Category: Medicine

Falling in Love with a New Endeavor

Mary Slate Williams, 2013 Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies Award RecipientMary Slate Williams

My Mother says I started crawling before I learned to sit. I have always loved to move. My first love was not the music, costumes or audience. I did not fall in love with performing; I had never even seen a ballet. I fell in love with the work. I wanted nothing more than to sweat for hours in the studio with no audience. This left me, unsurprisingly, to be a rather dull performer. My senior year in high school our gala performance was Harald Lander’s Etudes. In the final movement doing a tombe coupe sauté, something clicked. I felt the music, the full force of the music and I began to really dance.
After just one semester in college, I became a trainee for the Orlando Ballet under the direction of Fernando Bujones. I danced for Fernando Bujones for four seasons. Being coached by Fernando was magical. You could work for days on a variation and then he could come in, give you three notes and the whole dance was transformed.
I injured myself shortly after Fernando passed away, I had surgery, my contract was not renewed, I moved to Chicago to dance, and moved again to Idaho. I kept dancing for four years after my surgeon had given up on me. I was sure my perseverance would eventually pay off. That is how the world is supposed to work. You just keep working, putting your heart and soul into something and eventually reap the rewards. Somehow along the way, I ran out of soul. I no longer enjoyed showing up to work every day. I no longer felt joy when I danced.
Although I have always been aware that a dancing career cannot last forever, I was never able to fathom what actually stopping dancing might feel like. I always assumed that someday I would have a moment of realization when I would fall in love with a new endeavor, and be every bit as passionate about it as I was with ballet. Instead, it has been more of a slowly growing swell. I searched in earnest for a new career, and I kept landing back at pharmacy.
My final season dancing people asked me with some regularity why I wanted to go to pharmacy school. My response was always “seems like a good idea.” There is a lot of truth to this flippant response. It seemed like a good idea, because it just felt right and even though I did not know it yet, it was absolutely one of my best ideas. Being a pharmacist is the perfect non-dancer job for me. It is emotionally inspiring, mentally challenging and I am always moving. I am continually amazed by the human capacity for love I witness while at work. I talk with people who have a loved one at home dying, who have just miscarried, who desperately need relief from depression. I am able in some small way to ease their burden. Pharmacists do much more than even I realized. Every day that I work in a pharmacy I learn something new and meet someone wonderful. I am currently working as a pharmacy intern and am entering my third year of a four-year Doctorate of Pharmacy program.
Entering a new profession has taught me a lot about how people develop professionally. In pharmacy school, I am not just learning about medications. Since beginning school, I have had meetings with roughly ten state legislators, served as the student liaison to the Washington State Pharmacy Association, given a speech to a few hundred and been challenged in numerous other ways. One of the most valuable things I have learned from pharmacy school is that careers have cultures. The culture of pharmacy is vastly different from the culture of ballet and I have gained much by being a part of both.
Career Transition for Dancers has helped to make this transition feasible by assisting me financially and supporting me emotionally. Stopping dancing is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Career Transition for Dancers helped me to remember where I came from and where I was going. Working with Career Transitions for Dancers I felt valued and appreciated as a dancer in a way I have not for many years. I began working with Career Transition for Dancers after I had already made up my mind to transition. I wish I had contacted them earlier; they have so much insight and support to give.
An unexpected bonus, I now love dancing again! I thought by retiring from ballet I was losing the art form forever. Instead I feel like I have gotten it back. After about a year and a half of crying after each ballet class I woke up one morning healed. I do not know how or why it happened, but I finally arrived at the place where others opinions of my dancing no longer matters to me. I do not get to dance nearly as much as I would like, but what I lack in quantity I feel I make up for in quality. Taking class is not a chore, it is a treat and I try to dance every chance I get. I have even found some small performance opportunities. This summer I had the amazing experience of spending a day in a hospital IV room mixing medications followed by an evening on stage in a tutu with Boise Dance Coop. It was probably my proudest day.

Dance, Neuroscience, and Healing

Zina Mercil, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

My mom likes to tell the story of Zina Mercilhow I wanted to dance before I could even walk, hoisting myself up on the bars of my crib to sway to the music.  I took my first ballet class when I was 5 and from then on worked diligently to master the technique. Ultimately, when I graduated with my BA with Distinction in Neuroscience cum laude from Colorado College in 2003, I felt like I had two distinctly different paths; I chose dance.

I went on to dance professionally, doing several regional theater contracts like Cabaret, Chicago, CATS, and The Producers.  I also spent two years as assistant line captain and principle understudy in Don Arden’s Jubilee!  I felt so blessed to be dancing and making a living!

Four years ago, I moved back to Colorado because I felt a significant shift had begun.  I was not ready to let go of dancing, nor did I know what I wanted to step into.  This is when I first visited Naropa University.

In January of 2011 I began feeling ill.  After months of extensive labs, testing, and surgery, I was diagnosed with a very rare and chronic liver disease called Autoimmune Hepatitis and Cirrhosis.  I spent much of that year in bed, too exhausted to walk.

After having had no physical activity for so long, I started taking a yoga class for cancer survivors. I live in gratitude to dancing and this illness for being my greatest teachers. I want to share this knowledge of being present with our bodies, and the innate wisdom and intelligence that lie within when we listen.

