Five Reasons Why Singers Should Focus on Footwork

I made this collage with my feet on the ground and a cold La Croix in one hand.

You know, usually I like to start off my blog posts with something fun, or random, or tangential. Why? Because I like collaging things together, and I like making you laugh. (Laughter is abdominal work, people!)

But today, it is so HOT here in Seattle (cue Dot singing to George!) that I’m going to just go ahead and start typing with one hand whilst fanning myself/pounding cans of Lime La Croix with the other hand.

So! The theme for July’s Pilates for Singers Online Group Class Series is MAGIC FEET. Here are five reasons why you should Sign Up and come sing/work your feet with me:

(1) Your feet are the foundation of your posture.

I can almost guarantee you that in your first Pilates private session with me, we will spend at least half an hour observing your feet, exploring awareness of your feet, stretching your feet, and strengthening your feet.

OMG wait, I found my tangent!

Do you remember this Disney cartoon in which Goofy tries to go on a diet? It was on TV all the time when I was a kid. There’s a part where he has a hunger-induced dream?/hallucination? And a disembodied voice keeps saying, and then sort of singing, “Eat eat eat eat eat eat eat!”

This sort-of-a-song is so firmly ensconced in my brain that I would like to sing it for you now, but modified for the topic at hand. (Or at FOOT.)

:: Does lip trill to warm up::

Feet feet feet feet feet feet feet feet! 

Thank you. 

But seriously, y’all. Feet are so important. An imbalance or asymmetry in weight-bearing on the feet often manifests itself higher up the postural chain. It takes more physical energy to compensate for a misaligned structure than to maintain a balanced structure.

Equal distribution of weight on the feet allows the rest of your body to relax and be neutral. That’s key for singers, whether you’re performing a strange, haunting sort-of-a-song or, you know, an actual song.

(2) Your feet influence your core support.

One of the coolest things Pilates has taught me: Subtle changes in foot engagement can influence how you engage your core.

Try this: Stand with your feet about hip width apart. Now lift up all ten toes. Do you feel how the lift of your toes also lifts the centers/arches of your feet a little bit? Try to keep that lift of the arches as you lengthen your toes back long on the floor. Do this 4-5 times, and notice if you feel any difference in your core engagement.

PS: The Taoist sage Chuang Tzu once said “the true man breathes from his feet up, while ordinary people just breathe from the throat” (!!!)

(3) Your feet stand in your character’s shoes.

Did you know that about 25% of the muscles and bones in your body are from the ankle down? In each foot, you have 33 joints, 26 bones, and a network of more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Since there’s so much going on in a relatively small area, working on strength and mobility in the feet has the potential for a high functional payoff. 

Plus, most of us have spent most of our lives wearing shoes, which means the feet have a tendency to be underworked — even if you are super active. (Don’t get me wrong — I loves me a beautiful shoe — but I appreciate the value of training barefoot.) Footwork can be especially valuable training for singing actors, who often have to wear a variety of shoes for costume and dance purposes.

(4) Bringing awareness to your feet can improve balance and — here’s the kicker — your sense of rhythm.

I learned this one from a fantastic book called The Singing Athlete by Andrew Byrne, and it’s pretty fascinating, methinks. Did you know that working on balance skills might improve your musicianship?

Your sense of hearing and your sense of balance are linked. One cranial nerve — called the vestibulocochlear nerve — is most responsible for your ability to appreciate and make music. It controls both your vestibular system (the sensory system that is the leading contributor to your sense of balance) and most of your hearing.

Researchers have found that body movement can alter the way you take in metrical rhythm, and that vestibular and auditory information are integrated in perception. 

Try this: Stand as you do in normal life — like you are waiting in line at the grocery store, mayhaps — and notice the placement of your feet. Do your toes point straight forward, or out to the sides? Or maybe just one foot is turned out? Are your feet wide apart or close together?

Standing wide or with the feet turned out could be a subconscious effort to broaden the body’s base of support. Try training balance with the feet in a narrower, parallel position and see if you notice any difference in your singing.

(5) For emotional and energetic grounding, start with your miraculous feet.

Bringing attention and awareness to the feet is one way of grounding —  a somatic (body-based) practice to orient yourself in space and time. Grounding tones the vagus nerve — a cranial nerve that connects your brain, heart, and gut. She’s basically the queen of the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Singing and the vagus nerve is a ginormous topic (stay tuned for a workshop on this!), but for now, it’s enough to say: It’s good for humans to have high vagal tone. It’s important for performing-arts humans to have high vagal tone. And it’s super-important for singing humans to tone the vagus, because the vagus enervates the larynx.

Grounding also helps with motor learning. Put simply, your brain learns better when it feels safe enough to learn. Practicing Pilates is motor learning, and so is practicing singing. So, training the skill of foot awareness is doing double, if not triple duty in terms of nervous-system payoff.

In Conclusion:

If you sing, neglecting your feet is just … Goofy.

I know. I’m sorry. The heat is melting the tiny part of my brain that restrains the worst puns.

Heat heat heat heat heat heat heat heat!

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