When a grown-up gets hurt

When it comes to dancing there are many differences between pros, pre-pros, child dancers and dancers who take up the pursuit as adults. Each of us have our own theories as to what those differences are and most of us who fall into the latter class of adult dancers usually do that at our own peril. As I sat down to write this I realize that this is what this blog is about really… how my experiences are different because I am an adult learning to dance. Not that my experiences are more valid or real than anyone’s else’s nor are they more important… but the journey of the grown-up that begins to learn ballet as an adult is different at every turn.

So here I am with a new experience, I have an injury, a dancing injury. For the past three weeks or so my left foot has been unhappy in pointing and in releve. I didn’t think much of it because from the beginning my feet didn’t really like ballet. I always needed extra time to warm them up and they still protest with some mild cramping through the first few exercises at the barre. But the last few weeks have been particularly bad. Now the other issue for me is that I have an extremely high pain threshold. This is a bad thing in as much as it is a good thing. The bad part is that I can really get hurt without realizing it – like not realizing that something is super HOT until I’ve got a really nasty 3rd degree burn or catching my fingers in something and not immediately removing them because it doesn’t actually hurt that much or putting a band-aid over an open wound that eventually takes SIX stitches to close or walking around on a foot that has multiple stress fractures. Yeap, all of those things have happened. And I have been walking around on a foot with stress fractures… not only walking around, going to ballet class five times a week!  I also now have FHL tendonitis. The good part is that I don’t require tons of pain meds and even when it hurts, most of the time, I can just shrug it off and it doesn’t hurt that bad.

The stress fractures will heal and I can be taught how to deal with the tendonitis with stretching, exercises, and taping – after the fractures heal, of course. So in the big scheme of things, I’m okay. I’ll be back, save my place at the barre – it’s the end spot, thank you very much.

But let me tell you where I’ve been as an adult dancer for the past few days… and here is where I think we as adult learners will find a difference from other dancers… this is the sort of thing that plays with our heads and with our hearts. This is the sort of thing that whispers (or screams) in our ears… you can’t do this, you aren’t built to dance, you are too old for this, your body can’t do this, it’s too late to learn, you’ll never be able to do this, give up before you really hurt yourself. Wanna know the truth? I’m not built to be a ballerina. I’m short, stocky, and busty. I’ve got really short limbs. I lack any real sense of balance, rhythm, or movement. I don’t even like to move, I like to sit still. And I’m not young anymore. I’ve got some age and some mileage on me. I’ve got old injuries, bad habits, and a few extra pounds to account for. And I hate to break it to you but I’m here to tell you that no one escapes an injury without it forever making a mark on you physically. I can find injuries from childhood on the bones of an old person, injuries that the person themselves might have even forgotten. Still there, etched in our bones and in our skin. Your body tells the story of who you are, where you’ve been, and what you’ve done. It’s a roadmap, a diary, a biography.

I will not leave this injury behind me. It will come with me. And yes, I will recover and I will learn how to deal with it. In fact, the knowledge of how I learn to deal with it may teach me a new way to work that can provide improvements to my dancing. That’s entirely possible. But the truth is that the injury itself won’t make me physically stronger. BUT it can make me emotionally and mentally stronger. I don’t have to listen to the voice of self-doubt in my head that tells me that this injury is a billboard saying that ballet is not for me. Ballet is for me and it’s for you too, if you choose. We can find ways to work with our bodies no matter what the issue. Dance can be found in the furthest reaches of the world, from the oldest tribal civilizations to the most modern of sects. Human beings dance from the time when we wiggle in the womb to the last death rattle in our bones, we have movement in us.

So that’s it then. I’m hurt. I have an injury. That’s what I have to work with right now. But I will, in some way, every day, acknoweldge myself as a human being who dances. And I will be back to learning ballet. Ballet too will be etched in my bones and in my skin because it’s already etched in my heart.

~All will be well. Dance for me and I’ll dance for you.

12 thoughts on “When a grown-up gets hurt

  1. Ugh, that sucks! As a child, I never got injured so an injury was new to me as a grownup too. As an adult, I got my first serious ankle injury and had to get surgery–it was such a new experience, I was so frustrated, just like you, and thoughts of “I’m too old for this” also crossed my mind! As a warning, I went back to ballet class before my body was *really* ready, thus prolonging my injury and preventing healing even longer, so I suggest you be very careful. My thoughts are with you for a quick healing process so you can return asap to class!!!

    • Thanks, Jen. I am concerned with trying to get back to it too soon as patience may be a virtue but it’s not one of mine 😉 I hope that your ankle is all better now and you are enjoying dance again!

      • Lorry, my ankle is 90% better, I’ve been a tad nervous about going on pointe though. My ankle wobbles a bit sometimes during releve, shaking my confidence a bit but really, back to dancing almost to 100% thankfully. Be patient! Adult bodies need time and rest to heal 🙂 Good luck!!

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but I’ve never actually posted a comment before. However when I read your post this week I new I had to. I’m absolutely in your shoes at the moment. I too have stress fractures in my foot (and the accompanying moonboot and crutches!). Your post just highlighted the grace with which you’ve accepted your injury and it encourages me to do the same. I hope you heal soon!

    • Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting 🙂

      I am so sorry to hear about your injury 😦 It really is a pain in the bottom, isn’t it! My first reaction was a very juvenile… “but, but, I don’t want to be injured!” quivering lower lip. But what is there to do but heal and try to make the best of our situation. I mean, I guess we could curl up in a ball and just sulk but I’m pretty certain that isn’t going to help in any real way. So let’s keep a stiff upper lip, as they say, and know that being injured right now doesn’t mean that we aren’t still dancers! We are! And we will be back on our feet again (and without the fugly moonboot)!

