Don’t Go to a Belly Dance Festival or Workshop Without These Essentials

I write a lot about essential knowledge for belly dancers, but what about the practical items? All the book smarts about belly dance history aren’t going to save you from injuring yourself during a long weekend or week of dancing.

After attending many festivals and intense workshops for over 17 years, here are the essential items I think every dancer shouldn’t be without.

Belly Dance Festival Essentials

(This post contains affiliate links.)

1. A versatile water bottle.

If you’re not hydrating enough, you’ll make yourself more prone to injury, illness, and burn-out. Always have your own water bottle with you, and keep it full. It’s better to drink more water before you realize you’re thirsty. If you’re thirsty, it’s too late!

Personally, I really love insulated, stainless steel bottles. They’re durable, won’t break, and suitable for drinks of all temperatures. Klean Kanteen’s 16-ounce insulated bottle holds just enough coffee for starting off the morning right. And Hydro Flask’s 18-ounce wide-mouth cap is easy to carry or strap to your dance bag. And while we’re talking about hydration, don’t forget that you’re going to get hungry, too. Bring your favorite snacks to keep your brain and body going during those full days.

2. High fidelity earplugs.

A lot of us still kicking around the belly dance scene are getting older, and that means protecting our hearing. Even Dance Magazine recently published an article about how dancers often neglect their hearing, and yet find themselves in pretty loud situations.

Essential for dancers: ear plugs

Protect your ears before it’s too late.

Any earplug made for musicians or concerts will help protect your ears without sacrificing being able to hear the music or the instructor. I suggest that you get a pair that has a cord, so that you can keep them around your neck and so they’re easier to find in your dance bag, purse, or finger cymbal pouch. I’ve lost so many earplugs, but my corded ones are still hanging around (pun alert!).

These earplugs by Reverbs have two different filters depending on your ear sensitivity. LiveMusic sells these in large and regular (regular is fine for my small ears) as well as two different filters.

3. Proper dance shoes.

I’ve attended and taught at festivals that have had less-than-ideal surfaces for hours and hours of dancing. Many festivals are still held in hotel ballrooms, which have the worst possible combination for dancing joints: industrial carpet over concrete.

Investing in a pair of shoes will save you from questionable dance surfaces. Some people love jazz sneakers, while I prefer jazz shoes with plastic on the ball of the foot. This will help protect your knees from turns, still allow you to feel the floor, and the plastic is far more sturdy than suede-soled ballet shoes on those rough carpets. I love the Bloch Flow slip-on jazz shoe, and they really do stand the test of time. I also add in a foam insole for extra cushion.

Come prepared with a variety of shoes, from ball-of-foot covers to jazz sneakers, just in case!

4. A great notebook.

I’m not a huge fan of taking notes during workshops (it feels like different headspace for me), but I always have a notebook. Even if it’s a tiny, purse-sized one, like these softcover Moleskine notebooks. Not only will a notebook come in handy to jot down new tips and tricks you’ve learned throughout the event, but it’s also fantastic for collecting names of new contacts… the old-fashioned way. And don’t forget a pen!

And, as an instructor, I would like to ask that you not take notes on your phone. First of all, handwriting will commit the information to memory better, but it also looks like you’re not paying attention if you’re on your phone.

5. Foam roller.

Essential: Foam Roller

Vibrating. Foam. Roller.

Using a foam roller essential for any dancer who’s working intensely at a festival or workshop. I love the TP Therapy roller: it’s durable, textured, and hollow, which means that it’s great for travel. I can stuff it full of clothes, and it doesn’t take up a lot of room in my luggage.

If you really want to treat yourself (and you’re driving to a workshop instead of flying), check out this bad boy: The Hyperice Vyper. It vibrates. With three settings and a rechargeable battery, your muscles will have no choice but to be relaxed. TP Therapy has a more reasonably-priced vibrating roller, and it weighs just a little over 2 pounds.

