Pivotal Moments of Pain by Emma Hopley

As I near the end of my time at NSCD, I’ve been taking the time to reflect. And one of the things that I’ve realised is that my injuries have been some of the pivotal points of my training here.

One of the things that comes up again and again with myself and my classmates is how do you define an injury? Many of the pains we experience aren’t due to an acute injury (a specific impact or trauma) but rather due to overuse, or constant repetition of an ‘incorrect’ posture, alignment or movement pattern. This means that they are treated in a different way, and whilst we’re all sometimes dying for a quick fix to our pain, that can get us back moving in the studio as soon as possible, that’s not always how it works. As dancers we learn movement so quickly, but sometimes it can seem to take an age to unlearn a habit.

The first time I think I’d ever experienced real pain was almost exactly two years ago when I had spasms in my lower back. This injury really made me realise that perhaps I wasn’t as mature as I had begun to think I was upon leaving home at 18. My relationship with this injury was inexplicably emotional, and I cried unbelievable amounts over the pain and frustration that I experienced. Maybe it was because it was my back, my centre, my weakest point, and because it made me feel so fragile and alone. More than anything, I think I just needed a hug.

Although I was intensely emotional over my injury back then, I would also describe myself as a bit of a physical whirlwind, I wouldn’t ever stop, I would dance as hard as I possibly could, and the more sweaty, exhausted and achey I was the better. This is still something I relate to today, but every day since this injury I’ve learned to find time to chill, slow down and look after my body, rather than constantly forcing it.

My back still goes on me every now and then, and it’s still scary. But I definitely understand my body better than I did, I know what to do practically- working with miracle balls and the much-hailed semi supine regularly save my days. And emotionally, I realise it’s actually not that big of a deal, it’s just in my head, and it’s temporary.

Fast forward two years and I find myself injured again. For a long time I didn’t know for sure what was going on under my skin, and yes that’s scary, but I actually found myself feeling weirdly ok about it (OK not all the time, there was that time when I turned up to school after 3 hours of medical appointments in a sling and absolutely everyone wanted to talk about it, and I really didn’t).

Recently, I’ve found that rather than getting emotional, I more often than not turn to research for reassurance (as I did with my dissertation topic) and reading around gives me the practical facts that whatever the extent of my particular injury, it will be ok in a few/ or a few more weeks. More than ever I’ve been able to distract myself from the pain with thoughts of the exciting things coming up for me once this frustrating time has passed. Not that I’m wishing away my final weeks at Northern… for the past couple of weeks I’ve taken a real pleasure in watching my classmates  moving in technique class, and it’s been so nice to see where they’ve ended up as dancers, I admire each and every one of them.

So if you’re injured at the moment, as a lot of people seem to be (if you were at Fabiano’s class THAT time, you hear me) don’t lose heart. Everyone will get injured at some point in their training and career, and though it felt like it to me at times, it’s not the end of the world. You will get better, and getting stressed will not help, although it’s totally ok to do so, and then it’s probably best to cry and shout about it, and eat some chocolate, you’ll feel better after. And remember that you know your body, you can navigate your own recovery (although of course Fabiano is there to help) and your injury will probably teach you more about yourself, your movement and your technique that you appreciate in the moment that you feel pain.

As one of Shirley’s many catchphrases goes: Keep on keeping on.



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