  3. Ugh…I’m sorry to hear you are sidelined from dance for the time being 😦 As someone who has also had my share of injuries (mostly in sports but also dance), I understand how hard it can be to be patient and how much you miss your activities. You have the right attitude though, and I agree that our history is written on the body and I would rather hurt myself being active and pushing my boundaries than doing nothing and slowly degrading.

    And although it sounds like a cliche, it’s repeated time and again because it is so true: Having an injury and being forced to take time out makes you see your activity from a different perspective and gain new insights AND gives you a new appreciation for what you CAN do versus always being dissatisfied with your perceived shortcomings. For those of us who obsess and nitpick, downtime can be a reminder of how much we miss the joy of dancing when we can’t do it…something to keep in mind when we return to dance.

    Sending good vibes and hoping for your quick recovery 🙂

    • Thank you!!! 🙂

      I agree, now that I’ve got extra time on my hands (or feet :/ ) I’ve got time to reflect on how I work and what I can do to make things better. For one thing, I’ve neglected working on core strength – which I know I lack and need to work on but its kind of no fun so I really haven’t. But now I have some time for Pilates and focusing on how I work my core… which I know will help my balances a lot. And that’s one place where I have been compensating with my feet, you know, fighting to stay over my toes and balance by using my feet instead of my core (bad). So now I can work on that! It’s also a good time to work on my arms!

      Whereas my injury isn’t a good thing, I know I can use the time wisely and come out with some wisdom from it.

      Thanks so much for the vibage! I can totally use it 😀

  4. Oh no, Lorry, I think I bawled for half and hour straight after reading this post.
    Last week, I woke up with a horrible pain in my left hamstring. Though I’ve had the nagging feeling for a year, I’ve ignored it (stupid, stupid me), because I thought the muscle was just overstressed or something. Then the orthopedic surgeon tells me that it’s time to take it really slowly, because there is an inflammation in the tendons. I’ve been sitting at home on a bag of ice for a week now, and the walls are starting to drive me nuts. No ballet, no stretching, no running no swimming.

    Your post highlights the problem about being injured as an adult dancer. People (or the critic within) roll their eyes and say, ” Goodness, really now, you should know better. Ballet as an adult, who do you think you are!” But now with so much time on my hands, I can really examine what ballet means to me. For the past year, I’ve been obsessed with progressing to the intermediate level. At my college, being an intermediate level dancer means you get to audition for the spring ballet performance, and this had been a secret goal of mine since freshman year. I was determined to get there and pushed too hard. As I lay in the MRI, I had a lot of time to reflect on how I got here in the first place. Somewhere along the way, I forgot to enjoy learning new steps and dancing. I doubt I’ll get into ballet performance group, but if I ever heal well enough to go back to ballet, I’ll be sure to enjoy every minute dancing!
    I hope you get better soon!

    -Noora

    • oh, dearest Noora, I am so sorry that you are injured! I hope that the cry was at least therapeutic!

      I think that as adults, we are left to our own devices in determining how hard to push. And since we have no real references on how to do that, we can really push ourselves too hard. I also believe that the people who are attracted to ballet class are people who like a challenge, discipline, and hard work so we are used to pushing hard, sucking it up, and we set high goals for ourselves that are maybe not reachable. Not that we can’t reach high goals, but maybe not as quickly or in the way that we would like.

      You had a good goal, well, a great goal really, and I’m sorry that you didn’t achieve it. But take care of yourself and you can get back to dancing… it just might take longer and you may have to learn to work with your body in a new way. I’m right there with you. I don’t want to hear that I might have to change the way I work, I don’t want to admit that I have this limitation. But if I want to dance, I have to accept it, I have to let it soak into my brain and then go from there.

      Right now I’m holding onto something that my Awesome Ballet Teacher told me… three months of rehabilitation for a lifetime of dancing is worth it. However long you have to recover, you can still have a lifetime of dancing too. It’ll be worth it, Noora.

      Take care, Noora!!! I hope you heal well!!!

  5. Pingback: An injury. « the dance theorem

  6. Well, add me to the list of walking wounded…I’m experiencing my 2nd round of inflammed/tender Achilles tendons. It’s not tendonitis YET, but it will be if I don’t lay off and let things simmer down. I think it was a combination of an uptick in pointe work, working to improve my petit allegro, some overzealous exercises for improving my ankle flexibility, and some running. I am also one of those people who is chronic over-doer. Also, as my dear partner (who is has been a weight lifter and a gymnast) reminded me, you can strengthen your muscles faster than your tendons and connective tissues can adapt, so it’s common that those are the places the ouches show up. Currently doing some pool workouts, no jumping, lots of Epsom salts baths and ice packs, and generally taking this another lesson in patience. Meanwhile, I’m choosing to see this as good opportunity to get some more Pilates instruction, do some upper body strength work, get back to swimming, and do floor barre.

    Le sigh…I hope everyone’s injuries heal quickly and we’re back to dancing soon.

    • Oh goodness! I hope that you heal up quickly! I’m glad that you caught it early though. We all need to learn how to watch ourselves and listen to our bodies better so that we can catch things before we end up with weeks and even months off. I hadn’t thought about it, but it it very true that tendons and muscles react to exercise differently. I’ll be conscious about that from now on, for sure.

      Rest well, take care, and let’s all get better and back to the barre soon!

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