Friday 28 November 2014

Dance, injury and a new relationship with shoes

In my day job, I have a uniform. Not an actual uniform, but like most professionals I make choices about how to present myself in order to get a step ahead.

I am a Secondary School Teacher, I have to be dressed to deal with the practical side of classroom work, but also to create the right impression in my students, I mean business, but I am also a bit relatable. Nowadays I work ad hoc, supply teaching to fit around my dance and family commitments, and that means the uniform needs to be stronger. There is a moment when I approach a classroom, the students outside ask “Are you our teacher today Miss?” and before they even ask that, it has to be very clear that I am. Otherwise I have to work twice as hard to prove myself, before we can even begin a lesson.

I always wear my glasses when I am teaching, never contacts, I’ve done that a couple of times and I find it quite unnerving, the barrier is quite tangible. It’s like a Clarke Kent disguise, by day I’m a geeky Science teacher, by night I’m a bellydancer.

For years I have also worn high heels, shoes or boots. I remember as a child accompanying my mother, also a teacher, to work when I was on school holidays. She wore stilettos that brought forth an echoing drumbeat as she marched along the corridors. She told me it was because she is only small, but the shoes made her sound big and frightening.

I couple of months back I started reading Princess Farhana’s Belly Dance Handbook. It’s a great read for any bellydancer, and almost every page resonates with me, but a particular passage really hit home.

In the book Princess Farhana talks about injury, and how injury impacts on a dancer. For most people, a twisted ankle is an inconvenience, a - literal - pain, but it can be worked around. For a dancer it is devastating.

Like most (all?) bellydancers, dance isn’t just my job - not being able to work is a blow in itself. Dance is my hobby, my passion. I dance because I have to, because it feeds my soul. To not be able to dance for a few days, let alone weeks, is a horrifying prospect.

I am especially aware of this as I am naturally prone to joint pain and injury. Dance, and dance conditioning, keeps me strong and aligned. It actually prevents injury, but it also highlights for me when things aren’t quite right. I notice more when a joint is a little weak, or when the pain changes from the dull background I am used to, and starts to niggle.

I have noticed especially that my heels, my defence against tall teenagers, the announcement that yes, I am here, and I am serious about it, are aggravating that weakness. I read Princess Farhana’s account of how she had given up pursuits like horseriding, because of the risk to her dance career and I realised that every day I was in heels, I was knocking myself back, taking myself a step closer to another fall down the stairs, or just a stumble that could knock me off my dance feet for a month.

So I boxed up the heels, and bought a pair of smart biker boots. Flat with arch supports. Happy feet, happy knees, happy dancer. I’ve lost a bit of height, but I’m steadier on my feet, and more confident as a result. Without the strain of precarious footwear in the day, I am able to train harder for dance. Level change that little bit deeper, complete a few more squat repetitions before I reach my limits.

Once again I am reminded of how easy it is to hold on to something that we think we need, even when it is harming us, and how letting it go, taking a leap into a new chapter often seems like much less of a sacrifice from the other side.

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