After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Sunday, June 26, 2011



Before leaving on a trip to Buenos Aires in 1999, when I still lived in Los Angeles, I had been worried about my sore and painful feet. So much so in fact that I went to a podiatrist for the first time, and told him I was going to Argentina to dance, and he MUST make my feet stop hurting!

Thus I deserved the painful shot of cortisone in the ball of my foot. But with that and the skillful wrapping of my foot, going home in the surgical shoe was pain free and my only worry was about missing the local milonga that night. Which I didn't do, as I borrowed a bigger size of heels from my neighbor, one that would accomodate the bandages, and went and danced at the milonga anyway. There was a standing joke at that time that if Cherie wasn't there on Friday nights, I was either in the hospital or the morgue.

It was only later I learned the cortisone was temporary, and could not be repeated. So when I returned from Buenos Aires, I went to another podiatrist who specializes in sports medicine. He diagnosed my problem as--not bone spurs, arthritis, or bursitis as other doctors had told me--but “Dancer’s Foot.” Oh thanks. It’s genetic, and dancing ballet on my toes all my life hadn’t helped.

My foot is square and tango shoes are a triangle. A classical dancer must dance in pointe shoes and a tango dancer in pointy heels. Those are the working conditions. But if you wear only leather shoes and have them stretched (and you can do this more than once), it’ll help the squished toes problem.

It’s the women who mostly suffer from foot problems and it’s because of the high heeled shoes we wear. According to the L.A. Times (June 1, 1998), 87% of operations performed to correct acquired foot deformities, such as bunions and hammer toes, are undergone by women. In the United States, women visit the doctor for foot problems four times more often than men. In societies where people go barefoot or wear flat sandals, these problems are rare, and their frequency is the same in both sexes.

Luckily my new doctor was able to carve out supportive pads from my Dr. Scholls’ material, which really helped. My feet still hurt after three hours of dancing, but at least it wasn't agony.

For normal feet sore from dancing, wearing gel or cushion inserts in your dancing shoes can make a difference. Also using ice when you get home keeps the swelling down. If you’re injured while dancing, get some ice from the bar or use a cold can of unopened soda to rest your foot on. Taking your shoes off and massaging your feet every so often as you sit out a dance can give your aching feet a new lease on life. Then later soak them in hot water with plain or Epsom salt, and file down those calluses with a pumice stone. If your stomach can stand it, take anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen BEFORE going to dance.

Remember RICE--Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation for injuries.
I haven’t tried alternative medicine, but I have friends who swear by chiropractic, acupuncture, and Rolfing.

A professional dancer in Buenos Aires also gave me some exercise tips: flex and point your feet hard while you’re sitting down every day. And stretch out your toes by making a “fist” with the fingers of one hand in between the toes of one foot, and just holding it while you watch TV or talk on the phone. Then switch. When you get more stretched, try to use the fingers of both hands for one foot. Walking barefoot at home and on the beach is great foot exercise. Some people swear by expensive orthotics which are fitted to your foot by a podiatrist. But hopefully you won’t need them.

Usually it's the woman's right foot and/or ankle that is the most painful, because during the salida we spend quite a bit of time with all of our weight on just the ball of the right foot. In other steps as well--the cross, carousel, colgada--it's the right foot more often than the left.

But you know what? After dancing for so many years, now it doesn't bother me any more, even with the super spike heels I wear. Perhaps with the improvement in my technique, I've learned to handle it differently, I really don't know what happened. But I'm glad that here's one example of something that can get better with age.


lindsay said...

i used to have alot of foot pain when i first started dancing tango. but as i have become a better dancer and dance over my arch not my metatarsil, i no longer have that horrile pain. dr. scholls insert help too. but we still dance in heels and have to put up with some pain for beauty.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Lindsay. Your technique can make a difference to your foot pain. Although many good dancers dance with their weight on the balls of the feet, many others (Alejandra Mantinan for one) keep their weight in the centre of the foot, over the arch, with equal weight on toes and heels. Distributing your weight more equally makes you more stable and definitely helps your feet to hold out for longer. (You may need to lift and reach forward a little more from your back in the embrace to compensate). I also recommend keeping your heels close to or on the floor as much as possible. Unless the floor is very sticky indeed, there is no need to lift your heels off to pivot, for example. And I recommend not wearing the really high shoes, however sexy they look. 5-6cm heels, slightly thicker, "chupete" style heels work fine and are easier on your feet.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Two things: Learning better technique and choosing less rough partners is a big help in both foot survival, and long fun nights without tiring. The other thing though, is that sometimes an x-ray can reveal something that can be fixed by a good surgeon who know that you are going to be dancing in high heels and who won't give you any argument. I wish I had done my surgery a bit earlier. And I am sooooo glad I did.


Unknown said...

Hey! I'm a new tango dancer in Portland, OR who immediately developed a nasty nerve problem in my left foot as soon as I bought "proper" tango shoes. Since it was making it hard to walk, much less dance, I wanted to take care of it right away. Am addressing technique, with someone her who is excellent at such things. BUT I didn't want to have to wear ugly shoes (if I could help it) and adding padding to my tango shoes did nothing to help. After searching the web (which is how I found your post) I found pretty tango shoes being made with full orthotic support and lots of extra cushioning, built right in!

Kathleen at designs her own line of tango shoes and has made a beautiful shoe that has what your feet need to not get hurt. I called her up and she recommended several possible shoes (from her line and others too), I looked them over, then called her back to order several shoes in several sizes with her "Courtesy Fit" program. She shipped them to me and I tried them all on and can keep just the ones that work and only have to pay shipping. It's fabulous! If you've got foot problems, want to avoid them, or just need extra arch support or want to be comfortable while tango-ing, check it out!