Watch How You Step

A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video that suggests that the way humans walked changed with the evolution of footwear. For Europe this shift started around the 1500.

People apparently shifted from stepping toe first to stepping heel first as the bottoms of their shoes became sturdier to deal with urban environments.  Heel stepping was a gateway drug to poor calf definition and bad posture because it is a more forgiving mode of movement that allows for a degree of laziness.  You’ll fall over if you have bad posture while toe stepping.

What does this have to do with the arts you ask? Well there are pictures in the video of artwork and fencing manuals created prior to the 1500 which show people moving toe first.  This reminded me of a lecture I heard years ago that said ballet was based on the idealized movements of members of the (French, I think) court. The speaker made a particular point in discussing how the clothing of the time dictated how people moved– the necessity of holding your arms away from your body, etc.

Seeing this video made me think that perhaps the footwear and attendant walking style of the time were also elements that entered ballet.

I also got to thinking, has the fact that people no longer walk toe first contributed to a sense that ballet is not relevant to people’s lives? Not that we move around in the fashion of really any type of dance. It just got me wondering if lacking familiarity with toe stepping as a mode of movement adds an additional layer of alienation.

Check out the video.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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