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The Transformative Nature of: Injury

I procrastinated writing this blog and now this blog is allowing me to procrastinate in some other tasks. Later this week, I'll be performing in Navidad Flamenca with the Flamenco Vivo company, and there are a number of things I should be doing, namely rehearsing. I should be rehearsing a section of a baile por guajiras, Sevillanas and patas por tangos y bulerías. And I have done that. Just not enough of that. But in the process of putting movement together in a way that seems organic, even though it is not completely, I started to think more about my history of injury. Usually, at times like these when I have a number of performances happening in a short time, I tend to push myself way too hard. And that's usually when injury happens.

Coming back from injury has been a process of finding the balance between steel will and softness. A renegotiation of my relationship to the earth and gravity and letting those things help me. A renegotiation of my relationship to my own fire, tending it, controlling it and not letting it get out of control and become destructive.

For what must be the umpteenth time, I am coming back from an injury. There are times, like this one, where I have no idea why I do this. Shin splints. Torn hamstrings. Partial dislocations. Sprains. Breaks. I've had what I now know to be chronic injuries for the past four years, if not longer. It's my left ankle. It's my left shoulder. The ankle was strong; the shoulder was not. Chronic injuries tend to develop from long-term repetitive motion. Sometimes they are called "overuse injuries", and they result from wear and tear over time, made worse through bad technique. That makes sense.

I think of an injury as my body's way of telling me that I've gone against the integrity of my body. Its systems and structure require love and respect to function (observance of its rules, nourishment, rest and so much more). This year, 2022, I sprained my left ankle twice. It still isn't completely healed, but I couldn't deal with not dancing anymore. So I had to teach myself to take it easy, essentially negating the message that to do Flamenco is "to go hard".

I look for public examples of healing, but I don't find many. Like so many other departures from perfection, injuries seem to be a source of embarrassment. The most visible of dancers just disappear, as if there were nothing to see, and you're left wondering what happened to them for so many months. Sometimes, when I'm lucky, I find a documentary that chronicles a dancer's radical journey from debilitation to recapacitation. It looks hard. And painful. And it is. Sometimes I'm not sure if the pain is telling me to stop. If it's sharp and brings tears to my eyes, I do. Sometimes I'm not sure if the pain is saying, "I've had enough for today" while willing me to continue the next day because we're moving in the right direction.

"Chronic injuries can be made worse through bad technique". I had to focus on that one. I had to observe the pathways of my body. To take a close look at the path of my arms. The path is easier, quicker and more pleasant when I follow the right one. It's the same for my ankles. I observed the alignment of my left foot. Why should I be so consistently injured on the left side, but not the right? I believed in perfect symmetry. It's not there. I observed my foot falling in, and I observed the pain when I tried to walk on that collapsed arch. Nope. So I know where my work is. And it's going to be long. And probably painful.

This year, determined not to be injured again, I've been focusing on strength, lifting weights for the first time in many years, and on technique, also for the first time in years. In the before times, it was almost like I'd been trying to find myself in the wilderness. I didn't want perfect, wasn't interested in lines or any kind of restriction. But now, I spend a lot of time trying to find all five toes on the floor, sensing the placement of my pelvis, noticing if a twinge in my shoulder is an indication that my arm is straying from its particular lane.

Injuries have a transformative quality. I think they have been waiting for me to pay attention. In that sense, they have encouraged me to re-embody. The mechanization, movement drills helped me go somewhere else, but improvement at this point will involve reconnecting with every sinew. My most recent injury forced me to be still at first. It was frustrating because to be still often means feeling like I'm missing out on the only part of life I'm interested in. Restless me; who am I if I'm not moving? Injury forces me to take care of myself. It forces me to understand what care looks like. It is forcing me to get down to the building blocks of how I move and to change it for the better. It's interesting to think of how we might change something so fundamental as how we move. How many people have been able to do this? But the hope is to take this intentional action of relearning and to do it so often that I don't have to think about the right way, the pain-free path way.

Injury forces me to examine the other ingrained habits that brought me here. Not pacing myself. Not gradually increasing my training level. Not resting. Pushing myself hard - literally up a mountain on a daily basis. Not wearing proper shoes for the sake of vanity. Not enjoying other things. I learned that I could still be physically active, even if I wasn't dancing Flamenco. That was a hard question also -- why was I able to dance the dances of West Africa, but I couldn't dance Flamenco? What kind of weird selectivity was going on? I embraced swimming lessons for the first time -- again, seeing how the teaching of proper technique and acquisition of good habits made it easier to move, helped me move. I feared what would happen to my ankle, kicking through the water, but it turns out my body loves the water. Maybe what my ankle doesn't like at this moment is the crushing of bone against bone as I slam the surface of my feet into the ground. Maybe it doesn't like that so much, right now. This process is in itself alchemical and I change this hardship into something of extraordinary value for myself.

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