Ballet Dancer, Teacher, Sarah Hammer Embraces Massage to Maintain Good Health

Sarah HammerIt is dark. All you see before you is the lushness of a red velvet curtain. All you hear is the thrumming of your heart in your ears, every nerve in your body standing on end. The smells of sweat and rosin mix with the unmistakable, musty scent of an old theater; all this begins to fill you, contributing to your nerves and excitement. It is all too familiar, yet somehow new every time you experience it.

The curtain lifts, the symphony springs to life, you take a deep breath and suddenly all you have ever known in life makes sense in your body in one moment. You inhale, and as you exhale, the music flows through your body and you begin to move, an ebb and flow of energy born of hours of rehearsal and pain, all culminating to this one moment of communication and pure joy.

Then you wake up one day and it is all gone. Everything you know and love. Your identity, gone. Injury, overuse, imbalance, exhaustion. Whatever you want to call it, dancing professionally cannot last forever.

My entire professional dancing career had one constant—injury. I have the many massage therapists, shiatsu practitioners, physical therapists and orthopedic doctors to thank for keeping me going as long as I could. I would enter the studio everyday and get an adjustment and a massage before my daily training and rehearsals began.

I developed a close professional relationship with my doctors and therapists, who shared with me a rich knowledge of kinesiology and self care. Thus I developed an interest in, and to this day remain fascinated by the ways in which treatment modalities such as massage therapy allow everyone, be they athlete or not, improve their quality of life.

After retirement at the age of 25, I decided to go back to school. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I felt a lot of pressure to insert myself into the professional world, to get a “real job”. This sort of thinking led me into 4 major changes. As I had spoiled myself by pursuing a career that fulfilled me in every way, I expected to find that same fulfillment immediately.

I could not have been more mistaken. Despite lacking a clear direction, I managed to accomplish fulfillment of a degree in General Studies with a minor in German and a certificate in event planning. At the conclusion of this part of my story, I still had no clue as to what my true purpose and professional calling would be.

Knowing that I needed to start paying back the large sum of student loans I had accumulated, I immediately started looking for a job. I had been working part time at a parks and recreation facility and teaching ballet during school, but I wanted to pursue a career. I love teaching dance, and still do on a regular basis, but the hours are difficult and inconvenient, and one cannot live on this source of income alone. Subsequently, I took a position as a customer service representative at a dance wear manufacturer.

Working in customer service has allowed me to polish my professional communication skills, and has given me invaluable experience. It has also allowed for a great deal of self-reflection and has brought me to a striking conclusion: I hate working at a cubicle, day in and day out. My typical day consists of me working in the cube seven-thirty until four, followed by driving directly to my ballet school.

All told, I work from seven-thirty in the morning until nine at night, and this tedious and extended schedule has finally taken its toll, and I am ready to make a professional leap. I am yearning for a career where I can tailor my work hours, have face-to-face contact with my customers, and to really feel that I am making a difference in their lives. Slinging leotards for a living does not really give me that. I love working hard and long hours, but if the work doesn’t give back to you what you put in it, it is diminishing and exhausting.

Becoming a massage therapist would fulfill a life-long need to help other dancers and athletes in need of care. I believe that massage therapy is an essential part of any athlete’s training regimen, no matter how old you are. Even though I am retired, I still require regular adjustments and massage therapy on a regular basis. I have a deep desire to give back to the dance and athletic community in a very real way. This is my number one motivation for becoming a massage therapist. The human body, and what it is capable of, fascinates me. To contribute to that and help people reach their athletic and health goals would be amazing and personally fulfilling.

I also look forward to the flexibility I believe massage therapy would afford me. I love traveling and meeting new people and I desire a career that will fulfill me professionally, but allow me to set my own hours. I am a very self-motivated person, and I know that with my work ethic, I can make this career work for me. I am looking forward to career that fits my life—not the other way around. I need my career to contribute to my well-being.

Being a professional dancer has afforded me a unique perspective unlike any other. Due to my heightened body and spatial awareness, I am able to listen to and internalize specific issues and to explore therapies from within. I already have base-line knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and I look forward to expanding on that in my education. I plan on specializing in deep tissue sports massage. Having a career in massage therapy will fulfill my curiosity and need to understand the human body and movement.

Through all my aspirations, I do understand that I will need to work very hard and make sacrifices to make this happen. My main concern is paying for school. I have qualified for student loans for about 78% of my tuition, but this will add $7,000 to my already imposing student loans. I am working tirelessly to piece together scholarships and grants to help offset this loan. It is with an anxious mind I consider taking on more student loan debt. However, the knowledge that the massage therapy profession is growing does put me at ease.

Like anyone, job security and stability is a real concern. There is a great deal of research that would suggest that Massage Therapy is a growing and thriving industry. Sources such as the US Department of Labor, the American Massage Therapy Association and of course MTSI have provided enough solid data to support my decision.

The national employment trend for massage therapists shows a 22% increase from 2014 to 2022. (“Occupation Profile: Massage Therapist”). This is significant growth and is an indicator of stability. Further, I am focusing on sports and medical massage, which is becoming a more accepted form of treatment for serious medical conditions.

Fifty two percent of those surveyed by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) in 2015 stated that they received a massage to treat a medical ailment. Seventy two percent believe that it should be, “considered a form of healthcare.” (“Consumer Views of Massage Therapy”) These findings are encouraging as our healthcare system is going through a state of fluidity. AMTA also found in a consumer survey that 17% of doctors actually referred patients to a massage therapist, and 54% encouraged them to seek out massage therapy. (“Consumer Views of Massage Therapy”).

It is also important to me that I have support, post graduation. I believe that it is very important to continue one’s education and to keep learning and growing in your profession. The massage therapy profession seems to provide a lot of this support. Seminars, conferences and other forms of continuing education are a large part of being a massage therapist.

For this reason, I am confident in a lifelong career in massage therapy. My dream would be to work with a professional dance company one day, as many companies have therapy rooms right inside the rehearsal studios. I am encouraged to learn new theories in dance injury prevention and rehabilitation and to learn and grow within my craft. I foresee a life full of learning, growing and expanding on the profession.

I know that massage therapy is my future. Ballet was my first love, and I feel that it is essential to be happy in your occupation in order to be fulfilled in life. I believe that massage therapy is my calling. Through helping others achieve their goals, increasing wellness and finding fulfillment in a lifetime of education, I will achieve a sense of professional and personal fulfillment. Nothing will ever replace that moment on stage, but expanding my mind and helping others will be a whole new and satisfying experience.

Works Cited:

“Occupation Profile: Massage Therapist.” O*NET OnLine External Site. U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 31 July 2016.

“Consumer Views & Use of Massage Therapy.” — American Massage Therapy Association. American Massage Therapy Association, Oct. 2015. Web. 31 July 2016.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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