We are pleased to introduce Darla and her story to our readers – Darla’s shares how hard work helped her succeed when she began dance as a teen and how she has survived injuries to continue to grow as a dancer! Please join me in wishing her continued success and encouragement. Here is her story…
“My story starts when I started ballet. I was 13 and although 5 years in gymnastics had contributed to my flexibility, ballet I soon found was a whole other ball game. I remember watching advanced classes and falling in love with the elegant discipline and modest beauty in the control of the movements. Everyone said it’s impossible to have a serious career unless you start very young, but being athletically inclined and very determined I decided to work hard everyday and learn the basics. When I was 14 I was caught up to beginner pointe level and began to feel good about my decision to dance. I excelled in modern more than ballet at first because its leniency in technique allowed me to let go and really express the deep and emotionally advanced side of me. When I was fourteen and a half my mom and I were hit head on in our car right in the intersection of my dance studio. The head on collision totaled the car, cracked my mom’s knee (surgery was inevitable) and left me with damaged nerves in my left hip/groin area and a slightly rotated pelvis. My mom was a single mom who worked 60-70 hours a week to give me a nice house to live in and to keep my in ballet, tap, jazz, and modern 5-6 days a week. She also paid for next 3 years of intense and very painful physical therapy to adjust and strengthen my hip and pelvis to its original alignment. It has been a life long injury but I have learned little tricks- a little high-maintenance, but all part of being a professional athlete. Without that I never would have been good enough to audition and be accepted into the Alvin Ailey Dance School’s Professional Certificate program in New York City.
I have learned a sense of self worth and humility through my persistence and dedication. I am a strong believer that happiness only comes when you are constantly searching for the light and working toward reaching your own potential- and in my life dance does this for me. Two years ago I had a rollerblading accident and got a compressor fracture in my lower back/pelvis region. It took one year to heal and I have spent the last year regaining strength and flexibility. Some days the pain is discouraging, but then the heating and icing and stretching does what it’s meant to and I feel whole again- and I might add quite free! I am about 15 degrees away from my full extension that I had before the accident and its actually turning out to be an exciting journey of self discovery and amazement in how much the body can take, how much it can recover from and how much the heart of a dancer has to do with it. Thank you for hearing my story!”
Photo Credit: Gene Guynn
If you or someone you know would like to be featured in our pointe project series please email us at email@example.com
The Pointe Project is currently featuring a monthly story about a dancer who has battled their way back to the barre. Our first feature is from Noelle Anderson, and here she states in her own words why dance has been and is so important to her and how, despite adversity, she found a way to dance.
“If you should lose your way, start back at your beginning.”
I started ballet when I was 4 and currently I have my own dance company: Rubans Rouges Dance Company. I had to leave dance for awhile when I had gotten ill with various ailments, including breast cancer. Nothing is more humbling than a dancer not being able to use her legs to move and express herself. My body was my instrument and my body my voice. While sick, I pretty much resigned myself to having periods of bedridden illness that would be peppered with a few days of health. However, please know this: I would not change my being ill for anything in the world because I’ve come to have great compassion for broken hearts, wounded souls, the sick, the poor, the lonely, the unlikeliest heroes and heroines because of what I’ve gone through. If it was not for my trials and hardships, my dancing would not be what it is now.
After one of my battles with cancer, I returned to ballet class. I remembered the words of my grandmother: “If you should lose your way, start back at your beginning.” Dance was my beginning, specifically: Ballet. So there I was back in a ballet class. It was challenging with some days filled with sorrow, some days were triumphant heralds of victory, and then some days still I found myself so fatigued that my body needed more rest than I liked.
Dance has always helped me express things that words could not. One memorable moment was when one of my teachers in class said “I’ll help you fight.” This touched my heart deeply. This fight currently goes on because I’m not finished yet and have a long way to go to build up my body. Dance has pushed me to achieve greater heights and learn more about human nature and its complexities and mysteries. Dance has given me a unique opportunity to reach out to other broken hearts and encourage them. Being told that I couldn’t do it, made me much stronger. I don’t want to ever say that I’ve “arrived” or rest on any laurels gained, but I am grateful that I can dance again. I’ll never take it for granted that’s for certain. Being able to dance again is definitely a goal attained. I would tell all younger dancers: Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Trust your heart and your soul— Never stop dancing. Keep training and being open to new movement and ways to express yourself. Be kind and gracious to everyone. Never step on anyone’s toes and remember those who helped you on your journey.
