Lift your HEAD, drop your SHOULDERS, nurse a KNEE injury, AND pointe your TOES: Returning to Dance

When I returned to technique classes after giving birth to my son, I remember crying in my car on the drive home every night after class. My body was different. It was new and it did not work the way it used to. My center was completely gone. I had no balance. I was insanely sore; most days I was so sore it hurt to breathe! And instead of embracing my body, loving my body for giving and sustaining life over the past year of breastfeeding and 9 months of creating a child, I cursed my body. I loathed my body, I hated my body. I wanted it to be thinner, more muscular, more flexible, and able to do the things it could do a few years ago. It was a long road back.

My pregnancy also caused a chronic knee injury that has sidelined me more than once and has almost made me walk away from dance forever. A knee injury aggravated by driving in a car or riding in a plane too long, or sitting in seminars for eight hours a day. A knee injury aggravated by heels. Gone are the days of my sexy high heel shoe fetish. A knee injury aggravated by walking my kiddo to the bus stop. A knee injury that I will nurse the rest of my life. Essentially relaxed ligament in the feet + spreading hips for childbirth = sciatic nerve pain = weak knee = knee injury.

When I was pregnant, my tendons and ligaments got all gushy, as they do with most pregnant women. My feet “grew” and my arches fell. My feet went flat, especially the right one. I was not aware of this particular change in my body when I went back to technique classes. I started training with my new feet, which led to many problems on the right side of my body including: an over developed vastus lateralis, an underdeveloped vastus medius,a tight ITB band, and an atrophied piriformus.  All of this resulted in the tracking of my patella towards the very tight vastus lateralis muscle when I straighten my knee.In other words, my knee cap pulls out of place (sliding up to the right) every time I straighten my knee. There is no cure. Surgery only has a 60% success rate and it involves detaching one of the four quadricep muscles from my knee. Bad news for a me. Bad news for any dancer. Making this injury worse, my bad right knee is even weaker because I have problems with my sciatic nerve, a tight common peroneal nerve, and a larger than normal degree of between my tibia, patella and femur (that’s genetic).  These days, dance is an uphill battle. I will be doing physical therapy for the rest of my life. Lots and lots of nerve flossing.I was told by an orthopedic surgeon, I am lucky my other knee isn’t giving me problems, yet…. I could be only a matter of time.

When my son was three years old, an older mother told me that it takes about six years after the birth of a child for a mother to get her body back. Three years in, I had finally, although begrudgingly, come to terms with my new body and was okay with where it was now. After years of training in modern dance technique, my technical capabilities were finally back to where they were and then some. I started training in ballet, which I had hated in my teens and during my time at the university. I have grown to love love the challenges of ballet technique these days. Seven years later, I can finally fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans, although they are still a little tight and will never quite fit the way they did before. Hips spread for childbirth, what can I say? But I am much more loving and accepting of my body, my stretch marks, the saggy skin on my stomach, my canas, and my saggy pancake boobs. Because hey, my body gave and sustained life. And it can still fly across the floor with 14-year-olds…for now…

When my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I made a promise to myself to continue to dance regardless of any company or choreography that I may or may not do in my future. Dance is a great way to exercise my body and my mind and why not do something I love to stay healthy?  I decided I would rather have a knee replacement in my future and stay active dancing than stop dancing and become less physically active, increasing my chances of getting a cancer (I already have a 50% genetic predisposition). And, surprisingly, dance is one of the forms that is least likely to aggravate my knee injury because it is done with precision and control. Technique.

Nowadays, I do my best to honor my body and use dance as a way to keep my body healthy. I try to silence the messages of the “ideal” dancer body type that my 5ft curvy frame will never be. I take things with a grain of salt and forgive myself in technique classes when I cannot get in and out of the floor as quickly as the 14-year-old I am going across the floor with.

It is a journey going on seven years with many more to come.

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