nature of the business


In the September issue of Pointe Magazine (wow, shit bunheads say) there is an interview with Mikko Nissinen regarding what’s lacking in pre-professional training, in which the Boston Ballet Artistic Director makes a very valid point; “It takes three steps to be a professional: You have to learn how to dance, how to perform, and how to deal with injuries.”

There is such a high probability of becoming injured in this career that knowing how to handle an injury is literally the most important skill a dancer can have, second only to learning to dance and perform.  Of course, dealing with actually becoming injured is difficult, but straight forward: something hurts, you seek medical advice, you are diagnosed.  The part that comes next, the whole “being an injured dancer” aspect, well that is a bit more complicated.

In the closing sequence of Breaking Pointe’s Season 2 finale (I really need to take the bobbypins out of my brain before making references), Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute says, “Ballet can be vicious” and flashbacks to the variety pack of injuries incurred by the dancers during the season fill the screen.  He’s right.  Behind the rhinestones and tulle, we hide pain.  Serious, at times crippling, pain.  It may sound dramatic, but that’s because it is.

Being an injured dancer is so much more than physical therapy, acupuncture, x-rays, and massages.  It hurts so much more than the sprain, fracture, or blister itself.  Your world as you know it flips upside-down.  Everything you have worked so hard for up until this point is taken away in the twist of an ankle, and only time, patience, and optimism will bring it back.  It’s like every hardship you’ve experienced in your ballet career thus far has been a little test of your dedication, and this is a 10-chapter exam.  Are you willing to stay true to something you can’t even do right now?  Will you be able to return to something that damaged you so physically without letting it break you emotionally?  The answer has to be yes.  Or you’re in the wrong business.

tutu talk


Oh hey, there, locker full of sweaty ballet shoes and rogue leg warmers.  Nice to see you again.  We’ve only been back at this thing for 2 1/2 days and already you’re in need of a good clean-out.  Seriously, you stink.  It’s only just the middle of the ballet week and somehow it feels like mid-November.  Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that our Nutcracker rehearsals started last night.  Yup.  Day two and we already get to hear those little flute trills as the first few snowflakes sauté onto the stage…but it’s 88 degrees outside!…too soon.  But hey, that’s the life of a ballet dancer, right?  Always working on what’s next…

Me, I’m doing a whole lot of this:image

Looks relaxing, doesn’t it?  I wish.  I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again; The hardest part of being an injured dancer is not dancing.

Growing up, I never missed a ballet class.  Save the occasional stomach ache or family commitment, I was dancing every day after school and you can bet your butt I woke up every damn Saturday morning to trade in cartoons for ballet combinations (with a little help from my mom, I admit).  Leaving class early and being MIA from rehearsal does not sit well with me, and yet neither does sitting out to watch.

I’ve been hearing this for a while now: Take care of yourself.  Go slowly.  You have the right to refuse anything.  Don’t push it.  You’ve come so far.  I know.  You’re right.  I should take my time.  Rest.  Slowly retrain my body.  This all makes sense.   But it has been so long.  My friends are all complaining about their sore hips, tight calves and bruised toenails, and I couldn’t be more jealous.  To keep myself from shedding a pathetic little tear as I tuck my pointe shoes a little deeper into the cozy bed dingy locker they’ve been living in all summer, I’m trying to look on the bright side of things.  I mean, this is a prime opportunity to tweak my problem areas (if I don’t come out of this recovery period with a relaxed neck and shoulders, so help me…) and enjoy the luxury of a slow-paced return to ballet, a concept that is about as unlikely as ordering clam chowder in Paris.

injuries and remedies


For anyone who doesn’t already know, I’d just like to take the time to say this right now: Ballet is hard.  Like, really hard.  And I don’t mean deciding between Froyo World and Orange Leaf hard, I mean sweating through multiple layers, bloody toepads, and collapsing on the couch immediately upon returning home every day hard.  But just when you thought the challenges were purely physical, you find yourself battling those dreadful little shadows of depression creeping into your brain.  Ballet is based on the pursuit of technical and artistic perfection, two things that are actually impossible.  Yet we work tirelessly day in and day out to achieve these unattainable goals, consequently setting ourselves up for failure.  No wonder we can so easily become depressed…

When you are injured, this pursuit of perfection does not cease- at least not mentally.  Physically, you are handicapped, but mentally you continue the fight.  Your life becomes a constant internal self-interrogation…what could I have done differently to prevent this?  How do I heal?  Which rehearsals am I missing?  Will I be better in time to perform?  It goes on and on.  With your mind racing a mile a minute but your body stuck in a rut, frustration is almost expected.  But it shouldn’t be mandatory, should it?  So how do you stamp out those mind-dwelling flames of self doubt and worry?  Everyone has a different method.  For me, there is nothing like getting out in the sun for at least 10 minutes, talking to my mom, having a bite (or 5) of a giant oatmeal raisin cookie, and dropping by the studio to see my friends.  And when all that fails, fresh flowers, wine, a trip to the RedBox and a night in with my boyfriend is always a winning combination!  It’s all about the healing powers, people!  Send me your good vibes!