Dancers have a very different relationship with their body. I’ve always known this but I’m coming to understand it more these days.
Last Monday something popped in my knee during ballet class and despite the pain of it, I continued to dance on it. On Tuesday I told my cubicle-mate (who also is one of the conditioners/assistants in the conditioning studio) that something in my knee popped but I didn’t want to be a baby about it. She told me to not be that kind of person and make an appointment with the physical therapist that we have in the dance department every Wednesday.
I wasn’t sure I’d get in to see her (or even that I wanted to), but I’m really glad I did. I explained to her what happened and she said she’s not positive, but she suspects an injury that I need to see an orthopedist for. And that’s when I started thinking about how as a dancer, I have a very different relationship with my body than most people.
I started doing physical therapy on Thursday and by Friday morning, I was having trouble just walking up the stairs, much less actually taking dance class.
Friday morning I made an appointment with the orthopedist at school for Tuesday, and I felt stuck. I didn’t know what was wrong and couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t take class, and sitting and observing class when you’re injured is a little demoralizing because you can’t do the thing you love, and you have to sit there watching other people do it. I couldn’t explain to my professors exactly why I’m not dancing because I don’t know except that it hurts.
This is when the PT I was working with and I had a really interesting conversation. First, she read me a Pema Chodron quote about trusting your inner warrior. We then began talking about the way dancers view their bodies.
It’s not just that I might need to do physical therapy and observe dance classes for a little while, it’s that when a doctor says to you that you can’t do the thing that you love, your heart breaks a little bit. Your livelihood is taken away. In some cases, your bread and butter is taken away. Our bodies function as our instrument, and an instrument that we are constantly working to perfect in our craft.
We’re raised in dance culture to believe that we are expendable because there are a million other dancers out there, so when we’re injured we should keep dancing because if we don’t, someone else will. And right now I’m struggling with that mentality because I do feel inept for not taking class full out, or dancing in rehearsal full out, or for having to say to my professors/choreographers that I can’t do it right now.
So, after a few tears, a bonfire with smores, and an appointment scheduled for Tuesday, I’m trying to take it one step at a time because I need to remember this poignant question: do you want to dance today, or do you want to get healthy and dance forever?