The reason I can write a blog post like this is because if you imagine every possible thing one could do to screw up their dance career, I probably did them all. Call me an expert.
Allow me to recap a few years worth of mistakes (or choices, if you’d rather) that lead to me taking a long hiatus from dance:
I took everything too seriously- Things my teachers said, expectations I put upon myself, the need to win, the need to look a certain way, to fit a certain mold.
I didn’t eat well, both in terms of food quality and grossly inappropriate quantity. I welcomed physical discomfort and ignored pain.
I did the wrong type, volume and intensity of cross-training.
I stopped enjoying dancing. I let myself become unhappy and chose to do nothing about it.
And because this list is getting pretty depressing let me just stop to say that I love life, this is not a pity-party disguised as a blog post. You just have to know where I’m coming from to understand where I’m going with this.
3 years ago I experienced an unfortunate string of injuries and since then, I’ve attended dance classes only sporadically (although I did learn to salsa and even performed, and that was a fun time).
I often catch myself talking about myself as a dancer in the past tense. Most days, if people ask, I tell them I used to be a dancer. Injuries that force you to stop dancing will change how you see yourself. You lose a piece of your identity.
If I can’t dance anymore, am I a dancer? If I’m not a dancer, who am I?
I have been too afraid to go back to dance. If I’m not a dancer anymore, and haven’t been for more than a week, a month, a year, do I belong in a dance class? Do I have permission to be there? If I can’t dance like I used to back when I was “a dancer”, is there even a point in trying again?
This and more. These questions pervaded me, prevented me from enjoying the one thing, when I was young, that was my escape from real life.
But I’m back. My old injuries, though still nag if I’m not vigilant, are no longer a source of daily pain. The last 2 dance classes I attended, though I took risks I probably shouldn’t have, didn’t wreck me. The past two weeks, in fact, I have been completely pain free.
This time around, though I may be getting “old” for a dancer, I have the tools and the know-how to not screw things up. I’d like to see how far I can take this. I have new questions to ask. Ones whose answers require action, discovery, and bravery, not fear and self-doubt.
Instead I ask myself, how much joy can I derive from expressive movement?
How good will it feel to dance fueled by real, healthy food?
What new doors will open when I focus on how dancing feels, and not how I look doing it?
What new movements can I embody now that I have some strength to support my mobility?
How big of risks can I take now that I know my limits?
Who can I inspire?
Why am I dancing today?
And I must remember to throw in a big thank you to my body before and after each time I put it through the dance grind. Because that shit’s hard.
And all that said, I made up 10 commandments for myself to keep calm and not let dancing wreck my joints. To squeeze every ounce of pleasure from it while keeping healthy both physically and mentally.
So, here, on the internetz for everyone to see, I am pledging to adhere to these commandments so that this time, when I step back into my dancer-pants, I do it right. And enjoy every moment.
10 Commandments to Keep Calm and Dance On (and on, and on, and etc…)
1. I will keep a daily practice of breathing diaphragmatically in different ways, and I will respect my zone of apposition.
2. I will cross-train in various ways to support my art. I will train for strength, power and endurance. I will ask for help with that if I need to.
3. I will eat real, nutritious food. Hydrate, too.
4. I will not throw my body into ranges of motion that I know I don’t have the stability to control, even if I’m asked too, because I respect my limits. And if I choose not to respect them, I will not be surprised by the consequences.
5. In the event that I should require physical therapy, I will choose to see someone who understands human movement, motor control, and the specific demands on my activity. And preferably someone who practices NKT.
6. I will not fear internal hip rotation or dorsiflexion, and I will train these ranges of motion because I know they will help me dance better (and not hurt myself).
7. I will not seek perfection. I will give myself permission to make mistakes, to fail, and look ridiculous, because my best IS good enough.
8. I will resist the urge to stretch my hamstrings and adductors to oblivion lest I explode my ligaments to further pathologically unsafe lengths.
9. I will stay on top of my mobility restrictions and stability issues.
10. I will get out of the mirror and FEEL every movement.
Above all else, I believe it to be important for someone coming from a place like mine (with a vast injury history), or for an adult beginning dance for the first time, or any dancer as they grow and mature, to accept that I will not be able to dance the same way that I used to years ago, because now I am a different person.
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man ~Heraclitus
No, I will not be able to move like I did when I was young and irresponsible with my body, and this will perhaps make for even better, more fulfilling dancing.
**Bonus rule: I will not base my self-worth on how well ballet class went. Because that’s what made Natalie Portman go crazy…