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November 18, 2016

Alexander Technique violinI’m writing this during the intermission of a concert I’m playing with Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, because I just experienced an interesting phenomenon with my shoes!

I always recommend to my students NOT to wear high-heeled shoes, because they greatly alter our experience of balance, and that can impact our performance – whether we are conscious of it or not.

We humans are not designed to have our heels perched up high on a platform while most of our weight falls into the balls of the feet and toes. It’s just common sense that this has the potential to “throw us off”.

Even though I feel strongly against their use (in fact, I like to go BAREFOOT onstage whenever I feel like it and it seems appropriate – and it doesn’t go against a group’s dress code), I occasionally still choose to wear heels – just for fun.

Considering that as an Alexander Teacher I have a pretty good understanding of what I’m doing with myself when I’m wearing heels, I figure that it’s worth playing around with them sometimes (besides, women do look good wearing them in our culture), and it can’t affect me TOO much, if I pay attention and apply my Alexander thinking.

In fact, I wore heels in the concert last night, and I had no problem with them.

HOWEVER….. I’m writing this now because tonight’s experience was radically different from last night!

Alexander Technique musicWhat made it so different was that I’ve spent literally hours today paying a lot of attention to how I’m using my mind-body-self by applying Alexander Technique constructive thinking to my activities. All of that paying attention has increased my sensitivity throughout the day, and I’ve become more and more aware of subtle changes within my body-mind and how my thinking improves the flow of my movements.


To my great surprise, I had an extremely unpleasant time playing the first piece of the program tonight in those heels!

Tonight, I was acutely aware of how those heels were throwing me off-balance, causing me to work too hard by creating excess tension in order to compensate to prevent myself from toppling forward!

Keep in mind that these were the SAME shoes and the SAME music I played just last night without any problem.

But the reality is that last night, my system was surely creating all the same tension, but I wasn’t aware of it. Tonight, my body was screaming at me with its excess tension, and that made it harder for me to think, added a twinge of performance anxiety to a program I had NO nervous reaction to last night, and generally interfered with my playing.


Well, what did I learn from this?

  • Wearing heels is NOT helpful! I knew it before, but this was a very strong reminder that it’s true!
  • Paying attention and applying the Alexander Technique throughout the day is the BEST way I know to learn about what is actually happening in the moment, what helps me improve or not, and my increased sensitivity and awareness make me a better musician.

So what did I do about those shoes?

After that unpleasant first piece, I went offstage (I wasn’t playing the second piece) and told one of my colleague violinists in the group what I was experiencing, and she let me borrow her flat shoes for the rest of the concert.

PHEW! WHAT A RELIEF!! (Thanks, Emi! 🙂 )

You can bet that I will NOT be wearing those heels again tomorrow or the next day… and maybe not any other day EVER AGAIN. Performing with heels is an experiment I have no interest in making again any time soon!

I’d love to hear about your experiences performing in heels. Comments welcome!



Alexander Technique, balance, high heels, mind-body unity, performance anxiety, posture

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      1. I’m with you on this! When I have a long concert, I wear ballet flats, but I like to add a sparkly clip to the shoes.

  1. Just on a related aspect (comfort,) I suggest everyone at LEAST try this for a little while. Simply remove your chin rest. Play without it. Don’t worry, it won’t wear off your varnish, and so far as I know, it doesn’t have any muting effects on the sound. Use a handkerchief if you’re concerned about the varnish, and use your regular shoulder rest. It is so much more comfortable than trying to play while ignoring the feeling of that chin rest digging into your lower jaw bone. I’ll never use them again.

    1. That’s an interesting idea. As a baroque violinist, I’m used to playing without a chinrest or shoulder-rest… but I’d be quite uncomfortable playing without a chinrest on my modern violin because my tailpiece has a sharp ridge down the middle of it.
      I think experimenting with all kinds of ways is always informative. Great idea – thanks for sharing it, Ralph!

  2. As a symphony violinist, my performances are always from a seated position. I’m short, and always wear heels for performances so that my feet are firmly planted in the floor without having to sit directly on the edge of the chairs.

    That said, there have been many rehearsals where the chairs are folding chairs. They’re not as high, and so flats are preferred for those.

    Bottom line? Yes! The shoes matter.

    1. Yes, shoes when seated are definitely preferable to no shoes for people that can’t comfortably reach the floor – I totally agree. Having that stable, sturdy contact with the floor through the whole foot is very important. Thanks for your comment, Nancy!

  3. What a very valuable experience to have and to make a firm decision about. If your weight is thrown forward onto the balls of your feet then there is bound to be some postureal compensation especially with the added complexity of applying the skill of playing the violin. For example arched back and raised chest. One’s mind, no matter how A.T’d is not going to overcome the mechanical imbalance. I have felt quite out of sorts after wearing heels, headachy, sore knees, painful back, short of breath. A short walk and sitting around I can get away with but anything much longer with heels would require me to spend a lot of time applying myself to Alexander ‘exercises’ to bring me back to a state of feeling better with regaining an improved state of physical and mental balance.
    Good artical,by the way!

  4. I wouldn’t have thought that wearing heels while seated playing orchestra music would matter, but for me, they contribute to back pain even while seated. It seems like still I have to arch my back in a way that’s not comfortable, just to keep my feet “flat” on the floor. Concerts were about the only time I ever wore heels, but I think I’m going to stop even for those.

    Still, even worse for my back than heels are molded bucket seats that put your rear end lower than your knees. I didn’t know about this in my teens and early 20s and the back pain in orchestra got so bad that I almost quit playing the violin altogether. Now I bring a cushion if the seats are like that, and my back thanks me.

    1. Smart! Yes, it’s so important to set up your surroundings (chair, music stand, etc.) in the most ergonomically-helpful way possible. Bringing a cushion – especially a firm, wedge-shaped cushion to even out the backwards slope is a really good idea, and can do wonders to improve back pain.

      I wish I had done that when I was doing 3 days of recording on terrible chairs during my first pregnancy. I ended up with such a sore tailbone that I was in pain for the rest of those 9 months.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Karen!

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