Wednesday, 8 April 2009

dancing with the pain

i'm not into heels, particularly not stilettos. but i'm definitely not into seeing them on the dance floor. and especially not when the dancing is competitive and you know the female dancers have had to spend hours practicing in the most uncomfortable and inappropriate footwear available on the market.

this was particularly brought home when geraldine brophy was so happy to be sent off dancing with the stars this week. she had been dancing with extremely sore feet, apparently would have her feet in a bucket of ice prior to her performance in order to numb them, and i'm sure the pain wasn't helped by the appalling footwear.

now i don't claim to be an expert on dance. in fact i'd be one of the more ignorant people around. but i've seen very few dances around the world requiring women to wear stiletto heels. from irish dancing to indian classical dance to square dancing to ... well anything i can think of really ... women get to dance with flats, wedgy heels or bare feet. so why this expectation in ballroom dancing, and why do we continue to put up with it when we know it's damaging to women's health?

i'm thinking that there must be scope for an OSH investigation here. the dancers are being paid to perform i would think, so the dance floor is their place of work. and the employers are deliberately requiring women to put their health and safety at risk. it must be a breach of something.


earlgreyrooibos said...

I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer, and I actually found ballroom heels to be way more comfortable than regular high heels, because they were designed for actual dancing/moving.

I also think the pointe shoes used in ballet are much more uncomfortable and damaging to the foot. When I was wearing pointe shoes on a regular basisi, I would have soreness akin to Brophy's, more so than I ever did when I was doing ballroom.

But that's not really the point. It is interesting that in both of these forms of dance, the women are the ones with uncomfortable shoes. I mean, ballroom is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most sexist activities out there. And ballet isn't actually that much better. So I''m not incredibly surprised that in these activities, women have the worst footwear choices.

I think it would be easier, at least for ballroom, to make the transition to better shoes. At the amateur levels, you see a lot more "sensible" dance shoes than you do at the professional levels. I think there could (slowly) be a cultural change that makes it acceptable for professional ballroom dancers to all wear footwear that isn't dangerous.

Ballet, though, seems a bit tricker to me. There are a lot of things that pointe shoes allow dancers to do things that you just can't do in regular shoes. So pointe shoes are in a way integral to ballet. It's more difficult to see that changing.

Tui said...

And ballet isn't actually that much better.

I would actually have said it's worse, in terms of the health of the women associated with it. I don't know much about Rl Wrld ballet, but I know that at serious ballet schools eating disorders are kind of rife. And, of course, pointe shoes are a special kind of pain.

You're right that pointe is intrinsic to ballet and that ballet wouldn't be the same without it. The issue is not with the shoes really - nobody is forcing ballet dancers to be ballet dancers - the issue is that women have to wear pointe shoes and dance like teeny tiny fairies (who can break your arm, but the point is they look delicate) while men swan around in leather shoes and jump up and down and throw girls around a bit - activities which are less conducive to bulimia and anorexia, and more conducive to healthy eating and exercise.

Mind you, ballet isn't really a particularly healthy profession, from what I understand.

Julie said...

Thanks for bringing this up Anjum!

I think if you get the right kind of proper ballroom shoes they aren't too bad, as earlgreyrooibos has mentioned - certainly when I was in wedding-planning fever there was much discussion about seeking out ballroom heels for wedding shoes as they are generally much more comfortable than normal heels. I wore jandals myself.

I watch DWTS sporadically, but it does seem that the laydeez have it a bit tougher than the men often - not just in the shoe dept but also in terms of the choreography. As I know nothing about dancing it could just be that the men's dancing has more iceberg work in it.

Kelly said...

"iceberg work"

What a fabulous phrase! I will be using that if you don't mind.

homepaddock said...

"why do we continue to put up with it when we know it's damaging to women's health?"

I'm not sure if this answers yor question, but it's an interesting observation:

Fi said...

I mean, ballroom is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most sexist activities out there.This casual DWTS viewer wholeheartedly agrees. The paso doble, for instance, always makes me cringe, with the woman being relegated to the role of inanimate cape or slaughtered bull. The heels elicit sympathetic foot pain too, of course.

The media coverage is excruciatingly wed to the beauty myth too. The breathless celebration of dance-training induced weight loss is pretty tiresome. I seem to recall Megan Alatini's husband referring to her change of physique as a "godsend" and it wasn't couched in "health benefit" terms either. He was happy because he thought she was hotter than before. Ew.