Working Out The Kinks
…By which I don’t mean taking a certain band to the gym 😉
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve done a bunch of injuring myself in the past two years.
I think it’s also fair to say that I’m getting better at managing injuries and recovering from them — at reasonable share of which is learning, through trial and error, what “rest” means in relationship to various injuries if you’re a dancer and/or an aerialist (and, for that matter, what “rest” means in general as someone that my physiotherapist spouse defines as “an extreme athlete” — read, if you’re a serious dancer or aerialist, that’s you! Hi!).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, I’ve found myself doing a fair bit of reflection on why I’m injuring all the things and how I might, you know, stop that. (Or at least mostly stop.)
I’ve concluded that there are three major components:
- Learning when to say “when.”
Let’s start with Point the Third: Learning When to Say “When.”
Like most dancers, I take pride in my ability to listen to my body in certain regards.
I know when I’m hungry, and I know when I’m full. I know when I should eat all the salty pommes frites and when I shouldn’t. I know when I need a freaking salad. I know that I should not have more than one beer when I have class the next day (so, basically, ever; we’ll address that under the heading of REST).
I more or less know when I’m really freaking tired and should just Go the F**k to Sleep (hint: I realize that I’m acting like a poorly-socialized two-year-old; shortly thereafter, I put my cranky behind to bed).
I know … okay, I almost know … how to not spend all my money on dance and aerials (I really did need that fourth dance belt; there might not be even one laundromat in Cincinnati, and more importantly, I might be too tired to bother! Also, it is totally important to have twenty pairs of tights and three pairs of ballet shoes and special socks that you basically only use for modern class and … okay, maybe I’m not that great at this one yet).
But when it comes to classes, I’m not great at knowing when I just plain need to STAHP.
Or, at least, I wasn’t.
Recently, I’ve tried a slow-and-steady approach to getting back into class after an injury. Amazingly, just as every physiotehrapist and exercise scientist and coach and trainer and ballet instructor on earth would’ve predicted, it worked!
I didn’t completely forget how to dance. My legs did not fall off. I did not lose my single knee-hang on both sides (though I’m still working back into it on the left, because when you basically completely disengage your adductors for a couple weeks, they detrain pretty fast).
I’m now working out the series of kinks (not injuries so much as low-level irritations) that I accumulated while compensating for my most recent injury: weirdness in my back; knee and calf fatigue on the opposite side. My right calf was a wee bit sore by the time we finished petit allegro on Wednesday, but not so much that it felt like I should skip grand allegro. I rolled the dice and it worked out, but I’ll probably need to think carefully about that tomorrow, too.
And every other day, for the rest of my life.
Okay. So that covers the whole “know when to say when” thing. On to Point the Second: Balance.
While this isn’t quite how things work in the real world, it’s usually more or less functionally accurate to acknowledge that when you increase strength, you reduce flexibility.
This is a problem for normal people, but it’s a huge problem for hypermobile people.
In short, if you don’t pay attention to muscle balance when you train and/or you don’t stretch adequately (or you overstretch, or — worst of all, if you do some of each), you can throw your whole body out of whack.
That goes double if your body isn’t strung together very securely in the first place (that is, if you’re hypermobile).
I would like to show you a picture.
On the face of it, this just looks like a really cool acro-balancing pile (and, for the most part, that’s completely accurate).
However, ballet wonks will notice that my eyes say Armand (from La Dame Aux Camélias) while my hands say OMG DON QUIXOTE!!!!!1!!oneone
Which is what they say ALL. THE. TIME. unless I pay a ton of attention to what I’m doing with them.
I hear about this in essentially every class ever, unless I pay a ton of attention to what I’m doing with them.
All this is more or less the result of muscle imbalance. I don’t always stretch adequately after aerials classes, nor do I do much to counteract the effects of working on aerial apparati in terms of strength balance — so unless I think very hard about making my hands soft and graceful, they do this*.
*Okay, it might also partly be a personality trait: as a dancer, I tend to operate in one of two default modes — I have no idea what I’m doing right now or I am such a cocky little badass, depending. The fact that it was specifically the Russian dance in Nutcracker that made me want to take up ballet probably tells you essentially everything you need to know.
