you & me

I Will Dance Again.

 

The night approaching May first was a night of many firsts.

It was the first time I grabbed all the attention on the dance floor. Not because I was suddenly the most charming or elegant ballerina. Not because I executed the routine of that night with the greatest finesse. But because it was the night I dislocated my knee so horribly that I broke my arm whilst attempting to minimize the damage.

It was the first time I truly, thoroughly, experienced the kindness of strangers.

In the hour I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I was held by four pairs of hands. One friend and three people I had not properly met before. They were there for me. No questions asked, no panic, no judgment in response to my cries of pain. Just presence, and it was this gentle reminder of care that got me through the first phase of my knee-ordeal.

It was the first time also that I traveled through London in an ambulance. As I spelled out my details to the patient paramedics — somewhat spaced out and in a lot of pain — I realized that I have truly managed to master the English language well. That realization made me feel strangely peaceful, and it meant I felt calm when they put my patella back in place.

That night I came home feeling exhausted but confident that I would be fine in no time. But as the days ticked away, a recovery period of a few weeks turned into a few months, and it eventually became clear that my knee wouldn’t recover naturally.

When it dawned on me what that meant, I feared a descend into darkness. Dancing and yoga, in equal measure, had become my refuge. Two places I could turn to when struggling to swallow my emotions. Two places I could turn to when struggling to connect to myself at all. Yet the nagging pain in my knee and my incapacity to walk without a crutch were a I reality I couldn’t run from.

Many hospital sessions, scans and assessments later it was found that the failure of my knee had been unavoidable. My misstep during that dreaded salsa routine in April had not been the cause, it had merely been the last straw. Scans revealed misaligned legs and a chronically misplaced patella.

I would need a double level derotation osteotomy, tibial tubercle distalization and medialization, and MPFL surgery on both legs. One leg at a time, with a gap of at least three months in between.

After taking in what that exactly entails — because really, who actually knows the meaning of all these medical terms — I understood my legs basically would need to be rebuilt. A reality that caused me to attune body and mind.

My body and I have had a troublesome relationship for as long as I can remember. A disjointed love affair with many highs and lows.

I have been able to travel around freely and had so far enjoyed good health, but even so my bones and joints have hindered me on and off. By giving up unexpectedly. By dislocating brutally, turning careless joy into agony when least expected.

My body has also always been a reliable mirror of my mind. An unwelcome gift at times. A brutally honest friend I could never hide from. An inescapable indicator of my state of being. At times numb, but so very alive on the night I fell during that dreaded salsa routine.

Initially, the betrayal of my knee felt like a punishment. A reminder that the more you rise, the deeper you can fall.

Should I have ventured out so freely knowing I might injure myself again? Should I have committed so much time to doing something so physical knowing my patella has the tendency to wander? Had it not been unnecessarily risky to challenge my body like this on my mission to find a way to keep my mind at peace?

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.” ~ Ruth St. Denis

These words from American dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis capture precisely the solace dance offers me. How swirling around lifts me up until I feel light again. How the tangible connection with another frees me from the false sense of isolation that keeps me trapped. It felt tragically ironic to me that my body would react so aggressively to something it had begged me to find for so many years.

I needed to hear that my injury had been unavoidable, to know that my desire to dance wasn’t to blame. That listening to my body’s call for movement had been the right thing to do. Because now that I have tasted the freedom of movement, I know what it is I’m fighting to return to. No matter the pain, no matter the fear.

That’s what I started reminding myself when lying awake in bed at night. It’s what has helped me bite through the agonizing pain the first couple of weeks post-surgery. It’s also what causes me to wholeheartedly answer that I will dance again when asked that question after telling how I injured myself.

***

Elisabeth ten Cate is a 20-something-year-old writer. Five years ago, she moved across the pond to cross three things off her bucket list: living in London, studying philosophy, and truly mastering a foreign language. Today she finds herself at work in the screen industry whilst trying to chase her greatest dream of all: to be a published novelist. She’s a keen cook and regular host of dinners. She enjoys yoga, live music, salsa and bachata. You could contact her via her website.

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