Know Yourself, Then PUSH Yourself

“How can you push your dancers to give all of themselves, without holding back or giving up, while staying safe physically?”

Dancers are taught to push until there’s nothing left…To exhaust the body and give more than 100% at all times – in class, in rehearsal, in performance. We are ‘spoon fed’ the concept from day one that ballerinas are a special breed (and they are). Achieving success requires us to be calm and collected, focused, impeccably precise, and emotionally unshakable, even in the face of criticism and harm to the physical body.

While I believe those factors to be non-negotiable requirements, I am equally aware of the potential danger behind this message, not only in terms of our physical state, but also mental condition. While there are many who promote and encourage the self-care of professionals, some teachers and mentors do not (I have experienced both sides in my career thus far). Understandably, it’s a fine line to walk, especially for an artistic director or ballet master/mistress. How can you push your dancers to give all of themselves, without holding back or giving up, while staying safe physically?

“There is a time to push for more, but there is a time to conserve too.”

I, too, struggle with this as a dance educator. At times I feel hypocritical, but I have to fully communicate the need to PUSH oneself. If a student does not have that desire, there’s not much I can do on my end to cultivate it. It has to come from within. On the other hand, there is the student that gives 110% at all times, but struggles to understand signs of fatigue and overuse in their body. There is a time to push for more, but there is a time to conserve too. As a teacher, it can be difficult to understand and/or translate individual cues, recognizing the difference between laziness and fatigue. But this is my greatest responsibility.

What is lacking, for many students especially, is self-care – both physical and emotional. It is impossible to expect success without properly caring for the body and the mind, not only in the studio but also outside of the studio. The body requires stretching, massage, icing, the stabilization of weak areas/potential injury spots, additional conditioning, and aerobic exercise, in order to sustain a high level of dance training. The mind, on the other hand, is taxed with millions of different kinesthetic commands, as well as complex patterns and choreographic pieces. It is a dancer’s job to allow mental capacity and the clarity to ensure confidence, artistic expression, and freedom from anxiety and fear.

The vast amount of energy that must be devoted to dance can be overwhelming to a dancer of any caliber. In a world that demands excellence from all angles, the demands of ballet seem impossible to maintain. But those who really want ‘it’ understand and accept the unique commitments required to truly grow as artists. We learn when to push, and when enough is enough. Only when we are truly tuned in, mentally and kinesthetically, can we reach a high level of excellence, and hope to sustain that excellence in the future.

What Are You AFRAID Of?

“…in order to rid ourselves of fear, we must confront it..look it in the eye…”

…Good question, right? Hopefully, it’s obvious that we’re not digging deep for a consistent fear of spiders or perilous heights though. For some of us (the more anxiously inclined), the initial inquiry could also be accompanied by the question, “where do I even begin?” Personally, I am not afraid to reveal my fear – of change…of stupid little things (like going to a different yoga class than I’m used to-typical “First World problem”)…of trying something new, being somewhere new, stepping outside of my comfort zone. But while I personally recognize that fear can hold me back at times, I must also commend myself for the things I do try and for the forward steps I venture to take.

Admittedly, I have forgotten that a crucial, structural piece of my right ankle is no longer “there”. It is in pieces…an obsolete, useless ligament, ready to snap at any time…an extraordinarily flexible ankle, in the worst sort of way.

I was talking to a friend/mentor today and realized that physical fear has not crossed my mind in a long while. You may be wondering why it’s taken me so long to get over this injury. I am NOT AFRAID to admit that my ligament tear was physically terrifying. Largely due to the fact that my career relies 105% (if that were possible..and I think it is) on my body. Since I’ve spent the majority of my life working on being intrinsically aware of my physical being, I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore. It was like experiencing a betrayal. As physically, intellectually, and emotionally adapted human beings, we take basic operations of the body for granted at times. When you fall or cause damage to yourself while walking, running, or even dancing your heart out, it’s scary to feel weak and vulnerable. We blame ourselves and wonder why and how this could have happened.

Trusting your physical capabilities is just one of many examples of how to release and come to terms with fear. While it is the least desirable of all possible options, in order to rid ourselves of fear, we must confront it..look it in the eye…and try to understand why it’s there. Face it. Wrestle it into submission. Be uncomfortable.

