an update

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Hello, all!  Just thought I’d share a quick update on the status of my back injury…

This morning my mom and I drove up to Waltham, MA to see Dr. Lyle Micheli, whom we’ve heard more than a few wonderful things about.  Just as I’d been informed, Dr. Micheli knew all about how difficult finding my new arabesque will be, and how tiring it is to (attempt to) do port de bras without core strength.  A doctor who knows dancers- dream come true, no?!

So there’s good news and bad news.  The doc said this is one of those injuries that, at my age (a ripe 21 years), it is unlikely that this fracture will ever heal.  The good news?  It’s totally safe for me to continue progressively working my way back into the studio full-time!  Apparently my injury (and dancing with it) isn’t quite as rare and scary as I thought it was…did any of you know that Peter Martins sustained a similar spinal fracture during his dancing days?  And guess what, he still has it!

So there was a lovely bit of hope on this first Monday morning of autumn.  Feeling good. :)

target demographic

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Thursday evenings are the unofficial ladies’ night at my physical therapist’s office.  Tonight when I arrived the only patients there were 2 other ladies and when I finished up several hours later, I left 7 women behind.  Of course, I was the only one under 50, but what does that matter?  We’re all hooked up to the same stim machine in the end…

At first the other ladies left me alone and chatted about the weather in PT terms- Is it supposed to rain tonight?  I think so, my knee is killing me– while they stretched their hammies with long green straps.  I was in the middle of a good yawn when one of my favorite 50-somethings shimmied on over to do a few leg presses on the machine right across from me and my lat pull-downs.  Finally face-to-face, she must’ve felt some subconscious need to address my contextual youth.  So she starts in, “When you’re my age everything will hurt all the time.”  “It already does”, I tell her, with a smirk.  “Are you an athlete?”, she asks next, nodding away because she already knows- without any casts, scars, or crutches, what else could I be doing in here?  “Yes, well, er, I’m a ballet dancer.  Professionally.  I’m a professional ballet dancer.”

Then it happened.  As if I had screamed the words BALLERINA OVER HERE through a megaphone, the ladies looked over at me, watching with wide eyes that reflected the tiny tutus of their childhoods as I moved on to my seated rows.  My initial interrogator and the weather observer on the stationary bike next to her couldn’t ask their questions fast enough.  Who do you dance for?  How many hours?  Are you dancing in the next performance?  What’s your injury?  Stress fracture in your spine?!  How did that happen?   But you’re so young!  Festival Ballet?  Doesn’t Baryshnikov’s daughter teach there? 

Why had it taken me so long to realize I was surrounded by my target demographic?  Thursday evening PT seshes are my new favorite.

[healing]

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Last week was tense.

Waiting to hear the results of my cat scan day after day was mentally exhausting.  But finally, tonight around 9 o’clock, my phone rang.  My doctor informed me that although it’s not completely healed yet, my back seems pretty solid and I am cleared to begin slowly working my way back into ballet classes!(!!!!!!!!)

Pretty soon I’ll be back at the barre!  You can imagine my excitement.  I would like to thank all of you for your kind messages, well wishes, and continued support throughout this onerous time in my life.  Your inspiring advice has helped me remain optimistic (read: sane), during these past 4 months.  Thank you all!

Until next time…xo

(photos via pinterest)

hidden light

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Sometimes you have to search for the rainbow.

There are times when the skies open up after a storm and the clouds step aside to give light to an anxious arched prism across an unwrinkled blanket of blue.  The immaculate stream of reflected luminescence makes you feel instantly brighter.  It reminds you that sometimes a rainy day produces beauty, and you notice yourself smiling.

But there are also times in which the shift in weather is less explicit.  No matter how hard that stream of color pushes its way toward you, the clouds linger overhead, muddling the view.  If you really search the sky, however, you can make out those determined little stripes.  You can find them touching down somewhere in the horizon, guiding you with their optimism, calling you forward.  Slowly, your lips part like tentative clouds and you’re flashing a half-smile.  It may not be quite as bold as what you’re used to, but it’s long-awaited, much-needed, and it feels like a dream.

I’ve been feeling a bit like a rainbow in a cloudy sky lately.  No matter how hard I try to lighten up, a new cloud comes in to push me back.  This storm has felt endless.  As the start of the season quickly approaches and the state of my fractures remains vague, I’m feeling the downpour of rain on my back more than ever.  But I’m realizing now that I can’t let this torrid weather bring me down.  Despite of my injuries, I must always find ways to smile.  Life has presented me with a persistent haziness and the perfect opportunity to find the ultimate rush.  I think it’s time I stopped searching and consider the light all around me.  Sometimes the least obvious rainbows are the most rewarding.

bone-afide

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Yesterday was the big day.  Back to Rhode Island Hospital for my cat scan.  My mom and I are starting to get pretty familiar with that parking lot and the sky bridge to Dudley Street.  Now if only we could navigate those confusing hallways into the radiology department…luckily, we’ve made our chronically confused hospital navigation into a bit of a joke.  Wait, if we’re already on level ‘G’, why are we taking the elevator?  Take a left at CVS… Over the small bridge- never the long one!  Don’t stray too far from the path!

