Not just two feet on the ground – on dancing with pain
Reviewed By: Margaret Wagner
Language availability: English
Margaret Wagner is an award-winning travel/memoir writer and poet who teaches Open Floor and 5Rhythms® as well as Restorative and Yin Yoga. Based in California, U.S.A., Margaret shares how she manages herself as a dancer with chronic pain and injuries.
What’s your experience of dancing with chronic pain? What have you learned?
Since I was a young child, I wore orthopaedic shoes, trying to correct my fallen ankles. In recent years, I ignored a stretched tendon on my left ankle for way too long. So, it affected my walking gait and hip stability — at times, my knees, hips and ankle are in pain.
I dance between one to three times a week. Dancing with injuries activates that troublesome comparison mind, at least for me, with lots of conversations about how I’m ageing, how I’m taking care of myself, how I want to show up in a way I can’t. There’s also the tension between wanting to dance fully, and knowing I have limits and need to be “careful” so the injuries don’t get worse (in essence, so I don’t keep “re-spraining” my ankle).
Now, I stop going beyond the point of no return. I can feel when my foot needs a break, and I move on a chair or on the floor. Pulsing dance time on and off my feet helps me continue to enjoy the benefits and community of Open Floor.
It also teaches me to be more aware of my whole body, find places that move with ease, so stop obsessing about the parts that don’t, and find creative ways to move as fully as possible on a chair or on the floor. Moving while on the floor, or on your back, offers different perspectives. Sometimes it’s easier and more fun to move on my back. It gives my feet a break, plus it pushes the envelope that movement is not just with two feet on the ground.
It’s also makes me more “honest’ with myself, admitting to others that I may not feel 100% “fine” but I’m ready to participate at whatever level I can. And, this is where I am at this moment. A huge bonus is to discover how generous other dancers are to move with me while I’m on the chair or on the floor. The community makes me feel at home, no matter what my physical capability.
What Open Floor resources and tools have you found particularly helpful in dealing with your physical challenges on the dance floor?
Grounding, Centering and Activate and Settle have been very helpful. Grounding… to be sure I can feel all parts of my feet on the floor; Centering… to create more balance; and Activate and Settle… to address my physical, emotional and mental range.
How does this translate into your life off the dance floor?
I am more conscious not to sit too long before getting up and moving. This helps keep some of my stiffness at bay. I am still challenged with deeply settling off the dance floor. It’s easy in a “give-it- all” world not to take the time to consciously relax and just breath.
How does your experience of dancing with injury and disability shape the way you teach?
I appreciate that I don’t know what is going on with a student physically until they share an issue with me. I can make judgments… such as, “that person is too young to be moving so slowly”, but it could be that person has some major issue where it’s a miracle they are even walking. You never know a person’s history and life experience. I want to include movement for any age and ability. That’s why we offer moving from chairs in the Open Floor (and I have led classes mainly on chairs, when I’ve worked with elders). If we really want to include everyone in the community, then all ways of moving are possible and valued.
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