Chronic Illness

Shadow Dancers


We are here, behind the curtain.


You see our shadows, dancing.

We’ve shown up, put on our costumes.

We look just like you. You, who get to dance on the other side of the curtain; the side with the bright lights.

But we aren’t just like you.

We are different: we dance with chronic pain. We dance with chronic illness.

We smile and arch our arms, though our insides ache in misery.

Twirl. Our muscles contract and shudder. We hide the limp; turn the stumble into a pliè.

Our breath comes in harsh, heavy gasps. The wheezing cannot be heard over the blaring of the music.

We drop. The hardwood is cool against our feverish skin.

From the audience, it appears a graceful movement, part of the dance.

Struggle to stand on pointe. Our lungs heave with effort.

But we balance.

Careful. Concentrate.

Exhaustion fights us, threatens to drag us down. Heavy eyelids, unfocused.

We argue: I can’t give up. I have to do this. I will succeed.

We are dancers.

We win the battle, but are left with dark bruises. Scratches.


Tears form a drowsy trail down our faces.

It’s okay though. Nobody can see our streaked makeup, back here behind the curtain.

The tempo has slowed.

Our bodies are battered, worn, and aching to rest.

Drenched in sweat.

I can’t do this. It’s too hard. It hurts.

Ah, but we must.

And then…then they come.

Pirouetting .

Closer and closer.

We link together. Arms crooked, elbow in elbow.

Together, we stand.

Together, we bow.

And we continue to dance, here in the shadows.

It is beautiful here, on this side of the curtain.


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