• Emma Acton

5 Ways to Stay Motivated While Injured

Like it or not, injuries are a part of what we do as dancers. We can be smart and strong and do everything right, and somehow accidents can still happen or our determination can lead to overdoing or overusing. We can’t be in complete control of what happens to our bodies, but with the right strategies and support team, we can be in control of our injuries and how we manage recovery.

For most dancers, the reason why we love what we do is because of the feeling we get when we dance. Whether it be the feeling of accomplishment when you reach a goal in the studio, or the feeling of affecting an audience from the stage. When an injury that requires rest occurs, we are forced to stop our progress and we become robbed of that feeling. Speaking from experience, watching others continue to work, improve, and perform while sitting at the sidelines is more than a little bit soul-crushing. However, I’ve been able to come out the other side of many injuries and become even stronger than I was beforehand.

© BreakTheBarre

When a medical professional tells you that you’ll be off for a certain amount of time, it can sound like forever and it can be easy to fall into a ‘why bother’ mindset. But sitting at home on the couch feeling sorry for yourself will only prolong your recovery, because you’ll have to start from scratch when you finally get back into class. Of course some injuries will require at least a short time of complete rest and no physical activity, but once you’re given the ‘okay’ to get into rehabilitation exercise, it is vital that you take advantage of this time.

All dancers have steps that they’re yet unable to achieve, or habits that are so ingrained into their body that they seem impossible to break. For some, perhaps mastering consistent pirouettes remains a huge challenge, or maybe you’re corrected on the alignment of your shoulders in almost every class you take. Being injured and unable to partake in your regular classes can actually be a fantastic opportunity to focus on re-programming your bad habits, or building muscle strength to help you overcome your biggest challenges.

It’s common for injured dancers to be set exercises by a physiotherapist to assist in their recovery. It is also common for dancers to do these exercises for a couple of days, and then either become disheartened in their lack of progress, or overdo their exercise with too many repetitions or by using weights that are too heavy. It is vital that young dancers especially, listen to the advice of a medical professional and follow their instructions to a T. Although some rehab exercises can seem very subtle and perhaps as though they’re not ‘working’ your muscles, they are targeting specific areas that need to be strengthened in order to recover from your injury as quickly and as throughly as possible. Keep in mind that your physio knows what’s best for you and wants to see you succeed in your recovery!

© BreakTheBarre
Image by Cass Cheeseman for Infinity heat packs

While I understand the advice from some dance teachers to go into your regular classes and watch what’s going on, this can be extremely mentally difficult. It is important to develop strategies for motivation during this time to keep your mind on the path of progress, not defeat.

Take advantage of being able to watch other dancers, listen to the teacher’s corrections and look around the room to see what they’re talking about. This will give a visual understanding of technique that you may not have had beforehand because we’re always so focused on ourselves. Take time to write down any corrections you heard that made a lot of sense to you, or write down any movements that you feel you better understand after watching your peer’s trial and error attempts.

It is also important to continue going into your classes so that you don’t become isolated from your regular routine. You can keep up to date with new choreography, keep your improvement of ‘technical understanding’ growing, and just generally feel involved and as though you still belong. Feeling isolated can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing, and it is important for your recovery to remain optimistic.

© BreakTheBarre
© BreakTheBarre

A perhaps more modern method of recovery, involves the practice of Mental Imagery. While a dancer is unable to physically practise their movements, visual imagery allows them to see themselves doing what they once could, and will be able to do again. It creates a sense of motivation and lets the mind believe that the body is still capable of performing these steps. This also can be effective in keeping muscle memory active and familiar.

Imagery can also be used in the process of healing. Delving the mind into a relaxed state and imagining images of the injured muscles or bones repairing themselves can assist in eliminating anxiety that is often experienced during an injury. Stimulating the senses through emotional imagery can also be an effective way of reminding the injured dancer of their goals. Using familiar music during relaxed mental imaging can recover positive memories that will inspire the dancer to keep working through their current situation.

Overall, imagery can be a positive way of enforcing motivation during recovery. Injured dancers can be prone to developing a negative or discouraged mindset. Remembering that this is not a forever-state and allowing themselves to think beyond their injury allows for a much more constructive rehabilitation.

© BreakTheBarre
© BreakTheBarre

The most important factor in experiencing optimistic and productive recovery, is the support of those around you. Keep your support team informed of how you’re feeling during your rehabilitation. There will be days where it’s more of a struggle than others to remain positive and pragmatic about your injury. On these days you must be able to turn to somebody you trust and allow them to support you.

There’s also no need to isolate yourself completely just because your body can’t perform to its’ one hundred percent capacity. Stay in touch with your peers at dance, and also chat to your family about things other than dance - your mind doesn’t need to be in recovery mode 24/7. Make sure your conversations are about more than just your injury, remember that you’re a person with other facets to your life! Injuries so often can become all-consuming, it’s important to keep your thoughts, conversations and actions well-balanced.

© BreakTheBarre

Recap of Strategies:

1. Re-program bad habits

Set yourself 3 or more goals to achieve during your recovery time. Keep these goals specific to what you most want to improve upon in your dancing. Then record your progress each day. This way you are still working towards something and improving. Giving yourself a purpose is incentive not to give up!

2. Complete your physio-advised rehab program

Continue to regularly see your chosen medical professional, this will hold you accountable for making sure you complete your set rehab program! Keep in mind that these are the experts, they usually understand what’s going on with your body more than you do, so if you follow their instructions you’re likely to recover more quickly. Fully following through with your rehab plan is also the most sure way to avoid re-injury once you’re back dancing!

3. Watch and learn from others

Keep yourself in the loop with what’s going on at dance. Stay up to date with any new choreography that you may need to know at some stage. Listen to the progressing focuses and corrections in class work, this way you can apply them as soon as you get back into class. Watching and learning from others is also a great way to keep yourself inspired. Go and see some live performances (the more the better!), or if this is too difficult with your injury, then search up some amazing dancers on YouTube. Remind yourself what it is that you’re working towards.

4. Practise positive mental imagery

Put on a piece of music that you associate with a really great dance memory, then lay down and imagine yourself dancing those steps again. Make it as real as you can - allow your mind to send messages to your muscles about how it feels to perform the movements. Even going through a mental barre could do wonders for your muscle memory!

5. Seek out your support team

Make it a regular practice to talk to a family member or friend about how you’re feeling. Discuss any concerns you may have about your recovery, and try to strategise how you can rectify these concerns. Then make sure you talk about the other things in your life! Talk about a really great song you’re loving at the moment, your favourite TV show, the amazing coffee you had that morning, a new hobby you want to try out - anything! Remember, you are more than your injury.

© BreakTheBarre

For some, injuries can mean stunted progress, killing time and loss of motivation. But with the right tools and strategies to guide you through your recovery, an injury could mean that you come back stronger than ever! Use your time wisely to kick some goals, re-instate your motivation and hone your abilities. Believe in your mind and body, you can do this!

Emma Cheeseman

14th August, 2018