by Sisha Stowell, Caroline H. Newhouse grant recipient
Dance has been a substantial part of my life for just about as far back as I can remember. I, like so many little girls, started dancing at a local studio at a very young age with my little knobby knees in pink tights and a frilly leotard, the frillier the better. Although I loved dance class from the very beginning, my reason for being there was not the same as all the other children. After a freak accident I suffered third degree burns over 75 percent of my body. It may seem hard to believe but luck was truly on my side as there was a state of the art burn institute in my city and I was a perfect candidate for a new medical treatment still in the trial stages. This treatment is now the standard by which burn victims are treated. My initial recovery went well but when it was time for physical therapy the doctors were leery of putting me in a traditional program. As I was so young my doctors thought I would have better results by taking dance and gymnastics classes. And so it all began.
Over the subsequent 28 years, dance heeled me physically, emotionally, even spiritually at times. Dance, which was originally prescribed as physical therapy alas, became the cause of additional physical therapy. When I was thirteen years old, I had my first serious dance injury. During a performance something went terribly wrong with my leg. I had no idea what happened but I knew I was in a lot of pain. Initially, the doctors said I had pulled my hamstring. I trusted their diagnoses and followed his suggested treatment; a week of rest and then back to regular activity. A few months later, I had yet to regain the flexibility that had come so naturally, I was still in pain and had lost all rotation in my hip socket. It was time to see a specialist. The doctor I was referred to happened to be the resident doctor for the Cincinnati Ballet; therefore, he was very familiar with a dancer’s body and the demands put upon it. After a few x-rays and a quick examination he told me I had in fact not simply pulled my hamstring but rather torn it, and in the process of doing so had pulled a piece of bone off of the femur and fractured my rotator cuff. Unfortunately, my body had already healed itself however not in the optimal fashion and it was now too late to do anything further. He believed this occurred because of a growth spurt; my bones had grown faster than my muscles could keep up, and warned that it would most likely happen to the other leg within the next year. He was right, I tore my left hamstring almost a year to the date later. If nothing else, at least this time I knew what happened and could take care of it with proper therapy, or so I thought.
There are many physical therapists who know how to work with athletes. There are also many physical therapists that are knowledgeable of the demands on a person of poor to average fitness. However, in my experience, there are few physical therapists who understand what is truly required of a dancer’s body. Unfortunately, I had a therapist who fell into the former, I repeatedly heard, “Don’t worry, that’s good enough,” or “You don’t need to be able to do that,” in regards to questions about flexibility and rotation. Needless to say that was less than ideal guidance in an already extremely scary situation.
Although that experience was incredibly frustrating and did not yield the results for which I was hoping, things would soon change. After an evaluation with a ballet company, I was referred to a woman who I believe saved my dance career. She was the first person to introduce me to Pilates as a form of physical therapy. After only a few sessions my strength, flexibility and rotation improved immensely. There have been other times I have used Pilates to save and extend the life of my career. In one particular case, it seemed surgery was imminent to repair a shoulder injury I incurred on stage. With the help of a renowned sports therapist and his incredibly knowledgeable Pilates therapists, I was not only able to fully recover without any invasive measures; through continued practice, I truly enjoyed a full body overhaul. Small issues that were beginning to affect not only my performance on stage but normal everyday activities simply went away. The practice of Pilates not only saved my career once again, but improved the overall health and dexterity of my entire body, not only improving me physically but also being mentally therapeutic.
With the help of the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship, I plan to receive certification in both Classical and Clinical Pilates in the hopes that one day I can help others as I have been helped. To not only fix the problem at hand, but improve the overall health and wellness of a person physically and potentially mentally as well. The love of dance that developed at a young age was not just for the pretty costumes and the person you could become while performing but also for the mechanics. The way in which the human body works, how each muscle works to create a beautiful movement or to simply hold a position. I look forward to delving even further into these intrigues and continuing to share my passion, it may be a different stage but will hopefully be just as rewarding.