The Ideal Dancer's Arch

"The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." - Leonardo da Vinci

Dancers use their entire bodies, but their feet are what ground them, move them through space, allow them to rise up toward the heavens, and complete the lines of energy that extend out from their bodies through their legs. Having a "good"arch is often a discussion among dancers - it is believed that higher arches are the best arches because of the way they look, but what is most important is that the arches provide necessary support for weight bearing and effective landings, as well as aesthetically pleasing lines.

This series of posts will discuss the anatomy of the foot, the "ideal dancer's foot", the determinants of a dancer's arch, the best ways for dancers to improve their arches, and what methods should be avoided and why.

Basic Anatomy of the Foot and the Arches

The bones of the foot fit together to form the ankle joint, the arches of the foot and the toe, or phalangeal, joints. 

The primary ankle joint is formed where the tibia and and the fibula meet the talus.   The tibia is the large bone of the lower leg that is located on the inside of the shin while the fibula is the narrow bone that is found on the outside of the shin.  The talus is the bone located on the top of the arch of the foot where the lower leg and foot meet.  This joint is a hinge joint that is responsible for the ability to plantar flex (point) and dorsiflex (flex) the foot.

The bone beneath the talus is the calcaneus, or heel bone. The meeting of the talus and the calcaneus form the secondary ankle joint, a sliding joint, which allows the foot to move from side to side.

The bones that make up the arch of the foot are the talus, the navicular, the cuboid and the cuneiforms and those that make up the toes are the metatarsals and phalanges.

There are three arches in the foot. The arch that can be see on the inside of the foot is the medial longitudinal arch, the arch that runs along the outside of the foot is the lateral
longitudinal arch, and the arch that runs across the top of the foot from one side to the other is the transverse arch. All arches are important since they provide stability.

Everyone's body is different and no two people have the same foot structure. The height of the arches of the foot are determined largely by bone structure and also influenced by muscles and the flexibility of ligaments. There are three types of arches: 

 - the high arch This arch is characterized by its bony structure and strong ligaments that keep the bones held firmly in place. These type of feet are often rigid and inflexible, and do not absorb impact very well since only the ball of the foot and the heel touch the ground - about 20% of the general population.

- the medium arch This arch is ideal in that it provides for better shock absorption, and although the ligaments are not as tight, they do a great job of holding the bones in place while allowing for flexibility - about 60% of the general population.

 - the flat foot  While there is an arch apparent when a dancer is pointing his or her foot in the air, the arch disappears when the foot must bear weight because of the laxity in the ligaments - about 20% of the general population.



The ideal foot for a dancer is the medium arch since its natural bone structure provides an aesthetically pleasing image when the foot is pointed, and the strong  ligaments provide the stability and flexibility a dancer needs when dancing, balancing, and landing from jumps and lifts. These dancers excel at ballet, do well when dancing en pointe and are less apt to sprain an ankle.

Although they do not have "ideal dancer feet", those with high arches and flat feet can still excel at dance but would need to spend some time stretching and/or strengthening the arches for both aesthetic and stability reasons. 

Next week's post will provide some insight as to what dancers should and should not do to improve their arches in a healthy manner.