Answering the question, "How are you?"
This week i need to start off by saying we skipped last week’s blog post in the aftermath of a mass shooting that took place in the neighborhood where we live and work and spend the bulk of our time. I tried to write the blog post as I always do on Saturday morning, but nothing seemed to matter quite as much as what was going on in our city. I won’t dwell on that here, but one of our priorities as coaches is to acknowledge the truth with transparency.
For our readers outside of the United States, I know it must seem peculiar that an “advanced” industrialized nation like ours can’t seem to prevent violent men from gaining access to weapons of war and shooting innocent civilians in our streets. We find this to be peculiar and infuriating and, to be candid, predictable at this point. The most dreadful clock is ticking until the next man, probably white, probably with a demonstrated hatred of women, grabs a weapon of war and decides to kill people.
What gave me life during the week after the shooting was working with and talking to dancers. I mean that with sincerity and not as an attempt at some smooth transition into the normalcy of this blog space. It’s true. Perhaps the only time I can remember not thinking about the shooting and why I was lucky and nine people were not is when I was working with our dancers.
I’ve often talked about the extraordinary sense of duty we have when anyone trusts us with their body. An iron worker with old injuries or a single mom or a couple trying to get in shape together. They’re all walking into our studio and saying, “I need help with my body. I trust you with this process.” There is no higher compliment in my field.
I’ll admit, however, when a professional dancer or an aspiring professional says the same thing, there is an added layer of responsibility. The subtext of what’s being said there is “I am a dancer. I use my body for my art and to make a living. Please help me with it, but remember, if you’re not attentive or thoughtful or rigorous or as knowledgeable as I’m hoping, your mistake could end my career.”
The shooting happened late on a Saturday night, early on Sunday morning. On Tuesday I trained a dancer with the Dayton Ballet. A thunderstorm punctuated our session, and in between sets I do what I often do when I’m nervous or out of sorts: I asked her a million questions. Who inspires you? Why? What moves you? What are you afraid of?
But we also talked about her body. Her specific needs. How she's feeling. How prepared she feels going into the season. Where she needs work. What struck me after our session was how, even with such a dark backdrop, my work with her that day managed to capture why we’ve decided to focus on helping dancers.
When terrible things happen in the world, sometimes there’s a need to pause everything. It was difficult to write programming for clients because why does a squat progression really matter? So the gift of having a dancer in the studio on that Tuesday was that her season is still coming. New choreography is still coming. Rehearsals are still coming. Her career is still ongoing. Her body still has professional needs. And we were able to focus on all of that for an hour and it was a gift.
Our biggest investment at the studio over the last two years has been in professional development. Certifications, conferences, discussions around our table. Group texts. Shared Instagram posts. Podcasts. This is all critical. But the last two weeks have reminded us all that our first priority as coaches is to the human being standing in front of us. I don’t think there’s enough of that humanity in the strength and conditioning world, and I don’t think there’s enough of it in the dance world. That ballerina is a human being doing the best she can under extraordinary pressure. How is she?
Throughout the last two weeks, the people in our neighborhood have been more honest than usual with one another. “Can I have a hug?” Or, “I’m not eating.” Or, “I’m not ready to go back to work.” I think this is good. And I also think it’s good that people have been willing to say, “I don’t know” or “just okay” when the question is “How are you?”
I begin every training session by asking clients how they’re feeling. But because people have learned not to answer the question “How are you?” honestly, I’ve altered that phrase some. I”ll ask, “how is your body feeling?” so that I can avoid rote answers and catch phrases. But I’m recommitting myself to asking the real question in such a way that I can elicit honest answers.
“How are you?”
If the most important contribution we ever make to the dance world is making it okay to answer that question honestly, then I think we will have done something really important.
If you’re interested in reading more about our approach, you can be the first to find out about our Dancer’s Guide to Strength & Conditioning, coming this Fall 2019. Go here for more information.