If you aspire to one day perform on Broadway, mastering the art of dancing in high heels is a vital skill. Unless you’re playing a teenager in a show like FOOTLOOSE or dancing barefoot in a production like THE LION KING, you’ll probably be asked to dance in some sort of character heel (sometimes as high as four or five inches!). But dancing in heels can feel completely foreign if you’ve only worn flat jazz and tap shoes all your life. In heels, your center of gravity is pushed forward, your standing leg is less stable, and you have to be especially aware of your plié and rolling through your feet when executing jumps and leaps. Jo+Jax spoke with three experts to ask their advice for dancing in high heels with strength, grace, and poise. Here’s what they had to say…
Keep your weight forward: Professional dance coach and former Radio City Rockette, Rhonda Malkin, notes, “Dancing in heels is all about keep your weight one inch forward over the balls of your feet.” This allows you to change your weight efficiently and keep light on your toes.
Your heel is part of your line: Break-in your new character shoes so they mold to your feet (and so you don’t get blisters!). Your dance shoes should always accentuate the line of your leg—so make sure you can articulate your feet in your heels (even if the soles are hard). Malkin adds, “While dancing in heels, make sure to always point your feet and walk toes first. This technique helps maintain stability and demonstrates to casting that you know how to work your feet in your heels.”
Don’t throw away your technique: Sought-after tap choreographer, Shea Sullivan, describes, “The most important things to remember while working in tap shoes (both heels and flats) are to make sure you’re using your weight change, picking up your feet, and keeping your ankles relaxed.” Don’t forget your basic ballet or tap training just because you’ve got different shoes on your feet. A lot of the same rules apply—utilize your plié, articulate through the tips of your toes, remember your turnout, and keep on the balls of your feet.
Work it: Wearing high heels can add a maturity, sensuality, and femininity to your dancing. Embrace it! As a ballerina-turned-Broadway veteran, Mimi Quillin explains, “Being elevated by a heel adds an ‘unearthly’ beauty to the leg that extends through the entire body. When I first switched from ballet to jazz I studied my own silhouette in heels and sculpted the lines I wanted in order to express my body’s strength and sexuality. It isn’t just in the legs—this shaping and sculpting take your hips, shoulders, chest, and even the tips of your ears into account!”
Another tip? Invest in a good pair of heels. Just like your pointe shoes or tap shoes, character heels need to be well-made and fit right for your own feet. If you want to splurge, slip your feet into some LaDuca heels—the shoes worn by both Broadway dancers and the Rockettes!
(photo of Rhonda Malkin and Alisha Wickering. Glorianna Picini Photography)