There’s that inevitable moment that every dancer dreads…that pop, twist, or roll that seems to come out of nowhere. One minute you’re hitting triple pirouettes and the next…you’re injured. It happens to the best of us – even prima ballerinas and Broadway pros. That doesn’t make injuries any easier, necessarily. But it feels reassuring to know that we’re not alone. Injury is a (nearly) inevitable part of every dancer’s career. You can—and should—certainly cross-train, stretch, and rest your body to help avoid the risk of getting hurt. But sometimes it’s completely out of your control. While that feeling sucks, there is something you have full control over—your recovery. Here’s our tested-and-true advice to take to heart as you rehab from your injury and get back to doing what you love: dancing.
Remember that dancers have a high tolerance for pain. The typical “pain scale” at the doctor’s office is tricky for us since we’re so accustomed to pushing through pain…usually with a smile! When you’re getting your injury first checked out, make sure to mention this to your doctor. They might say to wrap your ankle with an ace bandage because you’re “walking on it fine.” But an X-ray may show a displaced fracture that requires crutches and a cast. A misdiagnosis can lead to extra weeks or even months of recovery, so make sure you don’t simply rely on how much “pain” you’re in to determine what tests the doctor performs.
Invest in yourself and recover like an athlete. Even though you’re not taking class and training during the day doesn’t mean your body needs less nutrition, hydration, rest, and TLC. Don’t drastically cut calories or eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (though you might feel like it!). Protein, healthy fats, and dark leafy vegetables are key to help the healing process. Take it easy on the junk food and be sure to get plenty of rest so that your body can use its energy to repair your injury. Talk to your dance teacher or doctor about options for cross-training. Swimming, mat Pilates, and the stationary bike can be great ways to keep moving while you’re getting back “on your feet.”
The comeback is always greater than the setback. Our bodies are incredible instruments. Swelling subsides, bones heal, and discs can even slide back into place. Some days may be tougher than others, and that’s okay. But try to stay positive during this time. You’re stronger than you think…You’ll come back from this injury smarter, braver, and more determined than before.
Discover things you enjoy besides dance. If you’re in a college program or on a competition team, you’ll probably have to sit in on dance classes and rehearsals…And watching dance when you can’t can be incredibly frustrating. Try to schedule (yes, seriously) something enjoyable every day that’s not dance-related. This could be cooking dinner with your parents, learning calligraphy or embroidery, taking voice lessons, or diving into a new book series.
Remind yourself that you’re still a dancer. If you move away from home to go to college, you’re still your parents’ daughter. The same goes for your identity as a dancer. Just because you’re not dancing right now does not mean you’re not a dancer.
If you’re having a difficult time, reach out to a parent, mentor, counselor, or friend to talk about it. Having a strong support system is also an important element on your road to recovery.