“They think I can’t walk normally. They don’t realize I’m just always dancing.” – anonymous performer with cerebral palsy
So you think you can’t dance? Think again! You can dance if you’ve never danced a day in your life. You can dance if your doctor has looked at you sternly while declaring you physically unfit. You can dance if you have two left feet. Hell, you can dance if you have three. Or none.
You can dance if you’re in a wheelchair or bedridden, obese or waif thin, a sexpot or a prude. (Remember Church Lady?) You can dance in your bed or in your imagination, wearing pajamas or the finest birthday suit. You can dance alone or with friends, indoors or out, to the grooves of hip hop, religious hymns, or punk rock. If you’re the adventurous type, you even can dance to all three at once!
And you can dance with pain. In fact, you can dance to heal pain. Which all goes to say, the only thing standing between dance and you is yourself. So get out of the way! I know, I know, it sounds outlandish. Fanciful. But so did the idea of airplanes, electricity, hygiene, female scholars, and the notion that the earth is round.
If you’ve been living with pain for months or years, chances are you’ve been told there’s nothing you can do. It’s permanent, doctors have said. Learn to live with it. In addition, chances are that to date, you’ve done everything short of chopping off a limb to find a remedy for your pain, at great cost to you and with little or no results, so you’ve skeptical about trying something new. What if it hurts. What if depletes the energy you need to make it to the bathroom.
As someone who suffered from chronic pain and bounced from practitioner to practitioner for well over a decade, I understand and validate your wariness. But here’s the thing: What if it works. It did for me and numerous others who spent years in chronic pain hell, just like you. Are you willing to pass up the opportunity to heal, just because you’re so damn exhausted from trying?
OK Miss Smarty Pants, you reply, let’s assume dance has some healing properties and maybe will work for me. Still, how the heck am I supposed to dance, when I’m strapped to this here bed, doped up on Percoset, Vicodin, and other pretty little pills controlling the side effects of aforementioned meds?
I readily acknowledge that dancing for pain relief is counterintuitive. Pain patients who love dance specifically have stopped dancing because it hurts – as I did for years. Other pain patients have gone to great lengths to avoid any kind of movement at all, so as not to exacerbate pain.
In addition, when we think of dance, we typically think of athletic prowess, stage performance, and romantic courtship. We think of hard bodies, a musical ear, and sex appeal. We don’t think of disheveled people in ratty-tatty pajamas, hobbling around, barely able to function because their nerves are screaming.
So it’s no surprise that when most pain patients are introduced to the idea of dance for pain relief, their initial reaction is, “Oh I can’t dance, because of pain.”
In addition, we are conditioned to think that if the big guns haven’t worked (pharmaceuticals or surgery), then something simple can’t possibly work (dance). What’s more, considering that pain patients typically have endured years of false promises for this cure or that, leaving us with empty pockets and possibly in worse shape than before, we are understandably cynical about trying something new.
For all these reasons, the first step to dancing with pain is addressing psychological resistance to it – dissolving the mental barrier between pain patients and dance. So let’s break this down:
For starters, I validate the hard-earned skepticism that pain patients are apt to feel about yet another method promising a cure. I do not and never will promise a cure through dance. I was promised sure-fire pain-relief cures to the tune of, oh, a brand new house in a nice little neighborhood somewhere. I’m not going to turn around and pull that bullshit on anyone else. I will, however, offer this dance method as another handy tool to add into your sequined chronic pain toolbox, which hopefully has copious amounts of butterflies painted on it.
Maybe it will prove to be your portal to wellness, as it was for me and others. Maybe it simply will offer a distraction from the movies you’ve viewed nine times each, from your BedQuarters screening room.
Regardless, it may be helpful to know that the Dancing with Pain® method was developed by a feisty-ass chronic pain patient (me) healing from her own damn pain (mine). It is tailored to the body, mind, and spirit of pain patients who are fed up with our sickcare system — um, I mean “healthcare” system. It is doable from the comfort of your bed, and once you learn the method, it’s free of charge, becuase you can do it by yourself, for yourself.
And it boasts negligible risk, if any, because you’re the boss in each dance session: There are no “dance moves.” There is no choreography. The dance is simply about finding your comfort zones (even if only in your mind) and optimizing the sense of comfort and pleasure you have in there. For some people, a dance session involves lying on the floor for an hour, doing a little wiggle-jiggle with the wobbly bits. For others, it involves sitting on a chair and visualizing dance in the mind.
Which brings me to my final point about dance: We have limited, conventional notions of dance as performance, but there are historical and contemporary precedents for dance as medicine. Dance is comprehensive and inclusive – something far beyond leaps, twirls, and fancy footwork. It is a primal connection to the creative life force. It is the healing unification of mind, body, and spirit.
Did you know that across America, there are professional dancers who use wheelchairs and prosthetics? I once danced with a group of them, in a summer intensive. My performance partner, another non-professional dancer, had no arms or legs; but she bounced around the room, putting to shame plenty of able-bodied people I’ve seen shaking their groove thang at nightclubs. And if she can dance, so can you.
Want to learn how to dance with your pain? Be sure to check out the Dancing with Pain store, for the “Breakfast Mix,” the first in our series of downloadable audio classes.