Many of us decide to take up dancing to improve our physical health–and why not? Dance is a fun, dynamic, social form of exercise that gets us up and moving, burning calories, and boosting endorphins.
Recently, I shared some videos with my high school students in which individuals with health struggles were highlighted; dance has helped to alleviate their symptoms and vastly improve their quality of life. One man has been able to slow the progress of his Parkinson’s symptoms by taking up ballroom dancing, a young man combats his ADHD through refining his art, and a young lady with a brain condition has shattered stereotypes regarding what it means to be a ballerina. These videos are just some of many uplifting and powerful examples of how dancing can help us to heal.
While these viral videos inspire us to persevere, I know several dancers in my Latin dance community with injured ankles, shoulders, or knees who experience a great deal of pain every time they step onto the floor. Another dancer I know had to take a break while recovering after surgery (she is doing quite well now, thank goodness). I myself struggle with an autoimmune disease and lately, the pain has been so intense that I cannot dance as often as I would like to. Some days, I just want to dance so badly that I push through the pain (I’ll be okay!) but I almost always end up paying for it afterwards (I’m actually not okay). In these cases, we may want dance to be able to make everything better again but the fact is, it can’t always do that for us. Notice how I didn’t title this article “Dancing the Pain Away…”
Don’t get me wrong–dance can help us deal with many of our struggles. It has certainly made my life a lot more active, exciting, and fun. I have no doubt that it has improved my mental health by reducing stress and building my confidence due to the friendships I’ve made and skills I’ve learned. In many ways, salsa dancing has boosted my physical health too. After all, I tend to go out dancing several times throughout the week, even during the cold winters when it can be tempting to stay at home and binge watch Santa Clarita Diet. The problem is, we can be quick to assume that because dancing is healthy, it’s always good for us. Sometimes, we do need a break from it. Whether it’s due to burnout from taking on too many activities, the stress of performing, or physical ailments that need time to heal, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take a guilt-free break from dance.
If you’re stubborn like I am and a long break is not likely, my advice is to be kind to your body. Don’t push yourself to the point that you will make things worse and be sure your dance partners are aware of your condition (for example: “I’m having back pain, so please don’t dip me”). Communication is key to your safety and overall enjoyment of the dance.
Another tip I would suggest is to pick and choose the events you want to go to very carefully (see my New Year’s post for more on this topic). You don’t need to go to everything and risk making your pain worse just to save face. Attend the events you are truly looking forward to and balance your dancing with lots of rest and recovery time.
If you don’t suffer from any illness or injury, lucky you! Just be aware that we’re out there on the floor along with you and often, our pain is invisible. You won’t always see us limping, wincing, or taking a time out in a way that is easily recognizable as suffering. If you ask us to dance and we say “not right now,” please don’t take it personally–it probably has nothing to do with you. If we ask you to avoid certain movements, please respect that it is for our safety and so we can enjoy dancing with you. Lastly (this one’s important!), if we don’t come to your event, please don’t assume it’s because we don’t want to.
Do you struggle with a chronic illness or injury that affects your dance life? Share your story in the comments below.