Sickness as a Ballet Dancer: How It Feels and How to Deal With It

Everyone gets sick. It’s just a part of life, right? The flu, fever, cold, bubonic plague, we all catch or have one of these at some point or other. They can be miserable–no, they most definitely ARE miserable, no “buts” about it. BUT! How do you recover? How do you bounce back to the full strength you had before? Is that even possible? I don’t know, but I’ll share with you my recent experience of me having the flu AND a head cold right before I was supposed to be in two performances that weekend.

It all started with a general feeling of unwellness (which is how most sicknesses start so that’s not SUPER mysterious). I was taking class on Saturday and I was getting exhausted very easily, as well as getting the chills. I took a nap in between class and rehearsal, hoping that would take care of the exhaustion, but even in rehearsal I couldn’t get my eyes to stay open, and after everything I did it was hard to catch my breath. I went home after rehearsal, still hoping I could sleep it off. But even after over ten hours of sleep, I still felt pretty crappy.

Luckily, the next day was Sunday, and there was no class scheduled, so I spent the whole day taking care of my body. This included massaging the bottoms of my feet with a lacrosse ball, drinking A LOT of water and Emergen-C, taking a hot bath, taking long naps, massaging my neck, laying onto a hot rice pack, and making sure I moved as little as possible. After the day was done, I was feeling a bit better. But I was at a place that, even if I felt better, I was still not well enough to move a lot, much less return to class.

These were the four main items of self care during my sickness

And so it continued. I would repeat the self care steps above every day, sometimes adding medicines, and every day I got a little bit better. Eventually the week came to an end, and I even though I was feeling better, I was still not well. I decided to go into class on Saturday and take it easy and slow. The day was super cold, so the bus ride was not at all pleasant, and I started coughing pretty violently. I took barre and sat for the rest of class, but I still felt exhausted. Luckily the day was short, and I was able to go home early.

Me with my sickness. This is how I looked for a whole week.

I was sick with a cold for the next several days and I am still trying to get over a sore throat and stuffy nose. But greater than the damage done to my body was the damage done to my casting and performance opportunities. I was cast in two of my friends’ pieces for the performance called the Student Choreographic Project. In both pieces I was the lead, and they both had a lot of fun dancing and cool partnering. But because of me being sick so close to the performance, I lost both roles and didn’t perform. The week I was sick was also the week that the staff was finalizing casting for the end of year performance, Next Generation. Because I was sick, I was not seen in any of the rehearsals that week. This led to me not being cast in either of the main pieces, leaving me with only a very minor role. This has led to a lot of frustration and nervousness. But I have learned and done some things to fix the damage done while I was sick, and hopefully you can relate some of this to your life.

First thing I did was AVOID SUGAR. We all know sugar is bad for us, but it is ESPECIALLY bad when you are sick. Sugar weakens your immune system, so it makes it easier to get sick as well as keep you sick for longer. Things I ate instead of sugary snacks were: fruits (mainly oranges for vitamin C), vegetables (mainly carrots and celery because they’re easy and tasty, but I did eat some kale as well), meat (this included beef, chicken, turkey, etc). Meat is what kept me going and what gave me the most energy, as well as keep my body from getting too weak. And chicken noodle soup (no explanation needed). Eating all these things as well as taking supplements helped me get better and come back stronger than I would have if I had not.

To repair damage done to casting, I talked to one of my teachers. I told him I don’t usually get sick this often, and I’m doing all I can to get my strength up to what it once was. I asked him about casting, expressing my frustration with my small role and if my being sick affected anything. He told me that they cast the hardest workers and the people who know it best, and he advised me to learn the parts with the extra time I had. So I took his advice and learned all of the roles I could be considered for over the next couple of days. To do this I went and asked several friends if they could teach me, and all of them helped me to a fantastic extent.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: being sick sucks. It feels bad, afterwards you feel bad, you can lose roles, you can lose strength, all around it just sucks. But to help get yourself back on track, you need to take care of your body, and unfortunately this does not mean binge watching Netflix (which I am guilty of). It means fueling yourself with the best foods, making sure you have the right medicine, informing parents and teachers about your current state of health, and when you’re feeling better, exercising to get your body strong again. If you do these things, you will come back stronger when you are fully healed, and hopefully you’ll be sick for a shorter time.

With this wisdom I leave you,

Kai C