Shark Week Survival

It felt really good to get 10 classes in last week, despite the fact that my not-so-lovely “Aunt Flo” came to visit, a.k.a. “Shark Week.”

For me, every month I get my period is different. Sometimes, it comes and goes without a peep.  Other times, it lays me flat out in bed unable to move for a day.  This month, it was somewhere in the middle.

Monday through Wednesday, I took 2 classes a day and felt really good about the progress being made. I felt oddly…sinuous after Wednesday class, noticing more muscle tone than usual.  The next morning, BOOM: my period arrived.  I immediately popped 2 Advil (this is one of the only times I’ll use this medicine without question because I know it will quickly subdue any pain) and felt fine to continue with the day.

However, somewhere around 45 minutes into my first afternoon class, the Advil wore off, and I felt like an over-blown-up balloon ready to burst into agony.  I managed to breathe through the remainder of the class, and was even considering doing the next class at half-speed, but my body basically said “NOPE.”  I went home and curled up into a ball for a few hours.  This will not be an option in a company – I must take better care to eat, sleep, and prepare for future periods in a way that will enable me to keep dancing.  I’d rather not muscle my way through it. We’ll see.

On Friday, I went back to class, and suffered an old habit I thought I’d let go of, at least to some extent.  It is the habit of “over-thinking.” With each and every correction I received, rather than allowing myself to catalog it for later processing, I strained myself to incorporate EVERY correction into EVERY step, and felt like I was getting nowhere.  I wanted to cry and run out of the room from frustration.  It felt like I could do NOTHING right, and that my body was actually moving backwards, away from my goals of improvement.  Worst of all, my gerbil-brain (because, when I over-think, it feels like a bunch of gerbils have crawled into my head and are now running the show featuring a large spinning wheel and too much sawdust) conveniently forgot that I had gotten my period only yesterday, and these emotional swings were most likely a residual effect…

Still: I stayed through all classwork, practiced my fouettés afterwards, got some very good corrections, hit a couple of triple pirouettes, and improved upon my chaînes.  I also did a lot of pointe work and received compliments on the cleanliness of my foot work.  All of this is to remind myself that even small steps forward are worth celebrating – I try to record the compliments along with the corrections in my dance journal so as to remind myself that it isn’t all bad… sigh.  Sometimes, it feels really hard to accept any compliment, big or small. I don’t want to trust them – I only trust corrections as a form of praise due to my upbringing in a more traditional ballet school where compliments were scarce to non-existent.

By Saturday, I was able to incorporate all of the corrections I’d received throughout the week, and somehow it felt like everything came together.  That felt good.

More importantly, I had a PT session with a body work specialist after class, and together, we made a big discovery about my body.  I told her about my challenges with extension, and she asked me to go to the barre and attempt a developé to the side while she would hold my torso and gently coax it into proper alignment.

Basically, all of those important torso muscles one is supposed to engage when doing a developé? I AM NOT USING ANY OF THEM.  So, how in the hell am I getting my leg up in the air at all?!  As the specialist said, dancers will figure out a way to make a step happen regardless of whether or not it is the right way – it’s called compensation.  I have been relying almost exclusively on the working leg to get it up into the air, while obliques, soaz, hip flexor, rotation, piriformis, multifidi, (am I spelling any of this correctly?!) all of that stuff, is out to lunch.  When she tried to get my body up and forward into the place where all of these muscles COULD fire, I could no longer get my leg above 90 degrees.  It was, surprisingly, a RELIEF.  Yes, I felt some frustration and sadness, but then I felt a sense of forgiveness – I wanted to forgive my body for not being able to get a high extension. How could it, given the fact that I was not enabling it to use any of the necessary tools?

Mind blown.

So, onward and upward, literally.  I will start to unpack my nervous system, which has been overloaded with my Type-A personality’s desire to improve, progress, add on, force, and succeed.  I will let go of these things for now.  I must allow my body to shift at its own pace.  How?  I have no idea.  I will start with meditation. Or maybe just a few minutes of staring into space, just being present.  How about that for a challenge?  If you are Type-A like me, you know what kind of journey is in store for this dancer.

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