When we finally located the radiology office, I registered, and not too long after that it was time for my “close up” (see what I did there?).  To my surprise, I was actually allowed to keep all my clothes on (after stripping down and donning a johnny a few times a week for several months at acupuncture, remaining fully-clothed at the hospital seemed a bit like wearing sneakers in the pool).  As I laid there on the stiff, shifting bed, letting my body be fed in and out of the big round camera-donut feet first, I reminisced on all of the fun times I’ve had while having my bones photographed.  There have been countless rounds of x-rays, a non-descript MRI, and a full body bone scan.  Oddly enough, none of that prepared me for how quickly this cat scan would go by.  I laid there staring at two little happy face icons as a strange voice commanded me to “breathe in, breathe out, stop breathing”.  Say cheeeeese.  Two practice rounds and one long, drawn-out, holding-of-the-breath later and I was all done.  Ready to hop down, shoes never removed, and be on my way.

I think it took us longer to find our way through the hospital than the actual cat scan itself.  But I bet it takes triple our hallway trudging time to get the results…cross your fingers for me!

withdrawals

I’m sitting onstage, barefoot, rolling imaginary cigars on my tightless thighs to the firey score of Carmen.  I look out into the rows and rows of plush red seats that I know are there but can’t see because they’re draped in that familiar black opening night blanket.  Absently, I contemplate the misguiding apparent endlessness of the house.  So much space.  The dancer next to me springs up off her stool, flinging her lycra skirt up with her, subsequently hitting me in the face and reminding me to listen for my cue.  These next few counts of eight have not yet worked their way into the overstuffed suitcase of my muscle memory.  This next sequence of beautifully obscure movements requires that I focus on nothing else but this.  When I finally hear my golden note, it doesn’t come as a surprise; I’ve listened for this cue every day for weeks.  Concentrate.  I toss my invisible half-rolled cigar behind me and jump to my feet.  Running towards Kristina, my partner in this little pas de deux, I notice she looks different.  Then, in an instant, she comes closer, and I see it’s not Kristina rushing my way, it’s me.  Slightly confused, I continue towards center stage, this is the professional approach briefly floods my mind.  Now I’m on the center X, face to face with me, partnering myself and making my own mirror.  Before I have the chance to catch my own gaze,  I assume the vision of the immense audience and I’m starting to realize this is not real.  I am not here.

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I wake myself up.  I’m lying in bed.  It doesn’t take long for my harsh reality to set in:  I am not in the midst of performing Plotnikov’s Carmen.  I have not danced in over 3 months.  I have a stress fracture in my spine.  My heart drops past the broken bone into my hips.  It’s strange how some dreams only become nightmares after you wake up.

These dance withdrawals get worse with every passing day outside the studio.  Today I was surprised with the less-than-spectacular news that I may have multiple fractures in my back.  Yippee.  My optimism is waning.  I just want to dance.  I’m clinging to any and all hope I can.  Some dancers spend years recovering from their injuries, I tell myself.  But this just suggests these few months may only be the tip of the iceberg.  How do I put an end to the ghosts of performances past haunting my sleep?  I guess I could stop watching so many dance-related videos before bed.  But they do help fill that big empty dance gap!  So what’s a girl to do?

back to the grind

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Coming back to the states means not only an end to my french adventure, but also the return to my schedule full of acupuncture and physical therapy appointments.  Ah, the life of a dancer.

This morning at acupuncture (which I attended all by myself for the first time ever! be proud!), I asked my doctor to put special needles in my ear to curb hunger cravings, telling him that I’m still trying to get back into shape and reminding him of the dishonorable amount of cheese I consumed in Paris.  He then sized me up, asked me my weight, laughed at me a little bit, but eventually agreed to give me the hunger-halting pressure points remarking, “To always be more slim…that’s the curse of the ballerina.”  This guy really knows what he’s talking about…

