BEING GOOD AT BEING ILL - Northern School of Contemporary Dance


6 October 2021
By Eleni Green

I’m lying in bed, I’m fine.

I’m doing research on being sick to distract myself.

I feel ok.

When I’m horizontal.

I’m missing technique class and I need to improve my technique.

I’m about to miss partner work and I love partner work.

I’m angry.

I feel lazy.

I’m too tired to be angry.

I know that the stairs will make me dizzy but my classmates will make me happy.

I know my adrenaline could get me through.

But I’m staying in bed.

Week 3 back at school and everyone I have spoken to has already been ill – some sort of freshers’ flu, encouraged by heavy breathing and post-isolation immune systems. Being ill is complicated for everyone but when you love what you do, it gets even more complicated. The thing about being ill at dance school is that you can feel that both your options are wrong. We live in an atmosphere of pushing ourselves and trying to find out what our bodies are capable of. Thankfully, at least at NSCD, we also live in an environment that tells us that human beings are not infinite and that we need to work sustainably.  So what do you do? My advice in 2 steps:

1. Convince yourself (and I mean, completely, on all levels, because illness guilt takes up more energy than getting better) that you need to rest. I have found that (even uncited) science and reflection on past experience might help with this.

Something that is very important to remember is that exercise will temporarily suppress your immune system. This means that symptoms such as fevers, aches, pain and weakness, which are often signs that your immune system is working, may actually disappear while you are moving. This does not mean that the bacteria/virus has been combated, it just means that your body is diverting its energy into pirouettes instead of protecting your tissues. Doesn’t sound productive, does it?

Many of you will have been dancing or moving for many years. It is likely that you will have gone to class ill before. I definitely have and it’s true that you get some sort of kick out of, ‘pushing through’ and showing up. I will tell you that, sadly, no one else impressed by your commitment. They are probably irritated that you are happy to risk them also becoming ill for your personal gain. If you have been to class ill, you will also know that it was not your best work. Dizzy, coughing uncontrollably and exhausted – these things are not conducive to making progress in your dancing. So maybe you could do it, but it is likely that it wont help your dancing and will hurt your body, and make you ill for longer, thus also making you less productive in future classes.

So, what is really going on? Why do so many of us feel the need to put ourselves through this illogical trauma?

I think it’s because we love the discipline of our training and that’s ok. But ignoring illness is not.

In conclusion, think about your symptoms and your previous dancing sick-days, remember that no one should be assessing you on your immune system and that no 1/2/3 days of training will change your ability to be whatever you want to be.

2. Set yourself a new challenge. Remember that rest requires discipline. Try to see being ill as an opportunity to improvise around limitations.

Some suggestions:

  • I challenge myself to stay in bed all day.
  • I challenge myself to eat easy, healthy foods like fruit, leafy greens and honey, instead of the comfort foods that I normally want when I’m ill.
  • I challenge myself to use this opportunity to start hydrating more regularly.
  • I challenge myself to read a book.
  • I challenge myself to focus on mindfulness and active rest, rather than distract myself with TV or social media or YouTube.
  • I challenge myself to use the time that I don’t spend asleep to learn something new, in a restful way.

I have written this blog because I have been ill every year of my life, most people have, and I have often been very, very bad at it. I would feel so terrible about taking rest that I wouldn’t actually rest and then feel guilty for not properly using my rest time and still having to ask for more. What a dull spiral. This year is the first time I feel that I have been productively ill – that I have used the time to progress as a person. I would love to hear that none of you need this information because you all have healthy attitudes to being healthy but I don’t think that is yet the case so I hope that this helps, even if just a little bit.

Let me know if you have any advice to add or to dispute.