Sacrificial Bodies

Pain is something that has been on my mind lately. I have been hearing from other dancers past 30 that they are starting to feel pain. Is this part of us aging or is it part of us sacrificing our bodies carelessly?

I have  spent many hours dissecting my body in front of a mirror. It comes with the territory for many of us. It is not just about examining the unchangeable imperfections. It is also about trying to create beauty and innovation. This comes from trying to find new lines, new movements, new expressions. Will all this be worth it when I am older? Will I look back and say, “man, I am so glad I worked my body so hard when I was young as I can still feel the pain from it today”?

I was speaking with a friend who also has chronic pain. He is not a dancer, but has been dealing with it for two and a half years. He was at a support group for pain patients, many that have been in pain for decades. The support group was about goal setting. He said everybody in the room’s goals were the same – they want to be able to sleep as pain is keeping them from that. His goal was to not have fear anymore. I can relate to that as I do fear the physical pain will never go away. I do wonder if it will one day stop me from dancing. I try to not focus on this daily and to live each day like it is my last, pain and all.

If we start feeling pain when we are dancing, should we be stopping? It makes me wonder sometimes. I actually find the pain is often decreased when dancing. In those moments, I can feel the sinew moving, feeling, stretching. There is an endorphin rush that happens with movement. This is why athletes tend to be adrenaline junkies. If they were athletes from youth, they are used to having that high and continue trying to obtain it and sometimes not in the healthiest ways if it stretches past athletic creation. This is also part of the reason athletes can go into a depression when they are injured and cannot use their body to create this natural high.

I have had amazing therapists over the years who have kept me moving through injuries. I have also encountered therapists who tried to stop me from continuing when injured. The therapists who still encouraged training, be it modified, were athletes themselves. They understood the psychology of not wanting to take downtime so as not to lose ground in my athletic progression.

How do we strike that balance between pleasure and pain? It can be difficult as athletes as we often experience both simultaneously throughout our careers. Running causes that mixed message in our bodies as does weight training, pilates, even yoga. Are we pain and pleasure junkies?

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