Fundamental Principle of Dancing With Pain®

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

March 16th, 2008 • Dance for Natural Pain ReliefPrint Print

A few days ago, I got this e-mail from a reader:

“I have RSD. How can you dance when you are in so much pain? I used to dance all the time, but now I am in such a terrible flare-up, I lie in bed for 24 hours in pain in my feet, legs, hands, and fingers. I can barely walk. So give me some suggestions please! I need help.”

The fundamental principle of Dancing with Pain® is that we revision dance, so that it does not require mobilizing the parts of our body that are in pain. Dancing may mean…

  • lying in bed with our favorite music playing nearby, as we visualize ourselves getting busy on the dance floor
  • sitting in a chair and expressively moving our arms, in a physical embodiment of the sound we absorb
  • cranking out fancy footwork while keeping our upper bodies motionless

What dancing looks and feels like may change from day to day, or even from moment to moment.

Mornings are the time of day when I am in the worst amount of pain. So yesterday morning and this morning, dancing meant turning on the clock radio near my bed, absorbing the waves of sound and the energy I felt in response, then sending those waves and energy through my body — gently moving the pain-free parts and actively sending vibrations through the stuck parts.

After a certain amount of time, I felt “awake” enough in my body that I was able to (slowly) get out of bed.

Take that in contrast to how I was dancing last night at a TransDance® journey. I with stiff and in pain when I arrived, so dancing initially meant moving my body artistically while standing in place. As the music channeled through my body, however, it moved me and freed me, so that towards the end of the class, I was jumping around like a woman possessed.

And I was possessed. By vibrations, divinity, spirit, the energy of the other dancers, and my passionate love of music — which has the power to take over my body and transport me to an altered physical, mental, and spiritual state.

We each have different bodies, different conditions causing our pain, and different relationships to music and dance. The greater our limitations, the greater our frustrations. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that the dance is not just a physical dance, but a spiritual and emotional one as well.

There have been stretches of time where, as a result of my pain levels, dancing has meant lying on the floor or sitting in a chair and making small movements. Period. It’s hard to throw myself in into those small movements — i.e., really dance them — day after day after day, because I am by nature a very physical and athletic person. I want to move. M-O-V-E. Moooove!

What’s more, since dance historically has had the power to take me beyond pain & limited mobility, it’s easy for my panties to get all up in a bunch when the dance remains low-key every. single. fucking. day. In fact, I’ve gone through many cycles where I stop dancing altogether, because the dance doesn’t manifest the way I want it to. That’s me having a spiritual temper tantrum.

And that’s where the non-physical dance comes in — the dance with the dance, if you will. I am where I am, and my body is in the condition it is in, period, end of issue. Am I going to sit and wallow in abject misery, crying about the unfairness of it all, or am I going to live at my edge and do what I can?

The more pain we’re in, of course, the harder it is to have the kind of positivity, faith, and energy it takes to live at that edge. Pain is like a spiritual vacuum cleaner, an energetic suction cup, a psychological vortex clamoring for our attention: “Me! Me! Me!” its screams nonstop.

So we need to cut ourselves slack — to show ourselves compassion if we don’t have the motivation and determination to be at our full potential (whatever that looks like) every day of our lives. The key is to figure out what each of us can do at any given moment, and to develop a toolbox helping us achieve that potential as often as possible.

Here’s what my toolbox looks like:

  • Drink a mocha latte
  • Take a scalding hot bath or shower
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Take supplements
  • Lie sprawled on a post-apocalyptic size ice pack
  • Turn on dance music and give myself permission to just sit and listen to it if I don’t feel like dancing (which will often change as soon as I hear the music)
  • Listen to a guided meditation CD — especially one on chronic pain relief
  • Write a list of 50 things I am grateful for in my life
  • Journal in my digital recorder (a terrific alternative for those of us with wrist pain)
  • Get out of the damn house and go for a super-slow walk, just down the block and back
  • Read entries from my chronic pain journal, where I have documented experiences of transcending pain
  • Read a page or a chapter from an inspirational book
  • If I don’t have the energy to do any of this stuff, call my pre-selected list of people who will kick me in the ass and get me to do it

What’s in your toolbox? Write it up in bullet points and stick it where you’ll see it — on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, on the wall near your bed. If you have trouble writing, ask someone else to write it for you. If that’s a problem as well, dictate it into a digital recorder, a tape recorder, or the voicemail on your phone.

Just get it down and out into the universe, and make it as easily accessible to you as possible. Because on the high-pain days, all we can think about is how much our lives suck. When the thing is, they can suck just a little bit less, or not at all, if we live at our edge and keep an open mind to the magic, mystery, and infinite healing possibilities of our universe.


Diane March 18th, 2008

This is a great post. I’ve been reading your site for a few weeks now, since the NYT article pointed to it, and now I’m beginning to understand dancing with pain. Also love how you described your toolbox. When I get around to it–soon–I’m going to point to this post from my site. Excellent resource—–

Thanks, Diane

jessica February 8th, 2009

does anyone know of a good studio to get started dancing again in NYC that would specialize in someone with RSD or chronic pain?

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