One second you’re fine, flying through the air, the next – ouch! (or perhaps another four-letter expletive) You’re startled by pain searing through your body, and don’t know what to do!
This is an experience that most Irish dancers are quite familiar with. Injury is simply inevitable – and every dancer’s worst nightmare.
Because of the precision and technique required to make jumping as high as four feet into the air look easy, it is extremely easy to make a mistake. Unfortunately, these mistakes can be costly – landing a leap or trick with your weight on the wrong part of your foot will most likely land you in a cast for six to eight weeks, and months of physical therapy after that.
Irish dance is just like any other top sport when it comes to the intense training for competition. Dancers of all ages train like Olympic athletes, and put incredible amounts of stress on their bodies. Many dancers have been known to be sentenced to the dreaded “boot” as a result of developing tendonitis, stress fractures or growth plate issues. Some of these dancers, however, prove their perseverance and positive outlook by taking advantage of the surplus of rhinestones they own to turn a black walking cast into a sparkling fashion accessory.
Because the fast paced world of Irish dance never stops, there is never really a “good time” to be injured. Even if a dancer chooses not to compete, it is heartbreaking to sit on the sidelines, not take part in the activity they love. Unfortunately, injury and pain are two aspects of dance every dancer has to learn to deal with. It is just as mentally debilitating to be in a cast as it is physically. Often times, it feels like recovery is taking so painfully long that dancing again seems like an impossible feat. When asked how her current injury is affecting her mentally, one dancer from Scotland replied: “Right now I feel like maybe I should just quit, maybe my body is too old for this. I know that when I can dance again, it’ll take a while to get over the fear of re-injury, but eventually it will make me stronger and more determined.”
It’s true - although injuries are terrible to endure, they are one of the things that make athletes stronger in body and in spirit. When asked if she believed her past injuries made her stronger, the same dancer in reply: “Absolutely! When I come back from an injury, I prove to myself every time that I am strong enough to get back up and try again.”
Injuries are probably one of the most devastating parts of Irish dance, but that moment when you can finally dance again makes it all worth it. That moment when joy comes flooding back completely washes away all those days of pain, doubt, and fear that dancing would never be the same again. Although those first few classes back are danced with precaution, just dancing again feels “amazing” says one Western Canadian dancer. “I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”
All those pent up emotions – anger, sadness, frustration – are set free, and are replaced with a feeling nearly impossible to describe. The only way I know how to put it is this: It feels like coming back home – like returning to the one place I know I belong.