Yasemin Kayabay's Inspirational Recovery Journey

  • Yasemin Kayabay's Inspirational Recovery Journey
30 May 2024

This blog post narrates the challenges faced by Yasemin Kayabay, a second-year student at the Royal Ballet Upper School in London, during her injury recovery process and how she overcame them. Injury is a test of both physical and mental endurance, especially for dancers. In this post, Yasemin details how technological devices like the Compex Muscle Stimulator, EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation), and customized nutrition plans contributed to her recovery process. She also discusses how Pilates and Strength & Conditioning workouts enhanced her physical strength and flexibility. Now, let's take a look at the blog written by a new-generation dancer for the new-generation brand, Lagun Dancewear.

I’m Yasemin Kayabay, I’m seventeen years old and I’m currently a second year student at the Royal Ballet Upper School in London. This blog will reflect on the second year of my training at the Royal Ballet Upper School. Since commencing my second year, I have gained a significant amount of knowledge as well as physical and mental strength. Although, I never expected to encounter an injury along my path this year, I see how much I have grown not only as an artist but also as a person from my injured time and rehabilitation process. As I reflect on my past months, it becomes easier to see the invaluable assets I have gained such as a deeper understanding of anatomy, a broader cross-training regimen, and increased mental resilience. These enhancements have not only directly benefited my ballet skills but will also continue to support me throughout my career.  

 It could be said that the biggest contributing factor to my injury was workload: “monitoring training load is a vital component of athlete/dancer welfare, especially as dancers perceive that the main cause of injury is fatigue/overwork” (Wyon et al, 2011). 

Attending rehearsals and performances for Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, performing my Lynn Seymour solo ‘Cinque’ in Chairman’s Circle performance and preparing for the preprofessional year audition shows a significant increase in my workload throughout December to February until the build-up of the audition on the 8th of February. I took part in the assessment while pushing through my distal fibular pain and now reflecting back on my data of workload through the SmartaBase app, I have a deeper understanding of the connection of overload to my stress fracture. 

 Although I was experiencing pain, the most important was to get into the third year and as I pushed the overload signals of pain to the back corner, I was solely focusing on improving my ballet technique. After the third-year audition in February, we rapidly moved onto the Paquita rehearsals. I was happy to get a good part and could not help myself but join the rehearsals with excitement towards the summer performances. I was also pushing myself because the half-term break was approaching and thought that if I would rest for a week my pain would go away. Following that busy period, we had our half-term break which I took a complete break to make the pain go away. However, when I came back from the holiday nothing had really changed as I could still feel the tenderness around my ankle. Discussing the situation with my physiotherapist Ms. Galvan, the decision was made that the best for me would be to get an MRI scan. With my scan results, I learned that the pain I sustained for a long time was a Fredericson grade 4a intra cortical stress fracture distal fibula. I was able to manage the pain while performing, therefore had high hopes of receiving good results. However, the results were disappointing because it meant that I had at least 3 months before I could be fully back to dancing. It terrified me to think about what could happen if I had decided to continue for longer as I finally knew it was the right time to prioritise my health. 

  This has taught me several things. First of all, although injuries are hard to experience, I am now glad to have a new understanding of perspective in ballet to help me focus and understand my body better. Recovering with a positive attitude has been the most important step and the hardest aspect of all was being patient as I waited until I could dance again. After having a medical boot on for 1 month, even walking again seemed like a big step to take, but gradual exercises and slowly building my workload up ensured my confidence on the journey of the injury.   

Not only has my injury increased my passion for ballet, but also my passion for the ‘unique balance between athlete and artist’ (Gottschlich and Young, 2011).  

 Ignoring any component of a diverse training program for a dancer can be harmful; each aspect plays a crucial role for nurturing a long and sustainable career in dance. As I focused on Pilates and Strength & Conditioning, I spent a lot of time doing strength and flexibility training as well as floor barre and balance work in our school’s gym. I engaged in activities that helped in maintaining cardiovascular fitness such as using the Stationary Bicycles and the SkiErg for muscle strength without excessive impact on the injured leg.  

 During the time I had my medical boot on, I was not able to use my muscles around my left calf and customising the strength modes in the Compex Muscle Stimulator allowed a targeted strengthening of specific muscle groups while helping me in preventing muscle atrophy by Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS). This stimulation ‘elicits skeletal muscle contractions through percutaneous electrodes that depolarise underlying motor nerves’ (Hasegawa et al). Supporting this statement, Ms. Galvan guided me on the program selection and the intensity levels of the Compex device for 12 weeks for ensuring a successful return to dancing.  

