Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Sing in high heels

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High HeelsI will never forget my first time wearing high heels. It was in a production of Carmen, I was playing Escamillo. The costume designer found a pair of heeled boots for me to wear and the first time I put them on was eye-opening to say the least. Ever since that experience, I have had great respect for women who choose to wear heels when they perform. My own experience suggested that wearing heels alters your posture and impacts your voice. Thanks to Dr. Amelia Rollings, we now have science to support my suspicions.

Dr. Rollings performed research with singers performing with bare feet and 4″ heels. She had thirty students perform a twenty-five measure excerpt of “Climb Every Mountain” alternating between barefoot and high heel conditions. She then developed a system to measure three different head position angles. What she found was that singers in high heels slightly lowered their chin down and back. She then performed measurements of the ladies’ acoustic output and found that 70% of the singers displayed significant differences in their LTAS (long-term average spectrum). These changes appeared to make the voice warmer rather than brighter, which goes in line with what we know about a tucked chin position (see Miller’s National Schools of Singing).

In her concluding remarks, Rollings states “A lowered head position elicited by high heels may produce a favorable vocal color for those performing in a genre that necessitates a lower laryngeal position and lengthened vocal tract. However, a lowered head position created by high heels may not be constructive in a style like belting, which typically encourages the raising of the first formant frequency and a slightly higher laryngeal position.” (Rollings, p. 127.e21). This is particularly important to take note of if you teach belters or commercial performers. If a student learns to belt in sneakers but only auditions in heels, she may find that her voice never feels quite the same in the audition room and she may have no idea why. It is quite possible that her heels are leading her to tilt her chin down into a position that is counterproductive for belting.

The paper goes into far greater depth than I have summarized above and I highly recommend reading it in The Journal of Voice Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 127.e15-127.e32. However, I think the message is pretty clear even without reading the article in its entirety – high heels affect neck posture and vocal output. I saw Dr. Rollings present on this topic several years ago and have made it a point to have my female and on some occasions male students bring high heels to their lesson when they are getting close to an audition or performance. As Dr. Rollings mentions in the article, “heel height research in the general population indicates that acclimation to high heels may not be possible and experience may or may not make a difference” (p. 127.e21). So having students sing in heels during lessons may not change much, but at least they will be thinking about how heels affect the voice before the audition/performance. With your guidance, they may be able to make better vocal and/or acting choices.

Finally, Dr. Rollings mentions at the beginning of her article that some audition coaches have very strong opinions about females and heels. She quotes one as saying “Flats make you look like you have stove pipes for legs and generally make you stand like a duck.” As a male who often sits behind the audition table, I must say I disagree. It is 2018 and women should never feel pressured to put their body in an uncomfortable position to make other people happy. If I am paying attention to your shoes instead of your voice and acting, that is where the problem lies and that can be fixed by perfecting your audition package/performance. Women should always wear what makes them feel good and comfortable. If that it is a 4″ heel or a pair of cute flats – that is your decision. Unfortunately, I am not a Broadway casting director, so my opinion may not necessarily be reflective of the industry. But in a perfect world, shoes should be at the absolute bottom of the list of concerns for a young performer.

I also want to take a moment to congratulate Dr. Amelia Rollings as the newest Voice Foundation/NATS Van L. Lawrence Fellowship recipient! The fellowship will help her continue to develop her research while enlightening all of us on how to better train those who choose to wear heels when they perform.

Do you have tips for helping students learn to sing in high heels? If so, please contribute to the conversation by leaving a comment below. You can also enter your name and email (without a comment) to be added to my mailing list so that you will receive an email whenever there is a new post. If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media to help spread the word. As always, thank you for reading and have a great week of teaching! ~ Matt

 

3 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Sing in high heels

  1. Jonathan Stinson
    February 20, 2018

    My student was singing Juliette’s Waltz for a Stephanie Blythe master class last fall. She wore heels, and after she finished, Stephanie told her to take them off and sing it again. The problem had to do with posture leading to shallow breathing in the fioritura sections. Once she sang barefoot, it was much improved. Since then, she had never performed in anything higher than character shoes.

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  2. Diane Thornton
    February 20, 2018

    In all my years of performing professionally, I never sang with a heel higher than that of a character shoe. My 5’2” frame with a size 7 foot tended to have a curve in the crook of my back with anything higher, throwing the body alignment into an “S” shape and therefore compromising support from the abdominal sheath and release in any intrinsic/extrinsic muscles in the neck area. Maybe someone who is taller and with a longer foot can tolerate a higher heel; but, so far, not one of my students has ever benefited from singing in high heels.

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  3. Melissa Gardiner
    March 2, 2018

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2018 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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