I challenge you to put yourself in an uncomfortable position. Because you are stronger and more brilliant than you ever may have imagined. Be AFRAID…and see where it leads you.

An Allegro Anecdote: The Austin Toe Episode

“We’re idyllic, graceful beings onstage, but…in the light of day we have our more human moments.”

Ballet dancers are a rare breed. Superhuman, flexible, musical, artistic, graceful – all are common adjectives used to describe this specific subset of artistry. However, those of us within the dance field have definitely had our share of non-graceful moments. Let me share one of my personal un-graceful, unlucky moments as a dancer, braving the “elements” of the real world.

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One particular weekend of adventure…PC: me

Seven years ago (whoa) I attended Ballet Austin’s summer intensive program in Austin, Texas. It was an exciting time for me. I took my first solo plane trip, and as a soon-to-be college graduate, investigating a potential company for the summer was a thrilling opportunity. The BA program was six weeks long. Dancers were given not one, but two opportunities to learn original choreography, by Artistic Director Stephen Mills, and perform for audiences in the studio theatre. It was a difficult program, and definitely a challenge for me. As a more classically inclined, Vaganova trained dancer (from my days spent at Bossov Ballet Theatre) the more neoclassical, quick, and sometimes dry classes were very different from what I knew, yet still very valuable to my training.

As the summer passed and I developed friendships with other dancers within the program, we used our weekends to not only rest, but also to explore the culture of the Austin scene (did I mention I was 21 at the time?..) On a typical weekend adventure, we sought out one of our favorite delicious Mexican restaurants. I attended, dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops, prepared to combat the hot, dry weather of Austin. (I was obviously a much younger version of myself, since my feet weren’t killing me hiking around Austin in only flat flip flops..)

Graceful ballerina that I am, on the way back I tripped dramatically on an uneven section of sidewalk, stubbing the very top of my big toe bluntly into concrete. The pain was immediate and the force split my skin, blood gushing out onto my flip flop and the sidewalk. Since we were just a few blocks from our dorm, my friends and I thought I could make it back without requiring first aid care. But I couldn’t make it. My sandal was now stained with blood, and it just wouldn’t stop. We made a quick pit stop at a gas station (ew), and I wrapped my toe up like a mummy, with a thick glob of toilet paper. Glamorously blood stained, I made it back.

“I couldn’t believe it. I’d nearly incapacitated one of my precious feet within the course of about three hours.”

I proceeded to panic with my suite mates for a bit about the status of my toe, and we debated whether or not I’d be able to suffer through pointe work and rehearsal the following day. I figured all I could do was care for my toe and hope for improvement as quickly as possible, so I hopped in the shower to rinse off from the day. My toe finally clean, I stepped out of the shower into the small bathroom. Now this next part I promise you I did not make up; it is the honest truth. I pulled my towel from the bar on the wall, and the wobbly hardware loosened, sending the bar down. I wish I could say I had been quick enough to step out of the way, but I had no such luck. The towel bar came down vertically and smashed directly into the pinky toe of my injured foot. The force and the sharpness of the metal, immediately sliced my pinky toe nail into two pieces, and for the second time that day, I started losing a lot of blood. I finally cried with disbelief at it all. I couldn’t believe it. I’d nearly incapacitated one of my precious feet within the course of about three hours.

Suffice to say I got some pretty weird and unbelieving looks when I explained my unfortunate tale at the summer intensive the next day. I remember Michelle Martin, the ballet mistress, looking pretty skeptical as I gave the details, but my gauzed, mummy toes sealed the deal. A visit to the company’s nurse was less than comforting, as she cautioned that I be very careful not to let the wounds become infected.

A BA first arabesque at the Capital building..PC: Mom

After taking one full day off from dancing and a few off from pointe work, I was able to jump back into my classes and rehearsals, bandaged and ready to make the best of things. The pressure of a pointe shoe didn’t bother my toes much, but with only the barrier of a technique shoe and some gauze between my toe and the floor, ‘flat’ was rather painful for a while.