 Firstly, the muscle atrophy mode helped in stimulating the calf muscles that was likely to experience atrophy due to decreased activity from immobilisation. EMS provided aid in the healing process as it also improved blood circulation in the area with its help of delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the injured tissues for promoting faster recovery. Then the reinforcement mode assisted me in gradually rebuilding strength, and as the last step I was able to move onto the strength mode which was crucial for preparing my muscles for the demands of dance training.  

 Before I could complete the full ballet class there were many stages and steps to take on board; consulting with the school’s sports nutritionist Mrs Gubb helped in developing a personalised nutrition plan that focused on bone health. As I took blood tests to make sure I had an adequate intake of vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 and other micronutrients essential for bone health, I ensured to take the necessary supplements such as collagen shots and increased the intake of calcium and protein-rich foods like dairy, meat and leafy greens for supporting muscle repair and overall recovery. As much as my nutrition, it was crucial to stay hydrated. I increased my water intake about 500ml a day which considerably benefited in reducing inflammation and nutrient transport, aiding both in movement and recovery process. 

  It was crucial to keep a healthy mindset towards recovery. At first, I found watching my classmates in ballet class mentally challenging. My biggest aspiration was to get up and dance, but I was not able to do so and was getting frustrated as I longed to perform. Yet, in retrospect, I am profoundly thankful for the alternative perspective this experience provided. I was able to notify the significance of artistry and presentation to audience members and while listening to corrections I imagined myself performing the steps. 

 Correspondingly, I implemented various coping strategies from our Psychology Degree coursework. As Miss Johnson suggested, I split my goals into steps and was able to differentiate my performance and process goals to enhance my performance by setting weekly targets to enhance self-efficacy, intrinsic interest and satisfaction as well as keeping my motivation high.  

 In March, I set a goal to recover and perform in the summer performances. That was my outcome goal and rather than being overwhelmed by the final step of my goal, I used imagery to think about how I would feel when I will be performing and although I was not able to execute the steps during the rehearsals. I imagined myself vividly which made me feel like I could dance the piece immediately. This way I greatly enhanced my confidence for a strong come back to dancing. 

 I had always found imagery as a crucial part for maximising improvement. However, it was only when I got injured that I started incorporating the skill in my daily treatment regimen. Using imagery is very effectıve as it feels very close to the reality of actually performing the step. Supporting Korn’s (1994) statement, ‘Such images can facilitate the athletes' obtaining the mindset required for a return to optimal levels of performance, as well as helping bring closure to the entire injury experience.’  

 As I bring closure to my injury experience, despite the challenges of a fibular stress fracture, I was able to develop a stronger appreciation for the intricacies of ballet technique and its training through my rehabilitation. The most significant takeaway from this experience is learning to prioritise my health and well-being while deepening my understanding of athleticism and artistry along with the significance of mental resilience. Determined to get the most out of my time during my recovery, I could confidently say that I learned a lot through my recovery process. Being able to self-reflect assisted me in gaining invaluable insights from implementing cross-training and knowledge from our degree course to serve me throughout the rest of my life for a balanced lifestyle alongside a healthy and a long career. 

Figure 4 & 5: MRI Result. ‘Complete resolution  of the previously seen Fredericson 4a stress response oof the left distal fibula’. 18/05/2024 


Closing and Thank You Note:

 We would like to thank Yasemin Kayabay for her contribution to our series. For us dancers, the injury process can often be challenging and exhausting. During this time, it is crucial not to succumb to negative feelings and, as Yasemin highlighted, to maintain a positive outlook and keep dreaming. Yasemin's experiences and sincerity inspire us to overcome this difficult process. Yasemin's insights offer us a valuable perspective on how to approach the physical and mental challenges we face as dancers. I wish Yasemin success in her future endeavors. For our dear readers who want to follow her exceptional talent and inspiring posts, I am leaving the link to her Instagram profile below. It is truly exciting to witness Yasemin's achievements and to be on this journey with her. Until the next blog, goodbye...

Yasemin Kayabay's instagram profile


Author: Yasemin Kayabay

Editor: Lagun Sengelen


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