Forum: Adults / 20 Something

struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By rpgdancer
On Mon Feb 24, 2014 07:33 PM

I was a dancer for 20 years. a year and a half ago, I moved to TX. I was only supposed to be out of the studio for a few weeks, but then I lost my job and couldn't afford lessons. Since then, I've gained quite a bit of weight, lost all my flexability, and can't even get through 15 barreless demi-plie's without getting fatigued.

I hung up my pointe shoes on my wall as incentive, but I can't seem to get back into shape. I lost myself in this last year and a half. I have high functioning autism and only understood myself when I was dancing. I just want help getting back into it.

My brother's getting married in May and I don't want everyone to see my "new body" and judge me. More than that, I want to have that feeling of flying again. When I was onstage, I knew who I was, where I belonged, and how I felt. Today, I don't. I miss that feeling and now that I'm losing my best friend and brother to his fiance, I need to get back the feeling of belonging more than ever.

7 Replies to struggling to get back to dancing. please help!

re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By glitterfairyPremium member
On Thu Feb 27, 2014 08:13 PM
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-02-27 20:14:43
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-02-27 20:15:39
Decision to get back into dancing for overall well-being (including emotional) = brilliant!

What can be tough for 'returners' is that mentally and emotionally, they are right where they left off (frequently at an advanced level). However, their bodies aren't. Just like old cars that aren't sent in for regular maintenance, muscle tone/somatosensory pathways just aren't going to be as sharp as they once were.

Right now, physiologically, it's likely that you're more or less like any other adult beginner dancer in the country (unfit, poor muscle tone). The good news is that because you have been through this process before, you are at a HUGE psychological advantage... and that makes all the difference :)

I strongly recommend you start a diary - it can be online or private (I like using an online diary because it's convenient, although I have all my settings set to private). You sound like you have your end goal all set ("Get dancer body and ability back"), but what about your daily and weekly goals?

If not already familiar with the term, 'self-efficacy' is about how much you believe in yourself to achieve something, and has been shown to link strongly with success. Everytime we succeed at something, our self-efficacy grows. But every time we fail, it can go down a bit. Life has ups and downs but usually more ups which keep us happy, but if it goes down more than up we can end up in very unhappy tailspins. Diaries (when used to record progress) have also been shown to be incredibly useful, especially for those who tend to dwell on past failures rather than successes.

When I started my 'get back' process, I was incredibly frustrated because I knew where I wanted to be, but because every attempt fell short I felt like a loser. Humans need small wins. So I re-set my goals! First it was to walk twice a week. Then I wanted to try and improve my diet - nothing huge, just trying to eat something fresh and green once a day. Then I wanted to try and make sure I drank 2 cups of water a day. Every few weeks I added something new - it took a while, but within a few months I was starting to exercise almost every day and am enjoying seeing my stamina and flexibility return.

If you're comfortable with the idea of seeing a good psychologist, I'd recommend it - not saying you're a head case by any means but it does sound like you're going through a lot of life changes which are understandably very uncomfortable and a bit overwhelming, and it might be useful for you to have someone to help guide you through the process :)
re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By rpgdancer
On Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:28 PM
I've been followed by psych services for most of my life (and am not ashamed to admit it anymore). you've summed up my physical level exactly (if not better than). my mom and I went for a .7 mile walk and she (a dance teacher) was appalled to see how difficult the walk was for me.

I'm very worried about my emotional well-being in the weeks to come. While getting back into dancing is painful and difficult, I am having surgery in a week and will be unable to do much (if anything) for at least 2 weeks. I feel like I'm beating a dead stone. Just as I am gaining a little bit back, I'll lose it all again.

Not having a studio to train at is also very hard. I have no one to push me, no one to inspire me, and no one to direct me. I can give a second by second recap of every dance lesson I've ever taken, but it's way harder to go about it alone.
re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By glitterfairyPremium member
On Sat Mar 01, 2014 08:16 AM
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 08:27:59
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 08:33:45
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 08:38:13
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 08:38:41
What kind of surgery? What joint is out of action? Will you be bed-bound, etc?