Photo credit: Jay Kale
Dancer: Danielle Yasuda
Photo: Julie Pearl
Friends, thanks to an inspiring email from a fellow dancer I want to share with you my new plans for The Pointe Project. My back injury over the summer turned out to be related to the lupus when lesions in my spinal cord were discovered in an MRI. After six long months of no dancing
I cautiously returned to a beginner hip hop class on the last day of 2012 and it was like coming home. I hope that in time I will find my way back to ballet – in the meantime I have discovered a passion for photography – specifically dance photography and hopefully you have seen some of the images I have posted on GDLA along with inspiring dance quotes. This passion project allows my love of dance to grow. Today I was reminded of an idea I had right when I was on bed rest, when I was missing class and missing all the incredible men and women I had come to know while taking class. I felt they too had their stories about why they danced. In a previous post I talked about the dedication with which these adult dancers pursue their art all the while knowing they may never perform it for anyone outside our class. I want to tell these stories! I am looking for other adult ballet dancers who are pursuing a goal and would like to participate in this project – I want pointe project to be everyone’s project. Please reach out to us via the website or Facebook or our email firstname.lastname@example.org. Participation would include an interview and a photoshoot. I look forward to hearing from all of you and am excited to share your stories!
This is my first entry in almost two months. And it will be my last entry. My back injury, unfortunately, means no more ballet. This is the third time in my life that my body has asked me to ‘back off’ from dancing. When I was 13 and had to wear a back brace because of scoliosis and took a break from dance; and with my career ending back surgery in 2001, I was told it would be best if I did not dance again and took another long break. And now another injury. While I was on bed rest I decided I would be done with dance and that I needed to find a new passion, I thought of everything from starting piano, to learning a new language, swimming, going back to school. Really I was trying to do what I have done each and every other time my back has gotten in the way of me reaching a dance goal – break up with dance cold turkey – and pretend it means nothing to me. Today I realized that there is no breaking up with dance. If a company like Axis can exist, where individuals more disabled than I are finding expression through dance then there will be a way for me to be involved somehow. I just don’t know how yet. Today I watched my husband and my two year old dancing outside, laughing and having fun, and I hope that kind of dancing will be in my future. For now, I’ll be packing away my pointe shoes. Maybe I will save them for my daughter in case she wants them someday and if not I’ll have them as a reminder that life isn’t always about reaching the goal, sometimes it’s about the journey.
I’m writing in bed, with my back on a heating pad and my legs elevated trying to recover from a fairly debilitating back injury. This Monday I made the mistake of going to yoga instead of ballet. While in the class I thought to myself that my next post would be called ‘om at the barre’ because ballet is so much more beneficial to me than yoga. I wasn’t warm at all and all those stretches were not feeling good, then in a supported bridge pose, with a block under my spine poised in a precarious position the instructor came along and said I needed to be parallel not turned out and rather than letting me correct from my hip joints, she moved my feet inward and something popped. It didn’t really hurt until that evening but has gotten progressively worse and is now radiating down into my leg. I can’t walk or stand except hobbled over like Quasimodo. I’ll know the true extent of the injury when the MRI results come back, but I suppose I answered definitively which is better for me ballet or yoga and I will never take another yoga class again. I only hope ballet will be in my future. I am devastated right now and can’t help but feel everytime I get close to moving forward in dance something gets in my way – maybe it’s not meant to be. My heart is broken. Again.