Anyway, until I started being really conscious about stretching my hands after trapeze, silks, lyra, and mixed apparatus, this was making my hands hurt, because things were pulling on other things in unbalanced ways.
The whole disaster with my pelvis started more or less the same way. I neglected to train the bottom third of my abdominal muscles, and things pulled other things out of whack — and since my connective tissue is unusually stretchy, they got really, really out of whack.
So, in short, things that train strength need to be balanced with things that train flexibility and vice-versa. Likewise, when you train the crap out of your adductors, you should also do some work on your abductors. And so on.
And, of course, training needs to be balanced with every dancer’s favorite four-letter word:
Point the First: REST.
The process of getting stronger is essentially one of creating tiny tears in your muscles, then letting them heal.
Guess what makes them heal?
Likewise, the process of accumulating explicit knowledge requires rest. A great deal of memory consolidation, as far as we can tell, takes place during sleep.
Also, the brain itself gets tired. The brain needs rest, too (and not just sleep: sometimes the brain just needs to, like, kick back and sit on its cerebral porch and watch the world go by).
And ballet, modern dance, and aerials need the brain.
Moreover, all kinds of injury-preventive functions, from equilibrium to coordination to proprioception to decision making, are compromised by fatigue and sleep-deprivation.
You know what one weird trick combats fatigue and sleep-deprivation?
Say it with me:
I also need a fair amount of rest when it comes to that whole Being Around Humans thing.
I am very much an introvert in the sense that I recharge by being alone: like, really alone. Like, “Don’t bust up in my kitchen on one of my designated Leave Me Alone days and start chatting with me and expect me to be anything other than a complete b1tch” alone.
So, basically, I’ve done a piss-poor job giving myself adequate rest. Even on the days that are supposed to be my days off, for the past several weeks, I’ve had to go out and get things done and be among humans, which has more or less literally been making me insane (seriously, sobbing-on-the-floor-in-the-kitchen-at-9-PM-on-Monday, snapping-at-my-best-friends-for-no-reason insane).
So, yeah. That’s part of injury prevention for me, too: first, because I get really, really tense, which makes the tight muscles tighter and increases the likelihood of strains and so forth; second, because I have enough trouble sleeping without being, as my old roommate used to say, “outside my mind;” third, because it keeps me from eating people’s faces, which is definitely a kind of injury, just more for them than for me. Heh.
So here’s another picture:
Please notice the dark circles under my eyes. They are what happens when I don’t sleep (also when my allergies are going crazy).
Please notice also the bold text and giant circle around it, reminding me that:
THIS REST CRAP IS IMPORTANT.
So, basically, I’ll be scheduling my rest days much more strictly (and, it appears, emphatically) in the future. I’ve also opted for one less-physically-demanding class on Tuesday and Thursday at the Cinci intensive in order to build in a little more rest.
I don’t know about you, but my long-term goal is to to be (as my trapeze instructor is) completely, mind-bendingly awesome at trapeze when I’m 50; to still be dancing when I’m 90.
It would also be great if my legs don’t fall off long before I reach either of those milestones, because I’ve got a pretty long way to go, frankly.
Paying attention to moderation, balance, and REST are probably the keys, really, to making that happen.
So that’s what I’m going to do, even if it kills me.
…Wait, no that’s not quite what I’m going for. In fact, to some extent, that’s what I’m trying to avoid.
Let’s try this again:
So that’s what I’m going to do, so all this doesn’t kill me.
Edit: Lastly, a very short clip of the juggling-while-Rola-Bola-ing bit,complete with juggling-club videobomb 😀 This was before I figured out I could plié on the Rola-Bola, pick up the balls, and start juggling without falling off.
Progress (and a Wee Little Song)
At the beginning of January, we started cirque training.
You’ve seen pictures of that progress, so I won’t bore you with réitération…
Instead, I have a few thoughts about fitness.
Given that, physically, I am not always the best at starting healthy, I was concerned that I’d struggle with the new schedule.
