Growing through Injuries. Being smart and not a sissy.

It’s unfortunate but true; it sometimes takes a series of brutally depressing, disappointing, disturbing, heartbreaking, twisted, gruesome (is this going to far??  …point made?) events to find the beauty in those things we take for granted in our daily grind.  Hopefully, we don’t have to get as far as gruesome to come to this realization, but better late than never.   In this past summer, I’ve had three of my dearest friends – Evan Copland, Elena D’amario, and Sarah Braverman – out of commission from dancing due to major injuries.  Just to give some of their contextual backstory, this was the longest break they’ve had from dance ever in their lives.  Not only are these dancers not able to move their bodies in the extreme ways our profession demands, but they are also unable to walk around and enjoy the mobility of “normal people,” something we all forget is a luxury.

So straight from the horse’s mouth.  Here’s the scoop on Evan’s, Elena’s, and Sara’s injuries and their words of wisdom from their altered perspectives us healthy and able-bodied folks just can’t embody:

Evan – 27 and one of the most versatile and nasty dancers (nasty’s not the first word that pops out of my mouth when describing damn good dancing, but believe it would slip out of his and serves as a perfect description) with the purest of hearts I know.  He was on tour with Sean Curran in Karkol in the Kyrgyz Republic, dancing in the last piece of the final show of a month long tour; he did two little runs on stage followed by a precipitaté that did not end as sweetly as inclined.  Heard offstage, something snapped loudly.  That was just his entrance.  He proceeded to finish his duet and even attempted to go back on stage for the final section in the true committed animal he is, but he couldn’t stand.  Evan broke his fifth metatarsal just below the joint, in a place where there is no blood flow which means an agonizingly slow healing process.  What always impresses me about Evan is his complete level-headedness about his injury (shout out to Dharma Punks and his Buddhist approach to life).  He’s not one to waste his energy being unnecessarily upset or stressed about a situation he simply cannot change.  His initial concern was letting down his dance family.  He primarily dances for Shen Wei Dance Arts and working with Sean was a project that conveniently slipped into his schedule during time off.  Shen Wei was just about to start rehearsals and a series of touring, now sans Evan.  As much as we dance for the love of the art, we do it endlessly for those beside us – who we sweat with, go on these performative journeys with, who we partner and support.  This support was graciously reciprocated back in his time of need and leaving Evan feeling blessed and positive.

A major challenge to Evan’s inner zen came with his doctor visits and unmet expectations (hard not to have ’em but damn unnecessary expectations…).  He would be expecting his recovery to be more advanced; wanting to be told to get off the crutches, or remove his oh-so-fashion forward sleek boot sooner than allowed.  With some patience and fatiguing dedication to PT work, his first day of sneakers, August 10th, eventually came.  The same day he shaved his head.  Fresh start.  This time off made him evaluate his life choices; does he want to focus on performing or teaching?  How does he want to direct this next chapter in his life and career?  He has come back with a broadened perspective.  He is not just a Shen Wei dancer but is passionate about outreach and moving in an endless number of ways.  And now, talking with Evan is as contagious as ever.  He’s amped up to start dancing again and dive head first into classes; not too shabby of a place to be.  The injury was a blessing in disguise; he was forced to address what he wanted and head back to his passion with this new experience under his belt.

Elena – 21 year old stunning Italian beauty on and off stage was dancing with a meniscus tear for 9 months (amazing how the body can function when the surrounding muscles are there to support – thank you training!).  Yes, that means it was torn all throughout our Joyce season and full 6-week, non-stop Italian tour until it actually flipped over during swift, consecutive sauté de basque turns during the Parsons Summer Intensive.  Her thoughts?  It’s more psychological work over physical.  While not able to dance, something she has clearly done her whole life, the internal struggle comes to identity.  “Who am I?  Am I interesting still?”  We tend to identify ourselves as dancers, and this gift elevates our self worth; the reason others find me attractive and likable is because of my relationship with dance.  How unfortunately comprehensible, but utterly untrue.  Elena piggybacked this personal conundrum with filling her life with other activities she typically doesn’t have time for and started taking pride in the other things she loves to do beyond dance.  There are innumerable facets of our personality that make us beautifully individual and we are so much more than what we do (how much I can hate that as a first question when meeting someone fresh….).  Also, she now has a new found perspective on how fortunate us dancers are to do what we love, which puts complaining on the petty minutiae of the daily grind completely out of the question.

