Date added to ADN: Sat,
July 01, 2000
Originally Published: Sat, July 01, 2000
by Christine Zona
(About the Author)
How scary would it be to fall off a ladder? Or how about to have major back, knee or foot surgery? Pretty darn scary, we would imagine. But the stakes are even higher when you are a dancer. As dancers, we are so aware that one tiny slip up could mean the end of our dancing. Dance Notes spoke with a few dancers who have gone through some amazing physical challenges, and are back dancing. Their stories are as remarkable as they are inspiring, and we call them… courageous comebacks.
David Hamilton, three-time American smooth champion, has been struggling with back problems for years. But who knew to what extent? Throughout his teaching and competitive career, he has overcome incredible pain to rise to the top. In fact, he attributes much of his success to what he learned about the body through his rehabilitation.
What is your injury and when did it happen?
I was about twelve years old when I started experiencing a low back pain or burn. They found I was born with six lower lumbars instead of five. The sixth one was very small, but the last one in the line of the spine should have been the largest one. I went through a little bit of physical therapy as a kid. It slowly went away. When I was about 17 I was in a car accident and had a whiplash of the lower back, which moved that sixth vertebra. I started dancing when I was eighteen but by the time I was twenty-four the pain was unbearable. When I went to the orthopedic surgeon, I had to get every x-ray known to man. The doctors said I had to stop dancing for a while. If that helped it then I would have to stop dancing altogether! I finally had the surgery, a lower Laminectomy with fusions. The vertebra had displaced itself so much that they were going to fuse it back into place. But when they actually saw it, the vertebra was out so far that it was hitting the sciatic nerve. They removed the vertebra completely and used fragments of it to build a bridge support inside the space to support the other vertebrae. It was very risky. For seven months I was in a steel caged brace from my rib cage to the middle of my thigh to totally immobilize my pelvic area. The only therapy I could do was walk, and I had to walk six miles a day! The only time I took the brace off was to sleep. When they took the brace off luckily enough the fusions had healed. But I had 34% less range of movement in my pelvis.
What were you thinking this whole time?
I was thinking, "I'm going to get out of this and dance again!" So I made sure I did everything as right as I possibly could. Then things got on track. I started dancing with a great girl. We won the Fred Astaire Championships and were third at the USBC within a year after the surgery.
Were you still having pain?
Yes, but I dealt with it. No medication! But in two years everything just fell apart again. I went back to the surgeons and they did x-rays and found that the pelvis was very unstable to withstand all the activity that I was doing. So I had created a pelvic imbalance of nearly one inch. My right hip was one inch lower than the left hip. The pelvis had torqued itself and the small of the back had gone into a big curve. I had to stop dancing again for a year. They put me in traction for weeks. I went to chiropractors and did a lot of acupuncture to relieve the stress. The pain now was more muscular. I weighed nine pounds more on the right side than the left side!
How did it affect you emotionally?
I tried to maintain a positive attitude, and if this has to happen to me again then so be it. Someone else would have said, "Hell I'm out of here. I'll go sell cars." I started having massages all the time. They would put me on the table and literally pull my body in two different directions. Within about three months it was getting better. That was in 1986 and since then the pelvis has gone from a 24 mm imbalance to about 11mm. And that will be permanent. I wear a lift in my right shoe and I have less range of motion in my pelvis. I still hurt today
How would your career be different without the physical problems you endured?
If I hadn't had the setback the second time I could have very possibly won the U.S. Championships in 1988 or 1989. But I wouldn't be near the dancer I am today. I think my dancing today is far superior to what it would have been then if I had been champion that early in my career. The injury itself has made me dance correctly. When I don't dance properly I hurt because I get twisted. If my body blocks are out of alignment it's a killer. But I know what my limits are.
Alicia Duhon, along with her husband Vincent, is one of the up and coming dancers in the Professional American Rhythm division. As a dance major in school, a knee injury could have completely changed the course of her life. But after her skiing accident, a little luck and a lot of perseverance put her back on track as a dancer to be reckoned with.
How did you injure your knee?
About four years ago I was skiing and the skis had faulty bindings. I didn't have a major fall or disaster, the bindings just didn't release when I fell. The doctor said I had two options; Wear a brace for the rest of my life and let my sports activities be hindered, or have surgery. I obviously took my chances and had the surgery. I went to a doctor in Dallas who worked with athletes and stars. The surgery was very successful. I was up walking right away, and on a bicycle two weeks later! The reason I can dance today is because of the excellent therapy I had.
Were you a dancer when this happened?
