Straight Legs and Pointy Toes

 
Danielle Tillie
So... I don't have any background in anything athletic or dance. I took some gymnastics classes when I was a child, but that didn't last long and I only vaguely remember my instructor continuously referring to me as "grandma", and that's it, lol. I am frustrated because I find it incredibly difficult to keep my toes pointed and straighten my legs to the point that they actually look straight. I've managed to see straight legs in my videos, and I try to recreate muscle memory and the sensation of my fully straight legs, but I've come to find out that even when I'm really concentrating on it, I still only have straight legs 50% of the time. I know part of this has to do with stretching the ligaments and tendons so that getting them straight is easier, but I have no idea what stretches are beneficial for that. I have been doing stretches geared towards splits and overall leg flexibility, hoping that ease of straightness will just be a byproduct of that. Is there anything specific I could do to make this process more productive?

With the pointy toes... most of the time, in transition and even during a move, it looks like I'm trying to get my foot to point, but mostly I have to settle with the scrunched toes look. This is not very pretty and I have such an eye for critical detail (honestly it's a curse on my self-esteem to be this way, lol), that it bugs me every single time it happens. I also cannot, for the life of me, maintain pointy toes while in the process of inverting (tuck invert). Don't even ask me to keep my legs straight during an invert, lol... I look like miss crab legs. So, is there any way to improve the look of the point and any suggestions on keeping them that way? Thanks everyone!
Nov 11, 2010 from Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
poledanceromance
The ability to hold a basic point has a lot to do with your calves. Instead of trying to point by scrunching the toes, point by pulling the heel up, so you're only doing a little toe scrunch to get that line nice and flat. As for doing it in moves, I am a stickler with my students about not just scrambling into something but concentrating on the form they want as well. This is about building muscle memory, and maintaining pointed toes from start to finish on a move is definitely part of that. So approach it as a part of your learning, too!

You can do calf raises, just standing feet about shoulder width apart and turned slightly out raising yourself onto your toes and back down slow and controlled. Start with your most basic moves and try to do them with pointed toes, then work your way up incorporating it into your trick repertoire. Of course, all this means that it's important to get the legs warmed up before dancing and that at the end of a workout your calves can be really tight, so you absolutely have to stretch them out well after working out. I start my stretches with pointed toes, hold for a certain amount of breaths, then flex my foot on the exhale while continuing to relax into the stretch. I also do resistance stretching to get past my point of flexibility, but imo passive stretching on the floor for cool down stretching of the calves after pointing feels really, really good because--like you--I don't have much in the way of dance training, so my calves get really tight from pointing.

As for straight legs when inverting, that requires hip strength. Veena has some great lessons regarding that topic. That's something we can all work on because strong hip flexers give us those beautiful sweeping legs we adore!
Nov 11, 2010 from Sycamore, Illinois, United States
amy
pointed toes and straight legs are an extension of the same act: engaging literally every muscle in your leg, from your butt down to your toes. you can't "just" point your toes. you should think of pointing as stretching the toes down, by lengthening the top of the muscle along the shin, engaging the calf to pull the heel in, and not bending the toes or not scrunching them-- they should stay long and elongated and lengthen the line of your curved foot.

this is the bane of my dancing existence-- i never, ever pointed prior to pole. i complained about this once to a trained dancer poler that i know and she told me that i wasn't pointing right. she had me literally engage my entire leg to the point where it hurt to hold it, and then said: okay, that's what you want. if you look closely at a ballerina or dancer when they are straight legged, their entire quad is engaged-- which is what causes the thigh to look like it's bulging over the shin. if you are really working your pointe- your QUAD should be really, really tired. you'll quickly realize that if you're engaging through your whole leg, it's not phsically possible to bend at the knee.

