This Is Why I Punched The Walls At Dance ClassAug 24, 2020
Our 2-minute break had started and most people dashed to get some fluids but I was different. I walked over to the wall, stared it down, and unleashed a slow flurry of punches.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Don’t try this at home.
Whenever someone asked about it, I brushed them off with a laugh. They knew my martial arts background so I explained it away through that. “I’m just keeping my adrenaline pumping”. As if punching walls was a perfectly normal way to do this. I’m not sure I convinced many people. They saw me fighting a wall but not the battle in my mind.
After the break, the team would begin a run-through of our 8-minute Bhangra dance routine. Those unfamiliar with the style, it’s highly energetic and stamina is key to putting on a good show. All while maintaining a smile as part of the beauty of dance is doing something difficult and making it look effortless.
When others might collapse to the floor after the routine, I took care to stand strong. I wanted to craft the image of fitness and power to hide the thoughts racing through my brain. I annoyingly made sure everyone knew about it too to cover myself. Yet my body was in pain and I struggled to deal with it mentally.
My leg muscles are so tight it feels like they are being crushed by a boa constrictor. Niggles in my joints are in that dark corridor where they aren’t quite bad enough for me to be certain a tear was coming but I can’t be sure it isn’t. Months of sacrifice and hard work could be over in these 8 minutes if my foot lands awkwardly one time.
The wall is calling to me. It takes supreme focus to punch concrete and not damage your hand. The focus that doesn’t allow me to register my pain elsewhere or think about hypotheticals. There’s knuckle alignment, wrist alignment, elbow positioning, distance judgment, speed judgment. Each punch is a success and a small victory for my mind over matter.
My chest is welled up with anger. Not at anyone else but at myself. I hate the weakness that limits my potential. I’m furious I can’t be who I’ve trained to be. Somehow manifesting my internal struggle feels productive even though logic tells me it’s not.
I was diagnosed with multiple-enchondromatosis when I was a kid. Yes, it took me a long time to learn how to spell it and I was too scared to ask the doctor for a piece of paper with it written down. It’s a random mutation and non-hereditary in case my future baby mama is reading this.
Long story short, it means I have excess cartilage in my joints, especially my knees which tightens up the surrounding tendons and ligaments making them more likely to snap and tear. 10 years before the dance class, the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to play sport at a high level again. I’d have saved myself many injuries if I listened instead of becoming addicted to an active lifestyle.
I proceeded as if nothing was wrong even when my knee ballooned to the size of a watermelon. I did stupid things like fighting in karate tournaments when I couldn’t put weight on one leg. There’s a simple reason I couldn’t let go and why I pushed through the pain barrier so regularly.
I come from a culture that admires strength and power. My heritage is Panjabi, which is a Northern region in India. You might not have heard of us but we have 21 warriors who make King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans look like cowards. Even today Panjab ranks third for the number of soldiers recruited per 1000 population. The glory in being tough has traveled with Panjabi people wherever they’ve settled in the world.
This subconscious conditioning makes feeling weak harder to bear. It means our men hide their emotions to fit in. Despite greater awareness creeping in, many of the old attitudes persist. For previous generations, the only “cool” way to deal with mental struggles was through alcohol. We literally have a hit song with a line saying “alcohol will never leave you” aimed at someone after a breakup. This kind of language is more the rule than the exception.
Too many men in my community are shortening their lives because they believe they shouldn’t open up. What will the random aunty whose name you can’t remember think?
This attitude carries over to the Bhangra world. A dance that is supposed to be pure ecstasy and happiness can take a toxic turn when it comes to competition. For many, the team mentality is a great boost to their wellbeing. Yet it can be a trap too. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices then you’re letting the team down or not mentally tough enough. Martyrdom takes over and it’s almost a badge of honor to train so hard you get injured.
I made it to the competition and danced my little heart out. I’d like to pretend afterward I changed and opened up but a thought kept nibbling away at my mind. I did all this while in pain, what was my potential without my limitations?
It took several more months but I realized I couldn’t shift my mindset while I was training multiple times a week. I’d attached too much of my self-worth to my performance in what was meant to be a hobby. Ironically it degraded my dancing as I was too tense and trying too hard. I became easy to irritate in the heat of the moment over small things. Days later I’d see how I could have acted in a much better way. I don’t remember what the breaking point was.
I’d leave a void if I just stopped dancing so I shifted my focus to yoga instead. I replaced one obsession with another but yoga’s non-competitive nature constrained how much I could create my own problems. The breathing exercises and mindset of self-acceptance in yoga slowly broke down my walls. More than anything, the knowledge I was doing the right thing, and looking after myself helped me immensely. If you’re beating yourself up, find one small thing you can do to take care of yourself.
The itch to dance again never went away but my motives had changed. I still danced about the house to my favorite songs and craved the high of pulling off a challenging routine to music I loved. I realized I never gave people the chance to show how they’d react to me needing to put my wellbeing first. It was all about me and the pressure I was putting on myself as no one had ever actually judged me for my injuries.
I decided the only way to take back control was to tell people. If you’ve experienced anything like me then you should try it too. It wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I imagined. Anyone who reacts badly isn’t someone you want in your life anyway. Now whenever I let slip any signs of pain, my captain is quick to tell me to take it easy. It is such a small act but can make such a difference. It disarms my need to prove myself. This is the whole reason I started dancing and it brings joy back into my life.