Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pet Peeve: Pain = Battle Scar

All dancers do it, all the time. When was the last time your friend said "I'm tired, I only got 5 hours of sleep" and you countered with "oh yeah, well I got 4"? Or she says "my back hurts" and you say "my back's been hurting for weeks AND my knee hurts now"? Dancers are always trying to one-up each other when it comes to pain, suffering, and battle scars.

Maybe it's because misery loves company. Maybe we just naturally seek attention, and one way of getting attention and sympathy is expressing our misery. Maybe we all want to show off how tough we are - oh look, I'm in so much pain but I'm still dancing. Maybe it's honorable to stick out the pain. Maybe it's a contest to see who's the toughest, who has the highest pain tolerance, who can perform the best without showing weakness and pain. It doesn't really matter what it is, but it needs to stop.

I do it too, and I've always hated that I feel a need to. I complain about my injuries and lack of energy and pain like every other dancer does, but I've always admired the people who don't participate in this verbal banter. I guess I used to think that they were the lucky ones - they're not in pain, they get enough sleep, they don't feel what I feel. Sometimes it's true - I've got a few friends who are really lucky to have never been seriously injured. But they feel tired and achy like everyone else does.

What we need to come to terms with is that our profession is a pretty unique combination of athletics and performance art. No other athlete is asked to look beautiful and effortless (okay, rhythmical gymnastics). No other artist is asked to perform feats of superhuman strength (figure skating?). We will always be wracked with some kind of physical discomfort from the athletic side and be forced not to show it by the artistic side. If we are asked not to show it on the stage, does that give us license to moan and groan twice as much off it? I don't think so.

Everyone's just as tired, beaten, and worn down as you are. Next time you hear someone start the daily battle for "who's the most beaten down," don't join in. Give them the attention they want, say "oh I'm sorry, why didn't you get any sleep last night?," but don't add your chorus of woes to theirs. We don't need to fight each other with how negative we can be. The less we view pain as battle scars to compare with each other, the more we will promote a positive environment to be in and dance in. Maybe we'll hurt a little less then.


  1. Hi There, I just spent a little time

    reading through your posts, which I

    found entirely by mistake whilst

    researching one of my projects. Please

    continue to write more because it’s

    unusual that someone has something

    interesting to say about this. Will be

    waiting for more!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Do you mean it's unusual because no one talks about the psychology of pain? Even if no one talks about it, it's a pretty universal understanding among dancers. Pain tolerance and refusal of proper rest and treatment is something to be proud of. It's quite unfortunate.