by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal
Over the course of 2020, my dance practice took a dramatic new turn. Due to the terrible coronavirus pandemic, I, like every other dancer across the world, found myself transmuted. I went from dancing in beautiful, expansive studios to training in the studio apartment that I share with my boyfriend.
While I gave every effort to make the best of things, dancing in such a constricted space was the opposite of ideal. I had to push our coffee table right against the sliding back door and slide the couch away from the center of the living room/bedroom, practically blocking the entrance to the kitchenette. Not wanting to constrict myself too much and not wanting to jeopardize my movement quality and artistry, I danced, intending to fill every inch of space I had. The number of times I stubbed my toe, kicked the couch, bumped a cushion, or hit my bike was…quite high. The number of close calls, the ones where I nearly destroyed the TV or my boyfriend’s computer on his work desk, was even higher. His patience with me was nothing short of saint-like.
The floor, a decidedly hard foundation covered with carpet, proved to be another challenge. At the beginning of trying to rebuild a class routine, I relentlessly attempted rolls, slides, and even double pirouettes on my floor. I was determined to dance the way I always had, regardless of my surroundings. Call it stubborn, naïve, or foolhardy; I paid for that choice with swollen joints, strained tendons, floor burns, and an excess of frustration.
Eventually, I adjusted. I found online classes that I loved and even made new friends! I became acquainted with Yin Yue’s Foco Technique and with Countertechnique, figured out where to stand in my space to travel with choreography, and found the perfect spot for my phone so I could post videos of my dancing to Instagram. I thought, if I couldn’t perform in the traditional sense, I would treat every class as a performance and attempt to expand my network.
Things were going as well as they could be, given the state of the world, until they weren’t. I noticed that the stability of my left hip became shakier and shakier and more and more painful. Like so many dancers, I assumed I was just weak and began to train harder. I was always doing yoga, pilates, cardio workouts, and dance technique classes to get stronger. Nothing I did seemed to help, so I sought the help of my physical therapist, Dr. Robin Bandura. When none of her ideas produced long-lasting effects, I began to worry. But it wasn’t until early February that I knew something was seriously wrong. After a week of intense dancing, I had shooting pains down my thigh, and the instability was the worst it had ever been.
The diagnosis was worse than I imagined: a large detached tear of the anterior superior labrum due to a bone spur on my femur. The art form I love was damaging my body, and the injury needed surgical intervention. The recovery process has been challenging. It will take a year to return to my rigorous, professional schedule and dancing practice.
In what felt like the blink of an eye, I was under general anesthesia and woke up completely unable to move my left leg at all. For six weeks, I had to wear a hip brace 24/7 and use crutches. I was completely reliant on my wonderful mother, who came down from Rhode Island to take care of me. I needed help with every little thing: Getting in and out of bed, preparing food, bathing, and dressing. A short walk around the corner to the car left me winded. I felt like a shadow of the athlete and artist I was a few short weeks before the surgery.
Suddenly, the couch that I resented for almost a year became a refuge. All I could do was rest and recover, and the couch welcomed me with open arms. As I heal and become more and more mobile, I promise to make a more conscious effort not to kick it.