This wasn’t my first unfortunate event by any means, but this episode was one of many times where I learned to grit my teeth and power through. There are definitely occasions as dancers when we need to admit defeat, give ourselves a break, and “sit one out”. However, we are also often asked to spring back into action as quickly as possible. Time is precious, and we must defend our title as superhumans, after all. We’re idyllic, graceful beings onstage, but, obviously, in the light of day we have our more human moments. Today, my little raggedy pinky toe nail (that never really grew again) reminds me of my imperfections, but it also reflects my superhuman ability to carry on.

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Permission Granted.

“…grant yourself the permission to be who you are at this very minute.”

I have an innate ability to “beat myself up.” Self-criticism is a pastime that many of us engage in, however, I feel that my brain takes this task very seriously. Some may call it drive, some may call it self-discipline, but it can easily be overdone, bordering on the line of self-abuse. In light of the previously “celebrated” occasion of World Mental Health Day (there truly is a day for everything now, isn’t there?), I’m taking the liberty of dedicating a post to granting myself permission. Permission to explore, permission to take care of myself, and permission to not be certain of my path.

I am fortunate that for the past 27 years of my life I have known what I wanted. My journey has felt fairly straightforward and has not sent me reeling with discontent or uncertainty that often. The chain of events that propelled me into my current state was something I always knew could happen, but that potential was easy to ignore.

“I feel off-kilter because of the oddity of all this, [but]…things could be worse.

As I embark on my first full season sans professional dancer contract, I don’t think I’ve lost too much physical momentum. However, mentally, it all feels like a whole new playing field..which it is. But while I feel off-kilter because of the oddity of all this, I also must humbly admit that things could be worse.

For starters, the injury that literally knocked me down a little over a year ago has healed up pretty well (I’ve had my share of scares-ankle rolls for life-and the ache may never go away, but I feel infinitely stronger than this time last year). And while I am not currently performing, I am still able to rely on my art form (and my B.F.A.!) financially, as I now focus heavily on my teaching.

I still make the time to step into the studio four to five times a week. But I now have the time to really focus on myself. While I don’t love having extra time, the luxury can be amazing. Time for self, time for consideration, time to enjoy things and appreciate, rather than resent…

As I remind myself, I also remind you – grant yourself the permission to be who you are at this very minute. Continue to push forward without aggressively picking yourself apart. Resist the temptation to turn a transition time into a crisis. Because it’ll be okay. Remember that everything really does happen for some (crazy) reason, and, hopefully, whatever hardship you are experiencing will become just another tile along your board of life. It’s okay to struggle, and it’s okay to have questions. Slow down if you need to, but don’t stop.

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An Allegro Anecdote: The Duct Tape Fiasco

“Spending numerous hours either aggressively dancing or standing around awaiting rehearsal in pointe shoes, I needed a tape option that would stay on my feet all day…Hence, the introduction of duct tape into my dance supplies.”

Plaids. Penguins. Stars. Stripes. Florals. All cute patterns, right? In this case, though, I am actually referring to some of the many kinds of duct tape I’ve used throughout my dance career. Now if you’re not a dancer, you’re probably thinking, “what does this chick need duct tape for?” I started using duct tape about four years ago, as a super resilient alternative for toe tape.

Repetitive work, literally on the toes, can create a bit of a disaster for the skin and nails of a ballerina’s feet. It’s customary for dancers of all levels to apply a “toe pad” of choice and/or protective tape and/or bandaids to individual toes while dancing en pointe. Spending numerous hours either aggressively dancing or standing around awaiting rehearsal in pointe shoes, I needed a tape option that would stay on my feet all day despite blood, sweat..and tears, I guess. Hence, the introduction of duct tape into my dance supplies.

The longer I’ve used duct tape, the more interesting the designs have become! Florescent pink used to be my most exciting option, but now they have everything from paisley florals to macaroni and cheese (always discussed amongst my friends as a great option, but then again, I feel awkward putting images of pasta with melted cheese all over my foul smelling feet…).

I remember once mentioning to my Dad that I had duct tape on my toes. Protective Italian father that he is, he panicked. “Why are you using industrial strength tape on your toes?!” (Good question, but it seemed irrelevant at the time) I responded with some sort of, ‘I know what I’m doing’ comeback. But father certainly knew best.

