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.