Dancing, alone, is a skill. Dancing in heels is a whole different ballgame. It takes a great deal of practice to master dancing in heels. In fact, the one thing I wish I would have done to better prepare myself for working in commercial dance is trained more for dancing in heels. I do not have an exact figure, however, I can say with great confidence that professional female dancers do most of their work in heels. Whether you’re dancing in a music video, at an awards show, or on an NBA dance team, you are likely wearing heels. Do you aspire to be a Rockette? Get comfortable in heels. Do you want to perform on Broadway? Get comfortable in heels. Are you interested in being a cruise line dancer? Get comfortable in heels. Okay, I think you get the picture. If you can get comfortable with just walking and standing in heels before you move to LA, then you will be one step ahead of the game.
Although the number of heels classes offered in LA has exploded in the last five years, such classes are still not as widely-available throughout the rest of the country. If you live in a city where access to heels classes is limited, below is a list of ways you can prepare for auditioning in heels before you get to LA.
1. Wearing Heels
I know that may sound insultingly obvious, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning. The best way to get comfortable in heels is to wear and walk around in them. Start small; wear your most basic heel a couple times a week for 30 minutes. Just walk around in your house. From there you can progress to wearing a thinner heel, like a stiletto, or wearing them for longer periods of time.
2. Changing Combinations
After learning a hip hop or jazz combination at your studio, try putting on heels at home and executing the combination again. While some movement may need to be adjusted, this is a great way to practice dancing in heels.
There are plenty of heel tutorials online. Tutorials are especially useful for those of you who don’t live in LA, as they give you remote access to teachers here. They’re also a great resource for dancers who are bit slower when it comes to picking up choreography. You can go at your own pace and take time to focus on the details.
4. Ballet Classes
As you all know, in ballet, you are meant to keep your weight over the balls of your feet. The same is true when wearing and dancing in heels—you shouldn’t let your weight rest on the back of your foot. Really focusing on this aspect in your ballet classes will only make the transition to dancing in heels easier.
5. Strengthening Exercises
You want to do everything you can to strengthen your ankles and feet. (Bonus: these exercises are beneficial not only for learning to dance in heels, but for becoming a stronger dancer in general.) One way to do this is by using a resistance band. Take your time to do these exercises properly. If done incorrectly, the exercises will more likely damage the ligaments in the ankles than strengthen them. Another way to strengthen your ankles and feet is to do relevés… lots and lots of relevés. Do them in multiple positions: in parallel with the legs together, first position, parallel in second position, and turned out in second position. Additionally, I would keep my legs in second position, feet parallel on relevé, and transfer the weight from one foot to the next slowly and controlled. Keep your weight on the balls of the feet, and make sure that you aren’t sickling your ankles. Also, engage your lower abdominals. You don’t want your belly hanging out with the pelvis tilted, because then your body is not aligned correctly.
6. Character Heels
If you take musical theater classes, then do so while wearing a character heel! The character heel may not be as high and as thin as a normal stiletto, but it will help you get used to dancing in heels. This is also great way to practice (1) keeping your weight over the balls of your feet and (2) turning in heels. Learning to do pirouettes in character heels is less scary then learning to do them in stilettos.
7. Ask For Heels Classes
Try asking your dance teacher or someone in the community who has experience dancing in heels to host a heels class. The best way to learn is to dive right in. Start with the basics (i.e., fundamentals like walking and shifting your weight).
It is important to select the right heel for you. If you’re a beginner, then find something with a closed toe. An open-toe heel allows the foot to slide forward, which can cause irritation and pain on the balls of the feet. A closed-toe shoe holds the foot in one spot. If you are not yet comfortable dancing in stilettos, then find a shoe with a thicker heel. This will give you more stability. Personally, I tend to avoid heels that have a zipper directly in the back of the shoe. The zipper makes it more difficult for me to point and flex my feet to maximum capacity. Remember: you MUST point your feet in high heels to continue the line of the leg. So be mindful of this while shopping for shoes.
I’ve had good luck finding high heels that I can dance in at Steven Madden and Aldo. You may also consider looking into Burju Shoes. This company designs heels specifically for dancers. Their shoes have been used by backup dancers for Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B.
A final note on heels classes: many of these classes in LA will not teach you how to dance in heels. Rather, most heels classes are just combinations. Since dancing in heels is a crucial skill in this industry, it is worth your time to look into the above-mentioned resources to learn the mechanics of it all. And next time you are in LA, check out Aisha Francis, Liana Blackburn, and Sienna Lyons’s classes. They are great at giving you the knowledge and skills you need to become a confident dancer in heels.