There's a suprising amount of activity that can be performed on a minor level, even from bed. In my opinion, a common misconception amongst dancers is that 'true' exercise happens in the dance studio, preferably of the whole-body/high-agility/high-intensity/artistic expression variety, or not at all. This is great when we're in pitch-perfect health and have the required facilities close to hand... and sucky when we don't!

In my experience, dancers are physiologically and psychologically very similar to athletes. Goal-driven. Likes progression. Disciplined. High proprioceptive ability. Interested in developing an appropriate level of strength, endurance, and agility.

Physiologically, non-dance activities that meet most of these criteria include swimming, walking around the block, resistance training (gym stuff), yoga, pilates etc. Dancers often gravitate towards ashtanga yoga (because it's hard and has plenty of room for perfectionism) or vinyasa yoga (because it's flowing and somewhat mimics dance). Resistance training can actually be performed whilst bed-bound - you might only be able to work the upper body, or one of your legs, but it's still something! (current research actually shows that unilateral gains are never really unilateral - ie even if you can only work your right leg, the left leg is still getting a neuromuscular workout to some degree. Awesome huh?)

My other recommendation would be patience, and knowing what your goals are. What's more important to you? Looking like a model at your brother's wedding, or being fit and healthy long-term? If you are totally immovable post-surgery you can still use those weeks to get your head in order - if not already doing this, gratitude writing is a wonderful tool for changing perspectives, and can be combined with a record of coping strategies you use whenever life gets you down.

Ok, onto the exercise counselling stuff now :)

If you're struggling to walk 20mins, chances are it's too much for you. With all due respect, I'm going to completely ignore your mother's reaction to this right now because a) she's not a health professional and b) unless you're using it as a catalyst for change, her reaction and the way it would have made you feel isn't useful to the situation :P

Instead I am going to say CONGRATULATIONS FOR TRYING! YOU ARE SO AWESOME FOR TAKING POSITIVE STEPS AND I LOVE IT :D Walking's always a smart choice, it's free, you only need a pair of good shoes, you can do it anywhere, and you get all the extra benefits of fresh air etc.

Ok. So you aimed a little high for where you are right now, so why not just adjust it? Screw whatever you "should" be - work with what you are now and where you can realistically progress to within the immediate future. Also take note of any pains/difficulties you experienced, including any chest or stomach pains.

Assuming everything's OK and it was just a stamina issue, I'd aim for something much smaller - maybe 2 x 5-10min walks (apologies, my country doesn't use miles but according to google it's ~20min walk), doesn't matter what time of day. If there are any opportunities to walk a little bit during the day (eg taking the long way back to the car or going to the kitchen 'just to look out the window' - feel free to be creative) I'd take those too. Incidental exercise is a huge contributor to weight loss - some research estimates as high as 70% of energy expenditure comes from basal activity.

As an ex-dancer, I'd also encourage you to do a little 5-10min stretch before and after your walk, possibly with music. Physiologically it won't mean much to the walking, but psychologically I think it will be very good for you as a) it's a baby step towards your future flexibility goal, and b) it's a ritual you would associate with dancing, and might make you feel better about yourself :)

WHEN you are further along - not yet - you could look at doing a yoga/pilates/swimming/something class. If there is a gym, that could also be good, otherwise there are still things you can do at home. Post-surgery still gives you plenty of time to plan things out - if you're not already familiar with the trans-theoretical model of change, look it up on Google (not the levels, just the basic circular cycle). Action isn't the first step - you can still do all the planning and preparation from bed, meaning that when you are able to move again, you'll hit the ground running (figuratively speaking). If putting on weight is unavoidable, fine (although my nutritionist friends will probably disagree... NB I'm not a nutritionist) - but that doesn't mean you can't still use the time well and lose it again afterwards.