6. Kinesiology tape.

The scientific verdict is still out on whether the stretchy therapeutic tape actually helps, but I’m a big believer. And a recent study suggested that application of the stretchy adhesive tape increased reaction time in non-dominant hands.

There are many brands of tape, but I’ve found KT Tape—available at most drug stores—to work just fine. KT Tape makes two kinds: cotton and nylon. The nylon tends to stay on longer, and yes, you can wear either one in the shower. Other dancers and athletes like Rock Tape or Kinesiotex. If you have sensitive skin, you might need to try to a few different brands to see what works for you.

Learn how to use and apply the tape before trying to stick it to yourself. KT Tape has lots of very helpful videos online, but consult with a physical therapist if you have a specific injury you’re trying to protect.

7. A small first aid kit.

You can make your own, but having a small supply of adhesive bandages, alcohol wipes, tweezers, pain killers, and other items can make or break your festival or workshop experience.

This little first aid kit has every thing you need for minor injuries. As a former (and current) Girl Scout, I always make sure to have these items on hand, because you never know when you’re going to need them or help out a fellow dancer.

8. Baby wipes.

So, maybe the dance floor wasn’t so terrible, and you danced barefoot… but now your feet are filthy! Be prepared with a pack of baby wipes, so you don’t put your dirty feet into your clean socks or shoes.

Plus, if you get sweaty, baby wipes are a great way to refresh if you don’t have time for a shower. These travel-size packs by Babyganics will fit right into your dance bag.

What essentials do you bring to every festival or workshop? Share in the comments!


What You Need to Know About Morton’s Toe

On my last post about feet, one of the comments was about Morton’s Toe. Morton’s Toe, also known as Morton’s Foot—named after one Dudley Joy Morton—or “Greek Toe,” likely affects about 20% of the population. It challenges the body’s balance and can cause muscle and joint pain, but with the right tools it is manageable. I suspect that many people (like myself) who are told that they have high or fallen arches actually have this condition, but don’t know it.

What to know about Morton's Toe blog post by Abigail Keyes

6 Facts about Morton’s Toe

1. Even though it’s called “Morton’s Toe,” it really refers to the bones behind the toes.
In a “normal” foot, the first metatarsal extends more forward than the rest. This causes the big toe to hit the ground first while walking, running, and dancing. (Cue “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.) For those of us with Morton’s Toe, the second metatarsal makes contact first, throwing off our balance, and putting pressure on the second toe and middle of the foot.

Common callus areas for feet with Morton's Toe

Common callus areas for feet with Morton’s Toe.

Some people with this foot structure have second toes that are visibly longer than the rest, like the feet on the Statue of Liberty. Others might not. An X-ray will show for sure.

2. Symptoms include pain in the ball of the foot. If you’ve had pain in the ball of the foot, you might have been told that you have “metatarsalagia.” A fancy word that isn’t really a condition, but just a description of discomfort and inflammation.

Additional clues can be where your foot develops calluses, particularly on the outside of the big toe, underneath the second metatarsal head, and on the outside of the foot right behind the baby toe.

Morton’s toe can also make you prone to plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis.

3. It can create trigger point and referred pain all the way up the body.
If your second metatarsal is sticking out more then the rest, it can make your foot feel wobbly. Indeed, your body is trying to balance on a single point, where people without this condition can more easily place their weight on either side of the ball of the foot.

This constant balancing act can cause the shins, calves, quads, hips, and back to overcompensate. These areas are bracing and stabilizing so much that it causes muscle and joint fatigue. Your body has to work overtime just to keep you standing, let alone the extra balance and muscular engagement it takes to be in relevé!

If you’re prone to shin splints, calf pain, tight IT bands, and lower back pain, it might all start in your feet.

4. It’s not the same as Morton’s Neuroma, although the two are sometimes related. Apparently podiatry attracts a lot of Dr. Mortons. The neuroma is named after one Thomas George Morton. Totally different guy.

Morton’s Neuroma occurs when nerves between the metatarsal bones are trapped and become inflamed. It can lead to severe pain as well as numbness. Some people with Morton’s Toe do develop the fibrous neuromas, but not all. Those with the neuroma should avoid high heels and constrictive shoes.

