It’s been a minute since I’ve felt the same solid PA ground beneath my feet for more than two weeks; a feeling I didn’t realize how much I craved amid the constant change of tour life. Waking up in my own bed, using my backyard as a therapy gym, making up for many missed family dinners and spending as little time sitting on a moving vehicle as possible are proving to be a necessary reprieve from the past 6 months. ‘Ordinary Life’ has been rad (though I don’t have any outlandish chickens to deal with so I can only speak for myself).
It’s taken me some time to process the last few weeks of our journey because I have’t been as inclined to write about the injury that caused me to miss a bunch of shows at the end of our run. I was worried the mood of that topic wouldn’t quite match the spirited nature of my previous entries and I was disappointed that such a positive experience ended the way it did. However, in recently seeking out other dancers' injury stories for information and a kindred spirit, I’ve realized the importance of being just as open about our lows as we are about our highs, and that injuries teach us valuable lessons that could prevent others from future pain. Before I set out on the road, I was teaching several different groups of very serious dance students who had a lot of questions about what tour life would be like and my original intention for this blog was to provide a line of communication to them about all different aspects of this profession. So while a bit overdue, here is the final episode of my blog dedicated to Pippin On Tour (but not my last blog post 😉)! Before I get to the main entrée though, here’s a light appetizer of California sun!
Quick recap:I last left off on that LAX-bound plane with a sleeping Jo-el beside my shoulder.
CA turned out to be everything all of the wistful songs and stories about it say it is; a dreamy piece of Western land situated between gorgeous mountains/hills, the Pacific, and sunlight. When we arrived, we found ourselves with 2 Golden Days (no travel, no show) to fill with fun, and we succeeded. My first day was spent fluttering around Disneyland with Svet, Emilia, Camden and our expert tour guides--Cam’s sister McKenzie and her fiancé Alan. Upon entering the park gates and hearing the Disney soundtracks floating through the air, I couldn’t keep from traveling through the parks via pas de basque/ princess-inspired por de bras. Disney’s attempt to make you feel like a kid again has a strong effect on me, and I felt no need to suppress any urges to behave like all of the other 8 year olds. Hopefully I had better technique, though. My day ended sandwiched between Svet and Emile on Main Street, watching “Wishes” with a hot chocolate in hand and that classic Tinker-bell-sighting lump in my throat. You could say some childhood wishes of mine came true this year. 🌟
Day 2 was dedicated to exploring LA. Svet, Emile and I decided Beverly Hills was where we wanted to begin and we made sure to take some glam photos just so we could say so. But, after a quick jaunt down Rodeo Dr, we left about as fast as it took to read the $70" href="http:// price tag on a Dior t-shirt. Beverly Hills was not where we were meant to be, however, Santa Monica was! The trip marked my first Pacific Ocean siting, plus a certain Sassy Cassie awaited us on the pier (see “Tour is a Science” for some skillet-savoring stories starring Cass). Hanging in the presence of our sorely-missed, bendy friend and getting a tour from a CA native couldn’t have been cooler.
Fast forward a few days through an exciting night welcoming the full show back to our brains and bodies in San Luis Obispo, a trip up the Oregon Trail to Medford (no one contracted dysentery 👍), and a beautiful weekend in Riverside, CA where I had the best visit with my Aunt Maryanne and Uncle Ed, and my lovely Temple professor, Ellen. I was certainly uneasy about leaving home and missing family before I left in December, but I reconnected with more family and friends in the past 6 months on the road than I could have imagined possible. I am so grateful for all the familiar faces I saw in the lobbies/ stage doors of the theaters across the country and for the much appreciated hugs, care packages, granola, support and LOVE shared with me. Your visits are my most treasured memories.
In April, I hurt my back jumping onstage in “Glory,” but after a day and a half of rest + a visit to a chiropractor, I was back in action pretty quickly and only experienced occasional Pilates-manageable soreness. While I loved every minute of being Fastrada for a weekend in Niagara, her choreography is a bit back-bendier than my ensemble track, and performing with no regular full-out rehearsals to build efficient muscular patterning combined with some nerves did wreak a bit of havoc on my back. After two days of complete rest in Buffalo, NY (before our flight to CA), I was feeling much better. It wasn’t until our last show in Riverside that I started feeling my back was a little out of balance mid-performance. In my limited time between ‘Glory’ sequences, I dropped down to the floor for a quick set of extension exercises. The exercises, which I do everyday, resulted in an intense spasm; an unusual and what I assumed to be a temporary reaction. But, the pain only worsened for the remainder of the performance and for the next couple of shows. By the time we got to Modesto, about 3 shows later, my pain was so intense that mid-way through “With You,” I felt my lumbar spine and pelvis lock, which prohibited me from articulating my pelvis—a key element of the hip-centric choreography. #chegong
Luckily we were in Modesto for another day and I found an experienced sports massage therapist close to the hotel. He believed I had done some nerve damage related to muscle strains and he helped calm them, but most memorably, the severity of his tone when he told me that my body was in serious need of therapeutic attention and regular body work hit me hard. He commented on how strong my body is and how I will likely heal because I am young, but I needed to pursue regular body work for treatment of my various overuse-related ailments if I wanted a long career. That visit felt like an important message from the universe. I decided instead of spending another show pushing through severe pain, that I would rest and try to get the most benefit from the bodywork I was able to receive that day.
