Intern Makeda Roney shares her very personal story about battling injury as a young student. As a teacher I have never seen so many injuries in young dancers as I have of late and serious ones at that! Makeda shares not only her physical ordeal but how that effects not only her body bit her self confidence, her mind and spirit. This is a very honest telling of one young dancer’s journey to get to a point where she dance with abandon, and free of pain.
I have been dancing seriously for about 4 years and every year (since 2008) I have been dealing with a non-stop series of injuries. My series started off with Achilles tendinitis, in 2007,which made it unable for me to perform in Dance Theater of Harlem’s June performance. In 2008, I was diagnosed with underdeveloped calves. That answered the reason why it was so painful to do jumps in dance class. I was given exercises to do everyday and was not allowed to jump in dance class until my calves were fully developed. In the beginning of the summer in 2009, I experienced serious pain in my toes while dancing on Pointe and when I went to the doctor, they diagnosed me with stress fractures in both of my second metatarsals. I was told to stop dancing for the rest of the summer. When I heard this I felt angry and sad at the same time. I had mixed emotions because I had so many goals that I was tying to achieve that summer, and I felt like even after the first 2 weeks of the program, I was already start to work towards them. Not to mention my body changes a lot when I’m not dancing. I loose muscle and flexibility and if I am not conscious about my diet, I can gain a lot of weight. Having to dealing with all of that is very frustrating, because it makes it harder to get back in shape after the injury is healed and it feels like I have to re-learn how to dance all over again. Of course, my muscle memory takes over so of course when go back to class, so I don’t have to start at beginning level again, but there are certainly things that I can’t do in class anymore due to my loss of muscle so that’s frustrating.
During the year of 2009, I got better and felt fantastic dancing but as the year went on and Nutcracker season started, I got pain in my toes again. I was told by my teachers to stop dancing until I got another x ray. By the time I did, Nutcracker season was over and once again I didn’t get to perform. The x ray showed that I had scar tissue from my stress fractures and that’s why I was experiencing toe pain again. In 2010, I strained my left groin muscle. I was unable to dance and perform during the months of April, May and June.
I thought I was finally was getting away from my “injury curse”, I managed to stay healthy during the summer, fall and winter of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. I got accepted into The Ailey school for the second semester with a fellowship in 2011 and I felt accomplished. When I started at The Ailey school, my body felt good, I worked really hard and was improving so much. I felt like things were really starting to look up. Then all hope was gone because in May 2011 I started having serious sacrum pain, I couldn’t walk, sit or do any actions without pain. It got so bad that yet again couldn’t perform for the Ailey School end of the year performance. I stopped dancing for 2 months to heal so I could start The Ailey Summer Intensive healthy. To rejuvenate my body, I didn’t do anything active. I stayed home for most of those 2 months. I found myself sleeping a lot, it was very frustrating because I was so bored. I could have found things to entertain myself but I refused to do anything. It was like I was sulking and punishing myself. I missed dancing so much that all I could do was think about it and nothing else. I was very miserable and cried a lot. The one thing that got me through this situation was watching stand up comedies.
Now I am back and dancing full time this summer and slowly trying to get myself back to business, but unfortunately, I have started to get a lot of lower back pain. I am trying to deal with this injury without having to take off from dance once again, and so far it is very challenging. It is difficult because it is painful to do certain steps and positions in class and sometimes I have to rest, so my back wont get over worked. I have good days and bad days, like everyone else. Sometimes I can take all my classes without any pain and sometimes I can only take just barre of ballet. There are some classes this summer that get me really frustrated like Gyrokenisis because while Gyro is supposed to help and ease your back, but it is hurting mine like crazy. So it is hard for me to even take that full class without feeling pain. Add to that, while I am dancing I have to be really cautious I have to think about everything I do – because I am re-training. It gets complicated because I the classes are challenging and I have to work slowly and consciously. Doing that in a fast paced class is not easy, although, I am getting better at it. I am re-teaching my body to dance with correct alignment and doing physical therapy exercises, to strengthen my weak muscles, so I can prevent more injuries from happening. I feel like if I take this time with my body and rest to the fullest during the weekends, I will slowly get back to being fully healthy.
Dealing with so many consecutive injuries for the past 3-4 years has been very frustrating for me. I know that being a dancer, I am going to have to deal with them but I would have never thought that I’d have to deal with them at such and early age. I figured that as professional dancer I would experience injuries but not as a student, but I guess I was wrong. There was a point where I felt really sad and I cried almost everyday because it hurt so much to look around and see other dancers my age taking class all the time and performing with out pain, or only getting one quick injury that lasts them a week tops and then they are back in the swing of things, I think “Why can’t I be that way?”. My mother (a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher) told me that when she was younger she never dealt with so many injuries and taking time off to heal because of them, so I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, or maybe I wasn’t meant to dance. But I couldn’t quit! It is my passion and I cannot live my life without it, so as time passes and I get older, I make myself stop sulking about my injuries. I am changing my mind set and thoughts and working to see the positive aspect of my situation. I mean I could definitely say that having these injures at such an early age is a wake up call. It’s making me be more conscious about my body and my health. I have been learning a lot about what my body can and can’t do, what it needs and doesn’t need and my anatomical body structure. I have also been re-evaluating my dancing and my technique, like I said before, I’m learning to make sure that I am working correctly in my body alignment. My experience through this has altered my mind, and matured the way that I dance and improved my decision making with my dancing. I feel better now that I have learned to think about my situation in a positive way, because even though I am dealing with a back strain now, I can still feel my body and my dancing slowly changing and maturing in such a beneficial way and I have been more hopeful that soon I will get away from this burden of injuries. And one day I will.