5. Special insoles can help mitigate pain and improve balance. I’ve been able to manage the discomfort through regular self-massage, exercises, and insoles. A few years ago, the pain in the ball of my left foot was so awful, I couldn’t put weight on it. A (not-so-great) podiatrist told me I must have had a stress fracture, but the X-rays showed nothing wrong. Thankfully, a fellow dancer referred me to her dad, a trigger point massage therapist (shout-out to Chuck Duff). He worked on my calves, shins, feet, and hips, and within a few hours, the pain had disappeared.

Chuck also suggested I try out the insoles sold at mortonsfoot.com. I don’t get any kickback for linking to them, but I will say that their insoles have saved my dancing. They have thin insoles that I wear in my jazz shoes if I know I’ll be an intense workshop or on my feet for an extended amount of time. Their thicker insoles fit right into my regular boots and street shoes.

6. Massage can really help. Massaging the muscles between the shins, the calf muscles, and the soles of the feet will help loosen the muscles and joints in the foot itself, allowing it to relax. Use a foam roller, stick roller, or a lacrosse ball. I like to use a lacrosse ball on my shins and calves, because it’s a bit more precise than the foam roller. For your shins, place the ball on the floor, then kneel on the ball, as shown in this video. Find the tender parts, and don’t put too much weight on it, but just enough to relax the muscles. The same technique works for your calves.

Also you can massage the muscles between metatarsals with your fingers or a soft pencil eraser. This will help the toes spread out more, distributing your weight more evenly throughout the ball of the foot. The website of Bonnie Prudden, a pioneer of trigger point therapy, has lots of great exercises to mitigate the pain of a long second metatarsal.

7. It’s not a deformity, and if you have it, you’re not a freak (unless you want to be). This kind of foot structure is pretty common, so if you have it, accept it, discover ways to manage it, and give some extra love to your feet. They deserve it.

If you have Morton’s Toe, how have you managed it? Share in the comments!





Minding Your Feet: The Key to Clean Dancing

Your feet are the key to clean dancing. If you’re a belly dancer, as most of my readers are, you might be consumed with learning and refining your pelvis and torso articulations, but how much attention are you paying to your feet? It seems so obvious, but chances are you’re not paying as much attention as you should be!

Better dancing through your feet
The Feet are the Foundation of Dance

Most dance forms are performed upright and on the feet. There are a few exceptions, of course, like breaking (which also does feature footwork like the 6-step, but mostly features acrobatic floorwork), but for the most part, most dance traditions rely on the timing of the feet to determine the rest of the dance. The feet are our connection to the floor and the earth beneath us. They need to be strong, supple, and if we are performing to music, they need to be on the beat.

Most of the time when I see dancers who are struggling with the technical and musical elements of dance training, it’s because they are not entirely connected to their feet.

We learn to move our feet at a very young age. Most children start learning to walk at two years old. That means, most of us have been balancing ourselves on our feet since we were toddlers. In fact, that’s where the term “toddler” comes from, right? As we learn to walk we “toddle” around, finding our balance and our own personal rhythm.

For dance forms that are inextricable from music, the timing of steps and footwork are essential. Just as a house must have a sound foundation on which to build a house that will stand for years, our feet must provide that same strong base for our movement.

Core and Distal

In modern dance and when we teach movement to children, we often talk about the relationship between the head and tail, the right and left sides of the body, and the upper and lower parts of the body. We instinctively learn these elements when we are young, as we build our proprioception and our awareness of our own body in space and time in relationship to the world around us.

When we talk about feet, we’re also talking about the distal ends of the body. Your hands and the crown of your head are also your distal ends. Your abdomen, pelvis, and ribs are your core, sometimes referred to as “proximal.” In the dance teaching method called “Brain Dance,” the core-distal relationship is considered one of the essential movement distinctions we learn as children. The dance teacher in this video explores core and distal with her young students.

