Blood, Sweat and Tears
This photo reflects hours and hours of physical work and preparation in order to “qualify” for Pointe Work and then continued training to be able to advance your practice. These shoes are so much more than shoes. After recently coming across my large collection of dead pointe shoes, nearly 40 pairs, there are memories of passion for the art, success, disappointments, failures, discipline, and life lessons. There are many beautiful memories – learning traditional variations, amazing choreography, International travel, accomplishments, performances, costuming, and relationships. I loved every moment of it – yes, even the blood, sweat and tears. I, like many dancers, pushed to the limits of what my body could do and the decision to hang up my shoes nearly 16 years ago did not come lightly. It definitely doesn’t feel like 16 years, as the feel of dancing on pointe will be forever engrained in my body. The scars from blisters and calluses on my toes remain. At the time to decide to stop pointe work, my body was failing me and the pressures to complete University took precedence. Those last few years of struggling with injury and pain had ultimately influenced my decision to pursue a Physiotherapy career and the desire to try to help prevent dancers from the downward sequelae following injury.
Was everything worth it? Absolutely. To those dancers and dance parents not sure about the commitments it takes to dance at a higher level – it is worth every penny. A hefty penny may I add – this pile of shoes values at approximately $4000.00 for just the shoes and not counting lesson, costuming, competition, travel, and extra total fees. However, the skill set and lessons learnt from dancing are invaluable. It will be a part of their life, long after the dance classes stop being a part of the dancer’s life. And especially now in a very uncertain time with ever changing regulations, the arts will need those passionate students to continue to pursue their lessons now more than ever. And the students will need dance as their outlet for creativity, stress, trauma, and an escape. Most dancers would agree with me that dance is very much a therapeutic activity and with all the challenges to our mental health in these unprecedented times, we need dance and the arts now more than ever.
Through Empower Physiotherapy and Empower Movement Studio, I hope to continue to assist dancers with their passion. I have supported so many dancers ranging from recreational to professional on their goals. I continue to shed blood, sweat and tears for this population and I love every minute of it. Specializing in this area of Physiotherapy was a no-brainer for me. I wish there would have been more specialized care for me during my training to assist in staying injury and pain free as there were very limited resources and push for preventative medicine when I trained. Now, I have some excellent Physiotherapy colleagues out there who can work with this population, but without experiencing it yourself, makes it very difficult to relate and fully understand the whole dancer in front of you. I have been there with clients and dance students through their most difficult and also most celebrated times and have been able to relate to their concerns and injuries. As we move forward through COVID-19, I am excited to announce that there will continue to be plans for even more assistance with our local dance and artistic athlete students in upcoming months.
With you through blood, sweat, tears and…pandemics.
-Sara Lawson, Dance Physiotherapist/Educator
My one undergraduate degree is in Biology, specifically majoring in ecological biology and the study of animal behaviour. I had the opportunity to complete field work in Cypress Hills, SK and Bamfield, BC as part of my upper level courses. The work in both of these locations was research on animal behaviour. I learnt a lot about laboratory work, data collection, field work, research in biological sciences, and how ridiculous I look with googles and a snorkel. I met a lot of wonderful people, many of whom are still friends. As much as I was passionate about ecology and marine biology, I knew a career in research was not suited for me. However, this was an excellent stepping stone to my current career in Physiotherapy and was crucial for critical thinking and the importance of evidence-based information.
Now as humans we are extremely similar to the study of animal behaviour with basic instincts of survival. The basic needs can be controversial, but are commonly accepted as: air, water, shelter, and food. Furthermore, education, sanitation and healthcare are often included in this list, but can be isolated to certain parts of the world. We are also social beings with needs of communication, sense of belonging, as well as feeling connection and love. When we detect a threat to our basic needs of survival, a flight or fight response is triggered. The flight or flight response is defined as “a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival”. Changes in heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and respiratory rate are just some examples of the body adapting to a perceived threat. Hormonal changes are responsible for these physiological reactions. These changes can also be attributed to both appropriate reactions to perceived threats as well as to overreacting to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as work pressure, family difficulties and traffic jams.
