How to Dance Through Injury
I am, in no sense of the word, a runner. Some time ago, I decided to incorporate more cardio into my schedule as cross-training for my dancing. I had been running occasionally before, perhaps a short distance or a few sprints on Sunday mornings, but if I wanted to push myself, I knew I would need a goal. Looking through the bucket list I keep on my shelf, it didn’t take long for me to realize what it should be: that day, I registered for my first ever marathon and started training.
Recall: I am not a runner. As a result, my running form is approximate to a giraffe with four broken knees, and if you run long distances like that, you’re going to screw up your body. I’m lucky to have sustained no serious injuries, but I’ve been taken out of commission of dance for upwards of a week at a time. With it comes the dreadful feeling that I’m wasting hours, that I could be practicing and improving and having a great time dancing. It would be easy enough to push through the pain and get back into the studio.
That is, as my partner tells me, a terrible idea.
The title of this article is a misnomer. If you are injured or at risk of injury, you should take a break from dancing and give your body a chance to recover. Ultimately, the time you lose taking a few days off practice will be much less than the time spent in a cast because you pushed your body a little too hard.
Now, if you’re at all like me, this is a hard thing to hear. That said, time spent resting your body does not have to be unproductive. When I hurt myself on 16-mile runs and need to stay off my feet for a few days, I use the time I would be at practice to focus on dance in other ways. I hope some of these can give you inspiration if you find yourself in a similar situation:
Pick up a book on dancing, or perhaps anatomy. Fill your head with technique and things to practice so that when you’re back in the studio, you can be more productive than ever before. Recommendations from my shelf might be The Inner Game of Golf, Modern Educational Dance, and Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery, to give you a few. Each of these has contributed to my dancing in a unique way and given me not only a not to think about, but a lot to put into practice once I’m done resting.
This is an exceptional way to spend your time, especially if you’re a notetaker. Go back through the principles and technical points you’ve jotted down in previous dance lessons and spend some time with them. Flesh out old ideas, build on what you’ve already written, and try to really understand as much of the material as you can. That way, you can take away a few highlights to work on when you’re dancing again. Outside of notes, you can spend the time doing video review. Watch videos from recent practices, performances, or competitions and evaluate yourself. Write down what you do well and where you’ve improved, and take note of the things you’d like to improve upon.
This is only applicable in some cases, but if you have an injury or pain in a very localized area, there are a number of activities you can do that put minimal stress on that part of your body. Branch over to the fitness world and improve your dancing by strengthening your muscles or improving your stamina.
As I write this, I have an ice pack on my left foot from running it too hard. Rather than running or dancing, I’ve committed a chunk of my practice time this morning to rowing on an ergometer. Rowing, in my case, is a physically demanding activity that does nothing to strain my foot so I can use it to do cardio and to strengthen my core for dancing. For you, cross-training might be running, yoga, or something else entirely; there are a wealth of options for you to explore.
At the end of the day, you want to be dancing again as soon as possible. Get proper treatment and let your body heal itself, but while you rest, be sure to stay productive however you can. Whether that’s reading books, studying your dancing, or cross-training to keep active, you can turn that running injury into a blessing and come back more productive than ever.
(Published in Sheer Dance magazine October 2018)