photo credit: Hot shoes. via photopin (license)

Playing or singing in high heels?

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Hi again dear readers! This time I share with you a few thoughts about being a musician and going on stage with high heels on. This post is mostly dedicated to performing women, but of course men have mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends and daughters. And men sometimes wear heels too. So please everybody, feel welcome to read this and get some info about the pros and cons of wearing high heels when performing.

I confess I am one of the women who occasionally makes some sacrifices for foot fashion, because - aside from topics of sexism and feminism -, I feel that some shoes are incredibly beautiful and in a few cases, pieces of art. I cannot really wear them for long, and the few occasions that I decide to wear them are related to special moments like weddings or parties, or perhaps for photo sessions. However, it is long ago that I stopped bringing my high heel shoes to the concert hall, and therefore, wearing them while playing. It became painful, uncomfortable and a source of distraction, keeping my focus partly away from the music.

I just want to play when I can give my 100% - to achieve performance flow - and high heels do not help me in that process. Sometimes I have even played bear foot in order to achieve such flow and feel free from the problems that arise from wearing high heels (see description below), but if the outfit is a bit short and feet are seen (this includes toes! :D), it may cause some of the audience members to feel uncomfortable. So unless the feet are sufficiently covered, I do not display them and wear a pair of comfortable flats instead (with a maximum heel height of 1-2 cm). Luckily, high heels are not the only pretty shoes right now on the market, and one can find the most affordable (expensive too, of course) and beautiful flats that do not make you miss high heels at all. So why suffer?

Of course some of you might be reading this and thinking “well, I do not suffer, I have worn high heels for years and I feel comfortable on stage with them, I just got used to it”. Well, you might be comfortable now, but let me explain a few long-term consequences of wearing heels:

  • The hips and spine are out of alignment with consequent hip and back pain.
  • High heels push the center mass of the body – especially the chest – forward.
  • The pressure on the front of the foot increases from 20% to 75% depending on the heel height, and over long periods can cause the following problems: bruising, sprained or broken ankles, pain on the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia), achilles tendon becoming stretched and inflamed (tendinitis), bony enlargement on the back of the heel (Haglund’s deformity), etc. 
  • If heels are worn all the time, the muscles might become weaker and shrink permanently, on average 13%, which leads to pain in the calf muscles when wearing flat shoes. 

The above mentioned consequences are related to lay people wearing heels on normal situations in daily life, but what happens when we actually need our body in full response during a demanding concert or just an average rehearsal and we are wearing heels? Well, put simply, the percentage of control of the body decreases because of multiple tensions and therefore, our performance is not as precise, focused and refined as desired. Logical, isn’t it? This leads to endless visits to masseurs, acupuncturist, quiropractics, naprapaths, plus a needless investment in finding the “right heels” (If there is such a thing…)

So, I do not want to change anybody’s dressing style, but I thought the matter to be important enough to at least give a few hints for you to reflect upon. If you are open to try other types of shoes but have no idea what might work beyond ballerinas, or you find that even ballerinas are uncomfortable, here are a few links to help you find feet-friendly shoes (I do not get any comission from advertising this, I have just tried these shoes myself, and I thought they are good examples, but you may very well find your own).

http://barfuss-leguano.com

http://www.birkenstock.com/home-en.htm

http://www.pikolinos.com/fi-en/

And consider trying Yoga, Pilates or Taichi: they are for sure better than high heels if you want to be a happy musician with a long-lasting career. So long!

PS. Somebody once asked conductor Lorin Maazel about the success of his performance with an orchestra. He only said "Well, I was wearing comfortable shoes".