With the threat of COVID-19 being so prominent in our community, the only way I can personally try to understand what is happening with people’s behaviours, emotional reactions and controversy is relating it back to a fight or flight response. Here we are facing a threat to our survival - not only with life, but also including finances, normal scheduling, social interactions and much more. Regardless of your belief of COVID-19, changes have occurred to threaten your normal way of living. Behaviour has been perceived as over-reacting, unreasonable, and extreme in the media and community.
Emotional regulation is just another piece of the flight or fight response. Individuals with higher levels of emotional reactivity may be prone to increased levels of anxiety and aggression. Therefore, for many, the intensity of emotion brought on by COVID-19 determines the nature and intense of the behavioural response. Perhaps this could explain some of the more extreme behaviours and poor coping strategies people are utilizing during this time.
Moral of the story is we are all experiencing some changes and threats related to COVID-19. Whether or not someone is feeling the effects of a flight or fight response will be variable from person to person, but developing a better understanding and compassion to those who are struggling with coping with emotions and behaviours is a step in the right direction for society to work together on getting through COVID-19. Perhaps this is the only way we will survive and get through this period of time.
Whether “fighting” or “flighting” - we are still in this together.
-Sara Lawson, Once a Bio Geek, Always a Bio Geek
[Dedicated to my long time friend, old room mate, and research partner - Jessica Vanstone]
Most people can agree the first day at a new job can be both exciting and nerve-wrecking. My most memorable first day on the job so far has been the day I started with the previous Professional Ballet Company I worked with. Despite working at many jobs throughout the years, this one will forever be etched in my memory.
There was a lot of new territory to explore. I had left my permanent job with a great pension and health benefits behind to chase career goals. I was extremely unhappy in that secure job and was waiting for a new opportunity to come my way. So here I was, new to a larger city - arriving the day before starting. In hindsight, I recommend giving yourself some time to familiarize yourself to a new city with more than part of a day to find your way. But I was grateful for the support of co-workers and having some extra cash for finding parking downtown. The whole moving process was a bit of a blur as it was a rushed process from resigning from my previous job and accepting the new job offer. I had just thrown myself into this new venture.
New. This is not always a welcomed word. Most people don’t like new or anything surrounding change, especially when it comes to those who use their body as their instrument- their tool to be a professional and make a living. And here I was the new medical lead as a Physiotherapist for a Professional Ballet Company.
For those who have worked in Professional Dance or Performing Arts know the culture is unique. Don’t get me wrong - it is an amazing community, but it can also be a difficult community to navigate. The first day was an “Introduction” day - introducing to the location, the staff, the parents of the school, and the dancers. The team working alongside me were also all new to the scene and we were really all unsure of the journey ahead. We had met moments before any real formal introduction to the dancers. The medical programming had been extensively revamped from previous medical management with the hopes of improved medical service and better management of injuries. We were hopefully going to be accepted within this dance community and make a difference. The energy was palpable and the excitement of starting something new was evident.
First up - introduce yourself and the team to the training school - no script. Standing before the eager dancers of the school program and their parents who have sacrificed their hard earned money working towards their child’s dreams was no easy feat. Many of the dance students had also moved from all over Canada, the United States and other countries across the world. So there were large commitments from everyone involved. Pressure was on to make a decent first impression. I was not sure what I was going to say to instill trust and confidence in our new medical team. These dancers and parents looked onward at us with much hesitation.
Next up - introduce yourself to the company - minimal script only because moments before I had scribbled a few “cheat notes” following the school introductions. The company members looked cautiously at me with a lot of apprehension. Who is this new Physiotherapist that was before them. Can we trust her? What does she know? I liked “so and so” better... What does she know about dance? Gaining trust was going to take some time. There was also a complicated history I knew nothing about, as well as hidden dynamics and tense politics luring in the background.
