I have very tapered Morton's toes (longer second toes). My big toe joints are about a half centimeter shorter than my second and third toe joints, so I have a terrible time finding stability on demi-pointe. My weight lands on that second toe joint, which is pretty narrow and uncomfortable under that pressure. How can I find a more stable relevé? —Larissa
Morton's toe, where the second toe is longer than the big toe, is a common inherited condition that can cause problems for dancers. I consulted Dr. Frank Sinkoe, a podiatrist who works with students at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education, about the issues you're having. "Your relevé is very dependent on the range of motion of the first metatarsal joint," says Sinkoe. "If there's a limitation, such as a shorter first metatarsal, then your weight goes to the lesser toes."
To help give you more stability, he suggests padding the bottoms of your feet from the second to fifth metatarsals, leaving the underside of your big toe free. "That helps distribute more weight over the first toe joint and will take some of the pressure off your second toe." Look for 1/16-inch-thick self-adhesive felt pads. Sinkoe particularly recommends Dr. Jill's brand, model J10 (available at drjillsfootpads.com).
To improve your stability in relevé, Sinkoe also suggests this strengthening exercise: Wrap a resistance cable around a barre, standing far enough away to feel tension. Face the barre and stand on one foot, pulling the cable towards you with the opposite hand—you should feel your weight go forward. Relevé up for 2 counts and slowly lower for 4, repeating 10 times.
His last word of advice? Unless you have a major bunion issue, avoid using toe spacers. "The second toe needs to be aligned with the foot," he says. "If it's being pushed aside by a spacer, you may experience more problems."