When I talk to people about teaching dance, many people seem to be very worried about their body limitations. “I have this injury,” or “I think I weigh too much,” or “I’m not as young as I used to be,” or “I’ve never been coordinated.” And I usually respond along the theme that you have THIS body on THIS day and we can work with that.
I “went for a run” last night. I put that in quotes only because my definition of going for a run may differ from other people’s definitions. But I want to avoid the negative self-talk that belittles my accomplishments. My own body limitations or habits or achievements are personal. My own fears and reluctance are also personal. And all this adds to my notion of THIS body on THIS day. So when I manage to go out the door to do something, that is still an accomplishment. I do no one any favors by talking down the accomplishment with remarks like, “Well, I ran too slow,” or “I wasn’t out that long,” or “It was just jogging, that doesn’t count as running.”
It most CERTAINLY counts. Because it was THIS body on THIS day. And my ability last night was LAST night’s ability. So it’s completely healthy for me to *claim* that achievement as “running” because for me, on that day, that really WAS going for a run.
And I love to explain that we are not in competition with one another AND I am not in competition with myself from a different day. There’s no need for me to feel bad for no longer being a 15-year-old training for the cross-country team. In fact, there are MANY ways I’m glad I’m no longer that 15-yr-old.
Also, I cannot hold on to last night’s run when it’s time for me to go running again. I wouldn’t say, “I showered yesterday. I don’t need to shower today.” No, I shower every day. I wouldn’t say, “I used deoderant yesterday, I don’t need it today.” Likewise, I have THIS body on THIS day. So what do I plan to do with it today?
Now, not every activity will be a daily activity. I plan to alternate when I focus on running versus other activities. My running muscles need to rest and recover in between increasing my stamina and ability. And I still track my walking mileage every day (with a fitbit) and I still want to see my overall walking, running, dancing, moving mileage total averages grow incrementally. But I can keep my sanity by focusing on THIS body on THIS day.
Likewise, while I’m not going to compare my body today with my body years ago, I’m not in competition with anyone else. I have no knowledge of what other people have for their challenges or their advantages. So their circumstances are not mine. Some of my friends have different medical limitations, family dynamics, employment issues, commuting challenges, obligations, heck even INTERESTS. Many friends of mine have no interest in dancing. Cool. That’s fine. Others have no interest in running. Cool. That’s okay. Others have been running longer than me. Awesome. Good on ya.
But for me, I have THIS body on THIS day. And that’s how I’m going to try to make decisions. Because honestly, I really like having THIS body on THIS day. That’ll work for me. I’ve gotten to know this body over the years, and we’re working well together.
Many of my bellydance friends already know about Tribal Fest. But not all of my astute readers do, so allow me to introduce this amazing event.
For my SCA friends: picture the reputation of Pennsic. If you are local to Pennsic, you *always* try to attend. If you live far away, it can become like your trip to Mecca. SCA camping for one to two weeks in Pennsylvania with “several thousand of your closest friends” (over 10K many years) is an experience like none other. The classes and workshops, the shopping, the pageantry, the war battles with thousands of warriors in each army: *THAT* is Pennsic. You travel with friends, you see old friends from years of events together, you build new memories each year. It is the largest SCA family reunion we have.
Now picture something not *quite* so large, but more on the scale of hundreds. Hundreds of bellydancers, in every form of tribal dance (ATS, FCBD, BSBD, ITS, SGI, and other acronyms… Fusion, Indian influenced, Turkish, Improv Synchronized, Theatrical, Vintage)…. All taking workshops together Tuesday through Sunday, and non stop performances Friday through Sunday. Three lawns filled with merchants, several community center buildings of classes and merchants, a meet and greet, and amazing camaraderie that brings us back year after year.
There are dancers from nearly every continent. There are almost 200 acts on the stage over three days. And the community of friends. Just stunning.
And here I am now, safely in a hotel with an amazing woman that I met four years ago when I first took a class from her. Tomorrow I will be in her class again, for the 4th time. I rode up with a lovely carpool buddy I met just in a workshop, two months ago. Tomorrow, another hotel buddy will arrive who was one of the first ATS dancers I ever saw perform, and honestly one of the dancers that made me think, “I can *do* this.” And I have the amazing good fortune to spend all week with these good folks.
Tribal Fest is my bellydance family reunion. And I couldn’t be happier to be included in this family.
One of my typical disclaimers when I teach bellydance, even before I lead anyone through a warm-up stretch, is as follows: “I am not a medically trained professional. Please do not make me take you to a medically trained professional. Listen to your body and only do what *your* body will allow you to do today.” Paired with my teaching motto, “No Pressure, No Shame,” I will not pressure you to do more than you can physically, safely do. Nor should anyone feel any pressure from anyone else in the class. Likewise, I encourage everyone to heed this advice for their own internal monologue. Please do not shame yourself.
Now, I may ask you to stretch your current abilities as best as you are able, but never with pressure and never with shame. And never to the point that I should have to take you to see a medically trained professional.
So. Time to take my own medicine. Time to listen more carefully to my body. And never to pressure myself and NEVER to shame myself for acknowledging where *this* body, *today*, can take me.
Today, I can do two things new. I can turn my neck to the right (yay! tiny internal victory dance!). And today I was able to lie flat on the bed with a pillow under both shoulder blades, stretching both arms out to my sides (as if my arms are top bar of a T and my torso is the center vertical line). That’s new. I couldn’t do those things yesterday. Actually, I couldn’t lie flat on my back at all yesterday. So yay me.
