Twirling mirlitons, falling snowflakes, leaping candy canes, and sugar plum fairies: all of these colorful images are just a few of many you will find in any production of The Nutcracker. For many dance studios and ballet companies, the late months of November and December are a crucial time for putting on these performances—audiences all over the world cannot seem to get enough of it. There's no doubting how much emotional and physical effort is put into it. From the first rehearsal to closing night, every single dancer can agree that this show can take a toll on the body. One may even wonder: what happens if that takes too much of a toll on the body?
Photo by Daniella Vega
On the far left in the blue and yellow robes is me: I have performed in various renditions of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet since a very young age and the photo you see above was my most recent role as one of the Chinese Teas. This photo is already a year old. Although I was set to perform this role again for the production I was a part of, an unexpected turn of events changed my trajectory for the rest of the Nutcracker season.
As a pre-professional dancer, I am in rehearsals for a variety of performances separate from The Nutcracker. Despite that, I am constantly doing physical activity...or I was at least. About 3 weeks before our technical and dress rehearsals for The Nutcracker, I felt a sharp, persistent pain on the exterior part of both of my legs (predominantly my right leg). Shortly after, I could not jump or turn and had a clear limp in my walk. After a trip to a sports orthopedic doctor, my worst fear came true: I had a muscle strain in my legs and I was not allowed to dance for quite a while.
I could not figure out what was worse: finding out I had to sit out and not dance, or telling my directors that I could not participate in the show. My disappointment came in harsh waves as the reality set in that I would not be on stage for the very first time in my life. I had grown up watching dancers, including my friends, hurt themselves and be taken out of the cast right before my eyes - I never would have imagined that would happen to me.
Photo by Daniella Vega
Despite this setback, I continued to help out with whatever I could in the production. I was even allowed to be backstage with the technical crew. The support given to me by my friends, family, cast mates, and directors was helpful. Regardless, I was still extremely frustrated with myself. As beautiful as it was to see the whole show come together, there was something so unfulfilling about sitting on the side and observing. I know this ballet like the back of my hand: every little musical cue, gesture, and all of the choreography. Yet, there I was: not on the stage in a glittering costume, not dancing, with nothing to do about it. Performing might just be one of my favorite things and the very last thing I could do was that.
They say the truth hurts. As much as I hate to admit it, what was more painful than my strained muscles was the fact that I needed to take better care of myself. I had overworked my body to the point where I could not do a single thing. While hard work is a necessary value in all performing arts areas, you must also know when to take a break; this was something I had struggled to accept. At the end of the day, both my physical and emotional well-being take priority over anything that is happening in my current life.
After about one month of recovery, I am now dancing again. I am certainly more than happy to be back doing the thing I love the most, but it is still so upsetting knowing that my injury could have been prevented had I taken better care of myself. From now on, I will always remember this one instance I could not perform as a reminder to set healthy limits for myself. After all, there's always next year.
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