I Thought Ballet Was My Life

I thought ballet was my life, but then I lost everything, and I realized ballet didn’t mean that much to me.

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A Photo of Me in My Last Ballet Performance

I’ll start off with the back-story.  I started dancing when I was little, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.  It became a serious passion around eleven years old.  My younger sister and I were enrolled in a pre-professional ballet school when I was fourteen and she was thirteen.  Many ballet dancers are already auditioning for companies at sixteen, so my skills were not where they should have been for my age.  But I loved ballet and decided I was going to work harder than everyone else to catch-up.  I just wanted to dance, and nothing was going to stop me.  Dancing was an exhilarating rush of adrenaline, coursing through my veins, and it felt like I was leaping over rainbows.  There was nothing else like it.

I was away at a ballet summer intensive when I got a bad case of Achilles Tendinitis in my right foot.  All of my friends said they had it too, so I brushed it off and convinced myself I was just being weak.  I saw the doctor on campus, and he told me to ice it.  I danced about seven hours a day, and it kept getting worse.  In the final week it was so swollen my shoes barely fit and it had turned an ugly purple-blue color.  I could barely walk, but I still dragged myself to dance class and smiled through the pain. After I came home we went to another doctor, and she confirmed it was a bad case of Achilles Tendinitis.  She instructed me to wear a removable cast, and to not dance until I recovered.

It took over a year to recuperate, and by that time I had started college.  I relapsed into anorexia and depression due to my injury, and I had become apathetic about life.  My mother taught ballet at her own studio and enlisted the help of me and my sister.  A few years later I was in remission from anorexia, and I started to dance again.  I had forgotten how much I loved it.

Then I got married and moved to attend grad school.  I had been dealing with undiagnosed hypothyroidism for the past few years in college, so it took all my energy and willpower to focus on school.  Once the hypothyroidism was treated, I found myself again, and I agreed to help my mom teach ballet.  I had lost all of my flexibility so I diligently stretched for about an hour a day.  It only took six months to tear my right hip labrum, and reinjure my Achille’s Tendon, again.

Ballet was everything to me, and I felt lost and hopeless without it, so I fell into a pit of despair and relapsed into anorexia.  That was five years ago, and at the time I didn’t know I had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a genetic disease causing defective collagen), and that my health was headed for a downward spiral with no end in sight.  Since then I have had three hip labral tears (two hip scopes and an open surgical dislocation), I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, and I injured my shoulder.  Some of this is normal to a certain degree, but not in your 20s.  For the sake of brevity I have only divulged my main health issues.  One of my hip surgeons told me that it didn’t matter how well he fixed my hip, I would have to be careful for the rest of my life because I have multidirectional instability.  It was a confirmation of what I already knew.  I could dance again if I wanted to, but I already lost several years of my life, a prisoner to my own broken body, laid up in bed, drowning in sorrow.

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A Picture Taken After My Health Declined

I found writing, and that helped soothe the heartache and gave me a creative outlet to vent my angst.  I don’t miss ballet like I used to.  There will always be a small part of me that wishes I could still dance, but over time it’s been easier to suppress that desire.  I still taught ballet for several years after that first right hip labral tear, but my health kept declining, and it got to the point where I couldn’t demonstrate anything anymore, so I had to quit.  I live vicariously through several of my students, two of which are on the road to becoming professional ballerinas.  I take pride in knowing that I was their first ballet teacher.  I enjoy following their progress and watching them become beautiful dancers.

Five years ago I thought ballet was everything, but as my health declined, I realized there was more to life than that.  It was a hard lesson to learn. . .

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11 thoughts on “I Thought Ballet Was My Life

  1. Losing the love of your life is incredibly difficult. I know it’s been a rough road for you. 😦 I’m happy that you’ve been able to come out on the other side with a deep appreciation of the art of ballet and the role it has had in your life, even though this path wasn’t the one you had imagined for your future. Your love for ballet is similar to my devotion to snowboarding. I was about to leave the security of my gov job and my apt in the city to go chase the powder. Then hip dysplasia made itself known. I’ll be able to snowboard again, but not with the vigor and obsession as before… and that’s OK. You begin to realize that there are other awesome things out there. In a way, losing your big love as your central focus opens so many other doors you never even considered!

