To live the high life, just walk this way
The first time I meet Chyna Whyne she is dressed in Minnie Mouse heels, skintight red leggings and a red T-shirt embellished with black stilettos. In a sultry voice she is telling a group of women, all over 40, to be the “butterflies” that they are. “Shine and be you,” she says, strutting up and down in skyhigh platforms in a room above a Caribbean restaurant in Camden, north London. “Present that inner thigh! Flex those legs!”
I am here for a class on how to walk in high heels. In my bag is a pair of 5in platforms bought in Paris in a moment of madness. I have never been brave or foolish enough to wear them. Despite all the things heels stand for – sex, power, glamour, longer legs – I find wearing them such agony that I have never learnt to walk in them.
Doctors have been warning of the dangers heels pose for years but Chyna Whyne (pronounced “China Wine”) says it’s all about technique. “Most women are out of balance,” she says. “Some lead with their hips, some lead with their chests, others stick their bottoms out.”
A British-Jamaican singer who happily wears stilettos all day, Chyna has perfected a way of wearing heels based on the Alexander Technique. It all started during a tour with Eric Clapton. “I was flying around the world in killer heels and just loving it,” says Chyna. “But I was battling with excruciating back pain.” Desperate for a remedy, she tried pills, physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic work – but the pain kept returning.
Eventually a friend suggested the Alexander Technique. The results were so positive that Chyna decided to train as an Alexander Technique teacher. Refusing to ditch the heels – flat shoes, she says, make her “low and depressed” – she turned up for class in “tight leather pants” and 6in stilettos. “Wearing heels seemed perfectly natural, given I wanted to learn how to master the art of wearing them,” she says.
There are seven of us in tonight’s class. Chyna instructs us to line up our shoes on the table. “Always do the rocking test in shops,” she says, tapping the back and sides of each shoe. “If they rock, walk away.” My Paris platforms pass – just – but a French girl’s designer stilettos are written off on the spot. When Chyna taps them, they swing like pendulums. “Oh my God, can you see them rocking, honey?” says Chyna. “They’re an absolute hazard. Just look at the way that heel leans.”
Minutes later we are barefoot and sitting by the wall in a mass of bags, shoes and umbrellas. “Now I want you all to say, ‘I love my feet’ at the top of your voices,” says Chyna, beaming at us encouragingly. We release a series of groans. “Come on,” says Chyna, bursting into gospel-like song. “I love my feet! Send them love and they’ll do what you want.”
It’s all a bit New Age but our spirits lift when Chyna switches to 10 minutes of aeroplane-type “Now let’s up that swagger,” says Chyna. “Does that feel hot?”
Under Chyna’s tutelage hips start to roll – and everyone looks taller and slimmer as they strut past a startling nude called The Bride Who Ate Her Husband. A Dutch woman strides up and down as if she could conquer the world’s boardrooms and the French woman, who’s been told to save her stilettos “for the bedroom” (she has switched back to her espadrille wedges) is now pouting alluringly. “You go, girl,” says Chyna, clapping delightedly. “Just tap into that sensuality. Be the flower that you are, honey.”
My second (private) session with Chyna kicks off with 20 minutes of Alexander Technique. All I do is sit in a chair while she places her hands on my upper body. There is no pulling or tugging, no obvious manipulation, but I have an immediate sense of wellbeing, followed by a feeling of lightness. Without me even noticing she has somehow realigned my spine.
This time I’m determined not to be brainwashed, even though I’m itching to put on my pink platforms. Aren’t heels all about slavery, female subordination etc etc? Chyna hands me my shoes. “Honey, they’re empowering. You’re at an advantage immediately – job interviews, on stage, everything.”
Heels are, she says, dynamite to exercises. These, we’re told, are the essential prelude to any lengthy wearing of heels. “Stretch your toes and span them like a fan,” says Chyna. “Rotate the ankles to the left and right.” Finally we point and flex our feet several times. It’s hard work but feels good.
Muscles warmed up, we are now ready to put on our shoes. Chyna lines us up at one end of the room, then sends us up and down in pairs. Back and forth we stagger, stifflegged as newborn giraffes. Chyna holds my hand. “Can you feel that natural swagger, darling? Yes? Oh honey, I’m so proud.”
Soon we start to get the idea. We’re strutting, legs extended, balls of the feet touching the floor first, inside thighs “presenting”, just as we’re told. I’m walking unaided.
I stand corrected: Casilda gets the hang of her 5in pink platforms at last – thanks to more than a little help from Chyna Whyne