Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


No 2. Charlie Mill

The tools of the dancer's trade are understandably his or her feet and, as every dancer knows, proper footwear is essential when performing in front of an adjudicator. Only a perfectly fitting pair of dancing pumps will allow the dancer to attain a good point of the toe, so it is useful to know what to look for when purchasing your first pair.

When a young boy or girl attend his or her first Highland Dancing class, the teacher usually advises that a soft pair of plimsolls or slipperettes be worn for the first few lessons. Once the raw beginner starts to "pick up" the various steps of the dance and shows promise then it is a thrilling part of training when the first "real" pair of dancing shoes is purchased.

It is very important that the shoes are fitted properly, preferably by experts. They must fit like a glove so that they resemble a second layer of skin over the feet. Highland pumps must look and feel like an extension of the dancer's legs, feel comfortable and, most importantly be cared for with the utmost respect.

The feet must be completely flat in the shoes and the toes must not be scrunched up inside with no extra room round the edges. If the are bought with growing room, it will not only be impossible to achieve the required "point", but also the show will move around, rubbing against the skin of the toes and perhaps causing blisters!

However, it is no better to buy them too small! In this case, the feet will be restricted from movement and from lack of "breathing" and the shoes will be constantly slipping off the heels. It therefore, cannot be emphasized enough the importance of well fitting shoes. Correctly -fitting shoes are more comfortable for the dancer, enabling his or her feet to work to their maximum ability and generally look better.

Highland stockings (socks) should be worn when trying on shoes as a further precaution. The procedure of fitting Highland shoes should be carried out regularly until the feet are fully grown.

Always ensure the laces aren't tied too tightly because this will prevent the blood carrying the oxygen to the muscles of the foot. It is obviously up to the individual wearer how the laces are tied - either wrapped around the instep, which ensures that if the lace should break near an eyelet there is every chance the shoe will stay in position- or threaded through the heel loop, which ensures the shoe will not slip off at the heel.

Most shoe manufacturers nowadays make what is known as a straight last shoes, which means that there is no definite right or left shoes - both shoes fit either foot. So it is advisable to keep one shoe for the right foot and the other for the left foot, so that the shoe will "take the shape" of each foot.

After your shoes have been worn you should continue to care for them appreciatively. Since they are "damp" after each wearing be sure to smooth out the wrinkles so that they do not re-set incorrectly. They should be put in an airy place- not on a radiator or stove!

Minor ailments such as blisters are a common complaint of dancers, especially if the skin on the toe is soft and therefore easily torn. A daily application of surgical spirit on the toes is an excellent way of toughening up the skin.

After every competition or performance make sure you take care of your shoes by "feeding" them with a good leather polish- this will ensure your shoes will generally last longer and enable the dancer to give a much finer performance.

So remember, don't just pick up the first pair that takes your fancy - a lot is going to depend on the pair you eventually select. Follow some of the above and, who knows, your footwork could literally improve by leaps and bounds!!!

Note from a "soccer mum" Remember that shoes are "skin", true skin of a different animal, other than human (hopefully), but skin none the less. You are never sure of the dance conditions having to cross dew-laden grass to access the dancing platform, pouring rain to baking sun, plus the perspiration. Think how those conditions would affect your skin. In an emergency, I have found that after a particular "rough day" on the shoes, Vaseline Intensive Care Hand cream (perfume free) (or similar product) rubbed gently into the shoe, as your would care for your own hands, was a great stop gap until you are home.

There is also a recent product that my soccer players swear by. Johnson and Johnson Blister Block, generic brands are slowly becoming available.

As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at

Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.