Later on at physical therapy, I received some rather painful, but quite necessary soft tissue massaging.  Oooh, these casual little soft tissue massages they give me.  You’ve never experienced as uncomfortable a massage as one of these; It’s like they are feeling around for the most painful inch of muscle in your body, and upon locating said twisted tissue, they pound it into the floor.  So, as the trainer dug her elbow farther into my left buttock, she politely suggested, “Just let me know if I need to back off a little, okay?” but she already knew my response.  Before I could get out the full, “It’s okay, I can take it”, she interrupted with a laugh and said, “Yeah, you’re a pro athlete, you love this kind of pain.”  Not only was it extremely refreshing and lovely to be referred to as a pro athlete by a trainer in a sports medicine facility, but she was also exactly right.  I do love that sore, almost-on-the-brink-of-tears, recovery and healing, grinding away at my tight muscles, type of pain.  So, healers and  feelers, keep that good pain coming!

a quiet theater week

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The final week leading up to the opening of a main stage ballet is known as theater week.  Rehearsals move from early morning studio sessions to late night stage runs with lights, costumes, and sets.  Last minute preparations are being made by the dancers, the artistic staff, the backstage crew and the wardrobe department (which, in our case, consists of 2 dedicated ballet moms with sewing machines).  It goes without saying that during theater week, stress is at an all time high.  Unless you are not there…

For the first time since I joined the company 3 years ago, I am missing out on the tense yet exciting hustle and bustle of theater week.  My dancer friends head to The Vets to change into their mesh tights and sparkly tutus, and I sit on the couch.  Completely disconnected.  It’s such a strange feeling.  Even my plans to arrive at the theater at 9:30 for tomorrow morning’s 10:00 performance seem so incredibly off.  It’s like when the busy sidewalks of Hope Street become abandoned during a snowstorm…oddly calm.  Eerily quiet.  Nice in theory, but slightly depressing in actuality.  So peaceful from the outside, but so disgruntling to my insides.  A quiet theater week.  Definitely one for the books.

{first & third photos by me, second photo by A. Cemal Ekin}

alternative healing: herbs and more herbs…

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As I head fearlessly into my second month of acupuncture treatments, I can’t help but wonder…what do my readers think?  With all of the medical options available today, it can be hard to keep them all straight.  This option treats a certain group of muscles, that option adjusts your bone structure routinely, another aims to rework the flow of energy through your entire body.  But what does it all mean?  Which option is the most effective for me?  This can be one of the toughest questions to answer, and one of the most frustrating obstacles facing an injured dancer.

One of the biggest differences between acupuncture and traditional Western medicine I’ve noticed (besides the extreme difference in needle size, quantity, placement and purpose), is the opposition of herbal supplements versus medical drugs.  I don’t know about you, but if there is an all-natural option promising to cure my ailments, I am alllll ovah dat.  But how hard are these herbs actually working in my body?  I mean, the often immediate relief you feel after taking some ibuprofen is undeniable.  Conversely, if you asked me how much my health has improved after taking a hearty dose of 14 different herb capsules 3 times a day (that’s 42 big capsules, peeps) I would be at a loss for words.  While I don’t have any real complaints about taking the herbs (swallowing a mass amount of capsules is actually a luxurious experience compared to my previous method of herbal ingestion in powder form- I will tell you right now, spooning large scoops of powdery dirt into a shot glass and chocking down the now-goopy mud-like substance then trying to erase the entire process from your memory 3 times a day is even harder than it sounds), I also don’t have a lot of great things to say about them.  The “sleepy-time” herbs do promote a nice restful sleep (so that’s 3 more capsules every night before bed, for anyone still keeping count), and I think my morning round up of herbs do kill the pain for a short while, but I always end up requiring some ibuprofen midway through the day.  Without much instant gratification (something our “progressive” society has taught me to crave) from the herbs, it’s hard to see the point in the whole process…

Soooo here’s what I want to know:  Have any of you ever tried acupuncture?  What was your experience?  Did you have a whole cocktail (kind of like a long island iced tea in this case) of herbal supplements to take?  What other forms of healing have you tried?  Did they work for you?

diagnosed

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Welp, after months of lower back pain and no real “cause” (I actually started to think I might be fabricating the whole injury), I have finally received a diagnosis.  And the verdict?  I have a stress fracture between the first and second vertebrae of my spine.  Read: There is an itty bitty crack in my lower back that’s causing a whooooole lot of trouble.

With only 2 weeks left in the season, this diagnosis has actually come at a pretty perfect time (if there is such a thing).  Since the only way to treat a stress fracture is with rest and physical therapy, I’ll be able to take time away from ballet without stressing over being 100% healthy before the next show.  I have the entire summer to get back into tip top shape for next season!

The only hold up?  My plans to travel to Paris in June for the Ailey/POB summer intensive.  Might be kind of hard to do an intensive with a bad back…eeeeeek. :(

Have any of you ever had a stress fracture?  What was your experience like?