Last week I opened up a conversation about injuries, specifically an injury that I started dealing with last fall. If you haven’t read that blog post yet, I highly suggest you go back and read that first before diving into this one. Two weeks ago I shared a conversation with Amanda Snyder, who as a personal trainer encourages her clients to practice sustainability in their overall lives as well as in pursuit of their weight loss goals. I would also recommend reading that conversation if you haven’t done so already.
In physical therapy we talked a lot about sustainability of a career as a dancer, what that means, and how to achieve a sense of balance in an increasingly demanding field. When I turned 18 I remember joking around about the fact that it’s a good thing I was pursuing musical theater because my career as a ballerina would be halfway over. With the average age of retiring ballerinas being 35, this is a very real statement. Broadway dancers can usually dance for longer than that, but overall a dancer’s shelf life is brief. There’s a reason why there’s an organization called Dancers Over 40. While I am only 26 I can tell you that my body isn’t the same as it was even three years ago. I find it way more imperative that I warm up, cool down, and treat my training like a marathon, not a sprint.
If you had spoken to me three years ago I spent most of my days attending one or two dance calls, followed by a dance class or two, followed by babysitting, and ending my night with a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout or yoga flow. I did this five days a week and then I would jam pack my weekends with more workouts, yoga classes, multiple dance classes, and at least one bar or bat mitzvah, where I worked as a party motivator which involved, you guessed it, dancing for four hours straight in heels. At 23, I thought I thrived on this amount of physical activity. I was in great shape, I was doing what I loved, and seeing tangible results from how hard I was working (AKA I booked a lot of jobs).
At 26 I’m in physical therapy, realizing that rest and recuperation are just as important as the sweat, blood, and tears I prided myself on for so long.
“Think of your body as a rubber band,” my physical therapist explained to me one morning. “If you stretch a rubber band to its maximum potential and then keep on pulling to try and get it to stretch even more the rubber band snaps. In order to keep using that rubber band you have to bring it back to its resting position first and then you can pull at it again. Over time, the rubber band gets stretched out so its resting position is no longer as tight as it used to be, but the rubber band itself is still in tact.”
I think a really good physical therapist will not only tackle the physical aspect of an injury but will also offer an alternative way of thinking about strength, training, and recovery. Shoutout to Elisa at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries for literally blowing my mind/opening me up to a whole new way of thinking as well as helping me nurse by soleus back to health.
I used to calculate my success by how many dance classes I took that week. I used to proudly tell people “I typically go on 8-10 dance calls a week.” I used to feel guilty if I wasn’t sore from my workout the night before. On my one day off from doing HIIT, I would take a ballet class, a tap class, and a theater dance class and then joke about how it was supposed to be my rest day. Now, I know that this type of behavior leads to burn out. Now, I’m way more interested in being able to kick my face for as long as I can. Now, I calculate my success by how faithfully I listen to my body each day. I am way more in tune with what my body needs and this feeling of homeostasis that I have discovered is so much better than constantly feeling like I'm not working hard enough or pushing myself far enough. And don't get me wrong, I still struggle with this. Yes, I am sitting here writing a blog post about practicing sustainability as a dancer but that does not mean that it comes easy to me. I make choices every single day that require me to slow down and tune in and some days I listen better than others. Some days I have a rough audition and I want to go take three dance classes afterwards to prove to myself how talented I truly am. Some days I feel sluggish and bloated and I want to go spend hours at the gym sweating out every vegan chocolate bar I've eaten the past month. Some days the idea of taking time off to rest gives me so much anxiety and FOMO it's hard to imagine I've made any progress at all. But most days I am finding it easier and easier to listen. When the smoke clears and I'm no longer acting like a crazy person I truly do see the progress I've made. I see how far I've come since I was 23 yeas old and that my friends, deserves its own little round of applause.