On Dancing Barefoot…

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by Lucy Vurucic Riner

dancers on floor

There are not many things, about dance, that I am “old school” about.  I don’t have the old school teacher mentality when it comes to many things in my classroom.  Although we require our students to wear leotards, I have not put one on in about five years.  And when it comes to instruction I am 90% positive feedback and 10% mean in the “old school” sense.  The one old school thing about me is that I love my bare feet.  I don’t understand how, or really why, anyone would want to dance any other way?  How else can you be completely connected to the ground if you can’t truly feel it?

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of modern dance friends that don’t love that skin to floor contact as much as I do.  And with contemporary dance becoming increasingly more popular (I’m still not really sure how to define it myself) it seems that the minute we realized that people like Petronio and Naharin were letting their dancers wear socks, many of us modern dancers jumped at the chance of creating pieces where socks were the obvious choice as part of the costume.  And while Ruth St. Denis and Doris Humphrey roll over in their graves every time one of us modern dancers puts on her socks or toe thongs (what an ingenious invention) we continue to find new ways to adorn our feet while we dance.

I think when I look back far enough into my past I probably chose modern dance as my major in college because I thought all the other dance forms were far less comfortable to me.  After about four pointe classes in junior high I said forget it.  And tap shoes were just so…..loud.  When I danced with my Croatian Folklore Ensemble we had to wear very ornate shoes that required lots of wrapping, buckling and knotting and the brief stint I did in Flamenco required a one to two inch heel in very fashionable, but not very  comfortable, shoes.  A dance form where my feet could be free?  I’ll take it!

I just feel so much more connected to the floor when I’m barefoot.  And for me, it’s all about the traction I get from my skin into the floor.  True, everyone has different feet and it’s also taken my feet a LONG time to get to where they are today.  I have all the right clauses and rough spots in all the right places.  To get here I needed to endure some toe splits, blisters and floor burns.  Yes, this might sound just as painful as a pointe shoe at first, but in the end my feet became exactly what I needed them to be.  As long as I keep dancing (and don’t give these puppies too much of a break), I don’t have to worry about the ailments I had to endure to get here.  Now, I just get to dance barefoot.  I find that I can dance more fully and feeling connected to the floor allows me to take more risks.

There are clearly a lot of factors beyond feet that go into a great performance experience.  And quite frankly, some people just find being barefoot gross.  But this old school modern chick wouldn’t have it any other way…..

modern dancer

Lucy Vurusic Riner

Contributor Lucy Vurusic-Riner is a native Chicagoan who has been supporting and contributing to the dance community for over twenty years. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Dance Performance and Dance Education from Illinois State University.  Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.”  She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community casts of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance.

Lucy has taught modern, hip hop, and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area.  She was the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School from 1999 to 2012. In 2005, Lucy completed her Masters Degree in Education from National Louis University and also received the Midwest Dance Teacher of the Year award and was the youngest of four finalists in the running for the National Dance Teacher of the Year award.  Lucy and artistic partner, Michael Estanich, formed RE|Dance Group in 2010.  RE|Dance Group investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration.

In 2012, Lucy joined the dance faculty at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL.  When she is not immersed in dance, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.

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Catherine L. Tully is the owner/editor at 4dancers.org. To learn more about Catherine and the other contributors at 4dancers, see the "Contributor" tab at the top of the page. To reach Catherine, send an e-mail to info (at) 4dancers (dot) org

5 Comments Leave yours

  1. Amen!
    I love your beautiful tribute to dancing barefoot.
    All of my contemporary dance students here in Sydney
    go barefoot. It’s essential to access all parts of the foot when
    changing direction, balancing, etc–a sock mutes that information.
    Dancing barefoot is a real art and it changes the way your body moves.
    Charemaine

  2. :) Thanks for the comment Charemaine! I was happy to have Lucy do this post…I come from a ballet background and it seems so odd to me to dance barefoot, but I totally get the appeal!

  3. While you can’t do ballet properly in bare feet, I do think the first plié exercise at the barre should ideally be done barefoot, especially in a beginners’ class. It’s the only barre exercise throughout which you get to keep both feet on the floor, and bare feet help you feel the weight distribution, making it easier to lengthen and push the toes into the floor and minimize the dreaded ankle wobbling. Fondus, too, should be done barefoot: since they’re pliés on one foot, the same reasoning applies. And it’s easier to feel whether the foot that has to keep going in and out of cou de pied is making the right contact at the ankle.

  4. Excellent point about not being able to do ballet properly in bare feet–and interesting thoughts on the exceptions you noted. Thanks for taking the time to share them!

  5. Carla-
    I totally agree! I am a modern dancer that tries to take ballet at least once a week. I don’t wear ballet shoes at the barre at all (which is not conventional for the typical ballet class but my ballet teacher knows my somatic practices and allows me to do so) and my plies at the beginning of class really allow me to feel grounded, connected to, plugged into the floor so that I can create that awareness throughout the remainder of class. After barre, I put my ballet shoes on and I take what I was able to feel at the barre through my barefeet and apply that to the rest of class with my shoes on….not for everyone, but it works for me!

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