I have written in the past about dancing and training in various stages in my life with completely “different bodies” ( https://classicalballetandallthatjazz.com/2018/07/29/dancing-with-different-bodies/ ) but life has thrown up yet another roadblock and I am once again examining this subject.
Five and one half months ago I sustained a spiral fracture of my left humerus (a really bad broken arm). I was walking from the studio to the subway, and for no clear reason I lost my footing and took a fall. It was clear from the moment I hit the ground that my arm was broken. And as I lay in the street awaiting the ambulance I thought to myself “Well this will put me out of commission for the next six weeks”. Well that turned out to NOT be the case at all. My arm was immobilized for six weeks during which time the pain never really let up. I had weekly x-rays and the doctors said all was well. But after six weeks there was no healing at all (which accounts for the pain, I guess). I was then scheduled for surgery (bone plate and screws) which was followed by months of grueling therapy.
Now, five and a half months after the original injury I am finally ready to start dancing again. I still do not have full range of motion. I have gained 25 pounds. I am weak; really weak. And with limited range of motion in my left arm, 25 extra pounds, and an astonishing weakness due to months of inactivity, I will attempt, once again, to train.
I started worrying; worrying that I’ll never get it all back. The training that I received from my mentor, Luigi, focuses so strongly on the upper body: the carriage of the torso, the epaulment, the port de bras and quality of movement. This focus is what made my classes MY classes. This is what I brought to my ballet students as well as my Jazz students. This training brings something unique and special to a dancer (if they are patient enough to do the work required). This is what I have to offer. This is what I bring to the table. But it has been so many months. What if the arm never gets any better?
Two and a half weeks after the injury I returned to teaching. A former student and recent graduate of the Joffrey Ballet Trainee program, Josefina Rojas, stepped up to the plate and offered to demonstrate for me. So I couldn’t dance, but I was back to work. I explained and my former student demonstrated. And the students learned. And I became a more skillful explainer.
I made a few videos of my Joffrey Trainee classes for reference when it came time for grading. I just re-watched these videos and I came to a realization. There are many ways to pass on the work and I am committed to keeping this work alive. My demonstrator, a 20 year old recent graduate of Joffrey’s full time program was now a beautifully trained professional. The the first year students that I was teaching were clearly acquiring the work. What made Luigi’s classes so special was not his beautiful dancing; it was how he explained what he did and what he felt. This was the core of his brilliant teaching. And as I stared at the screen I welled up with emotion. I saw a stunning dancer that I and my colleagues at my beloved Joffrey Ballet School produced, helping me pass on this work to yet another generation of dancers. Luigi once told me that although I wasn’t the best dancer he ever taught (thanks?) I understood his technique more deeply than anyone he ever taught (WOW, THANKS!). And I could see his work shining in the body if this beautiful dancer demonstrating for me. And I could see glimmers of this work starting to show in the first year students.
I will go back to taking class because taking class is what I do. I will slowly, methodically and patiently work, just as I have in the past, to regain what I have lost. There is a deep joy in this process for me. And I will train without fear because even if I can’t “get it all back” I have learned that through careful and thoughtful explaining and correcting I can still pass on the work. My days on the stage are long past gone. This is no longer about MY dancing. It is about the unbroken chain of passing on this work; a chain that I can trace directly back to Cecchetti and Vaganova. And I will forever be grateful to Joffrey for allowing me privilege of being part of a team of teachers that train and nurture all of our students with care, patience and love.
Yesterday I received this text from the dancer who so generously offered to demonstrate for me:
“I just thought I should let you know, that I just got a call back for a Broadway show. So I wanted to take a moment, to thank you for everything you’ve taught me so far, and for being so supportive these past 4 years ❤️”
My heart is full and the work lives on.