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Sickling January 4, 2013

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,ballet class — theworstat @ 9:54 pm
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I just found the perfect still picture of what I previously accused Oxana Skorik of doing — sickling.  Unfortunately the person who posted the photo gave no source, so I could not use it.  Anyway, it showed a dancer with well-developed feet on pointe either in class or in rehearsal…balanced alarmingly on the outside of her left big toe.  I mean WAY outside.

I’m seeing this a lot nowadays.  I still think some of what I see is optical illusion caused by camera angles on heavily arched feet.  But definitely a lot of girls are rising on pointe on the outsides of their big toes.  It’s called pronation, I believe.  The opposite is supination.  (I may have this  backward.)  You don’t see that so much.

Given that the platforms on many (not all) modern pointe shoes are far wider than the platforms of the past, it seems to me that it would be pretty difficult not to hit the platform every time — particularly after years of training and preparation.   It is also dangerous not to hit the platform squarely, but who needs to be told that?

If anyone reading this has more experience with pointe than I have (and I don’t have much), do you have an opinion as to why this seems to be happening?  Are the shoes too helpful, making the dancer lazy?  I can’t believe that the training is that bad.  Are today’s dancers just so incredibly flexible that they can’t build up the proper muscles to keep them from doing things like this?  Who knows?

All I know is, I’m hearing ankles go *crack* all the way from here.

P.S. — unrelated, but I just checked the Maryinsky’s playbill and found that Keenan Kampa makes what I believe is her debut as Kitri this month.  Be prepared for a giant explosion from RBV! even though Kitri is a definite Ballerina 101 role.  (It has, however, launched a few dancers to stardom — most notably Cynthia Harvey.)

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6 Responses to “Sickling”

  1. Jennifer S. Says:

    Well I was the queen of sickling, which is why I am not a professional dancer. Supination is sickling, Pronation is winging. This is more of an ankle alignment issue as opposed to foot issue although the bad habits impacts both ankles and feet. There are so many reasons for sickling and also for the opposite, winging. They all come from anatomic build, bad training especially forcing turnout, muscle and tendon weaknesses, weight distribution, uneven training to strengthen and develop proper alignment of ankles. Easier said than done because once bad habits creep in and the training isn’t there to emphasize alignment, then it’s hard to overcome. The fact that you see some professional dancers with this characteristic demonstrates this sad reality.

    I don’t know why more dancers have sickled feet now, that’s an interesting topic to ponder over.

  2. theworstat Says:

    Being a YouTube fanatic, I’ve noticed a LOT of videos there from preteen and teen girls working on their “floor pointes” (a term unheard of in my day), and playing around in pointe shoes. Seems pointe shoes are very, very chic these days. Well, they always were. When I was in high school, it became chic for untrained girls to wear pointe shoes to prom — that is, until the lawsuits started tumbling in and merchants stopped selling them to kids who had never even been to ballet class.

    So maybe pointe has become the point of ballet? Even in serious schools?

    Seriously, though, I think the problem is that today’s dancers are overly flexible. There is just nothing there in terms of muscle to hold everything in alignment. Yesterday’s dancers (most of them, anyway), had more resistant bodies.

    I’d like to see a study about whether today’s wet-noodle dancers are more or less durable than yesterday’s dancers, who usually considered themselves lucky if they could do a full six-o’clock penche arabesque.

    I’d also like to know if these floor-pointed feet are helping dancers or hurting them. Seems to me that they’re weak and wobbly. And what shoe can keep up with a foot that folds like a hand?

    • Jennifer S. Says:

      Oh definitely dancers who are overly flexible and also tendency for being double jointed have to work harder to achieve stability in ankles for pointe work. The average degree of mobility either direction, for either pronation or supination, ranges from about 15 to 30 degrees either way. But, as today’s students from professional schools are chosen mainly for loose-jointedness and flexibility, it would logically follow that both these very qualities prized for ease of turnout and current aesthetics, also has drawbacks. Logically if a student is loose-jointed in the hips then likely she is also looser-jointed in the ankles than average population. So now we have instability issue compounded by equally loose or flexible musculature. Unless there is special attention to compensate for these problems then what you have is a dancer not unlike Oxan Skorik. Beautiful extensions and poses but insecure on her legs and feet when doing terre a terre work.

  3. theworstat Says:

    Also, I agree that some of the problem has to be forced turnout and misalignment. You see this even in videos of Vaganova students….

  4. atlantic Says:

    I have wondered about the turnout issue. Allegedly perfect 180 degree turnout it required for classical dance, but many older videos show less than perfect turnout in professional dancers.

    The obsession with arched feet must be a fairly recent phenomenon. I believe Anna Pavlova was criticized for having what we would now consider ‘good feet’. This led to her bringing in stronger shoes and being called a cheater. High arches are NOT a requirement for pointe. What is necessary is ankle flexibility (to get ‘over’ the box) and strength. Arched feet are pretty, but weak. This is likely the problem with many of the dancers coming from prestigious academies. They are picked for their beautiful feet, but they may not be able to dance well with them.

  5. Helena Says:

    Pronation is not an undesirable thing and it is deinitely not sickling. If anything it’s close to bevelling your foot. You do have the correct use of pronation though because that is standing on the outside of the big toe but you’re wrong about thinking that it’s sickling because it’s definitely not. I’m predominantly Russian trained and I am told to stand more on my big toe because it’s safer and better for balance; sometimes this causes pronation on pointe but it is not at all a bad thing seeing as it bevels the foot and because the foot can’t roll in that direction. Whereas with standing flat on the platform a dancer is more likely to start going out towards the pinky toe which is sickling and can cause ankle rolling and many more dangerous injuries.


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