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?

3 replies
  1. Bunhead
    Bunhead says:

    Ahhh… thank you for this post! The title is so true, thank you for addressing this issue. Last year I had to deal with an injury during the last weeks of the semester and pre-performance time, and in addition to not dancing in the school performance, watching class was miserable torture. I felt out of place and it was terrible knowing that I couldn’t participate when I so desperately wanted to. Sometimes I literally had to restrain myself in my chair so I wouldn’t jump up and go across the floor with the rest of the class. I know some schools (such as SAB) make it mandatory to watch daily class, but luckily that is not always the case because it can be very painful. Observation can be useful to a point – but not every day when you might be out for weeks or months!

    Dealing with an injury once again, I’ve found it useful for my mental sanity to maintain a healthy connection to ballet and the everyday world that I’m used to – but have learned to keep it to a minimum. Obviously, as a dancer you have to keep fit/stretched out and as in shape as possible, and there’s the delicate balance of staying motivated and avoiding depression. It’s great to stay connected and read interesting or inspiring articles and look at great dance photos, but it needs to be (for me anyway) in small doses, balanced out with other “real life” stuff. You have to relinquish the dancer identity for a bit, and it can be really painful to think too much about what you’re missing. I’ve learned to stay away from the magnetic pull of YouTube or ballet videos (especially videos of class). It just creates more feelings of impatience and longing to go back than it’s worth! There’s definitely an inner fight to stay grounded, patient and positive in dealing with an injury…

  2. The Dancer's Toolkit Blog
    The Dancer's Toolkit Blog says:

    Exactly, Bunhead. Length of time is an important consideration: if it’s more than a few days, I am against watching class. Good for you for finding a way to create some away-time for yourself when injured. It is difficult to do, but don’t underestimate the positive effects. Stay strong and optimistic!

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