  2. That was beautifully said Juicer 🙂 Yeah, it’s the EDS that made me ultimately decide I shouldn’t do ballet again. My back is arthritic and stiff as well so I don’t have the flexibility that I used to. As a child I had the flexibility of a contortionist in my spine, lol. And Millis told me it didn’t matter how well my hips were fixed, I would have to be careful. He knew I had EDS even before my diagnosis, which is why he said that.

    In the hip impingement groups, there were always lots of women that thought their life was over because they couldn’t run, dance, weight lift, etc., FAI is not typically as life-altering as hip dysplasia. But I would tell them to not think of it like that. Just keep telling themselves their absence was temporary, and if they could never return to their sport, then cross that bridge when they come to it. Sometimes we don’t know how strong we are till we are put to the test.

    Yes, I really love writing fiction 🙂 And I wouldn’t have discovered that passion had I not injured my hip. And the friends I made through fanfiction have been the best friends I’ve ever had. If it wasn’t for my bad hips, I never would have met the girl in the hip group that told me I probably had EDS. So I don’t know, maybe I was destined to injure my hips, lol.

    I hope you get to hit the slopes soon! I’m sorry that you weren’t able to follow your dream, but I’m glad you will still be able to have fun with it. It’s difficult when your body betrays you. And there is a feeling of hopelessness because you have no control over it. I think in the end our physical hardships make us stronger. You’re going to come out of this surgery like a Unicorn Rockstar :3

  3. I never had the coordination to dance, but I’ve always admired the gracefulness of ballerinas. I can’t imagine how lost you must’ve felt with the loss of your dream, but I do hope you’ve found other passions to fuel your dreams.

    • Thank you for the kind thoughts Janna 🙂 I was very upset the first year that I couldn’t dance, and I remember crying about it a lot. I am a member of several hip preservation forums, and I see people upset because they can’t run, dance, etc. They think their life is over. And I understand because that was me 5 years ago. Fortunately for most of them, it’s just a temporary leave of absence. For me it was permanent. But I found creative writing because of my injuries, and I can’t imagine my life without it now. I’m not bitter or angry anymore, and I can watch ballet with happiness again 🙂

  4. I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through and are going through, but I know the pain of not knowing that something is legitimately “wrong” with you and the strange relief that you have when you come to find out that yeah, it’s actually got a name. I’m sorry you can’t dance anymore, but happy that you are finding other joys in life and are living happily with your husband and cute kitties 🙂 thanks for sharing your inspiring, beautiful story

    • Yeah, the past five years have been really tough. My parents have been pretty cruel about it, but I have lots of amazing friends that make up for it. Getting a diagnosis of a health issue always bittersweet. It’s nice to know something is actually wrong with you and that the illness isn’t a figment of your imagination. It’s kind of funny because friends of mine would try to be encouraging by saying that they hoped nothing was wrong. And in reality, I was kind of hoping there was something that was wrong that would explain the severe and debilitating pain I was having. My response to anyone with a health issue is that I hope they get clarity. Not knowing what is wrong is the worst part, and it’s scary. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, it helps me manage the symptoms. If I would have known I had EDS I would not have danced as an adult. I’m happy that I have been able to find joy in other things. I’ve grown a lot as a person because of the experience. Yes, cute cats always help :3 Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply 🙂

      • You’re very welcome. It’s heartbreaking that your parents have been cruel when you really just need them to be loving and supportive. I feel a strong connection to you and your one of the few blogs I read regularly and enjoy reading 🙂

  5. Hi. I’m so sorry that this happened and that you weren’t able to continue with your Ballet. It shows that you have true strength of character that you have overcome this and are now finding new ways to express your artistic self. Well done! Very inspiring. 🙂

    • Thanks Marjma2014! Yeah, it was really difficult, especially that first year. I remember crying a lot :/ I feel very lucky that I found something else I love as much as ballet. It’s funny because I was a member of several hip preservation forums, and without fail, whenever we got a new member they swore their life was over because they couldn’t do _______ activity for a few months. I could have been angry or jealous because at least they can go back to their activity. I will never be able to dance ballet again. But I remember how I felt 5 years ago, and how hard it is for them now. So I would remind them to think of their absence as temporary, and if it became permanent, cross that road when they came to it.

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