Do you have access to an exercise physiologist? ( You might really benefit from seeing a good one (they have a heckload more knowledge than your standard personal trainer, and specialise in complex cases, eg exercise for cardiac patients or people struggling with chronic diseases. Depending on the country, you may also be eligible for a government rebate.
re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By rpgdancer
On Sat Mar 01, 2014 06:46 PM
It's a surgery that will effect my face and head. it will also affect my ears which will throw off my sense of balance. if i can find a comfortable position, i can still work my toes and possibly my legs but not much more i don't think.

as far as daily exercise, I work 2 jobs (about 14 hours a day). One is at Best Buy and the other at Pizza Hut. that said, I walk approximately 6000 steps a day (according to my pedometer)during the work day.

The walk I took with my mom was all uphill and was horrific. My legs were burning and my chest was burning. Every time I asked to stop, she got upset; reminding me that she'd had 2 hip surgeries and 2 neck surgeries and was still dancing and in better shape than me. It did fuel me but I was also a little upset that she convinced me to buy 5lb weights and a balance ball with my holiday money rather than using it on something I TRULY wanted. Sure I use them, but I'm not noticing a difference.

I suppose I can still use my resistance bands for my toes after my surgery and the soft food diet will probably help me lose some weight. I know health and look is somewhat important but ALL I REALLY WANT IS THE FEELING THAT I'VE BEEN MISSING!

When my psych doc asks how I'm feeling, my response has always been "I don't know" or "absent". The ONLY time I truly am feeling or understand my feelings is when I'm dancing. No matter how much I want that feeling, I'm so out of shape that it doesn't feel the same anymore. When I do dance, I don't fly... I don't feel pretty... I don't feel great... I feel lousy.

Thanks for listening.
re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By glitterfairyPremium member
On Sat Mar 01, 2014 07:50 PM
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 19:52:17
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 19:52:44
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 19:53:25
bleugh! That walk sounds horrible. Honestly, it doesn't matter if she's had hip and neck surgeries - it's like comparing oranges to apples. Hers sound like a musculoskeletal issue (addressed through surgery), you might have some neuro/cardio-respiratory issues.

Here's a standard PAR-Q form - . . .. If it doesn't work just google 'par-q'.

Technically, kudos to your mum for wanting to help you get back on track - but by the sounds of your chest pain, that's not the right method (if you have neuro/balance issues, a swiss ball is the LAST thing you should be on right now). I'd want to check with my friends, but I have a feeling people in your shape are usually given cycle or treadmill work (the former is seated with handlebars - and the latter has controllable settings and handlebars. Sounds good, yes? :) ). Aqua jog/aqua walking can also be a really good form of exercise for people with acute/chronic conditions.

Probably going to do another ex phys/physio/physical therapist plug - if they can get people in comas to exercise, they can figure out something for you too :) Some of my friends also work with people who are wheelchair-bound or recovering from cardiac surgery. Yours is a slightly more complicated case - definitely not impossible though.

As for 'the feeling'...

Aside from straight dance, is there anything that makes you feel great? Eg most dancers are quite musical and often take quite well to musical instruments/singing.

Sounds like you're into ballet - can you do a seated port de bras routine? (post-surgery, check with doc first) Hop on Youtube and find something you think you could adapt. Your arms will get a workout and the reduced speed may help you avoid hurting yourself. If you can do it in front of a mirror, the visual feedback may be able to compensate for loss of vestibular (ear) feedback. Most important thing will be to do this with the appropriate music. Blast it loud, lady!

