Jumping After Injury
In May 2020, online classes quickly became one of the best ways for my program to reach students all over the world and throughout the country. In spite of the pandemic, which changed all our lives, I was able to do what I love, and help dancers achieve their goals because of the acceptance of online classes.
I was aware that the surface I was dancing on required an exercise mat, and I made sure to have one. I was diligent about warming up properly before class, and I took 15-minute breaks in between my online sessions to stretch, drink water, and check in with my body. I did everything right.
In June 2020 I injured my knee, which is a dancer's nightmare. My guess is that the smaller space I was dancing in, plus the limited visibility (video frame) with online classes, caused me to stop my movement too short (i.e., not finishing it) without realizing it.
But, to be honest, I don't know exactly how or when the injury happened. I didn't feel anything until I was walking through my house one day in mid-June and felt a change in my knee. The fact is that everyone in this industry had to make major adjustments to how we do things during the pandemic.
Because of the high numbers of Covid-19 infections during summer 2020, I was unable to see a specialist until September, which was three months into my injury.
I kept perspective the first three-four weeks of my injury, started semi-panicking into week six, and by week seven I was full on obsessing about how much my muscles were atrophying, how much my skills were declining, how poor my ability was getting... and worst than that, I was thinking that there may be a possibility that I might never dance (or walk properly, or climb stairs, run, or ride a bike) ever again.
I was also thinking that I might need surgery, and then rehab... and that there may be a possibility that the surgery wouldn't correct anything, and I'd be in pain for the rest of my life... and still not able to be mobile! And I was thinking about the long-term consequences of living with an injury for as long as I did (due to the pandemic) before getting it looked at... I would have never let it go on for that long if it weren't for the pandemic and the high Covid-19 cases where I live during the summer of 2020.
I went in for an MRI in the beginning of September, and you can imagine my relief when I heard the words, "the MRI shows no injury to the joint or the ligaments, your knee looks great, and there is no arthritis".
After almost two full months of obsessing over everything that could be wrong with my knee... the diagnosis was about a number of muscles that were not performing correctly. I needed low-key rehabilitation to correct this and heal.
Attitude, Perspective, and Rehabilitation
This injury took a big toll on me physically and mentally. I spent three months mostly sitting, then another two weeks before rehabilitation started.
I was unable to walk fast, unable to run, hop, jump, couldn't ride a bike, and I was barely able to climb stairs. I was unable to dance or demonstrate floor work, turns, jumps, glissades, petit allegros... I could barely get through a barre because I could not bend and straighten my leg (or place weight on it while it was bent).
Getting the right diagnosis is only the first step. Steps 2-12 is rehabilitation, and it takes a while. Be humble and patient for that slow and steady come back. It will happen, and it will take time.
And by the way, age plays zero factor. I spent decades keeping my skill set up, practicing, stretching, strengthening myself and feeling motivated to do so because it felt good to dance, and great to move. I think I am lucky to be my age and only now experience an injury that took me out of the game for months. I work with many competitive dancers who are young, and are out for a season or longer due to injuries.
Rehabilitation, for me, included building myself back up mentally, not just physically. By week six of rehabilitation, I was finally pain free. This was a big deal for me. Now that I was pain-free, I had to start getting back everything that I had lost. I made my first goal, and that was to jump again. I really missed jumping.
This is the part of my rehabilitation that I want everyone to really take note of, because this is the part that no one really posts online, or wants to advertise. When the pain in my knee was finally gone, I couldn't do a grand pliè. I couldn't turn properly, I couldn't jump properly, and the hip that became dominant to compensate for my limp was so tight that I had almost zero turn out. I had to get my relevé back, my pique arabesque, all my sautés and battus... they were gone (as I had known them).
My confidence was gone. I was teaching a full roster of classes online, and was unable to demonstrate everything that had come so easily to me before the injury. I literally kept up my training in all dance styles that I teach because I believe in dancing for a lifetime, and wanted to show my students what is possible despite an entire industry telling us that we won't be able to move well as we age. I felt like I lost it all.
A lifetime of discipline and work, lost with one injury.
It was just going to take more time. Remember that. You can do anything, and may need to adjust your time frame to do it. Adjust your time frame. Do not sit and tell yourself anything other than, "I'm going to adjust my timeframe." That was my mental rehabilitation exercise: Laren, adjust your timeframe. I still use it, because I am still coming back from this injury. Everyday is better.
I Want To Jump
I am critical of myself when it came to my abilities. I suspect we all are, and just don't talk about it.
After the pain was gone, and I was able to perform things like walking, climbing stairs, and a small and short jog, I started rehabilitating myself in dance, using my program. It sounds self-serving and like a promotion in a blog, but it's the truth. I have accumulated a lot of knowledge, and thought, why not? Why don't I just train myself the way I would train a student who came to me with this, with all of it.
First thing I did was taken inventory: what was I still good at vs. what I needed to work on. From here I set reasonable goals (with no timeline attached). The low quality of my movement compared to how skilled I was felt permanent, but it wasn't. The knowledge I have helped me come back from an injury, and it is something that I will not take for granted.
My motivation: I missed the feeling of strength in my legs going into and coming out of a soutenu turn. I missed executing piqué turns with speed. I missed pirouettes. I missed being able to développé without having to stop and allow my knee to adjust itself. I missed the feeling of not holding back on movement for fear of sudden pain. I missed stretching in any way that I wanted to stretch without feeling the tightness in my knee. I wanted to feel the strength in all those things again.
But what I missed most was jumping. My goal. Not just jumping... but the feeling of suspension. Ballon. Anyone who is trained in dance understands how critical the skill of jumping is to what it is we do. The mere execution, the control and stamina it takes to jump. It's not just fun, its proof of the work.
I jumped for the first time (jumped like I used to jump) at the beginning of January 2021, which was six and a half months after injury. I had been working on pushing myself off the floor for over a month. I still cannot yet do a grand plié, but I am working on it.