Birgit is a close friend who is responsible for introducing me to the dance studio I’ve trained at for nearly five years! The unimaginable happened to her last year, but as it turns out, life does go on. Read on to find out how she was forced to find life outside of dance.
We’ve all heard about work/life balance, and most of us agree that it’s critical to living a healthy life. But do we apply that balance to the rest of our lives…let’s say, our passions? Or do we forget about balance, go all in and invest everything into that one activity because we “can’t live without it”?
Then what happens if that one thing is suddenly taken away?
I had to face losing a passion of mine last fall. I sustained a serious foot injury that has now restricted my dancing for over a year and completely kept me off the dance floor for four months at one point.
It was a stupid accident where I wasn’t paying attention, walked into a piece of furniture at home and pulled my big toe out laterally. I screamed, cursed like a sailor and, like any athlete, had the mindset to “just walk it off.” The pain did subside after about half an hour, so I didn’t think twice about this incident until a couple of weeks later. I had spent all weekend dancing: salsa on Friday night, Argentine tango on Saturday and ballroom on Sunday. Of course, all of it in heels up to 4.5 inches high.
Monday came and my left foot was especially sore. As dancers, we’re accustomed to achy feet and muscles, but this was different. I had a bad pain in the ball of the foot when I woke up. Yet after my body warmed up a bit that morning, I felt better. That evening I had a ballroom lesson scheduled, and naturally I decided to push through. I brought my dance sneakers instead of heels in an attempt at sensibility and took the lesson. I also had an Argentine tango group class later that night, but the pain was too great at that point, so I begrudgingly went home. I ended up resting my foot for about 10 days, after which it felt better. The pain would come and go, but I had dance commitments!!! I was performing with a salsa formation group in a few weeks and in a team match after that, and I was NOT going to miss those events. That meant consistent rehearsal and practice, although I modified my practices by wearing mostly dance sneakers and cushioning the ball of my foot, doing treatments and taking rests in between as my schedule allowed.
I made it more or less through both events; it had now been 2 months post injury. The pain wasn’t lessening, and I had already decided to seek medical attention after the team match. Waiting that long is not the smartest decision I ever made. I had several reasons for not seeing a doctor sooner, but at the forefront was that I didn’t want to be told to stop dancing. If no medical expert said it out loud, I could keep going, right?? Denial is a beautiful thing to the stubborn mind.
I won’t bore you with all the details of my complicated medical journey – that’s a story for another blog! In a nutshell, I was in a diagnostic phase for two months seeing a variety of doctors and getting second and third opinions, which resulted in finding two main issues: partial ligament tears in the big toe and sesamoid bone damage. All of it meant that I couldn’t roll through the ball of my foot without wanting to kick something. (Gotta love the irony!) And it boiled down to this: No dancing for four months. Oh crap…NOW WHAT???
How was I going to cope with that? I was a pretty active person outside of dance, and yoga especially had been my other mental refuge. I couldn’t do that either, not to mention playing tennis or going to my weekly Zumba class. So, I had two options: I could bury myself at home and wallow in my misery (a very tempting choice!), or I could find other ways to fill my time.
Physically, the one activity I was cleared to do was swimming. I had always loved the sense of freedom in the water but hadn’t pursued it recently since most of my spare time was filled with dance. Being back in the pool now kept me from going completely stir crazy, provided much needed exercise, and gave me the feeling of Zen-like tranquility that I had previously received in my yoga practice.
Then came the decision of what to do about the dance world. Any dancer passionate about the art understands all too well the wistful longing when watching others dance while you’re on the sidelines, wishing you were out there yourself. Was I going to stay away because it would be too painful just to watch? Or was I going to get out there, support my friends in the pursuit of their dancing dreams and remain an active member of the communities I so cherished?
My dance friends and teachers made that decision easy. They encouraged me to come to the studio and visit so I would still know what was going on with my “family.” They urged me to sit in on the group classes so I wouldn’t miss out on the banter and still felt like I was part of the group. I had been afraid that I would be resentful of not being able to dance, but they were right. Just being there gave me a sense of inclusion and joy. It played an integral part in my mental ability to cope with the injury because dance isn’t just about dancing; it’s also about the meaningful relationships and support systems you form while at the studio.
Travel is another big passion of mine, and I already had a trip planned to attend a tango festival in Buenos Aires. The 10-day trip was to consist of seven days of workshops and milongas, plus sightseeing in our free time. It was four months into my healing process, and the pain in my foot was subsiding. I received clearance from my doctor to use pain as a guide while dancing, as long as I wore sensible shoes (i.e., no ridiculously high heels!). Again, I was faced with the question of whether or not I should go even if I couldn’t physically take full advantage of everything the trip had to offer. Was it going to be a waste of money and time filled with regret?