One of my favorite pics of myself ever....note that tape, lurking at the bottom right!! PC - Keith Alan Sprouse
One of my favorite pics of myself ever….note that tape, lurking at the bottom right!! PC – Keith Alan Sprouse

Now this particular disaster actually happened to me twice. However, the play-by-play of the second experience was particularly hilarious…Flashback to over a year ago, a typical day in the life of a professional dancer – dancing, immediately followed by a few hours of teaching. With just a little time in between these two blocks of time, I had left on all the duct tape I’d applied to my toes earlier. After teaching, I took a moment in my dressing room to change out of dance clothes and remove all the tape from my feet. In my haste to leave and feeling “maxed” out from my day, I overzealously tugged the piece off that surrounded my big toe (which one, I honestly can’t remember). Blood started pouring out of the pad of my big toe as I stared at it, confused and in disbelief. The tape had stubbornly clung to one of my calluses and pulled a large chunk of skin with it-the flesh I had lost still bound to the tape. I did my best to audibly mask my anger, shock, and pain (an academy class going on just outside the room), as I tried to figure out what to do. I hobbled over to a box of tissues and stuck a huge chunk to my toe. I assumed I’d just need to do this once or twice, but that wound kept on gushing, one wad of kleenex after the other.

” ‘Why are you using industrial strength tape on your toes?!’ (Good question…) I responded with some sort of, ‘I know what I’m doing’ comeback. “

Enough time passed that I realized I had to leave that room for assistance and supplies. But there was the issue of having to hobble across a studio full of young students with a bleeding toe, so I literally phoned for help from the other room. I shamefully called my friend at the front desk of the dance studio to fetch me some first aid supplies. With her she brought not only band-aids, gauze, and ointment, but also our company podiatrist and my two co-directors. Initially shocked to find me curled up on the floor tending to a gushing wound, we all eventually also found some humor in the unusual situation.

I spent the rest of the following week reminded of my mistake each morning, as I re-wrapped my wounded toe. It required Neosporin, a band-aid, and a good amount of self-adhering gauze in order to protect the “hole” I’d created. All this to somewhat lessen the pain of stepping on or pointing the toe. Of course, I had an in-studio performance the following Friday in which I was supposed to dance barefoot. I was thankfully able to ween myself off of a great deal of the gauze by that point, and managed to perform the piece with only a small amount for protection.

The duct tape fiasco was a grave error and something that would only happen to me, but I had learned my lesson for the time being. However, I must admit, I still tape my toes with duct tape to this day…but I take my sweet time and attention when removing it.

Don't try this at home. PC - Keith Alan Sprouse
Don’t try this at home. PC – Keith Alan Sprouse

Back To (Ballerina) School

“I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one.”

September looms before us as students, young and old, head back to school. The nights are a bit more crisp, school sales are underway, and Halloween decorations have somehow crept onto store shelves. Bear with me, because this all makes me rather nostalgic. A truth has hit me (and I accept it willingly, but need to talk it out of course): this is the first year of my life since I was five years old that I will not be “going back to school”, so to speak. Obviously, for 17 of those years, I was truly attending an academic institution of some kind. However, the past five years of my life I have started each late August with a “first day of school” as well. “Ballerina school” – five years of company life.

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Just another day at school – happy ballerina – April 2015

I know I’m not the only one that treats the first day back for the company season as the fantastic fresh start that it is. Just as a student preps with a backpack full of fresh notebooks, their coolest outfit, and the yummiest lunch, a dancer preps their shoes, their best leo, and the lunch and snack that will fuel their long day back. It’s clean slate time. Although not all mistakes may have been forgotten, the purity of summer allows even dancers a chance to unwind and be real people. The possibilities are endless now, there are new faces and old friends, spirits are high, and the road that is the next year of your life is laid out before you.

I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one. Freshness (I’m convinced I have a low grade case of OCD), new beginnings, organization, and plans, plans, plans. But this year is not like the rest. There will be no first day of school for me (for those of you who haven’t heard). It is not ideal, and, honestly, it makes me sad. But it’s what’s happening. A year ago today I took a fall (Balanchine loved dancers who fell, by the way). It was obviously a stumbling point, and it has caused me to stumble again and again, but I won’t let it be an end point.