All the experiences in my life are being integrated at Naropa University, where I am exploring the interface of dance and holistic healing.  I am finishing my first year of a  three-year MA program in Somatic Counseling Psychology with a dual emphasis in Dance and Movement Therapy, and Body Psychotherapy.  My plan is to complete my MA and continue onto PhD work in Clinical Health Psychology.

I feel blessed to be at Naropa, training to be a therapist, and combining my love of dance, neuroscience, and healing.  I am honored to receive the Sono Osato Scholarship so that I can continue to take my passion and training in dance and transition into a new career to serve others.

From Dancer to Doctor

Katie Pivarnik, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

Photo by Mike Tesi
Photo by Mike Tesi

Loving the physicality of my work as a dancer and becoming intimately acquainted with the muscles, tendons, and joints I used and abused, I never imagined exploring another profession that could be equally satisfying. Because of my intellectual curiosity, I enrolled in college courses throughout my dance career. In the LEAP Program, a dance-focused anatomy and kinesiology course at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries awakened me to the idea that through medicine I could further explore my interest in the human body.

In 2009, my husband, also a dancer, suffered a serious knee injury, and the trajectory of my life changed dramatically. His injury was incapacitating, and I instantly became his caregiver.

Volunteering at Overlook Medical Center in New Jersey, I met a man who was lamenting the fact his Parkinson’s symptoms were preventing him from playing tennis, his favorite activity. Drawing a parallel between this man’s love of tennis and my husband’s and my love of dance, I understood how heartbreaking it is to be thwarted from pursuing one’s passion, and I was hopeful the right combination of medications would help him back to the tennis court. I also met a woman who had been caring for her father-in-law, whose Parkinson’s was progressing rapidly. She admitted to feeling exhausted and helpless. Empathizing with her, I realized I felt the same fulfilling connection with this woman as I have felt with audiences. In this moment I was not just a dancer. I wanted to be a doctor.

Katie Pivarnik will begin studying at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in August 2013.
Katie will begin studying at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in August 2013.

With scholarships from the Caroline H. Newhouse Fund and the Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies at Career Transition For Dancers, I completed my prerequisite science courses through the rigorous Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program at Columbia University, and starting in August, 2013, will begin medical school at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. I am grateful to CTFD for their financial support and for the guidance I have received through career transition workshops and online resources, all of which emphasize the amazing transferability of dancers’ wealth of knowledge and unique attributes.

The transition from dancer to doctor may seem dramatic. Yet, I find the professions quite similar.  Perfecting the art of ballet involves many of the same challenges as practicing the art of medicine, and both demand the same level of dedication and perseverance. Each one also provides the opportunity to impact people’s lives. It is my hope that through medical education I will be able to contribute to people’s health and well-being more profoundly than I ever could on stage.

Ready to Help Others Fly

By Lily Rogers, CTFD dancer-client and Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship recipient

Until recently I identified myself only as a professional ballet dancer. Although I loved being a dancer, part of me wondered if there were other ways I could contribute to the world. As the scope of my interests and passions started seeping beyond the spotlights, and as my hip injury became more serious, I finally understood that I was far more multidimensional than I had believed. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right hip in 2008, and for many years I tried to avoid surgery by using palliative treatments and injections, but eventually I underwent surgery in 2010. After a number of failed attempts to return to work, I knew it was time to stop dancing. This decision was both painful and liberating.

Lily RogersInjury is nothing new for dancers, and the relationship a dancer has with their injury is different for each individual, but my injury has everything to do with the future it showed me. This is the story of how I transformed my arthritis into another professional interest; a story that describes how I designed a path to achieve newly defined goals.

I remember the exact moment I realized I wanted to pursue medicine. I was sitting in a cavernous ballroom in the Marriott Hotel in downtown San Francisco in early 2011, listening to some of the world’s best doctors discuss labral repairs. Throughout the afternoon, I was enthralled. I wanted to tell everyone about what I had just heard, I had a million questions, and, above all, I felt hungry for more information. In that moment, I realized there just might be a place in medicine for someone like me, for someone with my background and my perspective.

In the months that followed, I began actively seeking out medical opportunities and clinical experience. I boosted my math skills, spearheaded a human anatomy independent study program at St. Mary’s College LEAP program, and began volunteering at a free clinic. Additionally, to show colleges I was serious about this transition, I finally took the SAT. I have already invested a great deal of money, time, and passion into this change, and I know making it this far is an achievement I never dreamed possible until recently. Starting at Columbia’s School of General Studies in the fall means that I will have the opportunity to start taking the courses that will lead me towards medical school.

Although my arthritis is too severe to ever perform again, I will always identify with dance. Additionally, because I believe so deeply in the art form, I wish to one day be a resource for dancers managing injuries of their own. I hope to pursue orthopedics as well as volunteer my time with in-house clinics for dance companies. As medicine advances, specifically within orthopedics, treatments will continue to become less-invasive. Given this trajectory, and given that regenerative treatments–like cartilage replacement–are almost here, I think there will be a real way for dancers to maintain longer, healthier careers. My goals are lofty, but so is trying to become a professional ballerina. With strength and determination I have already achieved one dream, I am ready to achieve another It was a joy bringing art to life for over 19 years, but I’m ready to help others fly.