It feels like it’s been forever since I have had a chance to write. We’ve hit some bumps in the road with childcare and now the luxury of escaping poopy diapers to the world of tutus and tiaras has occurred less frequently than , but my priorities are always family first. My daughter is at a tough age. She is growing and changing so much and becoming so independent that she needs me more than ever and I am not sure whether it makes sense at this point continue. On the one hand, I want to teach her about setting goals and making a commitment to something and seeing it through. On the other hand I want her to learn about being flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. There are moms who do this with ease and I wish I could step into their pointe shoes for a day and see how they do it. I took class from the lovely and amazing Nicole Harlan at the Edge this week http://www.edgepac.com/Teachers/harlan_nicole/harlan_nicole.htm
and not only was her class brilliant and fun and challenging and helpful but she had her three – not one not two but three gorgeous little kids sitting nicely in the corner while she taught. How she did this without the use of an iphone or ipad is a complete mystery to me. But she did it. She balanced her family with her love and her passion and included them in it as well. Can I? I’ve barely been to class in the past two weeks, but my mother’s day gift from my wonderful husband was to watch my daughter while I took ballet class. Not only, was this a treat because I hadn’t been to class the whole week, but at the end of class as we were going across the floor, there she was in her Philadelphia Phillies dress and her Dora, the Explorer band-aids on both knees her nose pressed to the window watching. It made my heart leap! In my favorite guilty pleasure show that I discussed in my last post, Dance Academy, there is an episode where the lead , Tara, is asked to give up her time at the dance academy because her family cannot afford it. After some thought, she tells her ballet mistress that she will not be coming back, because “she wouldn’t be a very good dancer, if she didn’t like herself as a person.” Luckily, she gets a scholarship and doesn’t have to make that tough choice. But that is how I feel when I leave the house lately and my daughter wails and asks for one more snuggle, is ballet that important to me? Is it something my family can afford? My daughter takes a little mommy n me ballet class at Creation Station in Studio City and she really blossoming there lately, doing all the moves at home and grinning wildly. And while dance has given me so much joy, I feel conflicted about whether it would be a good hobby for her to get into, what about the competition or the body image issues? I guess she will make up her own mind and I’ll just be there to drive her wherever she wants to go. In the meantime it is fun to share a love for tendus together and I’m not sure I could give that up. Do I continue to take this time for myself or do I let it go and know that the barre will always be there but these years with my daughter are once in a lifetime? I don’t know…Maybe the answer is balance, the always elusive, balance when you let go of the barre and feel supported enough in your center to just stay there…
I remember the first time I took class in NYC rather than in my hometown of Philly. I went to Broadway Dance Center and took Bev Brown’s hip hop class. It was amazing. I was completely intimidated stretching in the hallway before class, everyone looked like they popped out of a video on MTV. But by the time class was over, I knew I had found a new home away from home. Soon I would be dashing out of my day job every day as fast as I could to make to class. And after working all day , I would dance for the next 3-5 hours and then walk home. It was like I started living as soon as I walked into the studio. I’ve had that same itch lately, where I can’t wait to get to class! Today I wanted to go so badly that I went to class even with a chipped uneven witchy looking front tooth (chipped my tooth in college in an unfortunate beer bottle incident and I am wearing temporary teeth while waiting for my real fake ones to be put in!) Maybe it is just feeling so grateful to be able to move again after that last flare (I managed to get through without steroids but it wasn’t easy). As dancers our bodies are our lives and we can’t dance something is missing.
I feel more than ever these days the fragility of our bodies and in many ways, since my diagnosis, the fragility of our lives. I watch this Australian teen ballet show called Dance Academy, http://movies.netflix.com/Movie/Dance-Academy/
It is really a great show with lovely young actors and some really excellent dancing. In the last several episodes of the season, one of the main characters dies, (I won’t say who in case anyone out there also watches this show), and I wept like I haven’t in a long time, especially as the young dancers used dance to express their grief and pain. Dancing through pain physical, emotional, with chipped teeth or broken hearts is something we do as dancers, it is part of the dedication and love for our art. It is not always easy, but it is the thing that first made me love dance as a child. While I started with ballet and tap at three, it was my first modern class at six that began to make me an artist. In her broken down studio, Heddy Tower, who introduced me to Martha Graham, made us move until the emotions came out whether we wanted or not. I was shy and not always one who had the words to express what I was feeling and the studio became a place where everything started to make sense. I think that’s what’s pushing me to get to class more than ever lately, not just wanting to master the perfect tendu or get that pirouette, or even to get into the pointe shoes, but like my two year old daughter struggles to learn as many words as she can so she can express herself, I feel the need to get that vocabulary back so my body can start to speak again. A dancer recently shared this brilliant article on why we dance and it captures it so perfectly, I can’t really say it any better…
I had the pleasure of seeing Ballet du Grand Theatre De Genève perform Saturday night at the Music Center and found the choreography by Benjamin Millepied fresh, fun and exciting. The company performs sans pointe shoes in flat slippers. For an interesting article on why they choose to perform without pointe shoes, read here http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/08/entertainment/la-ca-ballet-geneve-20120408
While the challenge of this blog is to get me en pointe, the more dance I watch the more I realize that I’m more intrigued by growing as a dancer than by putting on the high heals.
