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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Involuntary retirement from ballet?


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As I approach my 61st birthday, I'm seriously wondering whether I've got another Nutcracker in me, or even anything more than the most basic ballet class. I've been Drosselmayer in our community ballet company's shows for about ten years. I've got the part nailed, add new elements each year, and totally enjoy each performance, but my body is resisting.


Three years ago, I knocked myself out (literally) crashing my head into a fence post while trail running. My cervical spine took a major hit and I couldn't turn my head to any significant degree for months. Eventually things got better and I added that incident to my long list of old injuries I've mostly recovered from but which occasionally remind me of the damage done.


'Clara' in last fall's Nutcracker was one of the better dancers I've had the pleasure of partnering. We took advantage of her abilities to add an overhead hip lift I'd passed up in most previous years. Unfortunately, tilting my head back while lifting 'Clara' crossing the stage through many rehearsals and performances aggravated the old injury. Now it has become a chronic feature of my life that I can set off doing something as simple as using the wrong glasses for computer work. My chiropractor is a genius whose adjustments help a lot, and I have become my massage therapist's personal economic stimulus package but I'm still a hurting unit. Spotting a pirouette is a major chore.


Retirement from performing is a ballet inevitability, but I'd always thought I'd be able to do a retirement performance and get the gold watch, rather than just disappear from the company. Now, not so sure and my artistic director is pressing me to commit. I know I won't be doing that lift again, but am contemplating whether I can do anything stage-worthy without further injury.


Stay tuned for new developments...

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Oh I feel and know the exact pain you are feeling. I've got a 3 year old C2-C7 herniation, and come Monday I'm talking with the surgeon to see how many they are going to fuse. At a minimum we're looking at C6-C7 and possibly C4-C5.

I'm having problems spotting for turns and certain head positions, let alone someone touching the area.


There are a whole bunch of options out there, however you really need to get a baseline of what is going on inside. I've done everything from Salon Pas patches on the neck, chiro, TENS, Micro manipulation, topical and injected steroids and some other things out there. My surgeon has assured me that I will be able to continue as a normal person once I recover in a couple months.

If you can, go out and get some other opinions and get some direction to help you along. I know how the pain can really pull you down, hard.

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BarreTalk--I hope you're able to come to the decision that will make you most happy. Injuries are a part of dancing, but your body will know when it's had enough. Unfortunately, out-of-pocket medical expenses can really add up.




I would love to hear more about your neck issues and how they have affected your dancing and how you've been able to cope with them. Recently I've been diagnosed with a type of arthritis that affects the spine and causes the vertebrae to fuse, and unfortunately it's hit my neck first. It's progressed over the past few years so that now it's greatly affected by neck range of motion. I moved into a more advanced class this summer and my teacher is willing to work with me--she says I need to think more about my back coming around as I'm turning, etc. I'd really like to know what works for you!


Sorry to hijack your post, BarreTalk, but I can't pm yet! :wacko:

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You can now, Lissbirds. :cool2:

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Just some personal thoughts related to the topic of getting older, injury, and performing at an older age that some may find useful and others may see as ego driven drivel.


I just turned 66. I’ve been retired for a couple of years. Anyway, I’d say I live a very active physical life. I think over the past 7-8 years I’ve had minor injuries almost constantly. I call them old age injuries. They seemingly have no cause and respond to no treatment. Eventually they go away only to be replaced by something new. Usually, once I get warmed up, they subside as long as I’m moving. When I get home and get out of the car, I wind up walking to the house literally like a 100 year old man.


I’ve pretty much accepted my physical state and cope with it. If I were wise, I would routinely do some rehabilitative activities like massage, progressive relaxation, and icing, but I seem to be too lazy to follow through.


When I turned 60 I reflected on my dance life. I asked myself what life would be like when I turned 70. I assumed I probably wouldn’t be doing modern (my favorite and best dance form) and didn’t want to do ballet if I couldn’t really do allegro (jumping too much was starting to be a joint killer then). I thought that when I turned 70 I’d probably be doing something like folk, which doesn’t have the same physical requirements of what I had been doing. As something of a bridge, I gave up my routine twice a week ballet classes, and added another modern class and began Spanish dance. With Spanish you don’t have to stick your leg above your head, turn 50 pirouettes, or jump over the moon. Besides there were other people near my age who were studying Spanish dance. I’ve always thought of myself as a dancer and not just a specific kind of dancer anyway.


I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a place where there are a lot of performance opportunities. Early in my dance career, I felt the need to perform more as a validation of my ability than anything else. I enjoy performing. I like the process of developing a dance and working with a cast. But now I don’t feel the same need. My performance anxiety has fallen to just about zero, which I don’t think is good. I mean one needs just a little anxiety to do well I believe. My biggest worry in performance now is simply in being physically capable of performing at the moment of a performance. Injury is always a possibility and is totally unpredictable.


I think people often have this vision of going out while on top with a blaze of glory. But I also think that only happens when you really stop loving what you do. People who love what they do persist. And persisters don’t stop until they’ve been knocked down and out. No glorious end.


But there are always other things in life to learn and practice.

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  • 1 year later...

UPDATE TIME: I'm back to ballet.


A series of neck exercises prescribed by my doctor, plus a new massage therapist have brought my normal resting neck pain level from a constant 2 or 3, (on a 10 scale) to a much more manageable 0 to 1. Furthermore, when I discovered that hanging off a motorcycle shooting video of the Ironman Triathlon during a grueling 16 hour work day actually made my neck feel better, I started to realize that the cure for my problem was more movement, not less!


A month ago, I took my first ballet class in two years and it was like riding a bicycle - I hadn't forgotten much, although I definitely couldn't move as well. The whole time I've been away from dance I maintained a good stretching regimen which helped out. I'm now doing 3 classes a week and plan to perform in the spring production of Sleeping Beauty. My old partner, and I mean that both ways - she is older than me, and we've partnered for a long time together - wants to dance a pas for the Celebration Dance and the artistic director is all for it. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

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FYI, there is a woman who takes classes with me at the same studio who I know is on the up side of 70. It is a pure delight to watch her in class, she is focused and does everything, well some things in moderation/adaptation. I want to be dancing when I am her age with just as much grace and love. She brings a smile to me inside every time she is in class.

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I'm mid-sixties and am still taking class and performing character roles professionally. The wierd thing is that I find adage really hard - my feet no longer hold me up in releves, but I can still do grand allegro! Go figure. This hurts and that hurts, but somehow I keep going because as well as performing, I am still teaching and need to demonstrate. Also, I have that feeling that once I give up, I will shrivel up and turn to stone! My husband, who is a year older than me, is still running 10 kms, so he inspires me to continue too. I had a lot of problems last year and went for some physio, which helped a lot. Glad you've gone back to dancing, Barre Talk. I wreckon that even if there are some things we can't manage anymore, dancing keeps us young and alive, so we should stick at it........

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I refuse to admit, at age 48, that any aches or pains are due to age :P So far, after visiting with a dance-related physical therapist after each "painful incident", they haven't been. Mostly alignment issues.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Welcome back, I hope your neck and body feels better and you enjoy it.

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