Ask Amy: How Do I Come Back to Ballet After a Difficult Illness?

April 11, 2019

In December, I had pretty much every illness you can imagine: pneumonia, vertigo, flu, stomach virus. I had to drop out of
Nutcracker
because I kept fainting. Every time I try to come back, I take steps backwards. I’ve tried doing as much as I can in class, and I still almost pass out. I’ve lost so much strength, but dance is my life. What should I do? —Kayla

I completely understand that you’re worried about falling behind, but right now you need to prioritize your health. “Red flags that there’s a more serious problem going on include chest pains, light-headedness and fainting,” says Dr. Elizabeth Barchi, a physician with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. You want to be sure there isn’t an underlying issue affecting your immune system or cardiovascular system, such as anemia, low blood pressure or relative energy deficiency in sport. RED-S is a new, more comprehensive term for the female athlete triad, in which a dancer isn’t taking in enough calories to make up for the amount she’s burning through exercise; it can affect your ability to fend off viruses and infections and lead to a host of other health issues.

As for your ballet training,

be patient.

This is not the time to self-diagnose. If you haven’t already, make an appointment with a physician. “Start with a primary care doctor or a referral to a primary care sports medicine doctor,” says Barchi. By “sports medicine,” she doesn’t mean an orthopedic surgeon, but an athletic specialist with an education in pediatrics, family medicine or internal medicine. “In addition to other illnesses, they will be familiar with RED-S and how it affects different areas of the body,” says Barchi.

As for your ballet training, be patient. “If you’re close to fainting every time you dance, from a safety standpoint, you need to get that under control before you return to class,” says Barchi. If your doctor says it’s okay, try light aerobics, like walking, the stationary bike or the elliptical. Meanwhile, ask your ballet teachers if you can observe class and take notes as you regain your health. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling and what your doctor says you should and shouldn’t do. This shows that you understand your responsibility to take care of your instrument—an important quality in any dancer.

Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt at
askamy@dancemedia.com.