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Taking care of your dancer body!

Hi everyone! My name is Heather Yuan, and through my years of dancing, I have learned a variety of essential skills and lessons that have helped navigate me through life since. One of these is in the importance of taking care of my body. Now, I understand that this is something all of you have undoubtedly heard too many times from your teachers, peers, parents, or doctors, but may or may not have truly let settle in. So, I’m here to talk about my story in finding peace with my body and what I’ve learned along the way.

Just to clarify things upfront, I want to say that I’m lucky enough to not have had to go through any major injuries in my life. What I have had, and still have, however, is minor scoliosis, a long history with back pain, and various other more minor pain-related chronic injuries and muscle patterns. Most of these issues turned up, or were discovered, around 3 years ago. Since then, I have been on a life-long journey to remedy the persisting issues I’ve had and aim for a healthy, pain-free body. Along the way, I have found help in so many different ways, from my physical therapist, chiropractor, and pilates instructor, all of which have been crucial in helping me dissect my body and locate exactly what it is I need to work on. It has been a long trek, but I finally feel like I’m making progress.

In working with so many different people, opinions, and practitioners, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about my body and would like to share how I was able to work through the obstacles with you:

1. Seek help – I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get professional help for our bodies. As great as generalized work out videos or WebMD can be, every body is so unique and getting someone like a physical therapist or chiropractor will be pivotal in your quest to anatomize your body. Specialized training and observation is imperative in finding what will be effective for YOU.

2. Listen to your body (& your doctor!) – I get it, your doctor told you to take it easy for 2 weeks, but you were just really feeling it in last night’s combo so you went full out. The next morning, you’re paying the repercussions on your body. As dancers, I know that we can be incredibly impatient and overzealous with our goals, and can often overestimate what our body can do. We put such high expectations on ourselves that when we can’t reach it, or are forced to back down, it can be surprisingly hard. But what I’ve learned is that taking it slow and easy is the only way to win the race. If you think about it, nobody other than dancers are required to do 16 fouettés into a needle turn into an aerial. Your body is built to do normal “human” things. Listen to your doctor, do the exercises your physical therapist tells you to do, and do it for real. These exercises are designed to stretch or strengthen those “human” muscles and get them strong enough to hold its own when you’re dancing. For one of my exercises, I literally have to lay on my back, try engaging my abs, then just… breathe. No movement required. Because of bad habits I developed in the past, my back gets irritated whenever I use my abs or diaphragm in even the simplest actions like breathing. Like in dance, it’s important to build from the bottom up. How can we expect to do our crazy maneuvers if we haven’t even learned how to breathe correctly yet? Take your time, be patient, these seemingly boring exercises will pay off in the end. I promise.

3. Be open to new information – We have so many resources available to us now that we can find ourselves not knowing which voice or opinion to follow. My advice to that is to be open to every new opinion you may encounter. There may be hidden gems of information where you least expect it. I’ve seen in the past where people try to give advice to someone, but that person is so set on what they think their body has or needs that they refuse to listen to the new advice, even when their previous understanding may not have been true. Your body is constantly changing and is absolutely complex. What you believe may be true to some extent, but often times there is more to dig out. I was convinced that my back pain was caused by my scoliosis, but turns out that my scoliosis was not the cause of my back pain, but rather a symptom of underlying issues of bad habits and muscle patterns. Stay open-minded and accept any new information that may be given to you.

4. Don’t get frustrated – Like I said earlier, dancers are some of the most ambitious, hard working people on the planet. We are infinitely hard on ourselves and only expect the best of the best from our bodies. But health is a continual, growing, living being, and impatience can be poison. No injury is a cookie-cutter, textbook ailment, so it will take time to find what works well for your body. Don’t take any short-cuts. Short-cuts cause bad habits and bad habits cause injuries. This is exactly what happened to me. I only wanted to do a good job at the exercise I was given, but never truly understood the meaning of why I was doing it. I took shortcuts and tried to outsmart the technique. In doing so, I developed bad muscle patterns that would take much longer to rehabilitate than if I had done quality over quantity. Don’t get down on yourself because I feel like you aren’t improving as much. It’s the quality of what you’re doing that’s important and improvement is finite. Immerse yourself fully into treatment and trust that you are getting somewhere.

If you’ve stuck with me through this novel of a blog post, congrats! And thank you 😊 I hope that through my experiences and what I’ve learned, I could share with you my findings so that you will be able to navigate your journey clearer and more effectively. The body is the most important asset to a dancer so it is utterly important that it is taken care of thoroughly and well. Good luck!

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