When you’re practicing, it might feel like your fingers and toes are the most difficult to keep mental track of, and that’s because they are farthest away from your core. When you are fully aware of your distal ends, you might feel that you have a greater kinesthetic sensation in these parts, which you must harness to keep your feet on time.

Releve or Flat? Choose One

In the Salimpour School of Dance, we place a lot of importance on the position of the foot, specifically whether or not it is flat or relevé. While this is not the case with all approaches to belly dance, nor all dance forms, I have observed that the stronger a dancer’s foot placement, the more secure they appear, the clearer their hipwork becomes, and the more free they are with their upper body.

When it comes to being in relevé, or demi-point, the foot must be as high up as it can go on to the metatarsals. Anywhere in between flat and demi-point becomes a kind of kinesiological no-man’s land. I’ve noticed in my years of teaching that when a dancer allows their foot to be somewhere in between releve and flat, they sink into their knees, and the rest of their entire body responds a bit slower, their hip work less clear, and their posture less upright. We jokingly call this in-between place “flat-evé.” When a dancer’s releve is strong, high, and solid, their entire body is more free.

Indeed, when a dancer is flat-footed, a similar principle applies. When a dancer distributes their weight evenly between the ball of the foot and the heel, their body feels more secure. When you are dancing, pay attention to your heels. Are they on the floor when when you are flat-footed? Are they pressed as high as your flexibility will allow when in demi-point?

Whether or not you are flat or relevé, imagine your whole foot as being supple and flexible. We might think of the foot as being one unit, but there are 26 bones in the human foot, all working with each other to keep you balanced.

Learn the Feet, Learn the Choreography

When I see dancers who struggle with learning choreography, often it’s because they feel overwhelmed with the intricate parts of a dance. They might want to get the correct position of the arms, or the hip work. They might also struggle to look like the instructor, following along as best they can.

But I can assure you that if you focus on the timing and placement of the feet, the entire choreography will start to fall into place.

When learning a choreography in a form such as belly dance, which is driven almost entirely by the music, the feet must connect to the rhythms and pulses of the songs to which we dance. Once you learn the footwork, the rest of the dance will be so much easier to remember and perform.

Get Your Feet on The Beat

When you are dancing, your feet are your metronome. In ballet, this is obvious. At the barre work on our tendu, elevé, relevé, pas de bourree, all on specific counts in the music. This detailed and meticulous attention to the timing of our footwork is essential for ballet, particularly when dancing in an ensemble. The presentational nature of ballet requires that we dance in unison with our fellow dancers. But in ballet class, often we are working on our barre and center work to solo piano music. In belly dance class, the music to which we drill often has more than just on instrument.

I’m hardly one to imply that ballet is the ultimate dance form. That’s hardly the case. Many other dances also rely on the timing of the feet to drive the movement of the entire body. Partner dances from Salsa to ballroom to Dance Sport all require that the feet be on a specific foot at a specific time. Even improvisational social dance forms like Lindy Hop have specific timings for the feet. When both partners can tap into the rhythm of the music, they can create extemporaneous dance magic.

House dance features complex footwork, often inspired by Salsa and other Latin dances. Check out “Kapelson” Kapela Marna physicalizing Azaelia Bank’s rapping with his feet. You can practically hear the rhythm of her voice through his sneakers!

Embody the Rhythm Through Your Feet

The next time you learn a choreography, or even the next time you drill your technique, find the beat with your feet. Imagine that the drum beat of the song to which you are dancing is actually driving your steps. Whether or not your feet are stepping in a chasse, or on the eighth or quarter notes, or even in 16th notes as in a Choo Choo, the music must be the impetus of when the sole of the foot makes contact with the floor.

When faced with a choreography that you find difficult to learn or retain, start with the feet first. Listen to how the feet reflect the music. What instrument are they physicalizing?

Once you start truly embodying the rhythm and pulse of a song through your feet, you’ll find that the rest of your dancing will take less effort, and hopefully allow you to connect with the music even more.



Save

Save