The first piece, Amoveo, was set to the music of Phillip Glass, from the choreographer, “it is a piece about love, from first exchanges at the most basic, almost animal level, up to the moment where tenderness and sensuality appear. The duets in this piece were lovely, organic and really well danced, however, the parts with the full ensemble, sometimes lacked the same crispness. The next two pieces were reworks of dances made famous by the Ballet Russes. Le Specture de la Rose was originally choreographed by Michel Fokine. Millepied’s choreography is cheeky and fun with a trio of suitors to toss the young dreaming woman about the stage. Similarly, his fresh take on Les Sylphides, one of the most famous ballets was filled with humor and social commentary. The costumes and set reminded me of some sort of scene of out the Great Gatsby and the witty tableaux with a light bulb was the highlight of the night. I’m not sure the LA Times loved the company as much as my friends and I did,….
But I think we are all looking forward to seeing more of Millepied’s work with the LA Project.
As excited as getting to see great dance always gets me to work on my own dancing, I’ve been sidelined by another lupus flare. Probably the worst I’ve had in a while. So far rest and Advil is not doing the trick. I tried acupuncture for the joint pain today, but my guess is I will end up with a steroid shot by the end of the week. I struggled through my private today with Ilona, and because she is the guru I still got something out of it and was able to make some progress in working on getting my shoulders over my hips and pulling up in the standing leg at bar instead of letting my shoulder try to help. It will take a lot of work to keep moving forward, but hopefully I’ll be off the bench soon and able to give 100 percent in class again.
Well it’s been ages since I’ve had a chance to write let alone get to class, as we took a family vacation back east. I told myself I would give myself a ballet barre everyday but instead I spent most of the days driving around trying to get my toddler to nap in between fun trips to the park, the zoo and plenty of pizza and cheesesteaks. As my fellow mothers out there know balancing dance (or any activity) ‘—‘with motherhood is not always easy but I was lucky enough to be inspired by a fellow dancing mom, a dear friend and my favorite dance partner in crime who owns an unbelievable studio outside Philadelphia, where I am from. Dance Moms of the world take note, this studio is on another level! Their mission statement reads:
Liberty Me will create a sense of community, a feeling that each individual belongs to a group of unique, diverse artists who all share the same passions. All of the profits generated by the studio will be donated to various charities and the children will be an integral part of this process. This means they will understand that they are not only working hard to better themselves, but to make the world a better place as well. They will feel a sense of meaning and purpose; there is no greater gift a parent can give to their child.
When I was there, my friend Meegan the owner, an amazing mom-treprenuer, was busy at work making costumes for the kids, growing plants to teach about photosynthesis, telling me about the scholarship program for her students and the charity work the studio is involved in. It was truly inspiring and was such a wonderful testament to the power of dance, movement and creativity to create community and really make the world a better place.
They have classes for children and adults and if you know anyone in the Philadelphia area – let them know about this gem of a studio and it’s owner with a heart of gold.
Back to Westside tomorrow for 11am with Aimee – and a private with the ballet guru, Ilona on Weds. We’ll see how long it takes to get back in the groove and if I am even able to plie tomorrow.
For more inspiration on moms who dance I checked out this article:
PS. It’s my birthday so I have officially two years left from today to borree across the floor on my beautiful pointe shoes! 40 I am comin’ at ya!