Physical injuries are tough on everyone, no matter who you are. For dancers, though, who rely on almost every bone and muscle in their body being able to function 100 per cent, injuries can cause serious setbacks. A pulled muscle, sprained ankle or broken bone can spell disaster for future career prospects. And it can happen in an instant.
While I was staring as Niki Harris in the musical Curtains, on the final day of the run, as I skipped up the stairs to my dressing room after my mike check I missed a step and in a flash of the eye I wound up rolling outwards on my left foot, causing a spiral fracture of the 5th metatarsal (as you can see in the x-ray, it’s the bone above the little toe). It happened in less than a second, and no amount of praying or wishful thinking was going to change the fact I had broken my foot and could not walk properly, let alone dance.
Beyond the physical pain was intense emotional pain, and while the physical pain eventually ends once your foot is in a cast and you are resting on the couch, the emotional pain lingers for much longer. A serious injury like this comes out of nowhere and happens when you least expect it.
Here are some tips, from my experience, of things to keep in mind while going through this challenging patch of your life if-and I hope for your sake you don’t-you ever find yourself with an injury that will keep you from dancing for a lengthy period of time:
- Stop thinking about all the ‘what ifs’ that could have prevented the injury. Not only does it not change anything, you also end up upsetting yourself over and over again as you re-live the moment in your head.
- Don’t try to push yourself or waste energy trying to persuade doctors to let you do things before you’re ready. Yes, you want to get back to normal as soon as possible but time is something you can’t bargain with. You just have to wait it out and if you try things too soon it could end up making the injury worse. Instead, try to do the little things you can. In my circumstance, I could do most stretches on the floor to keep flexible and a bit of swimming to keep fit.
- Be patient. No matter how much you stress or worry that an audition or opportunity to work is passing you by or is fast approaching it won’t change the healing process. It’s probably a good idea to think ahead and readjust your plans, but don’t set yourself unachievable goals because it’ll only make you feel more upset for not getting a chance to achieve them.
- Not every injury is the same so don’t spend hours on end searching on forums for how long dancer’s injuries take to heal. I did this and after the 6 week mark I was worried I would need an operation because it still wasn’t healed. At 12 weeks I almost stopped believing I’d ever walk properly again. 3 months in I thought I was the unluckiest person to fracture a metatarsal because by then every person’s fracture I’d spoken to had healed. After 4 and a half months I was finally given the tick of approval to start trying to dance again. Like my specialist said: “you can’t compare apples to oranges.” Every fracture is different and you shouldn’t continually compare your injury to others.
- Trust your specialist. After all you’re paying a lot of money for all of his or her years of experience and expertise. If you are still worried, get a second opinion, but be forewarned this could leave you with two vastly different opinions which can make you feel uneasy and unsure which one to trust.
- Most importantly, accept that it has happened and move on. Dance may have been the centre of your life for so long but there is more to life than dance. No, really, there is. Don’t sit around moping and feeling sorry for yourself, find something else to concentrate your efforts on. Maybe it’s writing or drawing or reading. Pick something to take your mind off the bad things happening in your life and challenge yourself in different ways.
- Always remember, time heals (almost) all wounds- emotionally and physically. Things get easier to accept and deal with over time. Keep telling yourself that a year or two from now when you are (hopefully) dancing again that this moment in your life is but a little blotch on your long journey ahead. Be reasonable; don’t set yourself up to expect a miracle, but try to keep things in perspective. A positive outlook helps for a healthy mind and body and an overall better you.
May all your years of dance be injury-free. But if you aren’t so fortunate, may you overcome the setback and challenge, and become a stronger person and a better dancer for it.