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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Injury and Teacher Pressure


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I injured my ankle a while back.  I did physical therapy for about a year while scaling back with my dancing.  The worst of it healed, but I still feel pain when I dance.  My ankle primarily hurts with quick, consecutive plies (petite allegro, fouettes, etc.) so I avoided doing those when I could.  However, I have felt a lot of pressure from my dance teacher to try to dance it off.

This summer, after an MRI, I was informed that I have a partially torn ATFL.  I was also told that the size of the ATFL is approximately equal to the interval between MRI shots so it was hard to tell exactly how bad the damage was.  I was presented with a non-operative treatment and an option for surgery.  The osteologist, physical therapist and virtually everyone but my dance teacher recommended that I give the non-operative treatment a try.  On the advice of my teacher, I strongly considered operative treatment, and had all but agreed because I have always held his/her experience and perspective in very high esteem.  In the end, my gut was telling me to leave surgery as a last resort so that's what I did.  However, shortly after I began cutting back on dance classes and sitting out to do floor barre, take notes and observe, my dance teacher started to act very cold towards me until he/she ignored me whenever he/she could get away with it.  I have found it difficult to approach him/her and get him/her to talk about the weirdness I've been feeling.

At the start of this new semester, I was receiving his/her advice on which classes to take when he/she looked me in the eyes and said "you should have gotten the surgery" and then walked away.  It really shook me.  A couple of months ago, he/she told me I had their support with my decision.  I do not feel entitled to and never expected special treatment, but I feel abandoned and a little betrayed.  I feel like he/she resents my choice and is punishing me for it by giving me little support in class, encouraging me to dance on my ankle more than I am comfortable and making me feel guilty for not going with his/her decision.  Am I reacting poorly?  Am I having a bad attitude about this?  I used to have so much respect for him/her, but as the treatment for my injury progressed, I have started to question whether or not he/she has their dancers' best interest in mind when making recommendations about injury treatment and in-class participation.  It seems that they are playing doctor.

I don't like thinking negatively about someone but the whole situation and experience has left me feeling icky.  I need an outside opinion to get a little perspective.  Help!

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  • Administrators

Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, injuriesuponinjuries.  

I'm sorry to hear that you are having this problem with your teacher, in addition to the injury. I am a little confused, though, about your timeline. You  spent a year in PT  before finding out that you actually had a partially torn ligament, and then the recommendation, except from your teacher, was non-operative treatment. Is that right?  If so, it sounds like the teacher is frustrated with the length of time you have been nursing this injury. However, his/her way of treating you is not helpful, in terms of telling you what you "should" have done, and also encouraging you to do more than you feel physically able to do yet. You are right in terms of feeling that the teacher should have the dancer's best interest in mind, but is allowing his/her frustration that you are still not back, in terms of full participation in classes, to cloud their judgement because you did not follow their advice over that of professional medical advice. 

That said, do you still feel that you made the right choice?  Is it healing, or are you in for another year of partial participation? Is it possibly time for you to actually get the surgery, or do the doctors still feel that it is not essential?  Are you in a college program, or a school with a pre-professional training program?  If you are still 19 or under, I would like to move this topic to the YD forum instead of Cross Talk. 

***I would like to ask that members do not respond to this until my questions have been answered by the poster. Thank you.


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Hi Victoria!  To start, I am in my twenties.  I am not currently in a professional/pre-professional program but am preparing to apply to MFA programs.  The studio I attend however is very strong in technique and until I was booted I was dancing 15-20 hours a week depending on performance and rehearsal schedules.

I sprained my ankle in the late spring and began physical therapy shortly after.  I do not have access to a car and live where the weather is very bad in the winter, so I took a few months off before resuming in the spring.  My physical therapist felt confident that with some rest and pt my injury would heal.  And it was getting better and I was starting to re-incorporate jumps and turns.  However, after landing a jump funny, it began hurting again.  At that time, I began the process of getting an MRI - I had to have a consult with an osteologist, then an x-ray, then wait for the follow-up, then wait for insurance to approve the MRI, etc.  So it probably took about a month and a half from initiating the MRI process to actually getting the results.

My teacher was and still is very strongly pro-surgery.  Although the healing process for an ankle seems to take forever, it is healing.  I will hopefully be out of the boot soon and can plie (very slowly) without pain.  I think that answers your questions.

Its been very hard to feel patient and positive and its been a huge setback in moving forward with my dance career and my teachers recent attitude has been particularly discouraging.

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  • Administrators

Thank for your further information, injuriesuponinjuries. It is sad that your teacher is being so discouraging, but glad to hear that it is healing. I hope that once you are back in classes things will change, but you will of course still have to be very conservative in how much you attempt in the first weeks back. Slow and careful is the only way. Best of luck to you, and let us know how it is progressing. 

I'm going to move your topic to the Adult Ballet Students forum, as I think that will be more appropriate. 

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We're allowed to chime in now, yes?

I'm so sorry this is happening to you.  it's bad enough having an injury that restricts you for a long time and then to find out it was some new diagnosis on top of it? ugh.

I will say though that I don't think your teacher is "pro-surgery" but rather pushing for what they think will get you back to normal the fastest.  All my red flags are going off reading your words about them.  To give you a contrast, my teacher is one that will chide (or stronger) you for missing a class for just about any reason.  But if you have an injury, you take care of it.  Zero pressure to dance more than is safe.  This isn't just towards the children or us older dancers; it goes for her "stars" too.

Seriously, comments like "I feel like he/she resents my choice and is punishing me for it by giving me little support in class, encouraging me to dance on my ankle more than I am comfortable and making me feel guilty for not going with his/her decision" give me the creeps.  Especially when their "decision" was for something invasive like surgery, against the advice of your doctors.

I hope you heal quickly and completely.  


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Thank you BalletFamily and Victoria.  Your responses are very reassuring and make me feel hopeful for finding a better studio after I am healed.

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As an adult ballet student, presumably doing it for love but not in pre-professional training, you need to do what you and your medical advisers deem is best for you. 

Of course you respect your teacher, but s/he is not your doctor!  I can tell how important ballet is to you, and how central it is to your life (just in terms of the hours you spend at the studio). 

But to be very frank, ballet for you is a recreational activity, not your job. So your thought should be about what is in your long term interests. 

If this is problematic to your teacher, then find another teacher. Or - more tricky - think about why you seem to be very emotional in your response to your teacher's response. Again, you're an adult and you don't have to engage with that kind of behaviour. 

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