A Dancer's Body - Darius Crenshaw on recovering from knee surgery (2 of 6)

Ballet and Theater Dancer, Darius Crenshaw on recovering from knee surgery (pt 2 of 6)

It feels as though going into month two of my recovery had a great start. Since it started with me walking without crutches, there’s a sense that my progress has taken a quantum leap so to speak. I’m also aware that this will feel like the biggest step in my recovery. Going from virtual immobility to walking without assistance is a liberating feeling. That being said, while, in the process of recovery, it’s hard to separate the intellectual from the visceral.

The first week and a half my physical therapist had me sticking with the current exercise regimen. Quad sets, leg curls, wall squats, “Jane Fonda”, plies on the reformer, etc. The exercises were going well, but walking did take a little getting used to. The muscles in that leg were getting stronger in the exercises, but the strength of the muscles working in concert for walking is a completely different story. At first, the objective is to walk normally without limping. That was challenging to achieve because all of the lower body muscles involved start from your hips and end all the way to your toes. In other words your entire lower body. The one thing I noticed right away for the first five days of walking was a moderate to intense tingling in my foot. Those foot muscles had definitely lost strength while I was on crutches. Even though I was training those muscles in the foot to become active again during the no weight bearing/very little weight bearing period, with a litany of exercises with and without a thera-band, the act of walking itself puts a specific type of stress on the body that can’t be simulated one hundred percent. So those first few days I limited my walking distance to six New York blocks a day, not all at once, and diligently remained conscious of my gate. The tingling sensation decreased substantially afterward, and the concerted strength of my leg and foot increased enough where I didn’t have to concentrate so much while ambulating.

After that week and a half my physical therapist started adding on more advanced exercises. One in particular that I love because of its application for technically strengthening my legs esthetically for a dancer is the reformer exercises involving the straps. I was given a series of exercises that included: plies in parallel, plies in first position, lowering/raising both legs in parallel, outside circular movement of both legs, and inside circular movement of both legs. I perform these exercises consecutively with ten repetitions for each exercise in three sets. Needless to say because of the difficulty of the group of exercises strung together I felt like I was going to die by the end of the first set alone. And in a strange way only a dancer or athlete can understand, that was a good feeling. The feeling of pushing your body slightly beyond its limits intrinsically your body feels like its regaining strength and range of motion. It’s pretty much analogous to regaining a superpower where muscle strength catches up to the body’s muscle memory. The next day I was woefully sore in places I hadn’t felt for a while but overall I was glad about it. Of course, I soaked in a warm bath with Epsom Salt for a few days which gave me a reprieve from the soreness that allowed me to continue doing the exercises.

Now I’ve gained enough strength where it feels like I’m flying through them now.
And then there are the exercises that feel counter-intuitive, as far as dance is concerned, but are essential for building strength nonetheless. With squats and heel bumps the objective is to perform the exercise with as much weight in your heels as possible. This allows the quads and the glutes to be targeted for building strength. In my classical training as a dancer, the objective is to keep the majority of your weight in the balls of your feet while dancing, so it took a little bit of time getting used to.

My body is slowly becoming active again with each week. It feels as if my body is reawakening which is a relief. I’m a third of the way into my journey, and so far it’s going swimmingly. It’s full speed ahead for month three!

Darius Crenshaw started dance and musical theater training at School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio. He started his professional career at Cincinnati Ballet at the age of 14 and later as a soloist. After graduating high school, Darius moved to New York to train with School of American Ballet in 1995. In 1997, he was invited to join New York City Ballet where he was a company member for eight years. His Broadway credits include The Color Purple (Broadway and 1st national tour), Phantom of the Opera, and Motown: The Musical. He also performed in the "American Opera Street Scene" with Toulon Opera in Toulon, France in the roles of Dick McGann and The Marshal. 

photos of Darius taken during a Physical Therapy session at NeuroSport Physical Therapy, NY.