In Catholic school, I was taught that the trinity was the father, the son, and the holy ghost. In cooking, I learned that there are several different trinities: French mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery), Italian soffritto (a little looser with the number of ingredients), Cajun mirepoix (onion, celery, bell pepper), Asian mirepoix (ginger, garlic, scallions), etc. What I discovered last weekend was my holy trinity of performance comfort.
I’ve encountered several recurring issues as a performer. The first was knee bruises. Feel free to insert dirty jokes here. I’ll wait. I try to go down on the floor at least once during each performance, and no matter how brief the floor section is, I always end up with bruises on my knees (feel free to keep inserting your dirty jokes as necessary). The first time I performed on the Ruby Skye stage was only a few days before my sister’s wedding. I didn’t realize that a few seconds on the ground would translate to bruises. I’m not sure if I just have really thin knee skin or if the stage has a really hard floor or what, but imagine the degree to which I freaked out when I was sporting huge purple bruises right before my sister’s wedding. I had to resort to slathering arnica gel on my knees nonstop, and I managed to get my bruises to fade enough so that they weren’t visible. Luckily my dress was just long enough to cover the faint marks that were left! I was still left wondering how to avoid this problem in the future. No matter what I tried, my knees kept getting bruised.
Another problem I’ve had is my aching leg joints. Normally when I hoop for fun or to teach, I don’t feel too strained the next day. But whenever I perform, my legs ache. I’m pretty sure it’s the intensity of hopping up and down to the high energy music. Usually by my third set, I can feel my ankles, knees, and hips aching.
The third problem I have only been aware of for the last few months. After my sets, I am totally exhausted to the point where I can barely bring myself to walk up to the dressing room (it’s a long way up). Sometimes I feel like I can’t catch my breath or I have a stitch in my side, like when I was forced to run in middle school. I’ve been making a conscious effort to really take care of my body on days when I perform. I drink lots of water throughout the day and have a dinner with protein (usually fish) and carbs (rice). I drink water between sets (which means I usually get to unpin my fishnets from my costume to brave the nasty bathroom at least once while I’m there). My efforts didn’t seem to have much effect. The last time I performed before the wedding, Mr. Awesome had an epiphany – I needed electrolytes. You know, like all those “Is it in you?” Gatorade commercials where people are sweating in weird colors! The only problem with Gatorade is the high fructose corn syrup. I was afraid of having a huge sugar crash right before my second or third set.
While I was home for the wedding, my sister and I had a long discussion about bottled water and how, aside from filtering out any creepy crawlies, the most important thing about water is the ph factor. She said that most bottled water on the market has really low ph levels, which means it’s very acidic. For example, Aquafina and Dasani both have ph levels around 4. Water should have a neutral ph level around 7. She said that Smart Water was one of the best bottled waters that’s easy to find. And it has electrolytes!
This month, I tried a triple experiment. Normally, I would advise against trying three new things at once because that way it’s more obvious if there is any effect, but I was too excited to try out all three of my new toys. First: Smart Water. My only mistake was drinking regular water all day. I should have had a little bit of Smart Water before my first set, but other than that I did feel better between sets. I was still tired and thirsty, but less like “I’m going to collapse before I make it to the dressing room” and more like “Whew, I could really use a break right now!”
Next up: Asics gel knee pads. I got these at Big 5 for about $15. I’ve used my fair share of knee pads throughout my dance experience, and to be honest, most knee pads suck. Or least the old knee pads sucked. When I was in high school, everyone had the black Bike knee pads with the big “BIKE” written in white. We always used a Sharpie to color in the letters so they wouldn’t be as obvious from the audience. A little bit of padding is better than none, I will admit that much, so Bike knee pads were better than nothing. Any extra bit of cushion when you’re slamming your knees into the ground is helpful, but a lot of moves still hurt.
Like the old person that I am, let me tell you about the new-fangled innovations. When I was a young ballet dancer, the only thing available to put inside our pointe shoes was lambs wool. Imagine pulling at a cotton ball until the fibers were stretched out and thin. As you may have guessed, putting a layer of that inside a wooden shoe doesn’t do much to prevent blisters or bleeding. Now there are gel pads to put inside pointe shoes, toe spacers, all kinds of stuff (although some studios don’t allow the gel pads).
Similarly, knee pads have come a long way. These gel knee pads were made for volleyball. Asics makes several different versions, but Big 5 had only the cheapest, most basic version (ZD900). They are so cushiony but with support. I can kneel on the floor comfortably without any bruises. I did floorwork in all three sets and had not a single mark on my knees the next day! Now my only challenge is finding costumes that hide the knee pads because I don’t know if I can ever go back to NOT wearing these knee pads while performing! Asics makes other versions with a “slimmer profile” so I’m deciding whether I want to buy another pair (which might fit under costumes a little better) or stick with the ones I have.
Experiment #3: new insoles. I have been wearing gel insoles in my regular shoes and my dance sneakers for about three years now. In the beginning, I made the mistake of throwing away the package, so when it was time to replace the pair that I loved, I learned that either there was no brand name written on them or the identifying marks had been worn off. When I bought that first pair, it was an experiment (yes, another one!) so I only bought one pair and then kept switching the same pair of insoles back and forth between my regular day shoes and my dance sneakers. I was switching them constantly because I was practicing, teaching, and performing a minimum of three days a week.
The last time I bought gel insoles a few months ago, I idly flipped over the package and read in very small print “insert with gel side down.” WHAT?! I retrieved the other pair of insoles I had just bought and they said the same thing. I should add that Mr. Awesome and his brother both make fun of me for reading directions all the time because they would rather figure it out and then refer to the instructions/manual as a last resort. I never thought I would need to read the directions on a package of insoles because duh, put them in the shoes, right? WRONG. I have been wearing these things the wrong way for three years. That actually explains a lot. Sometimes when I pulled my foot out of my shoe, the toe of the insole would curl up, which always annoyed me. Now that I know that the gel side goes the other way, voila, problem solved.
A few weeks ago, I bought some new insoles made of Poron memory foam. This is the same stuff used in shoes made by Hey Lady, Taryn Rose, Uggs, and North Face. This time I bought not one, but TWO, pairs of insoles so that I can leave one pair in my dance sneakers all the time. Yes, a stroke of genius. I’ve been wearing these insoles by Footshox in my regular shoes to go to work, go to the grocery store, etc. and I already loved them, but I knew that the real test would be performing. I know that walking up and down a few flights of stairs in between sitting on my arse all day at work isn’t really too much of a strain on my ankles. After three sets, I am sold on these insoles! Sometimes my joints already hurt by the time I drive home. Thanks to Footshox, I felt only minor creakiness in my ankles and knees the next day.
I know that they don’t look like much, but that’s what makes them so awesome. Some of the gel inserts I’ve used were so thick that my toes were squashed up against the tops of my shoes. Footshox insoles are relatively thin. The regular women’s version is 3/16″ at the heel and tapers down to 1/8″ at the toe. There is no fabric lining that pulls away from the insole and wrinkles. With gel insoles, I’ve often felt like my feet were really gross and sweaty. Poron is breathable, so unlike gel insoles, Footshox allow sweat to evaporate.
I love knowing that I can now perform without worrying about bruises or aching ankles. “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” Or as Scar said, “BE PREPARED!”