Injured? Don't Watch Class.

Injured? Don’t Watch Class.

In theory…

When you are injured, it is often customary to be asked to sit and watch class. In theory, this is a good idea that should have practical benefits. Learning from observation and keeping your head in the game are two reasons I have heard teachers give for this request.

In practice…

In practice though, watching class when you are injured is a recipe for disaster because you are not happily absorbing corrections and gaining insight into things. Instead, you are undergoing what my students have variously called “mental torture,” “instant depression,” and “a lesson in frustration.” Does that sound overdramatic? It’s not.

The psychological impact of not being able to do something you love should not be underestimated: it is huge. A dancer who cannot use his/her body can experience a range of emotions from anger to sadness. Being reminded of what you are unable to do can have a deeply destructive effect, and that effect can impact your healing process.

We know that a large part of recovery from illness and injury is state of mind: the more positive you are, the faster you will heal. The mind-body connection is powerful, and if you spend your days in despair, it will be difficult to get back in the studio even when you’re given the medical okay.

Here are some more effective ways for you to spend your time.

  • Ask your doctor and PT what types of activities you can safely do, and then find a way to do them. When I had my fracture, I was cleared for swimming, so I joined the YMCA and swam every day. If you can ride a bike or do non-weight bearing Pilates, for example, get started right away. The sooner you start moving that body of yours, the better you’ll feel. 
  • Take class in your mind. (What? Yes, in your mind.) Mental rehearsal will keep the mind-body connection alive and receptive even when you can’t take class (or full class). Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes and visualize yourself taking class. Use recorded music if it helps. It takes a lot of concentration to do this, so you may only get through part or half of class the first few times. Try to recall recent corrections, and really allow yourself to feel as if you are dancing.
  • Get support. Dancers identify so strongly with their dancing, that when injured, they can feel lost. That feeling can become darker before it gets better. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from teachers, friends, family, and professionals: seek out a coach or therapist. Talking with people about how you feel is an important part of the healing process.
  • Learn something new. If your healing and rehab process leaves you with time on your hands, don’t spend it wishing you could dance- it will only create a negative feedback loop and you’ll feel worse. Instead, commit to learning something new; when I was injured, I did a night school class at a local university; an injured friend of mine took a cooking class. Think about what you’d like to improve in your life (healthier foods, improve your mental fitness, brush up on your Spanish skills…) and dive in.

The aim is to keep your mind active and receptive, and your energy positive, which allows you to reframe your injury as an opportunity. Sitting and watching class often has the opposite effect, so be sure to talk to your teachers about how that request affects your mental health. Then, share your plan for recovery with them. 

Are you or have you been injured recently? How did you stay positive through the healing process?

Healthy Body Workshop Take-Aways

A growth spurt can leave you feeling discombobulated. 

The School at Steps’ Healthy Body Workshop- take-aways continued…please see my previous post for the first part.

  • Physical Development

Among other things, Dr. Andrew Price, orthopedic surgeon, spoke to the challenges posed by a growth spurt.

Did you know that when you are going through a growth spurt your muscles are weaker and tighter than usual? It makes sense when you think about it because your bones are growing and the muscles are racing to keep up with the new length acquired. Usually, students find that they are suddenly very tight (especially in the hamstrings) and weak. It can be hard to lift your legs anywhere near your usual height. But don’t despair. This is all natural.

The take-away here is not to push yourself during a growth spurt.

Go easy on leg extensions and big jumps until your body is finished the spurt. Then focus on strengthening and stretching again. It’s best to talk to your doctor and your dance teacher if you think you are going through a growth spurt. They’ll help you navigate these new parameters so you don’t get injured.

  • Maintaining a Healthy Self-Image

Like many of you, I had followed the aftermath of a certain New York Times’ critic’s remarks about NYCB Principal Jenifer Ringer and her partner’s weight in December 2010. It was great to have her on the panel to speak to her own personal experience with staying healthy as a dancer, as well as dealing with the above-mentioned remarks.

The big take-aways were two.

  • First, that Jenifer, like a lot of young dancers, spent a number of years trying to make her body into something it wasn’t. She didn’t accept her body and spent years hating herself. Her story was about coming to terms with her body and learning to love herself, which included what she called her “womanly curves.”
  • The second take-away had to do with the New York Times critic’s comment. Ringer said that his comment was her worst nightmare come true. And yet, she felt fine. She was not devastated by it.

She attributed her ability to manage that comment to the years of work that she had already put in to accepting herself and loving herself as a healthy, womanly dancer. Her words were so positive, so affirming, and so important to hear. This level of self-awareness and acceptance of our bodies is something that we can all strive for as we learn to navigate the expectations of this training and art form.