And here comes the tough thing: Encouraging myself to still rest, relax, stretch slowly so that my body will *continue* to recover and rebuild properly. Have you ever had a tiny muscle spasm in your eyelid or on your face? I can feel tiny spasms like that in the lateral portion of my right deltoid. Yesterday’s major pain seemed to be centered in both the posterior portion of right deltiod as well as the entire trapezius. (Note: All these medical terms are courtesy of google, wikipedia, and image searches. I had no idea what to call each of these, only ten minutes ago).
My trapezius has relaxed considerably. The deltoid now just twitches intermittently. And I feel human. What a difference a day can make. And how thankful I am for modern medicine and the medically trained professionals in my life.
I’m positive I’ll need to see a physical therapist of some sort to learn the proper way to strengthen these (and other) muscles so that I actually have recovery and preventative stretching and strength.
Thank you all for your supportive emails, texts, tweets, comments, posts, prayers, and warm thoughts. I don’t feel so alone.
For you all, I send virtual love cookies.
* * *
Edited Note on Monday: A new muscle name for me today: Brachioradialis… the “I’m picking up my coffee cup and that hurts” muscle. I’ll need to heal and strengthen my traps, deltoids, and brachioradialis muscles. Fun.
It can be easy to take ones mobility for granted… Unless you are already living with something that curtails your access to reliable activity from your body parts. Some of my friends have varying levels of pain, chronic pain, mobility unpredictability, autoimmune deficiencies, and so on. Some has allergies so life-threatening this affects their mobility.
Until recently, I was not a member of this club.
When I started bellydance in June 2010, it wasn’t long before an hour per week wasn’t enough. Then twice a week, next three times, soon back-to-back classes, my first three hour-long classes in a row, plus rehearsals and performances… All at age of 42-45.
By April 2013 my weekly routine included 11 hours class or rehearsal per week, regular workshops or retreats, and on the high end sometimes a six hours in one day course load at a festival or specialty workshop. I had started running in March 2013, and then in June had to rebuild my schedule from scratch as a teacher. By February 2014, my week included 3-4 nights of classes, teaching 6-7 hours and studying in 1 class. And recently I went to a ten-hours in two-days, five course weekend workshop.
It came crashing to a halt, or more accurately, started sputtering four weeks ago then nearly crashed this morning after a deceptive two day coast.
I had no single incident I can mark as a traumatic event that caused the problem. Probably the fact the I am not getting younger (contrary to any rumors) contributed. Likely my car driver’s seat tweaked some of my posture. I probably should have been weight training or resistance band training my arms and core muscles to maintain my dance schedule. And I likely exasperated things with my sleeping postures.
But all told, something started to tense up in my neck, collarbone region, and right shoulder blade, radiating pain to my right forearm. I sought massage therapy and instruction. I took ibuprofen. I did stretches and pressure point relaxation. I stood in hot showers and soaked in hot tubs. I took it easy and even canceled some classes. I had two nearly pain free days at the end of the week after all the car trouble.
Then at 4 AM this morning, I awoke with excruciating pain in my shoulder. Nothing relieved the pain: standing; lying flat on belly or sides or back; sitting with my feet up, sitting up on the edge of my seat; pacing; stretching. Everything hurt to the point of tears and gasping for breath. There was minor relief with my arm bent over my head, but at 4 AM, I was really too tired to find that comfortable.
By 5:30, quick phone call to my Sisto. I have always joked that she got the “medical words brain” which is pretty cool that her eldest is completing her nursing program in college. She reassured me about how to deal with muscles that have seized up or gone into spasm. By 5:45, it was time for Sweetie to get up for a day of performance gigs. And by 7 AM, I was texting friends who might be able to help.
One friend is a massage therapist and she even put me to rights twice this past month. She also managed to calm me down on the phone and gave me excellent advice.
Then I got ahold of Kim & Kevin. Not only were they available to help, they were planning to be in my neighborhood at 2 PM today. So my morning started with a hot shower, 1000 mg ibuprofen, a banana and coffee, some light pressure point massage from Kim, a dip in the hot tub, and clean clothes and a trip to urgent care. Because by 11 AM, I was now at 7 hours of pain ranging (on a scale of 1 = gee I wish I had coffee to 10 = a bear is actively mauling my face) from constant 7s with spikes to 9 & 10 every 5 minutes.
Kim and I sat in the urgent care waiting room for 80 minutes before I was taken to an exam room. It felt like the same two sets of 5-minute pain waves just kept repeating themselves. I was gasping for breath, occasionally pacing, and regularly in tears. The doctor opted to give me a shot for the pain, which took things down to about a 5 with spikes to 7, enough for an x-ray session.
Nothing obvious showed on the x-rays (I do, in fact, seem to have bones and stuff) so she concluded I am having muscle spasms and prescribed pain killers and muscle relaxers. K&K took me to the pharmacy, I grabbed a quick lunch (hot tea, miso soup, spicy tuna cut roll, and my favorite sushi), then they delivered me home again.
I can breathe normally now since the spikes are never earth shattering. I can actually lie flat again, something I really couldn’t do this morning. I’m probably at about 2 or 3 in pain most of time now, with spikes to 5 or the rare 6. And I plan to pass out with the muscle relaxers soon.
But this entire adventure has put a lot of fear and circumspect into my brain. What if I never fully recover? What if my recovery takes months? Can I build my muscles into reliable tools again? Even figuring out how to write this post, slowly on my phone without moving my shoulder, was a challenge.
It’s not just dance. I do hand sewing. I make hair flowers. I weave. I spin yarn on a drop spindle. I draw. I paint. I work on a computer. I travel. I miss running and training. I miss driving my stick shift and being independent.
Will my body ever be predictable or reliable?
(P.S. Can I just blame this on the IDES OF MARCH…? *grin* Silly sense of humor, I gots it.)