It began at the age of six when I was playing in the park with my father. I remember jumping off of the play set too many times, resulting in a sprained ankle. My father was a registered nurse and had the knowledge on how to immediately address the sprain with introducing me to the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). I remember feeling so much pain, yet somehow still attending my dance classes as if nothing ever happened. I don’t recall any of my teachers encouraging me to slow down or sit out to allow my ankle to rest and heal. I believe that if I hadn’t downplayed how much pain I was experiencing, they might have made an effort to ensure my rest was more important than any activity or productivity at that time. My dad laid the foundation for me to be tough, to not cry or complain when in pain, rather fight through it. He taught me that having perseverance was a good character trait, so being in pain was not an excuse to not perform at my best. These values were reinforced in my training in dance as a child and into adulthood as a professional. I taught myself to ignore the pain in order to keep pushing. Due to this, I never sought proper medical treatment for my initial sprain. I was not consistent in at- home remedies and therapies, because doing so would be an admittance to myself that the pain was real.
Years later I would succumb to re-injuring this same ankle, mostly in classes, performances, and auditions. Each time I desperately tried to mask the agony I felt in order to continue participating in something I worked so hard for, I contributed to remaining in a chronic loop of pain. I thought if I submitted to the pain, I would lose the validation from my teachers, choreographers, and directors and sense of belonging among my peers. I believe this stems from grind culture being so embedded into our art form, that many of us have adopted, thinking our ability to keep moving through injuries or illness measures our work ethic and dedication. This mentality runs deep in so many dance spaces from the studio to the professional stage, as it creates an inevitable burn out or total depletion, making it difficult or impossible to sustain any kind of longevity that we often seek as movers.
I am exhausted, and I am in pain. These are words I never thought I could say, as shame has wreaked havoc on this dancing body. Stubbornness disguised as perseverance has become a sacred model of reaching a level of success that probably doesn’t exist, because it goes against the grain of what dance is supposed to bring to our lives. Dance teaches us to listen to our bodies and honor what it is saying. Sure, dance also asks us to push boundaries and defy logic, leading us to discovering things we never thought the body could do before. When we become arrogant to think that our bodies don’t have limits and allow shame to be a driving force behind us desiring to keep going at the expense of our health and well-being, we deprive ourselves of truly honoring the sacred vessel that is our bodies. We deprive our bodies of the endless possibilities that lie ahead, as it is the central focus of what makes dance what it is--movement that initiates change and reflects larger themes of life.
Especially now, as we experience so much uncertainty and shifting in this pandemic, we are forced to reckon with the imminent demise of the body when we refuse to seek refuge in pause and self care. The universe has invited us to take a moment to think about all the ways we continue to damage our bodies in the name of proving our legitimacy as artists. We have measured the worth and work ethic of a dance artist based on who can withstand the most trauma we inflict on ourselves through physical (and sometimes emotional) exertion. I know I am guilty of being so caught up in thinking that participating in grind culture was the only path to prove something about myself. I’m not even sure what that something is anymore, but whatever it was, I am learning my existence as a whole person must take priority over a false sense of security. True security and fulfillment as an artist comes from finding a balance, finding power in the persevering, and finding power in the pause. I am unlearning a value, a culture, and an embodiment of working myself to extreme exhaustion and pain, while covering it up to secure a status of a legitimate and professional dancer. Legitimacy is finite and relative, and only the self can determine its worth and belonging within this massive field of dancers and movers.
This dancing body does not need to be in pain in order to achieve. This body is tired and needs her rest. I invite my fellow dancers to join me in this rest, and find beauty and sanctuary in the pause. This rest can usher in new perspectives that awaken our creative process and remind us why we dance. It can create a structure that honors our whole self, not just the dancing self; so that we don’t build resentment for what our bodies can’t do when we should be celebrating what our bodies can do and what they teach us about our inner being.