Injury…while it is a dancer’s worst enemy, it is also an opportunity to come back stronger and smarter, and to better equip yourself to dance more safely and accurately!
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that with a good doctor, a physical therapist experienced in dance-related injuries, and a support system, you can make it through any injury with your sanity somewhat intact. There will be blips and bumps, moments of struggle, crying (potentially a lot of it), and feelings of defeat. But in the end, you’ll discover that there is a new type of dancer within you; one that is tougher, physically and mentally, and one who has learned that there is a power within them ready to take on dance at full speed.
A little over three years ago, I fainted and broke my leg (if you think that sounds dramatic, I promise you… it was). Not only did I break it, I did so much ligament damage, that my doctor, a foot and ankle specialist who works with dancers regularly/an angel, was 99.99% certain that my left ankle was going to need a screw put in to keep the joint stable. Sometime after my epic what-am-I-going-to-do-now-meltdown, wearing a boot for a week, having stress x-rays show stability in the joint, and the clearance to start physical therapy, I was allowed to be present in Ginger Cox’s class. Ginger Cox is my mentor, a Kinesiology MS, NASM Certified Trainer, and a Corrective Exercise Specialist. She allowed me to – very cautiously, on a chair, in the downstage corner – do whatever upper body elements of her warm-up I could do. With her knowledgeable eye and willingness to shut me down, she could keep me safe from the harm of my own eagerness to do more than I was safely able to.
Dancers are notorious for pushing themselves to the edge. And when recovering from an injury, it is extremely important that the teacher and dancer are clear about where the dancer is in that moment, and what is safe for them to be working on, so they can maintain realistic expectations throughout the process. Ginger explained that “the modification of the exercises while the injury is healing will also help to create a new mindset,” and that “an injured dancer has the opportunity to look at training with a new perspective.” In each new stage of recovery and rehabilitation, the dancer needs to be aware of which exercises their PT has given them that specifically and functionally relates to their dance training. They should also see how those exercises can be integrated and utilized together, as a form of progressing their strength, mobility, and stability. The dancer takes responsibility, along with the coaching from their PT and dance educator, to thoughtfully and carefully integrate dance exercises into their rehab program.
Once a dancer is fully cleared to be back in a classroom, a feeling of joy and relief will certainly appear, but it is imperative to walk in with a greater understanding and awareness of how to work, to help eliminate the fear of getting another injury. Ginger Cox told me, “If the dancer has done their work correctly and has a new mindset in their training, they are able to work with a new level of understanding. This is an opportunity to train with a new energy towards moving forward in a positive direction.”
One of the most important things I learned in my own rehabilitation is to be more present in my body. When our bodies are working in their ideal state, we tend to take them for granted. But when something is injured, it enables us to appreciate them more and see the glory in what we are actually able to do. Being present in this new place, and trusting that your body is going to work for you, is a big part of recovering from an injury.
Part of being a dancer is being injured. As much as we might hope for it to never happen, it is realistic to think that at some point, each of us will find ourselves there. What matters most is how we recover and elevate our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. And while you’re doing it, make sure you have people on your team who are able to support your process in each element, and on every level.
Disclaimer: This post is for information purposes only. The medical information provided by the author is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Do not disregard or delay professional medical advice because of something you read in this post.