Raquel Meseguer, Co-Founder of Lost Dog, reflects on her journey from professional dancer, through injury, to developing projects that explore chronic pain in performance. She asks: “Can dance benefit people with chronic pain?”
I was on the set of PunchDrunk’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’ in 2007 when I first felt neurological symptoms in my right foot. What followed was a dizzying sequence: I was advised to stop dancing immediately and get a scan; I was diagnosed with a slipped disc and wasn’t to return to dance until the symptoms resolved; I consulted a whole host of medical professionals; I did all the rehab recommended and then some; and, after a year, I had keyhole surgery. I assumed I could find the cause, fix it and get back to where I’d been before the injury. I couldn’t conceive of, or accept, any other resolution.
So, after the surgery didn’t work, I listened to the health professionals’ advice I wanted to hear, took medication and went back to professional dance. But the stress this caused, and worsening symptoms, lead me to finally face facts and stop performing in 2010. I wish I could say the transition was smooth but I spent years struggling with how to manage the symptoms, now recognised as chronic pain, and how to adapt to a new life and identity. I was at a loss as to what it meant to live a good life in the midst of pain.
It’s only now, 10 years after the injury, that I am open to a different resolution, and to the creative potential in difference. Re-reading Adam Benjamin’s brilliant book on inclusive dance, “Making An Entrance”, I can see it was there all the time (the book is full of pencil markings from my eager student days), but agreeing in principle and actually embracing inclusivity are worlds apart.
Now I am drawing on my experience of dance practices like Adam’s to puzzle out how dance might help my chronic pain. I have a hunch it is a better way for me to stay mobile than physio because the emphasis isn’t on fixing but on how I navigate the difficulty creatively: I can play with the use of weight and rhythm to move efficiently in space; improvisation engages my imagination and problem solving; and, if I am disciplined, I can play with what is possible day to day, working with my physical nuances, rather than in spite of them.
I also have a hunch that dancing could prove to have benefits similar to those widely recognised for people who dance with Parkinson’s, including improved motor control and confidence in one’s own body. And then dancing with others is the oldest of traditions, decreasing feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
I will have the chance to test these hunches when I work with a group of people with chronic pain, to create ‘Someone Should Start Laughing,’ later this summer. This immersive piece will tell our stories through dance, dialogue, touch, silence and laughter. Because, even though I am in pain, I still need to laugh and dance as much as ever. Maybe more.