The first two weeks, I found myself complaining more than usual. One day, though, I realized I was kvetching to Ms. B or Ms. T — both of whom teach five or six days per week and perform — about my two measly classes the previous day having left me a bit tired. Kvetching to someone who spends way, way, way more time busting her butt than I do (and does it on pointe).
That stopped me in my own tracks. In addition to training and working as a Dance-Movement Therapist, my long-term goals include performing, as much and as frequently as possible. I am doing as little physical activity right now as I’m likely to be doing for the next goodness knows how many years.
Anyway, I decided that I wasn’t going to whinge about it anymore*. The tiredness was part of the process of adaptation, and I knew that it would pass.
*It’s fair, of course, to give a heads-up when you come to class already cooked so your instructor can tell you to back off if you look like you’re going to hurt yourself.
The cool part — the Progress part — is that it has begun to pass.
The human body is an amazing thing.
A couple of weeks ago, I felt dead on Wednesday morning after one Intro Aerials class (or whatever it is we were doing on Tuesday evening).
Yesterday, I did a pretty zippy ballet class (sans grand allegro, admittedly, but I’m pretty sure “16 kajillion royales” is about an equivalent rate of effort) and a tough conditioning class. Today, I woke up ready to rock. Tonight, we’ve got another conditioning class (fitness & flexibility) and Open Fly, and I feel entirely confident that, while I may feel a little tired and whingy when I get up tomorrow morning, by the time I get to Ms. B’s killer class, I’ll be fine.
There’s some things worth noting here.
First, my body was never willing to step up to meet this kind of workload on the bike. I got sick a lot more when I was riding more. The weak link was always my respiratory system — the constant exposure to cold air or bad air quality wasn’t something this particular body was going to adapt to**.
**Oh no, a danging participle — someone get this sentence a dance belt!
Second, I’m still working on learning to respect injuries.
I think I mentioned whacking the medial epicondyle of my left knee — an injury which sounds like it barely bears mentioning (in its lesser forms, it does barely bear mentioning).
The thing is, I whacked it really, really hard, which led to all kinds of swelling and stuff, which can precipitate further injury if not dealt with carefully (especially in a knee joint; especially, especially in a hypermobile knee joint). I took it easy on the jumps and turns, took a couple days off, wore a brace, iced the bejeezus out of the knee … and, miraculously (ha), it’s pretty much fine at this point.
If I hadn’t respected that injury, I’d still be wrestling it — so that’s a good lesson, there.
Third, I’m learning to work a little differently when I’m tired.
Yes, pushing through fatigue is a necessary skill for any athlete or dancer — but that doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. Sometimes it’s better to back off, take the non-relevé option, work at 45 degrees, mark the grand allegro, and not get hurt.
It’s like that old song — you’ve gotta know when to tendu, know when to fondu, know when to grand jeté, know when to mark.
Or something like that.
So that, too, is progress, especially for anyone who comes from a competitive gymnastics background (in which the basic ethos about injury is, “If your body part is still attached, you can and will keep going”).
So there we have it. My fitness is progressing nicely, as evidenced by a reduction in overall tiredness.
I’ve also noticed improvements in performance, including ballet improvements that stem from cirque training: today I was doing what I’d like to describe as a “meditation on balancé,” which is to say a combination that goes:
pas de bourrée
…repeat on other side ad nauseam.
It turns out that all the core work is good for those balancés. They’re prettier if you don’t get all sway-backed.
Remember: we’re going for Swan Lake, not Geriatric Dairy Cow Lake. Not that Geriatric Dairy Cow Lake would be a bad show, necessarily, but I’m pretty sure that the technique involved is squarely in the purview of modern dance 😉
That’s it for now. Off to round up all the dance belts, get changed, find a food, and go kill myself at circus school some more.
À bientôt, mes amis!
You got to know when to tendu,
Know when to fondu,
Know when to grand jeté,
And know when to run.
You never run the combo
When you’re nursin’ a hurt tendon—
There’ll be time enough for dancin’
When the healin’s done…
…With apologies (and a tip of the imaginary hat) to Mr. Kenny Rogers, from whose ouevre someone should definitely create an epic ballet about life in the American West (but probably not me, because I have enough on my plate, what with Simon Crane and school and all that other stuff I seem to be doing all the time).