Considering the extremely physical nature of what we do, it is no surprise that dancers will encounter injuries from time to time. Soreness, tightness, and fatigue are to be expected; they usually iron themselves out with some rest and TLC. However, sometimes the tightness can be chronic and result in inflammation of joints or jamming in the hip or shoulder sockets. These are not pleasant sensations. How can we continue our demanding training regimen when we encounter such unpleasant and sometimes debilitating injuries?
I am currently dancing at Kibbutz Ga’aton in Israel with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s (KCDC) Dance Journey program. We train rigorously here – starting most days with ballet and KCDC repertoire and continue with more repertoire, rehearsals, and body-work. We also choreograph our own pieces and take extra classes in modern, improvisation, and Gaga. We are always dancing, and while it is a blessing, but the body definitely knows when it has been pushed too far.
I recently experienced a lot of upper-body congestion resulting in crunchy, crackling sounds every time I would roll my shoulders up, back, and around. The popping sounds from my clavicle and scapula were not necessarily painful, but they were warning signs that I had to pay attention to. Everything is connected, and this was clearly apparent when I tried to roll my head back to the most extreme position it could go (the standard “looking up” position of the head in KCDC repertoire). The tightness that manifested in my neck made this particular placement of the body very challenging and limited my range of motion. I decided it was time to see a massage therapist. This is always a good restorative option to give back to our bodies for doing so much for us.
The massage therapist, Revital, helped me achieve a deeper state of relaxation. This is always utter bliss. She recommended that I continue to move the shoulders and scapula as much as possible in order to keep the area “oiled up,” as she put it. By continuously doing gentle and circular movements the shoulder joint stays lubricated and reduces tension. Aside from that simple advice, she also said something that really stuck with me. “Drop your jaw.”
It makes sense. By releasing the mandible, we automatically release a lot of tension that we unconsciously hold in our neck and shoulders. I am still working on actively releasing my jaw, and it is not something that comes naturally. I have been offered this correction from teachers while dancing. It is a helpful pointer that enables the release of the pelvic floor, as well, in order to become more grounded. It also literally opens the mouth so we can breathe. Breathing is so important and the constant circulation of fresh oxygen though the body should not be underestimated. Sometimes we (I know I do) forget that we can also breathe out of our mouth, not just our nose.
We are dancing for so many hours a day, so every bit of advice that we can share to restore and repair our bodies is helpful. I am going to carry this gem of knowledge with me and release my jaw in times of tightness. Try it out!
Furthermore, we can learn a lot from our injuries and use them as launch-pads to enhance our overall bodily awareness. I am learning how to be more efficient and “float my bones” in order to experience lightness and freedom in the joints. This comes in handy when the body is physically exhausted and we do not want to over-exert. It is not being lazy; it is being smart. In Gaga, we sometimes experiment and research what it is like to move the bones and let them float through space. I have found that this approach eases the muscles and allows for movement possibilities as the range of motion increases exponentially.
Dance on, and listen to your body!
Former Summer Study NYC 2015 student