What once hurt us must also heal us…

This can be difficult to believe, but one side of the coin cannot exist without the other. Heads and tails are a package deal.

We can get stuck in this mindset that if something hurts us, then it must be bad, and that we should avoid it forever.

When we have a negative experience with something, our brain remembers, and, beyond all logical reasoning, will tell us to avoid going there again.

Like playing on the monkey bars. It can be kind of painful on the hands at first. There is a risk of falling so the brain says “Hmm…Nope. Not going there.” This is why I avoided monkey bars my whole life and even today can’t swing from one arm to the other (2016 goal…).

This avoidance of what feels “bad” makes sense. Evolutionarily, if something has caused us harm, in the future we will avoid it to stay safe from danger. Life-threatening danger. Present day, life-threatening situations are relatively rare, and what is “harmful” is less clear.

Monkey bars are hardly a threat, but my perception of their danger is enough to make me go sympathetic.

This can happen with dance. Our relationship with it will change over the course of our careers. That is how it is, as it is with all things. Change: The one thing we can count on.

We can become injured from too many hours dancing with too little recovery, without strategies to cope with physical duress, fueled by a passion that burns so strong that we are able to tune out the important messages our bodies send us to “cool it”.

On stage, nothing hurts. That’s the power of our minds. Some parts of the brain that process pain are also responsible for movement. “If I can keep performing, I will feel no pain, and everything is ok.” On stage, we’re invincible.

Dance is healing in this way.

Dance can be an escape from everything “out there”. No one can touch you, and you feel your most “you”. There is no pain when you perform. You might need pain-killers to get on stage, but you don’t remember you needed them until you exit the wings and come back to reality, and even then, it feels worth it. 

But everything that heals us can also harm us, as everything that harms us can heal us, too. The determining factor is our intention.

What differentiates healing dance from harming dance is why we are dancing and for whom. This “why” and “who” relationship can change without our noticing but makes all the difference in the outcome.

Dance began as a healing outlet for me. I’m an introvert. Have been since my first memory of being alive. Dance allowed me to escape from the world and be with myself, in my body, where things made sense without the noise from my conscious mind.

And then, my intention changed. When I began to take my dance career seriously I became afraid of not being good enough. I was ashamed of my body and wished I could trade mine for that of someone else. I wanted to move like someone else, not like me. I didn’t think being “just me” would get me hired.

I was not content to dance like “me” so I tried to dance how other people expected me to dance. My “for whom” changed.

I forced things past my limit to fit a mold. I over stretched. Ignored important signals of pain; my body pleading with me to take it easy and make time to recover. I lost sight of my “why”.

This was no longer healing, and it caught up to me. A few injuries later, I had to stop. If we can’t change and slow down on our own accord, “something” will force us to. The universe has a way of giving us exactly what we need, whether we like it or not.

I sure had it coming.

After this, I was afraid to go back to dance. I felt betrayed. What I had once loved and helped me cope with life had hurt me. How could dance betray me like this? I became quite bitter, as one could expect, mourning the loss of a major part of my identity (just read some of my earlier writing… It came from an entirely different place).

But an important question: Can you blame the movement for injuring the mover? Does a movement have an intention to harm? No. The movement comes from you. You set the intention, whether you’re aware of it or not.

We can’t blame dance for our injuries, we can only blame ourselves for not noticing when our relationship with it changes. Neglecting to tune in. Forgetting that we dance because it makes us feel more like “ourselves”, after too many hours spent practicing trying move like someone else.

The betrayal I felt existed only in my mind. Dance had not betrayed me, I had betrayed myself by failing to listen. I had changed my intention, and so the effect the movement had on me changed, too. Unsure what I had to offer the world other than to dance, I did my best to ignore the signs that I needed to stop.

What had once healed, now harmed me.

A few weeks post-hamstring injury. Dissociating. Sympathetic. Can you tell?

A few weeks post-hamstring injury. Dissociating. Sympathetic. Should be resting… Can you tell?

But this is incredible because it is proof that our relationship with dance is capable of change. In fact, the only way to complete the healing process from such a “betrayal” is to face the beast head on: Can I dance again, and can it heal, again?

The answer is undeniably yes.

How long will it take? That’s up to you. But it isn’t, either. It will take the time it needs to take. No more, and no less. Your best dancing days could be in your 40s, or they could be next week.

What is most scary is losing a large piece of our identity. Who are we now that we can’t dance? Now that we have nothing that makes us feel invincible? Now that we must face our pain with no admirable vessel to dissociate from it?

But dance will always be there for us. Dance will always be the same. We can always come back, years later, and realize that first position is still first position. What makes it feel different on any given day of the week is our intention.

We can choose to dance with the intention of honesty and self-respect.

We can choose to drop our expectation that dance should feel the same as it did “before” injury, not that it will feel worse, but it will feel different, possibly even better than before (and trust me, this is absolutely true).

We can, and must accept that our relationship with dance will change.

We choose to heal, or we choose to hurt. When we are able to return to that which hurt us and find that it heals, our journey has come full circle.

When I returned to dance, my intention had to change. I didn’t realize this at first, and it is part of the reason why it took me fours years to fully recover. In the early stages of healing, I attempted to return to dance still thinking that I needed to look a certain way and it didn’t feel “right”. I needed more time, more space to reflect on my relationship with it.

Now, I look for moments in ballet class that can heal me. Moments of humanity. Moments of honesty. I respect my limits. I focus on how good it feels to move. My body feels better after a class than before. My muscles feel like they’ve worked, but I don’t ache for days. And most importantly, I don’t give one F*** what people think of how I look.

Though I am sorry for what I put my body through, I know that it forgives me for not listening. I can laugh at my mistakes. I am thankful for the injuries that taught me how to heal and help others through their own healing process. And I love my body for what it can do, not for how it looks doing it.

Can you?

My final, top three suggestions on how to live a long life, dancing:

Be aware that your relationship with dance will change. Not better, not worse, just different.

Keep sight of who you’re dancing for, and why.

Love how it feels to move when you look like YOU dancing.