Pilates class last week: Everyone’s feet were barefoot or sock clad, but as I took a close look at mine during the roll up series, I instantly worried someone nearby might be offended. They’re callused to the max, have pink blister scars all over them, and the bunions just scream ballerina, don’t they? I would say my feet have really been around the block (or actually, they’ve been in Blochs…no joke, I wear Alphas). Our feet really do see a lot of the action in the studio and on the stage, but I don’t just want to address them-I want to address our bodies. What is unusual about the career path of a professional dancer is how all-inclusive the job is. You don’t just punch out on the time clock and you’re off the hook for the weekend-you have to take care. Sometimes though, no matter how much Epsom salt you bathe in, no matter how much toe tape you put on, no matter how diligent you are, things happen.
Like any athletic endeavor, you have your normal, run of the mill, dance aches and pains. You can honestly develop or contract just about anything in the dance studio. There are the times you aggressively bruise or “Marley burn” yourself. There are the times you bruise, and then break, and then proceed to lose a toenail. (Oh, P.S. for those of you who don’t have a ballet background, you are still expected to dance on that bruised, cracked, or possibly nonexistent toenail) There are the times you push a little too hard during adagio, and you pull a muscle. There are the times you wear your pointe shoes for eight hours in a row and you develop a nice, juicy blister. And for silly individuals like myself, there are the times you rip a huge piece of skin off the bottom of your toe because duct tape really is tough stuff, and you’re just moving too quick and probably shouldn’t have industrial strength tape on your toes to begin with (true story).
We all have our horror stories. Just about every time you step into the studio, whether you’re taking class for fun or you’re in the midst of tech week rehearsals, you’ll usually come away with new problems. This is not a nine to five. You have a 24/7 responsibility to yourself. You need to treat yourself like a freakin’ temple if you’re going to succeed and really give yourself a shot.
“…don’t judge until you’ve bourréed in my pointe shoes…until you’ve been in my skin, and you know what I feel when I move.”
Conversely, there are events that you cannot work around. Bruises fade. Toenails? You can grow another one of those. A sore muscle can be subdued. A blister can be bandaged (and grit your teeth because you still have to wear your pointe shoes-this is the big leagues) and will heal. And no matter how big a gash you put in the bottom of your big toe, your skin will grow back! But what do you do when it’s serious? (I’m sorry if you’re confused, but dancing on half a toenail is NOT serious-it’s a right of passage)
There are so many extremely serious things we can do to ourselves on the job…sprains, fractures, breaks, ruptures, concussions. Are you sure you really like dancing? Because last time I checked, we’re continuously putting ourselves on the front lines for injury. And injury is a huge game changer. You might just need to R.I.C.E. for a week, or it may end your career. But we all fight. We schedule P.T. appointments, we get ourselves adjusted at the chiropractor, we get surgery, and we rock a walking boot like it’s a Manolo. Because this isn’t a nine to five. You want to be in that studio with every fiber of your being, and you’ll do anything to get there.
I want to finish this week by offering a reminder/suggestion-be kind to one another. Everyone shares those daily dance world struggles, but it’s the tough stuff that you bear on your own. Although our careers are all about the judgment factor, don’t judge until you’ve bourréed in my pointe shoes…until you’ve been in my skin, and you know what I feel when I move. Because you never know what struggles someone has been through to be dancing. We all share J.O.D. It’s a beautiful and terrifying concept. Dance is a talent we are blessed with, but it’s something that can be taken away at any time. So appreciate. Enjoy yourself. Live. Enjoy your dancing like it’s the last dance you’ll ever do.