Understanding Why My Body Hurts

Happy Saturday, dancers! Life has kept me busy over the last few weeks. I was travelling for about a week (airports and airplanes were a lot fuller than my last trip in February!). The day after I returned home, I was sitting in line to get my second dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine. I’ll be fully charged in another week, yay! Go go gadget Covid shield! For those interested, I had one day of fever and body aches following the shot. Unfortunately, the body aches triggered one of my headaches (it doesn’t take much) and that hung around for several days. It was interesting how the fever and body aches came and went. I described it to a friend like doing a system check – flip the switches on and then flip them off. I was feverish and then I wasn’t. There was no lingering.

Luckily, I was free of all symptoms in time for my first dance lesson in two weeks. I didn’t have the opportunity to solo practice while I was gone (aside from visualizations), so my body was either going to love or hate me for jumping back in. Sometimes I feel like the Tin Man during those first few dance steps as I shake the rust off my joints. Our warmup Waltz felt pretty good though!

I’ve been seeing my physical therapist since last Fall to address issues with my hips and lower back. My hips are much improved, but this ache in my lower back just refuses to go away. The same area was always sore after my dance lessons. During one of our sessions in March, my PT had me get into a closed frame position. The second I did, she said “yikes, ok, I see what’s happening!” As I held myself in that closed dance position, I was slightly hinging at that sore point in my lower back due to the front of my hips tilting down, so extra pressure was being put on that area as I danced. No wonder I would groan when I bent forward after a lesson!

balance blur boulder close up
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I shared this revelation with Teacher and since then, we’ve been working on my body alignment. First, it was focusing on lengthening through the front of my hips so they didn’t tilt and create that hinge in my lower back. This past week, we added another layer. Despite years of effort to engage my core, my top half and lower half still have trouble staying connected and working together. My hip moves and my rib cage lags behind, or vice versa. You may have heard dance coaches talk about the concept of your body as a stack of blocks. More often than not, my body blocks resemble a Jenga tower halfway through the game. So in addition to keeping the length in the front of my hips, I had to make sure my rib cage was staying aligned with my hips and I was properly using all those core muscles I’ve built up to keep it all connected.

Lightbulb! As I applied these ideas to my dancing and tried to keep all of the information from leaking out of my ears, the difference I felt in my movement was incredible. My connection to Teacher was more solid and stable, which meant he could easily lead me through a few fancy improvised steps (so fun!). I could feel my back getting sore, but it was the muscles finally engaging in the way they were meant to.

The next lightbulb came when we danced again and I felt a spasm-like pain in my midback. I’ve had these spasms before, usually when I’m trying to extend my shaping. This time, before I could say anything, Teacher said he felt my right hip disconnect. We tried again and I did the same shaping, but this time I minded that right side more closely. No back spasm!

It sounds funny in my head, but it’s exciting for me to discover and understand why my body hurts, and more importantly, how to correct it. As adult ballroom dancers, we put an enormous strain on bodies that have not been conditioned to handle it. We have to play catch up on body conditioning, while also asking our bodies to take the strain anyway. My default is to just power through challenges, but starting with my knee injuries a few years ago, I’ve had to accept that a different approach may be necessary. I have to work smarter, not harder.

The second lesson of the week was more excitement over understanding why my body hurt, fixing it, and then enjoying more powerful dancing as a result. My body is still sore today, but in a good way. Isn’t it cool that even after eight years, I’m still discovering things about myself through dance?!

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