Another (completely unwarranted) fear?  “Everyone is going to be in rehearsal without me.”  Being removed from the group and loosing touch with the dynamics of the tight family unit and missing out on the progress on the fresh season was a concern.  My vantage point?  I blinked my eyes and Elena was back in the studio working.  To be exact, the summer intensive was at the end of June and she is back in rehearsals now at the end of August.  Nothing was lost.  She could never lose the beautiful connection we have as a group, and in terms of physical material developed, it is nothing she couldn’t pick up and learn in a heartbeat.  Her healing process and how much every day she can see the the growth of her muscles and diminished swelling serves as a constant inspiration and her new found perspective brings vigor to her dancing.

Next up – Sarah- 26 year old talent to behold onstage and stunner in person, tore her lateral meniscus, needed to get an ACL reconstruction with a hamstring autograft (yes, they snipped part of her hamstring and braided it to become her ACL.  Amazing huh??), and have the frayed tissue covering her kneecap shaved down.  A more severe injury, resulting in a 9 to 12 month recovery.  Sarah’s meniscus had also been torn throughout the season, but her ACL snapped on-site.  For better or worse, Sarah was at an audition, asked to jump hurdles, when she full gusto, swan lake-style jetéd (how’s that for proper French!) and landed all her weight down on her front leg, fearful of allowing her back leg to drop and (god-forbid, in our dancer mindset!) knock over the hurdle.  Apparently, she “was not Flo-jo,” and instead her foot remained turned out as her knee decided to shoot forward instead, just for fun.  Her hide sight? Know your limitations.  The audition was actually something she repeatedly declined until she gradually succumbed to the request.  “Know your limits.  You will get other jobs. We are trained to say yes.”   And some advice she now notices?  While dancing, we have an amazing capacity thanks to body knowledge to meander through movement artfully even when we land from jumps without perfect technique.  Know your body and it’s imperfect technical tendencies, and work on correcting them.  In physical therapy, there is no cheating from doing exercises properly; in dance we get to emote out of a jump that doesn’t go exactly as planned without anyone else noticing, and fooling even ourselves.

The dancer mentality is truly a double edged sword.  Most of us are not one’s to complain, and we accept minor wear and tear as part of the occupation.   We time and time again sacrifice the health of our bodies in the name of the work and those in the wings with us.  We act as if pieces of tape on our toes and torn muscles are enough to get through a performance and the adrenaline rush of the stage conveniently helps us forget these pains.  Where’s the line between quietly managing through expected minor setbacks and taking personal authority over our bodies which may mean a (gasp!) much needed break?  Sometimes it is better to sit one out and be able to come back full throttle rather than turning a minor injury into something that unnecessarily grows to become a larger problem.  In the moment it can seems like it is an absolute must to perform a piece full out, be it for a show, in front of a director, or for an audition.  We always have a choice, no matter how high the stakes of the performance.  Our bodies must come first, and at the end of the day, we know our bodies best.  Everyone has a different threshold for pain, but we need to be smart about pushing ourselves and know when it is going too far.

How can I take better care of my body?  I am definitely guilty of turning a blind eye to minor injuries and muscular sorriness.  There are nights when I pass out, exhausted from my day – not icing, not bathing in epsom salts, not getting a massage, and grossly enough, sometimes not even cleaning out cuts on the bottom of my feet before my head collapses on my pillow.  (I like to think I’ve built up my immune system??)  I am now reminded these small acts of tlc for ourselves are our insurance plan for the long run.  It just takes minutes to prevent injuries from further advancing.  Writing this is serving as a vow to myself to take the time.  Once the wake of these loved ones’ injuries are long settled, it will be easy to slip into old ways and feel the need to take a few more moments in my bed rather than tending to the needs of my instrument.  Dancing isn’t forever.   Nothing is.  My ability to dance at this level of intensity is finite.  It is an extreme blessing to be capable of moving my body, especially in the high demands dance insists upon.  Every day I wake up, I receive the opportunity to dance and reap the joy it brings.  This is not a guarantee.  But life has its roadblocks and time away from dancing doesn’t have to be disastrous; it just means more time devoted to other things you love and enjoy but never seem to have the time to accomplish.

Gratefully, Evan, Elena, and Sarah are on their way to a full recovery and are around those who love and support them in order to help keep their spirits high.  As dancers, let’s keep our bodies mobile and happy and henceforth, our hearts the same.  (Ahhh, so sappy!!)  Let’s be smart with our bodies, take care of what we have to the best we can, and still manage to not turn into whining sissies in the meantime.

2 Responses to “Growing through Injuries. Being smart and not a sissy.

  • I don’t wish anybody any injuries. I had one in the past and recovering was the best time ever. It’s not about the pain – just a feeling you want but you can’t. Time heals everything.

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