I was in my junior year on a dance scholarship, studying ballet, jazz and modern. My career in college was suspended six months to a year. It took me a good six months before I could do anything that would require a deep knee bend.
Do you have any problems now?
From time to time there is fatigue. I have to be very dedicated to practicing or being in the gym, making sure I'm keeping the muscles very, very strong. If I don't then I definitely feel fatigue.
Do you feel you've learned anything from this experience?
The amazing thing was that I could persevere. Coming out of a major injury like that you have to actually learn how to walk again. You're totally subservient to people who have to help you do everything. It changes your frame of mind completely. You realize the physical ability to dance or perform or do any type of sport is a gift. On the days that I push a little too hard or twist a little too much and it's aching I really realize the gift. In ballet, modern and jazz I was pretty much written off because of the injury. When I got into ballroom nobody knew. Being in ballroom dancing is keeping me in shape. It's keeping me from having a limp. Three of my pro/am students have had knee replacement surgery. They all feel the same way I do. I've tried running, aerobics, cycling, and kickboxing, but dancing is what keeps me healthy in my knees and legs.
Michael and Lucy Slywka, amateur competitors, have been dancing and competing for 16 years, and have achieved success at competitions all over the United States. Their individual injuries forced them to re-evaluate why they dance, and taught them a new way to approach the competitive dancesport world.
Michael, how were you injured?
Two years ago in North Carolina at the Heritage, during the smooth competition, the metatarsal in my foot collapsed. We finished dancing and I took an Ibuprofen because it was inflamed. I went to a doctor when we got home and he said not to do anything for a year. A foot specialist said I needed surgery to cut and replace the tendons, which had fatigued and broken because I had overworked them. I didn't want surgery. I thought there had to be something better. We decided not to dance for a few months to see if the tendons would pop back into place if we let them heal. Lucy had a bad hip and she was seeing a chiropractor, so the chiropractor looked at my foot. She said I had a bad alignment, so she reset the bone. Every week for about three months she reset the bone to let the tendons heal. It was getting better, but as soon as I would try to dance it was difficult. I made a little mound out of gel pads and stuck it underneath the bone. Then, when I put a lot of pressure on my foot, it didn't fall. The chiropractor said the appliance I made was good. I always use at least one gel pad when I dance, but if I don't dance I don't need any.
Is there anything else that you have to do for it?
To keep the inflammation out I take Ibuprofen before and after I dance. Once there is swelling the problem is aggravated. I warm up slowly. We don't dance hours on end anymore. The dancing is much more focused. We dance for about 45 minutes and then stop and let it cool down. It very seldom gets aggravated now.
What have you learned from your injury?
Better balance and control. Before the injury I had all the strength in the world. I felt I could take anything. Now I have to realize I'm vulnerable and have to rely on more than just brut strength. I stopped trying to move which did more for my dancing than anything. I dance better now because I'm more aware of the weight. It taught me to get more in the middle of my feet. Before I was always hanging on for balance. It has forced me to be disciplined. This whole thing put everything in perspective. We have bronze sessions now. For a couple hours we just do the first five steps, and that's harder to do than our open routines! The result is we've developed better habits.
How did you injure your hip, Lucy?
Three years ago at Nationals in Delaware, I couldn't put any weight on my left leg about an hour after we danced. The pain got worse and worse. It felt like it was cramped and my leg kind of went dead. We had to find a chiropractor to work on me.
What therapies have you used?
I came back home and found a chiropractor, and I still go to her today. It was just a matter of aligning my whole posture. Once a month I go whether I need to or not. I'm never very far away from her. It's interesting because there's always something that's not in the right place. Nursing it back to health took almost two years.
Have you learned anything from your injury?
It turned out to be a good thing because now I pay far more attention to body alignments than I ever did before. I don't force anything anymore. Wherever my body takes me it goes, if I don't get there, tough. When you're younger you think the pains will go away. I think we're smarter about our dancing now. We do it in shorter increments, and we only dance about two or three times a week. I decided, when I had time to think about it, that I wanted to understand the movement of dancing as opposed to just dance, dance, dance. When you stop worrying about how you're placing at the competitions, dancing is the study of movement… and it is a beautiful movement when you understand all the things that have to fall into place. It doesn't mean that we do it all the time, but it's the goal.
Originally published in Dance Notes on July/August 2000 by Christine Zona
About the Author:
A health major in college, Christine Zona has always been interested in physical, emotional and mental wellness. She is currently working on combining her dance expertise and healthy lifestyle knowledge to give dancers a lifestyle program that will increase their energy, enhance their performance and reshape their bodies.
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