After a Salsa class one night, one of my students who was wearing high-heeled dance shoes for the first time came up to me and asked “When does it stop hurting? The balls of my feet are killing me!”

    I answered quite truthfully with the first answer that came to my head.

    “Never.”

    Dance is physically demanding. Whether you are doing it recreationally or professionally, it’s a sport. And like all sports, it’s going to take some kind of toll on your body, no matter the level at which you perform. 

    I am reminded of a line from The Princess Bride: “Life is pain [Highness] and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

    That sounds harsh, but it’s the reality. When you’re dancing, you’re using almost all of the muscles in your body. You’re twisting, turning, moving your arms, moving your legs, and engaging muscles that stay stagnant during your normal routines. So yeah, it’s going to hurt.

    But, let’s examine the flip side of that pain.

    You’re having the time of your life.

    Some of the moments I’ve felt most alive, most elated, most joyful, are on the dance floor. It’s 3 AM, my feet are killing me, my back is feeling it, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, I’m hungry, but the music and the dancers and the energy are all swirling around me and I cannot stop. People who run long distances talk about a Runner’s High…people who dance for long periods of time experience a similar Dancer’s High. The adrenaline and endorphins and sense of vitality far, far outweigh the aches and pains. 

    You’re getting in shape.

    Barre fitness classes tout getting a “dancer’s body,” but let’s not forget the *original* way to get that body: by actually dancing. I wore a pedometer out dancing for a full weekend and danced about 10 miles over the course of 3 or 4 days. I always joke after dancing a particularly long and energetic song that I just danced a mile…but there is some truth to that! One of my students told me she lost weight without even trying just by coming to class once or twice a week for about two months. Besides building stamina and endurance, dancing develops muscles that you may not necessarily spend time developing elsewhere. Where else do you get such killer calves? 

    Your pain threshold goes up.

    No, the pain never really goes away. But you learn how to deal with it. Where dancing in heels for one hour was painful, as you get used to it, you can go for two or three and not notice the pain. Where one night of social dancing left your back tight and sore, as you get used to it, you can dance multiple nights in a row and are still able to walk the next day. Where you had one terrible blister that made you ever despair of wearing shoes again, you develop callouses and never, ever scrape them off. 

    Since dance is usually seen as a happy, feel-good activity, people are surprised when it hurts. But the key is to not run from the pain. You have to embrace it, work through, and recognize that it’s temporary. Keep dancing and the things that used to hurt won’t bother you anymore. You’ll develop strategies to deal with the pain— stretching out after a long night of dancing, soaking your feet in epsom salts, adding anti-inflammatories into your diet— and then you’ll enjoy dancing even more

    What do you think? Am I crazy masochist, or have you experienced the same things? What’s the most painful part of dancing for you? Comment below! 

 

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