“What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy?”

I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to be on-stage…another opportunity to pour out joy and emotion and leave it there for the taking…but I know that the skepticism I have about the road ahead is okay and it’s natural. Sometimes this is where the true magic lies–in the unexpected.

I admit I am questioning things. Because I like to know what I’m doing…I like a good plan. Not knowing what I’m meant to do next is killing me. What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy? (teaching dance makes me happy, but in an entirely different way-that’s a convo for another time…soon) What if there isn’t a replacement, a supplement for it? I’m afraid that I won’t be content with anything else…But I’m trying to figure it all out because that’s what I do. That’s me.

So to all my good friends who have started school – regular schooling or “ballerina school” – good luck. Put your best foot forward and plunge into the new.

To ballet company life – this isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.

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“the true magic lies-in the unexpected.” PC – Wendy Grande

Namaste Turned Out

“…quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul.”

Namaste and welcome, to this week’s J.O.D. Feeling fueled and positive after some afternoon yoga today, I started thinking about the vast benefits of yoga for dancers. As the summer winds down and we find ourselves preparing for new classes (academic and/or dance), new schedules, and the rigors of our Monday thru Friday lives (or Monday thru..always, as some of us may experience), yoga is an excellent way to prepare for a return to the ballet barre. While aspects of this practice can be quite foreign to classically trained dancers, there are many benefits to the practice, even if only attending on a weekly basis. As movers we are reminded of the need to breathe, thoughtfully stretch, work alternative muscles, and search within ourselves for both mental and physical needs.

the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace <3
the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace  ❤

The main benefit of yoga for dancers is the consistent emphasis on breath and breath support. Lack of breath support in accompaniment with movement is a common problem for dancers of all levels. Without breath support (and more specifically-correct breath support), dancers can become fatigued and lose stamina quickly. It is common, during class time especially, for dancers to exhale aggressively after completion of a combination-a sign that the breath is becoming pent up within the body while dancing. Yoga, on the other hand, promotes constant movement of the breath-both in moments of stillness and motion. Although it takes a great deal of practice, really focusing on the breath can make the process of utilizing it much more enjoyable. Not only does yoga help to promote breath support, but it also introduces different techniques of breathing (i.e. – use of the diaphragm for strength and stamina of breath).

Yoga is also a great alternative and/or addition to traditional ballet stretches. Whether you’re practicing in the Vinyasa technique (more rigorous; flowing and connecting from posture to posture) or Yin (long-held postures, focusing on stretching the fascia and reaching an appropriate “edge”), the poses of traditional yoga practice are excellent formats for allowing dancers to stretch both the lower body and the less commonly used (for ballet technique) muscles of the upper body. Poses like “plank”, “forward fold”, “warrior three”, “standing split”, “frog”, and “supine butterfly” are all excellent for strength and stretch and physically come easily to the “dancer crowd”. However, the prominent, sometimes glaring, difference between ballet and yoga that presents itself, is the lack of turnout. I still find myself wanting to outwardly rotate my hips and most definitely my feet, for certain poses within the yoga technique. However, sticking to the traditional parallel is definitely more successful. Although we desire to stick to what we know physically, the challenge of keeping the hips and feet parallel strengthens different muscles of the body, ones that aren’t commonly used on a day-to-day basis as a dancer.

Peace, peace, peace.
“Peace, peace, peace.”

Now some may say that they attend yoga for one reason – good ol’ savasana – a chance to literally lay back, corpse pose style, and let the worries of the day melt away. This deeply meditative moment within the practice is truly important for artists. It is an opportunity to quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul. Even if savasana is the only thing that gets you to yoga class, keep it up, because it’s certainly a good reason to be there.

Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend - always a delight
Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend – always just what I NEED. PC – My Mom  ❤

Yoga is a fantastic pairing or temporary alternative (for injury purposes) to dance. Before ruling out the practice as something too anti-ballet, give it a chance. There is nothing else like it. Although there is a strong meditative, spiritual, and individual component, yoga, like ballet, is also a disciplined practice. Take the opportunity and lie back…breathe, rotate those legs inward a little bit more than you’re used to, and focus on you.