Dance communities are filled with history and political dynamics that are not well understood unless you are immersed in them. I know these dynamics exist in other sports, work environments and activities, but the dance community is rooted in a lot of old traditions that threaten utilizing the current research, new methods and changed management of their health and wellness. Old methods continue to be followed despite new and growing evidence for other strategies. Realizing I had a lot of barriers to overcome and hard work to effectively assist this Professional Dance Company left me excited, anxious, and ready for the challenge. But, the dancers and management were left skeptical. Breaking down barriers became my new role - whether it was welcomed or not.
Hello, I am Sara Lawson, the NEW Medical Lead Physiotherapist. Bring on the barriers and hard work!
3:11am…why don’t I just get up and work on something on the to-do list or watch television or scroll through some social media platform or read the pile of books on the nightstand? If I fall asleep now I can still get a few hours in. Arg, it's busy tomorrow and sleep is needed. But I can’t sleep. If you are tired you should be able to sleep, ya right. I also find it ironic that the scheduled post for the day is on Sleep Hygiene where I talked about the benefits of sleep and provided tips for sleeping and here I am unable to sleep.
This dialogue is a common occurrence for me. Mulling over some business issue or problem in the middle of the night. Worrying about something that had occurred the day before. I know not all business owners have this issue, but I have been an insomniac since a child. It is on and off problematic, but I have seemed to manage over the years. And of course it has followed me into adulthood. And followed me into the world of entrepreneurship.
I am exhausted. COVID-19 is exhausting. Everyone has been experiencing the effects of the pandemic in different ways and at different levels of exhaustion. And of course I am grateful for so many things during this current state the world is in and my worries are really a lot of 1st world problems and privileges. I completely get that. But as an example of some increased COVID-craziness for my 1st world problems, I found myself researching disinfectants for two hours today. Instead of charting on the clients for the day or working on the 50 items on the to-do list, I am researching disinfectants and comparing it to our current products. Who would have thought I would be looking at concentration levels of certain cleaners and verifying them on the Health Canada COVID-19 approved site? This was not on the business plan. Just another one of many COVID tasks to add to the growing to do lists.
As I am sure most business owners can agree - this is not really a “new normal” as there is nothing “normal” about how we are operating right now, no matter what industry. There are pressing financial concerns, increased overhead and less revenue coming in. We have had to modify many things to be operational. I am sure unless you are in the disinfectant or hand sanitizer businesses, your income has been affected in some way. Of course, as a healthcare professional we have been trained in the area for infection and disease control as part of our program. Along with other health care practitioner programs, we were examined on hand washing steps and trained on personal protection equipment. So, hygiene is normal, cleaning between clients is normal, mindful of diseases and their contraction is normal, but the COVID-19 pandemic has not been “normal”. There comes so much uncertainty, unknowns, and ever-changing guidelines, which has made this very unfamiliar and ABnormal. And I am sure everyone can agree with that.
So, its 3:11am and I am mulling over disinfectants - how long they need to be on the surface before wiping, do I need to rinse afterwards, what is the WHIMS code on them, is it going to destroy any equipment, is there an odour, is it safe for those sensitive to certain products, etc, etc, etc. Last week it was the use of masks research and this week the use of disinfectants. Is this overkill or is this what is required to protect my clients, staff and business? Who really knows? Even the World Health Organization has ever-changing answers and their experts are uncertain. Go. To. Sleep, Sara.
3:34am. We have had to make appointments run like clockwork at the clinic. We have clients unsure of processes, worrying in their vehicles they have the right day and time. We are wearing masks. We have extra hand washing steps, extra cleaning, extra worry. Are we providing the same quality of service as pre-COVID? Did I treat the client how I would have pre-COVID? Can we treat the same as pre-COVID? Reputation is everything in a newer, little, local business. And we are a service industry providing care to those trusting us with their health care. With all the extra cleaning, intake forms and checklists, can we possibly treat our usual way? Maybe? I, for one, am sure trying.
