It makes me feel a little guilty. Nearly every time I go out dancing, someone compliments me, asking something like, “Are you are a professional?” or saying “You are amazing!” Last week, a couple that I had never met was having enough fun watching me that they bought me a drink. The truth is there is one secret to my dancing they are all probably overlooking, even though it is staring them in the face. I do it barefoot.
People often make statements about being barefoot being “tough,” but I really do it for the opposite reason. I go barefoot because it is easier. Sure, it may take some getting used to some surfaces and conditions, but from the very first I noticed that my balance was better. This has a great impact on dancing.
I have always loved to dance. I love the story my dad tells about me dancing at an outdoor concert my parents were at when I was 4 years old. Oblivious to all else, I danced for a long time. I may have been barefoot, since it was southern California. I know my mom says they didn’t put shoes on me at all until I was over a year old. But as an adult, I didn’t start dancing regularly until about 3 years ago. Up until then, I had kept up with exercise, including some of those aerobic classes that do their best to make you trip on a raised platform. I had danced at an wedding or similar type event every few years, broken out in the kitchen once in a while, or gotten a little light footed in the grocery store aisles, but just going out to go dancing was not on the typical weekend agenda.
Then, the kids grew up, and my husband and I could go out without a babysitter. Soon, we went on a cruise that had a lot of dancing floors. I turned 50 and started to go run barefoot. I began training for triathlons and half-marathons. These things all aligned to remind me of dancing and make it extremely fun.
Still, at first, I couldn’t dance for more than a couple of songs without getting winded. Running training was not quite the same as the pace at which I dance. I’ve never had any dance training other than a dismal semester of ballet in college. My husband and I did try a couple hour long free salsa dance lessons, but found the repetition to be boring. He was not at all interested in any other ballroom type dancing. It looked like it was free form rock-n-roll for us. Going out every 2-4 weeks, I soon found that I could dance for a 2-3 hours, with only a few breaks, and without taking three days to recover afterward.
Gradually, I began to experiment with “new”moves, just for fun and variety. I noticed that being barefoot gave me quite a bit more mobility due to balance. With this new mobility and increasing dance stamina, I did more creative things with my legs. I even ventured cute little kicks, low to the ground, when the music just seemed to call for it. No one else was doing any kicking, so it was very brave of me.
Now, about three years later, I can kick in a controlled way as high as my husband’s shoulder. I have even begun to be able to hold my legs in a waist high position for a few moments, to add extra flare to a dance move… I did not make any effort to make this progress. In fact, it was just last month that I realized how much of a change had taken place. I recalled that I have never been very flexible. I have always been frustrated by stretching associated with other exercises and finally gave it up a while ago after happily reading that it might be harmful. I’ve never done any yoga or “balancing exercises” other than trying to kill myself on one of those half-balls in the gym. I had shoes on then. No one should stand on those balls while wearing shoes.
There have been a couple of establishments where they asked me to put shoes on, which I complied with by wearing some thin-soled leather Vibrams (until I lost them when I left them accidentally at a location where they let me stay barefoot), my Moc3’s (which I gave up because I just couldn’t deal with their look when wearing a skirt), then finally settled on my Luna sandals, which let my feet breathe and look much better with dressier attire. The sandals still let me have the balance advantage of full toe spread, but I do have to be a little bit more careful of slipping. The soles of my feet may look smooth and leathery, but they are pretty grippy, too, on most surfaces.
The only times I have been hurt by other people’s shoes were when they knocked me in the ankles, something I could only protect myself from if I wore combat boots. The ladies in high heels do look scary, but they can’t really move and if they fall they tend to go straight to the ground. To date, I have not fallen over once. I have seen several other women and men in shoes fall down, and most of them were not drunk that I could tell. My husband did step on my toes once, but it wasn’t that uncomfortable.
Since I am moving around a lot when I dance, I have made a habit of constantly looking all around me. I do a bit of twirling, too. What can I say? I have figured out how to “spot” my turns so that I don’t get dizzy. Twirling is definitely easier in bare feet, too, because being able to end the twirl on feet that are ready to absorb any slightly miscalculated motion is invaluable. To add to the fun, my husband and I have gotten to the point where we can read each other’s moves sometimes and it looks like we know what we’re doing. I think it is like our own little tango.
I have danced barefoot on empty dance floors, where I could use the whole space, and crowded dance floors. I’m usually very warm, so the bare feet help me cool off, too. If the dance floor is empty when we start to dance, someone else often sees how much fun we are having and figures if we are already out there, they won’t feel out of place.
So now you know my secret. Dance barefoot. You will be safer and have more fun. You will find keeping your balance comes much more naturally, and you might even accidentally get a little more flexible!