FEET - HEALING HANDS
A two part series by Beatrice Parvin & Amel Tafsout
Part 1 - DANCING FEET - Beatrice Parvin
Feet are perhaps one of the most neglected parts of our anatomy
when learning Arabic dance yet they are one of the most important.
I first went to a class in Arabic and Maghreb dance taught by
Amel Tafsout, and was surprised at the emphasis she made on
the placing of my feet. I did not realise then the complex role
feet have in this dance ó assuming like many outsiders to this
art form that the vital and maybe only important focus is the
torso and hips. How mistaken this view is, I later began to
discover and that, rather than an after thought, the feet are
actually key players. They are in fact the foundations of the
movements and control the balance and shift of weight in the
upper part of the body.
Unlike other forms of dance the feet are not the obvious visual
focus. The hands, arms, head, chest and hips take centre stage,
eclipsing the gentle steps and glide of the feet. They are,
if you like, the directors of the body or hidden conductors,
as they are never allowed to take the applause. They orchestrate
the muscular choreography of the dancer in a subtle and supportive
way that differs from other dance forms.
In two other related dance forms, Flamenco and Kathak, the feet
are not only used as a percussive accompaniment, but also serve
as a visual focus in the performance. One of the first images
you have of these dances is that of the black heeled crossbar
shoes of the Flamenco dancer hammering into the floor or a Kathak
dancersí layers of ankle bells creating a stream of sound in
perfect time to the rhythms of the tabla.
In Arabic and Maghreb dance, the eye is drawn to the colourful
coins and scarves strewn around the dancersí hips. The feet
are often hidden by a long skirt or are just in sight at the
end of a pair of voluminous trousers. They may be adorned with
henna patterns or a few slim ankle bells may rest there, but
these are not essential.
The intricate subtleties of each foot can be seen with a movement
such as the camel. I had great difficulties at first with this.
It is much easier for instance, to move your feet in a waltz
where it is just a matter of putting your feet in particular
places around the dance floor in time with the rhythm. The feet
have no responsibility for the rest of the body. The body is
just taken whither and thither as the feet make patterns with
The camel movement, which can be done on the spot or can be
used to move the dancer to another, demands a lot more of the
feet. Not only do they have the job of moving the body geographically
they also have to co-ordinate the muscular waves in the pelvis
and torso. The arms also have to work with the feet to create
balance, and the whole movement must be seen to be effortless
and constant with no jerks or pauses along the way. Before this
movement becomes second nature it takes a great deal of effort
and control which is mostly focused on the feet. If you step
on the whole of the sole, or only on the toes; or with both
feet on tip-toe or only one, you change the movements in the
Amel teaches us to step lightly with the front foot with the
toes and shift the weight to the back foot. This shift of weight
indeed increases the curve of the torso. Putting the weight
on the front foot tends to make the movement heavier and loses
the lilting sway of the camel. There are, Iím sure, many other
ways to perceive the camel and this is only one movement where
the intricacies of the feet and their vital importance can be
Through learning this dance I was able to see feet differently.
My own pair, which had never seemed particularly interesting,
became a world unto themselves as I started a course in Reflexology.
In Reflexology, different parts of the feet are associated with
different parts of the body - the feet show the bodyís complex
arrangement of tissues in microcosm. During a treatment, if
a reflex point in the foot is slightly painful it could indicate
an imbalance in the related area of the body. Reflexology is
particularly beneficial for those suffering from stress, and
the myriad of complaints that spring from this contemporary
problem. Throughout the treatment each and every organ will
be treated so that equilibrium can be restored to the body,
helping circulation, detoxifying and re-energising the bodyís
Feet are, according to Greek legend, the symbol of the soul.
There are many allusions in ancient scriptures and illustrations
to feet as important areas of spiritual and physical healing
throughout the world. One of the earliest and most quoted examples
is from a wall in an ancient Egyptian tomb of Ankhmahor dating
back to 2330 BC. It depicts a man receiving a treatment from
another with hieroglyphics translating as "Do not let it be
painful", and the practitioner replying, "I do as you please".
There is almost nothing more satisfying in the world than lying
back and having your feet massaged. Furthermore a treatment
can help restore well being and renew the mind and body leaving
you feeling calm and relaxed.
Touching another personís feet can sometimes expose the receiverís
sensitivity and allow them to free painful emotions. In our
country feet are mostly covered up and neglected and you can
feel quite vulnerable while having them massaged and given attention
for the first time. The giver also can receive benefits. The
act of giving in such a symbolic and humble way with slow languorous
strokes is rewarding and positive.
I have found there are many parallels between Arabic dance and
Reflexology. They both encourage healing by seeing the body
as a whole. There is no part ignored by the dance, from your
fingertips to your toes ó each has their role to play.
The spine in Reflexology is located along the inside of the
foot from the base of the big toe to below the anklebone. As
your fingers follow the curve of your foot you can almost count
the corresponding 33 vertebrae in your spine. From there radiate
all the nerves to our major organs, so this is a very important
area to give attention to and it is the easiest to do by yourself.
Similarly with the dance all movement radiates out from this
central axis. The more you are aware of this the better your
balance and fluidity of movement will be.
At the beginning or end of a session a reflexologist will press
on your solar plexus. This is a powerful point that encourages
immediate relaxation. On the foot it is located between the
second and third toe below the ball of the foot. This corresponds
with the nerve centre below the centre of your chest behind
your diaphragm. It is a very common area to store tension. When
we dance it is important that this area is open and giving and
free of defensive emotions as from here radiate the movements
of the arms which should turn from the body in a soft continuous
flow. Our feet connect us to the earth. As we dance barefoot
we are unconsciously massaging each and every part of ourselves
through our feet.
The resulting feeling of Ďonenessí is similar after both a massage
and an intensive dance session. Both can be relaxing and stimulating
without risking any damage or involving invasive methods. So,
I urge you please to value and look after your feet, as this
is where all movement and healing begins.
to Part II