Dancers have such ugly feet.–Anne Bancroft, The Turning Point
Handsome Chef Boyfriend looked at that photo and said, Your feet don’t look that bad in real life.
I don’t really care how they look (a benefit of age and wisdom, I think). They’ve served me pretty well for most of my life.
Recently not so much.
I went to a conditioning class last Wednesday afternoon, nevermind which kind. It was the first time I had not been the person standing at the front of the room in more than a couple of years, when I was still living in Knoxville and teaching adult ballet classes with conditioning, along with many other ballet classes week to week. I was also going to the gym for conditioning classes and running about thirty miles weekly. I felt good approaching the mid-century mark of my life, with the exception of a nagging heel injury and an old running injury in my right knee that still flares up inexplicably from time to time. And I was about twenty pounds lighter than I am now.
After I lost my teaching job in October I had to think on my feet. Which left very little time for me to use them. I tried to explain this to my doctor during a checkup a few weeks ago when she berated me for 1) gaining weight, and 2) not exercising. You are preaching to the choir, I said. She kept on going. You need to exercise at least three times a week, she said. (This was after I tried to explain where I was two years ago, that I was a ballet teacher, that I was super thin after my marriage failed, that I exercised for a living. And that my life had been through a lot of big changes in a small space of time. And that a chronic foot injury had continued to worsen for the past couple of years. And that my immediate concern was survival.) More pontification.
I find this preachy stuff insufferable. In 2011 I was still healing from a stress fracture in my left heel, a whopping case of plantar fasciitis, and posterior tibial tendonitis. To say my foot was badly compromised would be an understatement. I had pushed through all kinds of pain, until I could push no more. My orthopedist consented to cycling as a substitute for running, which I did for about six months while my foot got (somewhat) better. I bought a new bicycle and rode it 25 miles, every single day. And continued to teach ballet through all of it, because I owned a school and had no choice. I learned how to use a medley of tools to keep going–judicious use of Ibuprofen (abusive use on a bad day), ice baths, therapeutic stretching, taping, massage. Forget physical therapy: I spent hours and hours there, with little improvement, and much of what I was asked to do I was already doing on my own anyway.
So about last Wednesday. I knew I would be tight, sore the next day, all of that. And that my range of motion likely would have suffered attrition since October.
It was much worse than I could have imagined. In fact, it was horrible. A bit shocking, really.
As a young ballet student I think I believed I would always know how to move, that it would somehow be effortless. And when I got a little older, I fooled myself into thinking that this ancient, contrived art form would only serve me well as time marched on. I never truly thought I was possibly doing some things that were hastening the ageing process and that ultimately bone, joint, and sinew would uprise against me and declare mutiny. Damn them all.
I am not really sure where this leaves me. I spend my days at work in this new chapter of my life sitting, thinking, writing, which is a good thing. Standing up to take a quick break is difficult and painful. Conventional wisdom among practitioners of dance and sports medicine dictates that rest is important–probably the most important part of recovery from injuries. I have not had a chance to rest since I founded a ballet school in 2006. Time will tell. But I am not crazy about chronic pain, and I feel older than my years, by a lot. I have a burning desire to run again, which I emphatically can’t do right now. I am not even sure I can ride a bicycle (which is out of the question until April or May in Vermont, anyway).
So my plan is to go to a class a few times a week and try my best to just move.
I really, really need that oil can.