Dancing, primarily ballet, has been the main focus of my childhood (from age three and beyond), as well as early teen life. In many ways, it is what defines me; how I see myself as well as describe myself. But, My ballet career was forever altered when, in 2008, I did a lunge in a primary class with the Artistic Director at the San Francisco School of Ballet and landed ever so gracefully which dislocated my knee. The pain was immediate and in many ways indefinite as it has negatively affected my dancing career.
My plans for the future, for college, and work, were all changed the instant I landed on the sap-like sticky, rosin (adhesive crushed rocks to make point shoes not slip on floor) covered floor. Only now do I realize the need to recover emotionally and mentally from that injury. Having my patella (knee cap) dislocated changed not only my dancing abilities for the next few years, but also my mental state, my will power, motivation, and perseverance. I was in the top floor ballet studio, a sunny, sky-light lit room with the soft rustling of about forty women sewing, cutting, and tying their pink point shoes.
We began class with Lola, our Assistant Artistic Director. She always had everyone, even the pianist, a bit on edge. My fellow classmates was trying their ultimate, sweaty-best to impress the strong, willful and powerful Spaniard who would normally teach only company member classes. I was among them, just as nervous and clammy as everyone else was, trying to impress the second in command of our Ballet company, trying my hardest just to be noticed. Anything from Lola, even a correction, would have been a big deal, meaning I had at least caught her eye.
In the middle of our Tendu exercise, where we stretch and extend the foot while pointing, was a section where we had to lunge with our foot back. When I started the lunge, my supporting leg was caught in the yellow, crystallized sap-like mineral (rosin), twisting my knee away from my supporting foot and in that moment, severely dislocating my patella. In reality, the moment of my falling ever so gracefully to the sticky floor stopped everything, literally and figuratively. The pianist ceased to play is happy, upbeat jingle, the teacher ended the Tendu combination, the dancers in the sunny sky lit room stared in horror, in confusion, and in fright, as if they were looking at a ghost. It was just me, mangled on the floor. While one girl ran to notify the doctor on call, everyone else left the room. When the Doctor arrived, I was white as a ghost (apparently), hyperventilating, trying to understand what had just happened to my leg, as well as to my life. Incredibly misshapen, my entire patella had shifted to the opposite side of my leg.
My leg looked and resembled the limb of a rag doll or a scary movie where the body had just been tossed around by a killer, more explicit than an R rated thriller. The doctor was there within a minute, popped my leg back into its natural position and brought me an enormous man sized brace in which to put my leg. Mere seconds later, the pain came. In between the multiple horrific, cold hospital trips, I sat in my small, uncomfortable bed for the remainder of the summer popping three Vicodin a day, watching South Park, the Olympics and Sex in the City.
This could also be referred to as, ‘the sweet life’, or recuperation, but for me it was a lost life, so different than who I was, what I had been doing. After I was, I thought, adequately healed, I went back to San Francisco Ballet to resume the spring semester of classes. At the end of the year, I received a letter from the school saying they could no longer keep me as a student as a result of my knee injury. I had not met the improvement they needed to see within their time frame.
The importance of what I learned from the whole experience of my injury was the ability to have a life outside of dance. My previous life was rooted in dance, dancing, ballet, going to ballet, dance clothes, etc. (All dance all the time. ) I had never been able to have a social life outside of my ballet friends. I was always dancing and therefore had no time to hang around with my friends because it would interfere with my ballet schedule.
I would never have had the same high school experience, for better or for worse, if I had still been participating in my ballet program. I would have had to be in independent studies for my insane ballet schedule which would have overlapped with school and eventually take college online or at a local college. Because of my injury, I met new people, and had the opportunity to take different dance classes and branch out from my knowledge of just ballet. Being injured gave me the time to make choices, many of which were bad, but as I move away from hat experience, I see that I have the chance to learn some important life lessons I would have otherwise never confronted. In some ways, I see my injury as a sign that I possibly needed the break to see, to evaluate, how intense the ballet world was going to get and question whether my body and I were really ready for it yet, or possibly ever. I grew up a bit from having experienced a serious injury like this. Having the one thing that defined me, taken away, made me think about possible options for my life I might have never considered.
I see my injury as a learning experience. It may not have been the smoothest, or most wanted, of lessons learned, but having my life plans change in seconds, has finally made me start to think ahead all the more. I became much more concerned once I had the injury, worried about what I was going to do, could do, next. I am thankful that I was able to have the opportunities and times to spend with different people, to see life from such different eyes than I had, or had been used to.