The thing that surprises people the most when they come to Salsa Intoxica for their first class is when I ask them to take their shoes off.
Although on the surface this may seem an odd or unnecessary request, I have some very solid reasons which are based in my knowledge of neuroscience, physical therapy and movement mechanics.
Let me explain further:
The Salsa contra-body hip and rib-cage motion is a direct result of the manner in which the foot contacts and leaves the floor.
Most beginners attend their first few months of classes in street shoes which are stiff, rigid, have insufficient or too much traction, or move around on the foot too much. All of this prevents the foot from striking ball to heel, which then means that the flow of energy is sent upwards through the kinetic chain in a sequence which is incorrect – all at a time when the nervous system of a beginner is creating and embedding new motor patterns that will form the foundations of their dancing.
By the time they reach a point where they see the value in buying proper dance shoes, the damage is already done and these motor patterns will be deeply rooted and just carry over into their shiny new dance shoes.
I still do much of my own practice in socks or barefeet which allows me to work on the mechanics of the movements without having the added challenge of decreased balance and postural stability.
I don’t recommend ladies dance in heels higher than two inches for the first six to twelve months, as it will save them months of trying to correct or artificially reconstruct body motion which has been built on poor foot mechanics.
The sole of the foot is covered in nerve receptors which pick up information about the environment, speed of movement, and transmit that information back to the brain in order for it to adapt and respond constantly.
In other words, it helps your brain create an accurate “map” of where every part of your body is in relation to other body parts and the external world.
Shoes inhibit the receipt and interpretation of this information which may cause the brain to take measures to keep the body safe by slowing it down, increasing pain, or reducing its strength and range of motion. It may also cause cramp, muscle spasm and changes in muscle length/tension relationships that may CAUSE injury and poor posture over time rather than being the EFFECT of injury or poor posture.
When I was doing a lot of intense gym training, lifting weights in bare feet allowed me to increase the weight I could lift by 10kg instantly, and improve sprint times, so to me it’s obvious that it would have desirable effects for dancers; improved reaction speeds, better balance and stability, and optimal postural alignment.
Most adults spend most of their day in shoes which don’t allow their feet to move properly. This results in all the little bones of the feet becoming compacted together. The joints between all of these bones also contain receptors which feed information back to the brain about the position, function and condition of that joint. If the brain deems the joint too “compressed”, again it will tend to lock up that joint, along with neighbouring joints as a protection mechanism.
So, if there is an issue with the joint space at the ankle joint it’s likely that the knee or hip joints will lock up also.
I use simple foot, ankle and hip decompression techniques with my private students which neurologically “reset” the joints and lift any temporary restrictions that their brains have imposed.
So that is my reasoning behind teaching my beginners to dance without shoes…so they can build a natural and unrestricted movement body motion which looks attractive and effortless – from the ground up.