any dancers-- pls correct me if this is wrong!
Nov 11, 2010 from New York, New York, United States
Veena
You both said pretty much what I would have. I was totally gonna recommend Calf raises!! And Contracting the quads. I am not a trained dancer but I think I do pretty well. I have always been able to point the foot well. My issue was bending at the knee slightly, I also have knobby knees to if I don't fully contract the quad the knee really sticks out. To fix it.... I began doing these leg lifts [ver3.studioveena.com] This is why I included them in the lessons. I saw a big change in my leg extension after working on them. They strengthen everything. From Glutes to hip flexors and even the calf. I STILL have to tell myself to focus on contracting the whole leg when I dance. As you become totally comfortable with pole moves the polish will come! Here are some photos on pointing the foot. I don't know if they are good or not, but maybe a dancer can tell us?
[dance.about.com]
Nov 11, 2010 from Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
keex
What great responses, Veener peeps! I love the descriptions offered about pulling your heel up and lengthening through your toes rather than scrunching them. I also like the suggestion about taking your time when practicing pole tricks in order to pay attention to the details of the lines you're creating with your body along the way. Transitioning in and out of tricks is just as important as the trick itself.

Just to clarify, the ability to point your feet is generated from a contraction of your calf muscles. Extending your leg at the knee comes from a contraction of the quads. 99% of the time in dance, our feet should be pointed even if our knees are bent.

Another common tendency I notice amongst pole dancers is "sickled" feet. I think its because we're constantly wrapping them around the pole and muscle memory keeps them stuck in that funky position, even off the pole. It completely breaks the line of the leg. When our feet are off the pole, that "hook" shape should disappear. (Anyone notice in Jenyne's recent USPDF performance, she didn't even use a climbing foot brace? Both feet were pointed as she climbed. amazing attention to details, that girl!)

Anyway... when practicing standing calf raises, make sure that as you lift your heels off the floor, your body weight is distributed onto your big toe & second toe rather than rolling onto your pinky toes.

Also, if you're seated on the floor w/ your legs in front of you, you can practice everting your ankles while pointing. Point your feet and try pressing your pinky toes away from the midline of your body to strengthen your peroneal muscles.

Keep it coming ladies. There's so much to learn from one another!
Nov 11, 2010 from New York, New York, United States
yogabeachbabe
pointed toes and straight legs are an extension of the same act: engaging literally every muscle in your leg, from your butt down to your toes. you can't "just" point your toes. you should think of pointing as stretching the toes down, by lengthening the top of the muscle along the shin, engaging the calf to pull the heel in, and not bending the toes or not scrunching them-- they should stay long and elongated and lengthen the line of your curved foot.

this is the bane of my dancing existence-- i never, ever pointed prior to pole. i complained about this once to a trained dancer poler that i know and she told me that i wasn't pointing right. she had me literally engage my entire leg to the point where it hurt to hold it, and then said: okay, that's what you want. if you look closely at a ballerina or dancer when they are straight legged, their entire quad is engaged-- which is what causes the thigh to look like it's bulging over the shin. if you are really working your pointe- your QUAD should be really, really tired. you'll quickly realize that if you're engaging through your whole leg, it's not phsically possible to bend at the knee.

any dancers-- pls correct me if this is wrong!

While I think I understand this concept, I would like to add that you don't want to overwork the quad. Quads are really easy to overwork and that results in a really unattractive bulky muscle. When I was a young dancer, my quads looked like they belonged on a body builder--not on a 95 lbs Asian girl! I would advise engaging the quad, but really focus on the hamstring. Energy travels up the front of the leg (quads) and down the back of the leg (hamstrings). Really lengthen the hamstrings and think about opening up the back of the knee (never jamming back or hyperextending). As for pointing the foot: true strength of point means a really strong arch. Really reach through the arch. Don't even worry about pointing the toes yet. Push through the ball of the foot when standing (think Barbie doll foot), then press off the floor with the toes. They don't scrunch, but they, too lengthen.
Nov 11, 2010 from Lafayette, Colorado, United States
Veena
When I extend (in any direction) the whole leg tightens but for me I have to mentally think *quads* or hear comes knobby knees. My legs have become stronger and more shapely just from dancing its great! I would guess that some dancers anatomy like being (pigeon toed) will make pointing the foot without slicking more of a challenge. I'm lucky my family all has natural turn out from hips to toes!
Nov 11, 2010 from Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
ottersocks
I know part of this has to do with stretching the ligaments and tendons so that getting them straight is easier, but I have no idea what stretches are beneficial for that. I have been doing stretches geared towards splits and overall leg flexibility, hoping that ease of straightness will just be a byproduct of that. Is there anything specific I could do to make this process more productive?

