Back on Stage with RE/TURN
November 29, 2021
Hubbard Street Dancer Jacqueline Burnett, photo by Frank Ishman.
by Hubbard Street Dancer Jacqueline Burnett, originally written for Athletico Physical Therapy
I left behind my “performance-ready” body two hours before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s opening night at the Harris Theater on March 12th, 2020. We had completed technical rehearsal, and I was about to see Madeline G., Athletico Performing Arts Physical Therapist, who was waiting for dancers needing one last moment of help before lifting the curtain for an extremely physical evening of dance. Just then, our directors came to the stage and announced the show would be cancelled due to a city-wide response to Covid-19. The following 20 months turned into a completely different lifestyle, and now Hubbard Street has finally returned to the theater this past weekend with a live theater audience.
For more than a year, I became a “virtual dancer.” I converted my full-time athletic, contact-sport job with daily onsite physical therapy into an at-home, online Zoom call that gathered in-person for only very brief periods to shoot dance films for online streaming. Only in the past few months have I gradually returned to some of the normalcy of being a professional dancer. I have needed every minute of training in the studio, at home, and in the clinic with Athletico physical therapists to rediscover the endurance, agility, awareness, and focus that dancing requires.
I was grateful to be employed as a “virtual dancer.” I moved every day, connected with others online, and collaborated to create beautiful films that would long outlast my dancing body. My husband, also a dancer, and I became masters of transforming our home into a stage performance.
Returning to the Studio
When it was safe to go to a studio in small groups, we divided our dance floor into socially distant quadrants. We relished in our movements – shifting weight with speed, jumping, dropping to the ground, turning, kicking, all without fear of smacking a dresser or countertop or irritating downstairs neighbors. In these coveted moments, we felt our physical potential. Usually, we’d spend only a few days together as a full company just before and during a film shoot, and we appreciated that time of sharing space, whether it was a grassy field, a parking lot, or at home. We could rehearse what we do best – make real-time decisions with our dancing bodies to create magic, only now for a screen. These short bursts of physical output were encouraging and enlightening. I recognized that I had lost muscle mass, but my coordination, range of motion, and form were intact, and I had what I needed for the work at hand. I was used to having access to a gym, now regulated to my living room for exercise.
The vaccine rolled out just in time for summer break. I kicked into high gear for two months, anticipating Hubbard Street’s August return with all my favorite cross-training activities – hiking, biking, and kayaking. I also spent July in a studio with six professional dancers (who also had lived the “virtual dance” life) to create two new pieces for film.
I knew the return to in-person Hubbard Street would be challenging as the demands of a repertory company are high (we had already moved between seven pieces of choreography, each with unique, intricate physical requirements). I was unprepared for how much rebuilding my body would need. I pulled it off for about ten days and was shocked by my lack of soreness, but then I started to encounter incidents like tripping, rolling an ankle, and buckling over my toes, and I knew that I needed help.
Choreographer Aszure Barton rehearses dancers Jacqueline Burnett and Michael Garcia in BUSK. Photo by David Schultz.
How Physical Therapy Helped My Return to the Stage
The many maintenance strategies I’d developed with Athletico physical therapists over the years were too complex for my body as it was not in peak physical condition. I noticed when consulting with physical therapists that my words were very general. I was missing the keen body awareness I once had and estimated that at least 30% of my dancing body had become dormant. The muscles that I did have had very little endurance, and the high-level proprioception I depended on was nearly non-existent.
Luckily, the incredibly skillful hands and mind of Julie O., Performing Arts Manager, along with the rest of the Athletico team, immediately recognized the symptoms of my chronic injuries and helped me put the pieces together. They met me where I was, not where they once knew me and prompted me to work methodically to return to my dance ability. They reminded me that I must start from a simple place to achieve the complexity I needed, and they guided me through every step. Day by day, minute by minute, I am returning to my dancer self and am “performance ready” once again, thrilled to experience the stage’s adrenaline, precision, exchange of energy, and enchantment!
Physical therapy is usually the thing you are told to do after medication, x-rays or even surgery. But what if the best way to fix your aches and pains is to start with physical therapy? If you experience any aches or pains, click the link below to request a free assessment from our Season Partner, Athletico Physical Therapy. Free assessments are available in-clinic or virtually through their Telehealth platform.