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Catwalk no cakewalk

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By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / July 23, 2009

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I can say with a certain degree of authority that I don’t think I’ll ever be man enough to wear high heels.

I walked into the Boston Sports Clubs at Government Center this week with a pair of 5-inch platform stilettos and a plan - I was going to learn to walk in high heels. As the Globe’s style writer, I’ve penned pieces about women who love their high heels more than their husbands. I’ve interviewed podiatrists who say high heels are a vicious, bunion-inducing enemy to healthy feet. I’ve sat at Fashion Week in New York and watched women wobble in their heels like newborn giraffes before tumbling down on the runway. It was time for me to experience what all the complaining was about. (Don’t worry, mom, I swear I haven’t been harboring a secret desire to wear heels all these years.)

Enter Emily Splichal, a podiatrist and fitness instructor who has created a class called Catwalk Confidence. The workout, which has become something of a sensation since it was introduced earlier this year in New York, arrives in Boston this fall. Splichal, who is affectionately known as Dr. Legs in some circles, was game to instruct me in the art of walking in heels.

The conceit behind Splichal’s class is that gravity-defying high heels aren’t necessarily bad (she says she wears them every day), it’s just that some women don’t know how to walk in them. As she leads me through a series of exercises, she explains that stretching and balance are key components to mastering these shoes. By walking properly in them, women can avoid issues like back problems and hammertoe. I decided it was best not to ask what hammertoe is, because I may have been afraid to wear my borrowed stilettos if it sounded too disturbing.

I had visions that Splichal’s class would resemble an aerobics workout routine in stilettos - something that I imagine the Rockettes do every day. However, only the last few minutes of the class are actually focused on slipping on pumps and walking the “catwalk,’’ which in this case is a long purple yoga mat. It’s here where the walk-off takes place at the end of each class.

Before you can wear heels, you need to learn balance, so Splichal runs me through a series of exercises that look deceivingly simple. I stand on one foot, and extend the other leg. The balance exercises alternate from leg to leg until I finally stop shaking like a late-life Katharine Hepburn and steady myself. She then starts me on a rigorous series of exercises - such as push-ups.

“What does this have to do with wearing heels?’’ I pant as she pushes down on my back. I had visions of strolling in, strapping on my stilettos, and strolling out. This was actually work.

“You want to strengthen and stretch the muscles you use,’’ she says, explaining that her Catwalk Confidence class is equal parts yoga, Pilates, and stretching. This is when I found out that there are also men who take the class. They just skip the part that involves wearing women’s shoes. This will teach me to read class descriptions more carefully the next time I come up with the brilliant idea of calling my hairdresser to borrow his platform stilettos.

Even if you’re not planning to sign up for Splichal’s class, she said there are things women can do to avoid problems in heels. Stretch your calves by stepping on golf balls or tennis balls, and make sure you don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day.

“You mean don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day because it’s a fashion faux pas?’’ I ask.

“Um, no. You want to wear a different pair so your feet aren’t locked in the same position every day,’’ she said.

I was finally ready to strap on my 5-inch metallic gold platform shoes and walk like a lady - or, in this case - walk like a grown man wearing hooker shoes. The music started, and as if the shoes weren’t emasculating enough, the song was RuPaul’s “Supermodel.’’ I stumbled around, quickly perfecting the wobbly baby giraffe walk, until Splichal started teaching me how to master my high heels.

“Head up, shoulders back, stomach in,’’ she barked, and I dutifully followed, placing one hand on my hip as instructed, and walking as regally as I could without bursting out laughing whenever I saw myself in the mirror. “You really perfected the pout and the attitude,’’ said one of Splichal’s associates who was watching me. “Did she teach you that?’’

“No, I think I’m pouting because these shoes are killing me,’’ I responded. Ladies, pardon the Clintonism, but I now truly feel your pain.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. The Catwalk Confidence class starts in September and runs for eight weeks. For more information, go to www.mysportsclubs.com.