4:02am. Last time I looked at the clock. So I must have slept a little? Maybe I was dreaming of killing viruses and healing injuries with my new superhero uniform accessories consisting of masks and gloves. And my new weapon of choice must be a COVID-approved disinfectant. Or maybe I was drowning in the disinfectant? Those sleep experts out there would argue you could not have possibly got into any type of REM sleep cycle with dreams when your alarm is going off in a few hours.
As like the majority of business owners, we are certainly trying our best with the information we have. One of my favourite quotes comes from Arthur Ashe - “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
My message today is to please be kind and patient, especially to your local small business owners as we are treading in unfamiliar waters, while trying to keep our heads above water. Continue to help us out by throwing in a flotation device instead of pushing our heads under water. Good thing I like swimming.
Just keep swimming…
The feeling you have prior to stepping foot on stage is not easily explained. No one quite understands the sensation unless they have experienced it. Thinking back to a very young age before my first experience on stage, I vividly remember feeling flutters in my stomach, sweaty palms, mentally reviewing corrections, nerves on edge, concerns of forgetting or falling, and telling myself to just relax. Focused, over alert, and waiting, you stand ready in your steamed, pristine costume. Those few moments before entering the stage, you are primed to notice that one bobby pin jabbed in your skull, the tickle from a false eyelash, the lingering smell of hairspray fumes in the air, the smell of sweat and spandex, the sparkles and sequins reflecting the shadows of stage lights, the energy trickling in from the audience, and the muffled buzz of stage managers and technicians flooding your senses, while waiting for the signal for your turn to perform.
Standby. Cue lights. Cue music. Cue Dancer. And go...
And that was it. That was all it took. That was when I fell in love with dance and performing. Years passed by and I found myself knowing I would pursue a career involving dance in some way. I would try to brainstorm other career interests, but it kept circling back to this crazy world - the backstage adrenaline, the roar of the audience following the performance, and the desire to get back out there just one more time. It would take many years of dancing, teaching dance, and university studies to realise this was a feeling I could not leave behind. However, being plagued by a body which struggled with the physical demands of dance - as much as the heart was there, the physique lagged behind, I found myself visiting a Physiotherapist multiple times a week versus the ability to take on the professional world. Now if only there were Physiotherapists who understood this world?
And cue Dance Physiotherapist.
Following completion of my Physiotherapy program, it took me so long to actually pursue what interested me: artistic athletes, performing arts, and athletes. It took nearly the first 7 years of working in other areas of Physiotherapy to finally start to work with the world that I love. And then I took a leap of faith, quit my very secure, permanent position and moved 758km to work with professional dancers. This led me down my current path of entrepreneurship and more adventure. And what an adventure it has been. There are so many stories, both inspiring and devastating that have made up my career to date.
And cue Behind the Curtain.
Behind the Curtain blog has launched for the aspiring dancer, dedicated teacher, passionate dance studio owner, coach or directors, dance parents, performing artists, and those curious about what is involved to get a performer to be healthy, stay healthy and injury free, and get themselves on stage. So, let's take a backstage tour together on the ins and outs, the challenges and rewards, and the life of a Physiotherapist where the "show must go on."
And cue, the show must go on...
-Sara Lawson, Dance Physiotherapist/Entrepreneur
Clinic Director and Dance Physiotherapist, Sara Lawson has a special interest in artistic athletes and dance medicine. Sara has worked as a Physiotherapist for many years with a variety of high end athletes, performing artists, and in a variety of fields of Physiotherapy. Join her in exploring behind the scenes of performance and dance Physiotherapy as a clinician and business owner. Behind the Curtain is meant to be an informative, raw, and open platform discussing the challenges and rewards of this industry where the show must always go on.