The theme of “getting out of the box” has been prevalent in my life for the past month or so.

I work at a Thai massage center with both Thai practitioners and RMTs (registered massage therapists, for the non-Canadians. In the stares I think LMT is similar). The owner is not an RMT. Nor am I an RMT. We, as non-RMTs, have our limitations (not being able to issue insurance receipts is the main one). But she feels so strongly that the RMTs, despite their ability to make massage so accessible, often limit themselves by living in their “RMT box”.

By this she means nothing derogatory, just that she’s hired a few RMTs who hold onto limiting attitudes they’ve learned in massage school that prevent them from becoming the Thai practitioners they want to be. And I don’t mean to knock the RMT designation- I want to go back to school to earn it myself because it makes massage so accessible for people who otherwise wouldn’t have the option.

What she is saying is true for any profession or paradigm. If you enter with a sense of entitlement or superiority, an unwillingness to change and learn new ways of doing things, and even unlearn a few things, then you are boxing yourself into a mediocre version of what you could be.

Dancers can just as easily put themselves in the “dancer box”, and this is dangerous. It puts a limit on their abilities, their potential, and even their health.

What is the dancer box? It’s ego. Clinging on to comfortable ways of doing things. Habits. Doing what you’re told, rather than what you know to be best for you. Not being aware that the box even exists.

Some examples of being in the dancer-box:

  • Thinking resting is for the weak (had a dancer tell me that a few days ago… Oh boy)
  •  Dancing through injuries even though it hurts just to walk
  •  Speaking of walking, proudly walking with emphasized turned out
  •  Showing off your flexibility and skillz at every possible moment, sometimes causing foolish, preventable injuries (perhaps when drunk to impress your friends…)
  •  Thinking you need to look a certain way, be a certain weight
  •  Doing physio only once and thinking you got your injury “sorted out” forever

This is unfortunately the way many dancers are brought up to think. It’s how things are habitually done, and most dance teachers don’t have the time or energy to counsel each dancer individually on “best practices”. Worst case,  dance teachers sometimes tell their students completely bogus stuff that only keeps them in the box (skip meals, don’t cross-train, etc).

Get out of the damn box! Start now.

Listen to your body. If it hurts when you move, don’t dance that day.

Know that spending 90 bucks on rehab is totally worth it in the big picture if it adds a few more years to your career. It’s an investment in one of your most valuable assets- Your body.

Don’t let the way you look make you believe you can’t be a dancer because you don’t have the perfect body. Pobody’s nerfect, you know.

In yoga classes, please don’t make it about showing off how flexible you are- It’s not about that.

Make sure you’ve rested enough after an injury and then return back to dance gradually. If a piece of choreography hurts to do, troubleshoot- Find a way to get to the same aesthetic without damaging your joints. It IS possible. Communicate your needs with teachers and choreographers.

Eat. Sleep. Drink water. Take the summer off dance if you want. It’s not going to ruin you.

I recently began working with a talented group of dancers in a professional training program. I start their day off with what was initially supposed to be a “stretching and conditioning” class, but I’ve morphed into something different which I feel to be more beneficial. And seeing as I was given complete autonomy, I took advantage. No-one’s complained yet.

On the first day, I asked all of the dancers what was going on with their bodies. What’s sore? What do you want to improve about your dancing? And the big daddy question: Who has an injury right now?

To that last question, they ALL raised their hands. “Oh shit…” I thought. They want me to stretch with a group of dancers, 90% of whom have lower back injuries? All of whom report feeling constantly”tight” and sore. All of whom, while I was introducing myself, were writhing on the floor trying to crack their hips and backs, and stretch their hamstrings to relieve their soreness.

*Shudder*

Almost all of these dancers we “in the box”.

I could feel the boxiness oozing off of them.

For example, a few of them told me before class that they can’t do some of the exercises beacause their backs are too sore.That’s totally cool- Don’t do things that hurt.  And yet, they claim it’s still fine if they do dance class. And when I ask if they are seeing someone for rehab they say “yeah I did a few years ago, it’s fine”.

It is NOT fine.

In my class some of them become quickly discouraged when exercises must be done in parallel, and are difficult for that reason, refusing to believe they could actually be “weak” at something. You’re not weak- It’s just a new way of moving that you’re not used to.

They don’t see the point of breathing exercises. They just want to stretch.

I don’t blame them. I was like this too. I wanted a stretch class. I wanted a quick fix. I wanted to show off in yoga classes. I was in the box, too. I get it completely.

But life is better when you step out. You discover what is really possible. You unlearn myths, and learn the truth. It’s harder at first, but I promise it’s better.

But my boxy group of dancers have come a long way. I see some of them starting to get it. That stretching isn’t always the answer. That resting is good. That proper physio isn’t a liability, it’s an investment. And it’s beautiful to see these glorious creatures emerge from the boxy depths of dancer ego. It’s what makes my work worthwhile. It’s what makes for good dancing, too, I think.

It’s likely that we were all in the box at one point. Sometimes we have one foot in, one foot out. And it’s ok. The most important thing is to know the box exists, and know that there’s a lot more space to dance outside the box.

Were you in the box? I’d love to hear what you think. How did you get out?