Foot exercises for South Asian dancers


As said by Alice Abrams when you see a dancer performing, all you see is the glory of the performance but have you ever thought the agony that the dancer faces while practising and performing the dance?

Many people are unaware of the stress and injury that occurs in a professional dancer, when people see them as performers, they often forget that they are the athletes who endure a great amount of physical trauma to their bodies.

Most of the dancers begin their practice at a very young age, which along with long hours of practice leads to negative impact over the musculoskeletal system of their body. It has been estimated that approximately 90% of professional dancers suffer from at least one musculoskeletal injury during their career. (3) Literature states that around 64- 80% injuries occur in lower extremities and about 75% affect the muscles and soft tissues and around 34% injuries occur at the foot and ankle. (3)

South Asian dance styles are very unique and dynamic where the dancer has to perform repetitive movements along with simultaneous stamping of the feet, jump, pirouettes, and positions where the knees touch the floor forming a sophisticated patterns.

Have you experienced the pain while practising 'Kuttanam' (jumping downwards on the balls of the feet and then flattening the heels) or when you have to bang your foot onthe floor while performing the 'Adavus'?.

These can cause injuries that can be direct due to fall or indirectly due to stretching of the muscles as a result of inadequate warm up or due to repetitive use of same steps done hundreds to thousands times over the years. Your ankle joints help you move gracefully or powerfully, and they absorb shock from all types of landings. Because the ankle is the most frequently injured joint in dancers, you need to spend some quality time on exercising the muscles around this joint to help prevent injury.

So here are few simple ankle and foot exercises to keep your foot stronger and help you perform better. Practice these exercises along with your routine workout plan and dance pain free.

A) Stretch/Flexibility exercises

1. Gastrocnemius Stretch

 Lean against a wall with right foot behind you.  Keep right knee locked and heel touching the ground.  Lean forward until you feel a stretch along your calf. (You may have to move the foot closer to the wall or further back in order to feel the stretch) A stretch should never hurt.  Attain a good, pain free stretch and hold for 15 seconds then switch and stretch left leg, repeat 4 times

2. Anterior Tibialis Stretch  Sit in a chair and cross your right leg onto your left thigh. Your malleolus, or ‘ankle bone’, should be about 2 inches off your thigh.  With your left hand, grasp the top of your foot and pull your foot towards your left side, making sure movement occurs at the ankle joint. A stretch should never hurt.  Attain a good, pain free stretch and hold for 15 seconds then switch and stretch left leg, repeat 4 times.

B) Range of motion  Sit on a table, bed, or couch and rest right leg so that your foot hangs 2 inches off ledge.  Using your toes as a pencil, draw small circles in the air, clockwise then counter clockwise, for 15 seconds in each direction. Repeat one more time for each direction.  Now draw large circles in a similar fashion, again clockwise then counter clockwise for 15 seconds in each direction, then repeat. Movement should be occurring at the ankle joint. Repeat exercises with left foot.

C) Strength/ Endurance

1) Plantar Flexion Against Band

 Wrap a resistance band around the forefoot and hold on to it with you hands. Pull the band taunt, but not too tight at first.  Increase resistance as you progress through reps.  Next, attempt to point the toes as far away as possible from the shins and then slowly return to the original starting position.  Perform the reps slow at first and then add speed in increments as you also increase the resistance.  Perform 10-15 reps on each foot.

2) Dorsi Flexion Against Band  Anchor the band around a pole or heavy bench and wrap one end around the top of the foot. Make the band taunt, but not too tight.  Next, pull the toes back towards the shins as far as possible and then slowly return to the original starting position.  Perform the reps slow at first and then add speed in increments as you also increase the resistance by moving further away from the pole or bench. Perform 10-15 reps on each foot.

3) Towel Scrunches

 Sit in a chair and stretch a towel on the floor in front of you.  Begin with right foot and keep heel on the ground and off towel.  Using your toes scrunch the towel towards you. Scrunch the towel as far as possible, then straighten and repeat a total of 3 times.  Switch to left foot and repeat. (When exercise becomes easy, place a book on the far end of the towel and then scrunch.)

4) Toe Raises  Stand in front of a chair and place hands on chair back.  Raise up on your toes and hold for two seconds, lower until heels touch the ground (take about two seconds to lower).  Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions. When exercise becomes easy, perform exercise with one foot at a time.

5) Single-Leg Heel Lift  Stand on one foot and lift the opposite knee up to hip height.  Reach the arms forward towards the horizon and look straight ahead.  Next, press down into the forefoot and lift the standing heel off the ground as far as possible while maintaining balance.  Then lower the heel back down to the floor under control. Repeat several more time and practice a variety of tempos, such as ‘up and down up on a 5 count’, as well as some isometric holds at the top.

Advanced Version: Eyes Closed- for further stimulation of the Proprioceptors in the lower leg and foot, try this exercise all over again with the eyes closed. Perform 10-15 reps on each leg.

6) Toe Taps  Sit in chair, begin with right foot. Keep heel on the ground.  Raise toes up toward body, and then lower so toes touch ground. Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions.  Repeat toe taps for left foot.


1. Ankle strengthening program Program. By Manuel A. Escalante, Jr. BS, ATC, EMT


3. Analysis of lower extremity muscle flexibility among Indian classical bharatnatyam dancers.V.Anbarasi, David V Rajan, K. Adalarasu. International journal of medical, healgth, biomedical,bioengineering and pharmaceutical engineering. Vol 6. 2012.

4. Musculoskeletal pain and injury in professional dancer; orevalence, predisposing factors and treatment. Happiness anulika aweto, Oluwapelumi mariam awolesi,

Racheal olumaykun Alao. Indian journal of physical therapy, vol 2.

5. Morphometric analysis of ankle and foot in classical bharatnatyam dancers using foot posture index (FPI) and plantar scan images (PSI). K Vijay Kumar, Dr. S Senthil Kumar. IOSR Journal of dental and medical science Volume 15 2016.

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