When I began my studies in belly dance, books formed a large part of my education. I don’t remember the particular belly dance book, but I do remember reading that long full skirts were useful for hiding bad foot technique. Bad foot technique - what did that mean? I had no idea!
Something about that concept of “foot technique” really stuck with me. From then on I paid attention to my foot placement and how I used my feet; and since I didn’t have formal training in any other dance form besides belly dance, that was important. I still don’t have the precise turning technique that ballet training would provide, but considering all the harmful practices in ballet I consider that a satisfactory trade-off. (On a related note, did you know there’s a “fake arch” ballet dancers can wear on their feet to get the preferred visual line when they go on pointe? To me it looks horrible, but to each their own.)
This focus on foot technique probably led to my awareness of using weight in the feet while performing belly dance moves; another important factor too often neglected in many belly dance classes. Feeling - and utilizing - momentum also factors largely in my teaching; because my students are not primarily dancers but hobbyists, and often they are only beginning to become acquainted with moving though space deliberately, gracefully, and with AWARENESS.
Foot placement is one of the top things I constantly remind students about, from the warmup to the dancing. My previous articles on “Footstep Patterns” didn’t delve into actual placement of the foot, and in fact I didn’t even think about it until I recently saw a video of a well-known dancer whose feet were immediately distracting to me because they were turned out like a duck. I know there’s a famous “old-school” dancer with the same turned-out foot technique, and I put it down to her personal idiosyncrasy; but when I saw a currently popular dancer doing this also, I realized, of course, that I had something to say!
So let me tell you about my favorite foot placements. As I mentioned in my article “For ABSOLUTE Beginners”, Basic Position has the feet pointing straight ahead. Typically, toes and knees point or face the same direction because this is a safer way of moving. Only movements like the hip twist entail a slight torque of the knee; and taking some of the weight off the heel just a little can help alleviate knee pressure during this movement. Also, all dance floors are not the same, so be aware of how easily your foot can pivot when you are in a new dance space.
In my method we keep the feet underneath the hips, not close together side by side - so each foot will be about 5 inches or so from the other. This provides a stable base from which to move; and for hip movements that extend out past the feet, we widen the space between the feet a few inches, so that the feet are now about a foot apart (12 inches). And yes, with the toes pointing forward, not angled out from the heels.
Beginners usually don’t dance in releve so I’ll just mention it briefly. When dancing “up on the toes” (actually the ball of the foot), some students don’t raise their heels high enough. Always bring your weight UP (over the ball) of the foot, imagining that you’re wearing very high-heeled shoes - it’s less strain on the arch of the foot. That’s why dancing in high-heeled shoes is not so hard, because the weight is lifted and forward. Of course it’s not great for your back and you can’t really do full torso undulations, but it looks nice!
When you pose one foot to showcase specific hip movements, use the ball of the foot to contact the floor: clean, sharp, and well-grounded hip work is ALWAYS better on this foundation. This posing foot’s only carrying a tiny fraction of weight, but it’s an important stabilizer for your position. Using only the tip of the toe to touch the floor looks nice in a pose but doesn’t help you do strong hip work.
In the next article on foot positions we’ll examine the basic foot positions with photos and examples of how each position is used in belly dancing.