When I attempted to get back into the show the next day in Folsom, I felt the same concerning spasm in my back/pelvis during my warm-up. After some tears and convincing from my Pippin family to rest another night, I did just that. Unfortunately, that extra night turned into the next 4 shows. Before every show, I tried to warm up with some Pilates and pelvic articulation. But my pain was intense, spastic, and prohibited an adequate range of motion to execute the choreography. Not only was I still in intense pain, but I knew I was risking something career-threatening if the injury involved nerves. I did my best to make the best of my down time by soaking in some soothing bath mixes from the nearby Whole Foods, throwing back a few beet/turmeric anti-inflammatory shots, looping my quiet “Chill” playlist, and spending some quality time with my heating pad. There’s no denying that my body really needed rest, but missing our second to last weekend hurt my heart.
That weekend concluded our time out West and we headed East to Providence, Rhode Island for 2.5 days. There, I received two incredibly helpful acupuncture treatments, took a warm yoga class with Emile, and enjoyed the beautiful scene with my Pips. The needles, cups, sun light and downtime worked wonders, and I was able to perform again by the time we got to our final destination--Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
Even though I was in less intense pain, I was still hurting. Our amazing Jenni Poole (Re: “Out of My Dreams..”) was on standby for me the whole weekend. Running on Advil, tiger balm, nightly ice baths and love helped me make it through our first 4 shows in CT, but I wound up laying on a bag of ice and singing in the wings for the second act of our closing day matinee. Only love and adrenaline could power me through our final show, which already felt like a surreal, out-of-body experience. While we all fought back tears and gave that last show everything we had, I think we would agree that our June 18th evening performance didn’t feel like a closing, but more like the end of one long, beautiful, challenging, crazy, wonderful chapter of our journey to be continued. I am looking forward, along with my fellow Pips, to returning home to the tent in Lancaster in a few weeks.
In the past, I have rushed recovering from an injury for fear that taking too much time off would be detrimental to my career. However, the opposite is true with this injury and I am fortunate to have 6 weeks built in to my schedule that I can dedicate to rest and recovery. Of course I pictured myself doing a victory lap around STEPS and taking everyone’s class that I missed, teaching, and spending hours in the studio that I’d been jonesing for on the road, my body needs time to heal. A family member of mine is a physical therapist and has been graciously offering treatment advice to me. He believes my symptoms describe a bulging/herniated lumbar disc with some accompanying muscle strains; requiring rest, avoiding sitting and limiting forward spinal/hip flexion. We believe the cause is from a combination of sitting for long hours on the bus (sitting is considered a “micro-trauma” to the spine.. who knew?!) and dancing with shortened muscles because of it. The pain I felt after the extension exercises in Riverside was the result of pushing a step too far after months of accumulated imbalance.
I’ve written before about my love of acupuncture and the powerful effects it’s had on me. When I called South Philly home and danced for KYL/D, I discovered acupuncturist Vito Leva. Vito specializes in a form of trigger point dry-needling which alleviates muscle spasms and has worked many healing miracles on me over the years. I was so thrilled that a google-search when I got home led me to Vito’s brand new shared practice with Eva Zeller—Acupuncture Off Broad! I’ve been visiting their new jawn weekly and have been so grateful to reconnect with Vito. His understanding of my pain and career demands, ability to identify my injuries with his vast knowledge and intuition, and effectiveness in relieving my pain has never ceased to amaze me. Acupuncture Off Broad is beautiful, at an extremely convenient location, with affordable pricing in both community and private acupuncture. Philly/PA phriends, get yourself to 1315 Federal Street for a mind/body/spirit alignment and to cure what ails you.
I’ve been using pain as my guide to determining how I fill my post-tour life days. Not dancing can be spirit-crushing, but I’ve been focusing my attention on other areas of my work to stay positive and energized, as well as savoring the downtime with family and friends. This injury has encouraged me to be more compassionate towards my body for all of the extremes I’ve put it through and to try to undo some of my mental habits/desire to overwork. I’ve always been told that injuries aren't setbacks, they are lessons to propel us forward with new knowledge and strength. I can’t wait to be back in action in a few months and in the mean time I’m squeezing out as many opportunities to learn from this experience as possible. Until, next time! 🎪
Pips in LA
Pips in RI
An inspiration for how to keep a bright spirit while healing from an injury-- so grateful to have Imani with us on closing weekend!
Vito and a very #Acudrunk me.