irish dance_ready to feis_Irish dancing and a sickled foot
Fitness and Conditioning
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Irish dancing and a sickled foot – what you should know

One of the very first things Irish dancers are taught is to point their toe. From that first class onwards, pointing is mandatory. There is nothing more beautiful than an outstretched foot during a leap over, or a strong point during a hop. In competition, adjudicators are looking for clean lines and precision. What they’re not looking for is a sickled foot.

A what?

A sickled foot occurs when you point, and rather than your shin, ankles, and toes all making a straight line, your foot curves either in or out. Pat Roddy, specialist in movement mechanics, anatomy in motion, and fitness instructor, explains “a sickled foot, or a hooked foot, can be common in many forms of dance. It can happen as the dancer tries to arch the foot while turning out, breaking the line of the leg, ankle and foot.”

What causes a sickled foot?

There are a number of reasons a foot may sickle. The first is that it could be simple anatomy, with a dancer either pronating (rolling in) or supinating (rolling out) when standing still. The best way to check this is to stand flat on the floor and have someone look at your ankles from behind – do you roll in or out? If the ankle is not straightly aligned, a podiatrist or physiotherapist can diagnose any physiological issues. Pronation or supination can lead to knee and hip problems if the leg is incorrectly aligned.

irish dance_ready to feis_Irish dancing and a sickled foot_pronation supination

Another cause of a sickled foot is overpointing. If a dancer points too hard, it can push the foot into a sickled position. While a nice strong point is an essential basic, when the point is pushed too hard from the ankle, not only does it look bad but it can lead to injuries. A dancer with poor technique who sickles is likely to develop imbalanced muscles over time, and suffer from weakness in the ankles. Additionally, if the foot is not pointed straight and strong on a jump, you also risk going over on the ankle when you land because of uneven distribution of weight.

According to Roddy, “Do not let the ankle twist or turn in, and keep the focus on the front of the ankle as it plantar flexes and points away from the body. Keep the arch strong and turn the foot out. A good point of focus here is that your turn out should be coming from the hip, so try to feel the leg externally rotate and turn out all the way from the hip. Your heel should be pointed in towards the midline of the body with the toes pointed maintaining a clean line all the way up the leg.”

Do you have sickled feet? Have you managed to overcome it? Share your experience in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Note: Pat Roddy can be contacted at info@patroddy.ie for any fitness and movement mechanic enquiries.

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  • Elspeth Coats

    I have always had supination. I find myself standing on the sides of my feet when I’m not thinking about it. What exercises or things can I do to help train my ankles not to do that? And yes, I will just be walking and roll my ankle occasionally causing me to stumble or even fall.

  • Christine Brown Donoghue

    So, what should you do when your child has pronation due to collapsed arches? She’s 9 and has worn orthotics in her shoes for 5 years but you cant put them in soft shoes… Will she never be a successful dancer because of this? Should I be strapping her feet when she dances?

    • tlryder

      My daughter was having some issues with her feet. She’s been doing some foot-strengthening exercises we found on YouTube and that has helped a lot. The one she likes the best is called “Dance Foot Exercises & Stretches for Strength, Flexibility, Pain Relief, Flat Feet, and Ballet Pointe”, but there are other ones that are nice too.