One of the main principles of resistance stretching is that, in order for a muscle to fully be able to lengthen, its balancing (opposite) muscle has to be strong enough to fully contract. Basic example: some people can't touch their toes because their quads can't fully contract/shorten, allowing their hamstrings to lengthen.

You can apply this principle for straight legs. I see so many students who cannot straighten their knees, and it's usually due to weak quads. I've mentioned on other forums that I highly recommend the Dara Torres stretching DVD. Here is a sample that happens to include the quad strengthen/stretch series:
[www.youtube.com]
Nov 11, 2010 from San Jose, California, United States
Danielle Tillie
Wow thanks everyone! I probably do have weaker quads and calves than I should at this point in my pole journey. Not having a studio around to keep me focused on these things has kind of become a real downer, but with this new arsenal of information I'm gonna get my legs truly in shape! If anyone else has more suggestions or tips, keep 'em coming! Now I have to go do some calf raises!
Nov 11, 2010 from Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Maria Joao
Thank you all for the info. I have the exact same problem than englann86. I got the tips, let's practice!!!!
Nov 12, 2010 from Portugal
azzwoo
you do need to do quads work to gain a fully straight leg, but you need to do an 'Inner Range Quads' exercise. A lot of quads exercises don't work through the full quad range of movement, and it is usually the IRQ range that is missed, and it is that range of the contraction that is hardest to get and helps you get that full knee extension. Sit with your legs out straight in front of you and place a rolled up towel under your knee. Then bring your toes back towards your body (dorsiflex your ankle) and lift your foot off the ground to make your leg really straight, whilst keeping the back of the knee in contact with the towel. I would usually hold for 10 seconds and see how many you can do and go from there. It will help you get that last little bit of knee extension.
Nov 12, 2010 from St Peter Port,
luckylindyhopper
Coming from a dance background, I can easily remember to point the toes when doing "dance related" work i.e. pirouettes, fan kicks, etc. But when learning a newer/complicated move I always forget. It's something that I have to remind myself of constantly while working on new things.

What I've learned is to just keep working at it, and you'll get there!
Nov 14, 2010 from Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Mindy4pole
One of my first pole teachers was an almost-pro ballet dancer. Her points were just incredible, and made every move look good. When I really worked hard, my heels were barely off the floor! My strategy is to walk on the balls of my feet a lot. It's taken me almost two years, but I think I have decent points now. (NOTE: They are probably pretty lousy by ballerina standards, though. )

My arches are very flat, so my actual foot has never had that pretty swell on the top of the foot. I used to think that pin-up artist just make that swell up! HOWEVER, my husband has very high arches, and has that lovely swell and beautiful points. One thing that I've learned by watching him is that he initiates his point from that area, not from the ball of the foot or the toes. (I hope that makes sense!) And I take a lot of guilty pride that while his feet look better than mine pointed in the air, mine are a ton better in actual walking!

I've always had decent legs, but all the ball of the foot walking has REALLY made my calves nice and my feet strong.

So -- practice all the time, and before you know it, your body will have changed! I have nothing against targeted strength training, but remember your whole body is involved with creating nice lines. I don't think anything takes the place of actually DOING it (and doing it, and doing it).

Good luck!!
Mindy
Nov 16, 2010 from Dallas, Texas, United States
 
mariephi
OMG! it happened THANK YOU VEENA! the prep exercise is GREAT to gain the confidence I needed and make sure I wouldn't get stuck in the position!
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