, some of which don’t show up until later in life.” He also says to choose a flat or low heel to avoid shortening the Achilles tendon. As for that fabulous pair of impractical high heels in the back of your closet, Woodle says, “They’re fine for one night, but not on a daily basis.”
Additionally, dancers should avoid flip-flops and other backless shoes. Besides providing little support, flip-flops force wearers to grip their toes to keep the shoe stabilized. “That increases the risk for hammer toes,” says Woodle. “Dancers on pointe already have a tendency to curl their toes, so I ask them to stay away from flip-flops.”
If you need to add a little more support to your existing shoes (because, let’s face it, “practical” doesn’t always mean “fashionable”), most drugstores sell gel inserts both with and without arch support. Or, for a more custom fit, try heat-activated arch molds, which you can nuke in the microwave and shape to your foot (Woodle recommends SOLE Softec Ultra, available at yoursole.com for $44.95).