BEYOND BALLET: THE PAIN AND ECSTASY OF DANCE
by RWB Principal Dancer, Amanda Green
I’ve recently had a turning point in my career.
I obtained a serious injury, one that I could not nurse back to health on my own. In my eleven years of being a professional dancer I have been lucky enough to have only sustained a few serious injuries. The most serious putting me out for about six weeks with a severe ankle sprain. Most of my other injuries were minor enough I could continue dancing, although I’m plagued with a flexor hallucis issue, this will forever need maintenance and attention.
The 2013-2014 season was an exciting one for me, dancing with a new partner and amazing repertoire. All was going according to plan until I started to experience some minor knee problems in October of 2013. I started compensating for my knee pain, which led to other weak points in my body. After a while I started to feel severe hip and back pain. I tried my best to maintain my body by focusing on my placement and really being aware of my weight distribution. Our work load around Nutcracker was fairly heavy in 2013 as we needed to have two full length classical ballets prepared to take on the road. This is not unusual to have multiple ballets on the go, but Nutcracker rehearsals are taxing on the body and many injuries arise. Although it’s not uncommon for dancers to be injured and keep dancing, even though they shouldn’t be.
During my last Nutcracker performance, with Principal Dancer Liang Xing, something happened. In the final moments of the ballet my hip gave out during my fouettes. To be completely honest, I don’t remember what happened. My adrenaline was pumping and my mind went blank for a brief moment. I stumbled a bit and quickly pulled myself back together again. That’s the beauty of a live performance, the show must go on! Muscle memory kicked in, and thankfully I was able to take control of my head and concentrate on the remainder of the show. I’m sure most of you know how incredible adrenaline can be, so I continued dancing through the pain. As the curtain came down I remember thinking “What happened?” I continued with the bows, thanked my partner, and prepared to go home for the evening. My husband and I went home and I took my usual steps to try and recover as quickly as possible; contrast shower, protein shake, some citric acid and a quick flush of my legs. On most show days, it takes several hours to settle enough to even think about going to bed.
I remember sleeping well, until I had to get up to go to the bathroom. I got up out of bed and couldn’t walk. My hip was in so much pain I nearly fell back into bed! Now sometimes after intense shows this is a “normal” pain (I know it sounds very glamorous). The next morning when I was trying to warm up for class the pain just kept on persisting. It was a deep dull ache that was getting on my nerves. Class started and I think I only made it through two exercises before I had to excuse myself and headed to see our physiotherapist.
With Nutcracker complete I had Romeo + Juliet to prepare for. As somewhat of a veteran of Nutcracker I have learned over the years how to pace myself. However, Romeo + Juliet was a new endeavour. I had no idea what to expect and what would come along with the new artistic and technical elements of this role. Liang and I had a rough draft drawn up of how we wanted to ramp up for the next set of performances. As a striving dancer, you never seem to feel 100% ready for any show. There are always a million and one things you want to fix. This at times, can be stressful and take away from the bigger picture. At this point I felt we had a good handle on the ballet and most of our musicality and choreography memorized. We decided to come in over our holidays and work small sections out. We visualized steps and discussed what each of us were feeling at certain moments to build our chemistry, making sure we were on the same page and we were prepared to tell the iconic love story the best we could!
My last performance was February 15th (you know what they say, “you’re only as good as your last performance”). Up until this point I pushed as long and as hard as I could, thinking I couldn’t possibly do any more damage that had already been done. After all - nothing was showing up on my tests, so surely it was just fatigue and I needed a little rest!
It was a very difficult decision to take this next step.
The company had a two week tour of Moulin Rouge® –The Ballet coming up the following week. I kept pushing until a few friends and I sat down and weighed the pros and cons. If I sat this tour out and rested up, I would most likely be ready to continue with the final performance of the season, a mixed rep program. The following three weeks went by and nothing seemed to be improving and I wasn’t feeling better.
Was this just a matter of giving it more time? With time comes more difficult decisions to make. Was this the point where I start to think long term and continue to rest up? Well, this time the decision wasn’t just mine. Artistic staff and physiotherapy had the upper hand. The final decision was made and the remainder of the season was a no go for me.
This was heart breaking as I was looking so forward to performing “Summer” in The Four Seasons. I enjoyed my short amount of time rehearsing with James Kudelka and was excited to dig deeper into our progress. Another opportunity I had to miss out on was a chance of sharing the stage with the iconic Evelyn Hart. I also had to miss on one of my favourite pieces The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.
I tried to remove myself as best I could and keep my sanity. So I started to research my honeymoon - a month long European trip! Eric and I got married in October, but had no time for a honeymoon until the end of the season. At this point my rehabilitation was proving to be more difficult. I was advised to go and relax and enjoy my honeymoon - let the healing begin…