If It Hurts, You’re Doing Something Right.

“We must distinguish between what is a warning sign and what is simply hard work.”

Blisters. Bunions. Muscle spasms. TURNOUT. There are many unpleasant aches and pains in ballet. Breathing is allowed, surprisingly, however, good luck fitting that onto your to do list in class. We all have a lot on our minds when we’re trying to move and create gorgeous lines, but sometimes the technical highlights and the pure muscle behind it all need to take precedence.

Stretch it out.
Stretch it out.

After many months of experiencing constant pain and instability due to my ankle injury, I realize now how much I appreciate good pain. There is definitely a point when muscle exhaustion can become counterproductive, but the lines and movements of ballet technique are completely foreign to the body. In order to train ourselves physically, “muscle memory” is key. If you consider ballet posture from head to toe, there really is nothing natural or organic about it – drawing together of the shoulder blades, the extreme lift of the abdominals combined with closure at the top of rib cage, length in the lower spine, strength powered from the inner thighs and hamstrings, seemingly impossible length of the knee caps, extreme outward rotation of the hip, corresponding turnout of the legs and feet, all without overcompensating and allowing the arches to fall to the floor. The list of extreme demands is long and only further complicated by the addition of movement and steps.

“I appreciate good pain. Post injury…makes me so grateful for the moments when I am able to PUSH again….”

Probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Returned to the stage in a beautiful and complex pointe work - "A Palette of Influence" choreographed by Julia Mitchell. PC - Me
Probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Returned to the stage in a beautiful and complex pointe piece – “A Palette of Influence” choreographed by Julia Mitchell. PC – Me

With all of these different parts of our bodies working together, yet against, each other, how do we know how far to push ourselves when we feel muscle pain? (I find this even more difficult post-injury) I completely stand by the method of “practice makes perfect” – repetition until fatigued is crucial. But this also creates a window for error and injury. We must distinguish between what is a warning sign and what is simply hard work. A smart dancer knows when to say no, but also has a vast understanding of his/her physique and how to fully utilize it. What will save you in the moment of fatigue is creating a whole body experience – engaging the abs, lifting the sternum and chin – “sending energy” elsewhere can be a saving grace.

As a teacher, I frequently see students who are afraid to push themselves. The glaring concern of “it hurts so much!” disrupts the opportunity for muscle memory and drive to kick in. I tell my students, “if it hurts, you’re doing something right.” Absolute truth. The art of dance presents a difficult and challenging road. Personally, post-injury, it is still difficult for me to distinguish when I’ve maybe had enough. I am fighting to better understand that point, and it makes me so grateful for the moments when I am able to PUSH again…when I know that my body is working as a harmonious unit, and it’s okay to go for it. Call me crazy, but no matter how much pain ballet bestows upon me, there is nothing I love more than knowing I have done everything…110% given and barely able to move a muscle. I will always keep coming back for MORE.

Back in the tutu. MORE.
Back in the tutu. Back for MORE.

Care. Listen. Breathe. Repeat.

“…a series of discouraging events…Time off, missed roles and shows, a walking boot fashioned with a small decorative blue bow, physical therapy, x-rays, an MRI…-negative highlights of this past year…the positives I’ll save for later…”

This is not a normal blog (it’s more like a small rant)…targeted at my ankle, not at an actual person, to clarify. Today, I present you with the question of “why?” I know everything happens for a reason, I’ve preached that myself, but I still don’t understand why physical harm occurs. Why? What’s the bigger picture? I haven’t reached an answer for that one. So I reach out to you.

Back in September, I experienced a fall while dancing that set into motion a series of discouraging events. A ballerina’s season from hell, to put it bluntly. Time off, missed roles and shows, a walking boot fashioned with a small decorative blue bow, physical therapy, x-rays, an MRI, taping, fear of jumping, self-doubt, tears, anger-negative highlights of this past year (the positives I’ll save for later, so just let me roll with this for now). According to the diagnosis I received eight months ago, I’m missing something in my right ankle—my ATFL (anterior tibiofibular ligament). Unfortunately, it did not just walk off on a journey of self-discovery, perhaps able to be convinced to return. No, it’s torn in two sad, little pieces. Fixable pieces, I believe, since surgery was offered to me, but pieces, nonetheless.