I decided to go anyway because I knew that my thirst for travel adventures, exploring new places in the world and connecting with people of other cultures was just as big as my love for dance. And I was going to be traveling with some of my close friends, which promised a trip full of uncontrollable laughter and unforgettable experiences. I was not disappointed!
While dealing with my foot injury, I was going through another crisis: my mom’s health was failing. Some people say that things always happen for a reason. I am a firm believer of that, even if the reason itself doesn’t always become clear until later.
I spent a lot of time in the last year helping my dad take care of my mom and also being there for him, taking me away from my normal life routine. If I’m honest with myself and my ego, part of me would have mourned leaving my dance practice behind if I had been healthy. Sometimes timing, as painful as the situation may be, works to your advantage. With the injury, I wasn’t losing out on dancing; I was gaining precious memories with my parents.
Which brings me to gratitude.
If I had to go through this injury, this was the perfect time. I had another job to do, which was to be there for my family. And those are moments I will never regret and always treasure.
I am so grateful for the amazing friendships I have made in the dance community! My friends wouldn’t let me sulk at home but continued to include me in our fabulous world.
I learned a lot by simply…observing. Watching a dance lesson/group class can teach you valuable things. You pay attention in a very different way, visualizing the steps or body connection in your head, feeling it more internally.
Finally, I’m grateful that I do have other passions in my life.
The bottom line is, as incredibly fulfilling as dance is, it isn’t the only thing in life. By all means, if you can, live it; breathe it! The rewards are many. But you CAN go on without actively participating in dance. You CAN find other things that are meaningful and give you joy. In fact, I strongly encourage you to explore and expand your horizons. Take it from me – it’s always good to have options!
6 thoughts on “Guest Post by Birgit Haissig – Life Outside of Dance…SAY WHAT???!!!”
I swear, the first half of this post could almost have been written by me in so many respects, except substitute ankle for toe/ball of foot. Also, I’m quite a lot dumber—I rolled my ankle in competition in August of 2014. Like you, I took the athlete’s mindset and just danced through it. I figured it was a teeny little ping and would sort itself out. Plus I had competitions and commitments! I went ten months, because I was active in the California Gold Rush series and I wanted to see it through—after Emerald Ball, I was scheduled for a long rest coupled with some travel and the ankle would be FINE.
Except…it wasn’t. It got worse, actually. It’s as if my body, lacking the adrenaline of constant training, decided to let me know just how stupid I’d been. Result was two torn ligaments in one ankle with stress and a slight tear in the opposite knee for how I’d been compensating.
I was told to stay off the floor for six months at the very least. I tried to go back in limited capacity but my own competitive nature plus the fact that my teacher at the time knew how to push all my competitive buttons in a way that wasn’t necessarily healthy caused me to have to step away completely. It would be nearly another year before I stepped back onto a dance floor again. A different teacher who understands what’s going on and gets what I want out of dance, and having to drop rhythm completely in favor of smooth, which I’d wanted to do anyway, and slowly but surely, I’ve been working my way back.
The time away was hard– my fitness levels and the weight loss I worked so hard on has suffered tremendously, but that’s slowly resolving itself. The lack of ability to do anything I wanted physically has been hard mentally, but it’s forced me to become more selective. It also forced me to truly “learn” how to dance rather than just mimic moves.
And ultimately, the time away was good emotionally because I got to spend a lot of time with my kids before each of them headed off to college. No regrets that I was missing out on anything or resentment because of a perceived sacrifice.
Next time I step out onto a competition floor, it’ll be at the very least three years since the last time I competed. It’ll be scary, I’m sure. But I can’t wait.
Thanks for sharing your story. It’s reassuring to know one’s not alone out in the world. 🙂
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Wow, thank you for sharing Barbara! It’s funny that Birgit and I finalized her guest post at the same time I’m dealing with a muscle spasm in my back that forced me to cancel a dance lesson last week. I keep telling myself to take it easy, but it’s so hard to be away from dance! Now I have not one, but two cautionary tales of what can happen if I ignore what my body is telling me. I promise I’m resting!
Thank you for your comment, Barbara! I’m glad the post resonated with you, minus the having-gone-through-injury part. I bet the time with your kids was precious. Best of luck on your comeback to competition, enjoy it to the max!!! 😀
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I can imagine how incredibly hard it was to seek medical care knowing that it would probably mean you couldn’t do what you loved for who knew how long! I’ve always been a very injury prone person (had to stop competitive swimming due to a partial tear in my rotator cuff that didn’t heal well) so I’ll admit I get anxious any time anything feels remotely painful when I danceI Don’t want this amazing outlet to be taken away from me! That’s so great that your studio family was still so inclusive even when you were injured! Hope you’re continuing to heal and are getting everything you want out of dance and the rest of your life!
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