I think a good goal for you this week would be to find something dance-related that you CAN do. It won't be the full shindig - that'll come later - but find something and be able to remind yourself that you ARE doing something, and are a 'dancer previously on hiatus, currently re-conditioning' rather than a non-dancer :)
re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By rpgdancer
On Sat Mar 01, 2014 08:41 PM
my biggest problem with therapy or even a gym or trainer is that I don't have the funds to do so. I love tap and was very excited that my DAD (of all people, who HATES how much of my life was occupied by dance) offered to pay the $10/week for a tap class at the local civic ballet. That being said, the course was cancelled due to low interest. I sent my resume and clips of myself dancing to the Civic Ballet with hopes of teaching and was not offered a position. I was going to teach at the Boys and Girls Club but when I lost my job, that went out the window because I had to start juggling two jobs.

I was with one of my friends's daughters the other day. She just started at the Civic Ballet (she's about 4) and I had so much fun "playing ballerina" with her (teaching her the positions and such). That's the other time I feel alive, is when I'm teaching dance. I even offered to babysit her, solely for the opportunity to help her with her dancing. I think a part of me knows that a kid won't judge me and looks up to me, no matter how out of shape I may be. It gives me a boost of confidence that I've never had on my own. I am the first to admit that I have very little self-esteem. From the time I started dancing, I was always special. I was the littlest dancer in the group (which always led to end positions, but my dance teacher had the option to choose to begin contagious movements from either end and she always chose me to begin). Even when I was the youngest one in a dance, I was the one she would pull out of line to demonstrate or experiment with a step. My first year in our 25 minute opening number (a very intricate tap number) I was the ONLY dancer to do the ENTIRE number. I was 9 (the bottom age for that number is now 13). Thanks to my mom's teaching position, I was dancing with the advanced class (in practice but not onstage) when I was very young. I was a swing in their dances (although again, never got to take the stage with them) BUT I was invited to do a dance with them a year before the rest of the girls in my class (who were all several years older than me).

I know it sounds like I loved being the best, but to be honest, that's NOT the case. I loved being confident! I loved understanding myself. I loved being with the older girls (until I became one and jealousy and pettiness took over; although apparently they all apologized to my mom when she told them about my Aspergers diagnosis... after I already moved). Did I like being told I was good? of course! everyone does, but what I really loved was all of the things I learned.

My dance teacher used to make me put a quarter in a mug every time I said the words "I can't". She did this because I would fuss and moan that I couldn't do something, go home and work on it until my next class, and typically (not with Acro or leaps) have it perfected by then. Knowing what I now know about my Aspergers, this was THE BEST LESSON she could ever have taught me! I excelled through school and college because she taught me that I CAN DO ANYTHING I TRY AT!

My dance teacher gave me something most kids with Aspergers don't ever get. She gave me a second home, a safe place, a place where I felt I belonged.

I know I'm rambling at this point so I'll wrap it up. I don't know if anything I said makes sense anymore but it does to me. Thanks again for listening.
re: struggling to get back to dancing. please help!
By glitterfairyPremium member
On Sat Mar 01, 2014 09:43 PM
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 21:44:31
Edited by glitterfairy (42646) on 2014-03-01 21:45:23
Oh, it totally makes sense. Happy to listen :) What a great dance experience - your dance teacher sounds like quite the amazing lady!

It's great that you love teaching dance - maybe that's what this moment is? A transition point into dance teaching/dance mentoring. I love that you've been doing some work with your friend's daughter, and it's probably good for both of you. Any chance you can offer to babysit once a week or something? :) Understand about the funds - no worries, there are still plenty of other things you can do! (most of my exercising is free at the moment too. Partially because I feel fresh air is one of the best soul medicines)

There are some great articles on the internet about dance transitioning - here's a good starting point you might want to read. . . .

I like the mug thing your teacher came up with - awesome that when challenged with a 'what motivates you?', you're able to pull several strategies off the bat and can cognitively identify what it was about them that worked for you (a very useful skill for moving forwards).

Why don't you go back to the mug thing? Just tweak the exercises to be more appropriate for the now. You're probably in the best position to prescribe exercise to yourself, what do you think is achievable right now?

You might not feel like you are physically moving forward yet, but mentally I think you're making great first steps. Keep up the good work! :)


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