I started belly dancing a few years ago to combat creeping osteoporosis. Most belly dancers perform barefoot. Naked toes enhance the sensuality of the piece. According to Shamira, a dancer, teacher, drummer, and RCA recording artist, who has been performing since childhood: “The good thing about dancing barefoot is you definitely have more control with much less chance of ever losing your balance or slipping and falling. You’re more grounded which gives you an earthier look, there’s less friction if you’re dancing on carpet, and you can point your toes and show off your pedicure.”
When I started belly dancing, I had serious issues with not wearing shoes. In my childhood home, my father, a former shoe salesman, insisted on wearing shoes or slippers at all times and I have incorporated that lesson into my daily life. Any podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon would agree. Companies such as Good Feet and Dr. Scholl’s have capitalized on foot pain. The Placentia Foot and Ankle Group states on their website that your feet are not supposed to hurt during your lifetime. They recommend that you do not go barefoot if you are prone to being flat-footed, which I am. According to OSHA, a cushioned, size-specific arch support can profoundly reduce health care costs.
Your feet hold a key to your physical well being. When your feet hurt, everything hurts. As most of us walk on hard floors most of the time, our spines take a pounding from the constant shock of hitting those surfaces. Walking on natural surfaces, on the other hand, massages your feet. According to an Old Tarahumara saying, “if you run with the earth and you run on the earth, you can run forever.” Barefoot running clubs have sprouted in tune with this maxim. When I was on a hiking trip in the Transcarpathian Mountains with some Ukrainian friends, one of the men was a masseur and holistic health enthusiast. He encouraged me to stroll in a sheep pasture after a hard day’s hike. Maneuvering through sheep doo did not appeal to me, however, so he relented and let me put my shoes back on.
My refusal to shed my shoes caused some consternation among members of my belly dance troupe, but our dance instructor supported my choice. I dropped the jazz shoes, which are hideous even though the support is great. The jazz shoes prompted the kerfuffle, but I continued to wear my pink ballet slippers with gel inserts while we practice for our performance. After the performance, my stance was vindicated when one performer broke a toe from walking around barefoot at the show venue and another stepped on a pin in the carpeted lobby. Others also complained of multiple aches and pains of which I had none. I attribute it to my shoes.
Shamira points out that people erroneously think that bellydancing barefoot is true and proper form. Poor dancers went barefoot. As dancers gained notoriety and earned more income, they wore shoes as a symbol of their success. Shamira, tired of pulling glass shards out of her feet when dancing in restaurants and clubs, now dons Hermes sandals. I somehow doubt I could wear those and survive the performance. I think I’ll stick to my ballet slippers.