Dancers and Injuries…YIKES
Nicole Decsey on the scariest of Halloween terrors…injuries. AHHHH!!
Unlike professional sports teams, there is no injured reserve list for freelance dancers. We don’t get to take time off for our injuries and still get paid. Rather, like most contract workers, we only get paid when we are present and doing our jobs. As a result, we tend to push through our injuries. We live and die for our art.
My worst injury happened when I was at Transformation Danse in Montréal. It was in my choreography class at the beginning of the two-week intensive. The entire group was working on a lift where the flyer jumps on the bases shoulder one leg on either side and then the base stands and walks around. We went over the proper way to do this lift step by step, everything was going well, and we were slowly figuring out the coordination of the move. But it still wasn’t perfect, and the choreography was moving on. When we finally tried it to the music with all the choreography and the entire group, I did not fully get on my partner’s shoulder. I tried to adjust while she was moving but this turned out to be a big mistake. My slight adjustments threw her off balance and we both fell to the ground. Unfortunately, because of the position of the lift, she fell on my foot. I sprained my ankle, but told no one. I danced the rest of the day as I was and then when we left for the evening I hobbled to a pharmacy and purchased my first ankle brace. As this happened on the Wednesday of the first week, I spent the next week and a half dancing on a sprained ankle. I still deal with my ankle injury to this day. My two mistakes? Taking a risk by not communicating with my partner in a lift we hadn’t had much practice with and not taking care of my injury immediately.
The environment dancers work in requires a certain amount of discipline. Not just in terms of work ethic, but in self-care as well. It’s not just post-injury care that’s important, but pre-injury care is also important. I could go through everything dancers think about to take care of their bodies whenever they are in a dance class; knees over toes for pliés and jumps, stretching before doing any big movements, and so on, but frankly that would be a little boring and something any good dance teacher would include in their class plans. Instead, I want to talk about the things we don’t always hear as dance artists. I want to talk about the things it can be easy to forget.
Partnering is the first complication. You need to put a certain amount of trust in your partner, but you cannot completely abandon your technique to give into the lift or weight sharing moment. That not only puts you in danger, but it puts your partner in danger as well. All partnering work requires trust and strong technique. Any movement that asks a dancer to give their weight to another should first be walked through so that the mechanics and movements are known by both parties. This should be a step-by-step process, not something we run into headfirst without any idea of the outcome. Take it from me, most of my injuries have come from carelessness in partnering situations. I had to learn the hard way, hopefully you do not.
Know your body and listen to it. This sounds obvious, but sometimes as dancers we can ignore the subtle hints our muscles and joints are giving us. If something doesn’t feel right, take a step back and figure out what’s going wrong. It may be that you need to stretch more, your body might need more of a warm up than everyone else’s in the room and that’s fine. Especially if you have a past injury this reminder to simply understand your body is crucial. I unfortunately, did not listen enough until after I had already suffered an injury. So, take this advice and listen to your body now. Not when it’s too late. For my part, I have only had minor injuries but there are some things I wish I had known or paid more attention to at the beginning of my career so that I could have better avoided injuries.
Finally, try your best to not make it worse. If you are in pain or recovering from an injury, this is the time to say no to gigs. It’s hard to say no to any performance opportunity but instead of saying no to just one job you could be saying no to multiple opportunities if the injury does not heal properly or heal at all. Pulled muscles are an especially easy one to overlook. I have friends who still struggle with past pulled muscle injuries from ten years ago. If you don’t take proper care of your injury, no matter how big or small it is, you may never fully recover.
The funny thing is, for many dancers, we get injured most often not while we are dancing but while we are being ordinary people doing ordinary things. Like tripping over cracks in the sidewalk, rolling over our ankles in high heels, getting our fingers stuck in doors, stubbing our toes, the list goes on. Trust me, I have personal experience in all of these everyday mishaps. Because the truth is, dancers tend to be more coordinated on the dance floor than off. As dancers, we tend to do our best to prevent injuries in the rehearsal room. It’s the little things we do in class like the self-lead warmups and the yoga balls or Thera bands we buy. But it’s hard to be that careful when you are walking your dog or going trick or treating. Unfortunately, sometimes preventing an injury is out of our control and all we can do is take care of ourselves afterwards.
Let’s brave the outside world together, ankle braces and knee braces in hand. Because I don’t want to miss out on the Halloween candy. Do you?