Injuries are hard for any athlete, but especially dancers. We are used to pushing through pain, and it is easy to ignore a serious problem and keep pushing through.
Up until this past February, I had never been seriously injured. But when I switched studios, I was suddenly dancing ten more hours a week, and pushing myself extra hard to prepare for Youth America Grand Prix. About four weeks before the competition weekend, my right hamstring started bothering me. At first I ignored it, but the pain worsened until it was bad enough to force me to skip a week of classes.
I was visiting the chiropractor almost every day to combat the pain, but when I finally started visiting the acupuncturist, the pain decreased. I was able to slowly come back to dance, and within 4 days of my first acupuncture appointment, my develope was up by my ear again, pain-free! Several weeks later, I was able to successfully compete at YAGP, by learning where my limits are, and how to work around an injury. I often wonder if injuries are to teach us lessons. Perhaps an injury to your right foot is to make you focus more on the left. I know each of my injuries has taught me something.
When recovering from an injury, you have to be extremely careful. Make sure you have your doctor’s okay before resuming classes, and ease yourself back into your schedule. Take extra time to warm up before class, and only gently stretch when you are completely warmed up. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water to speed up recovery, and flush out any toxins your body produces while repairing.
It is also important to make sure you are seeing the right specialists. I regularly visit the chiropractor, to keep my body in alignment. Visiting the acupuncturist was a turning point in my hamstring injury. Acupuncture can be an amazing way to bring blood and healing to the injured area, relax tight, gripping muscles, and get your body back into balance. My friends’ s tendonitis disappeared within hours of her first acupuncture appointment. If it weren’t for my acupuncturist, I would not have been able to compete in YAGP. Many of my friends are scared of needles, but still visit the acupuncturist. A dancer will do anything for their art!
Sometimes when I have to take time off from dance, I start to go a little stir-crazy. When a dancer isn’t dancing, even just a week can feel like an eternity! Being forced to take weeks, or even months off can be extremely hard. It is important to keep in touch with your creative side whenever you take time off. I love to draw and write when I am not dancing. Some of my friends love to sew. Others love photography. Try to find something you love to do. If you know what to do with your free time, you won’t find too many moments to sit and over-think things. Also, don’t watch too much TV. Sometimes it can be a nice distraction, but it’s never good to lie in bed at night wondering how you didn’t do anything constructive all day.
If you can, don’t forget to exercise and stretch your feet and legs (gently and carefully, with your doctor’s approval). Try to work your upper body as well. Plank is very good to maintain core stability, and back lifts are good to maintain your arabesque strength. Remember not to push yourself when taking time off… now is not the time to finally gain those extra 2 inches in your oversplits. Your body is your instrument – treat it kindly.
When I am injured, I like to watch class. It is amazing how much you can learn just by watching! I always like to bring a notebook to jot down the teacher’s corrections. If there are dancers in class with gorgeous lines, I like to study what makes their lines so beautiful. Is it the way they present their turnout? Is it the way they grow in each position? Not everything is spelled out by the way your body is built. It is much easier to improve things in yourself when you have had a chance to study examples.
On top of everything, always remember that an injury is not the end of the world. All professional dancers have worked through multiple injuries, with plenty of tears along the way. Being injured is just a step in a dancer’s journey. Sometimes steps in life can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue forward.
Live on pointe, and never stop dancing!