I’ve spent the past eight months since this news, trying my best to overcome my “shortcoming.” After all, the phenomenal Ashley Bouder dances sans ACL all the time! But after about four minor inversion ankle sprains, postdating my original tear to the ATFL, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to ask for help. Maybe the only way for me to regain stability, a feeling of safety, and courage to dance without limitation is to have this damage repaired.

So if you’re listening, I’m sure you most certainly don’t have an answer as to “why?” Yes, strength and wisdom comes with the territory, as I continue on this journey, but I feel enlightened enough at this point. I surrender. Each time I feel my body fail me, I lose confidence all over again (excellent article regarding the physical and emotional stresses of injury by Dance Magazine). Knowing what I lack and the associated risks I take each day haunts me all over again. I become afraid to misstep, afraid to cross train, afraid to enjoy myself, afraid to dance. And so, I lose a piece of myself. However, despite the loss, I rebuild each time, fine-tuning the process along the way. I know to care for myself, listen, and breathe. The recovery quickens, but the frustration silently mounts in the shadows. So maybe it’s time to ask for help…

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This guy’s been in charge all year & he’s not givin’ up yet…

The One-Year Anniversary of The J.O.D. Blog – ‘Don’t Put Me In A Box’

One year. Blogging. Teaching. Injury. Love. Lessons. Struggle. Recovery. CHANGE. Where I’m at this year, feels like completely different territory than where I was last year. I’m sure I am stronger {in some way…both physically and mentally}, but I also feel that I have succumbed to negative feelings many a time – doubt, fear, uncertainty, jealousy. If anything, one of the most important lessons I have learned in the past 365 days, is that joy should be taken in dance. It is a true gift. A privilege. Along the way I have found it difficult to brush aside my emotions, my unnecessary concern with what others think of me, and my natural instinct to protect my body from further harm. But while dragging all these feelings around, I have forgotten to practice what I preach. Joy. Self-respect. Gratitude. Yes, I have been damaged, but that doesn’t have to define me.

And with that, I give you “Don’t Put Me In A Box”…

Happy One Year Anniversary to my baby, “The J.O.D. Blog”. May you all bring joy to your dancing and remember that “You Are Enough.

Bunhead. Tall. Not a jumper. Cute. Corps. Injured. – All labels that pop up in the dance world. Sometimes they have to do with our looks, sometimes they have to do with our personalities, sometimes they actually relate to our performance capabilities (go figure, this is the only legitimate reason any sort of label should exist). Now this might not seem like an issue if you’re just being described as who you truly are, but sometimes those labels begin to adhere too strongly. It’s called type-casting, and once it starts it never ends. Someone who knows their qualities and strengths and has a job which is well-suited and specific to them, has no problem. Dancers and artists, however, are constantly battling for jobs and parts. It’s all very competitive in nature. So we have to be diverse.

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Love what you do.

We can’t be good at everything. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and impossible as artists. It will never happen. You can be flawlessly “on your leg” one day, and then the next you feel like you’re brand new to pointe. Despite the technical facts, I wish that we were all given the chance to shine, personal labels aside. A glimmer of potential can go a long way. Yes, this is a business that can’t waste even an ounce of time-you either have it or you don’t. But don’t waste your own time caught up in the labels you’ve been stuck with or the labels of others. The princess and the villain of the ballet don’t always have to be the same individuals. They’re both probably dying to sink their teeth into the opposite role that the other possesses. It all gets monotonous! It’s simple and comfortable to address an individual as an artist and think you have them all figured out. But in doing so, you are limiting your perception of others.

The desire to branch outside of our comfort zone will not always be nourished…and that’s okay. But as an audience member, a teacher, a director, or even as yourself, try to stop the labeling. The superlatives you are bestowing…—it might be time to give them up. It could be disastrous or it could be wonderful, but if you never stir the pot you’ll never know. Personally, I want to rip my label off, and I want out of my box. I am not defined by anyone but myself, but I understand now that I must resist the temptation to self-label as well……I am ready to shed any labels that I bear, whether others have bestowed them or I have bestowed them upon myself. So don’t put me in a box. Because I refuse to stay inside.