Dancing With Scoliosis
Faye Hideko Warren has dealt with more serious physical ailments at the start of her career than many dancers do in a lifetime. Being diagnosed with scoliosis in grade school was traumatic—and life-changing. As if that weren’t enough, while she was on tour with ABT II at White Oak in February of 2007, she slipped on her pointe during a turn, seriously injuring her knee. She’s been sidelined ever since. But Faye is determined to dance professionally again and always chooses to look on the bright side. She thinks her physical challenges have taught her more about her body than any anatomy lesson ever could, and that the second time around she’s going to be better equipped to deal with her scoliosis.
Currently, she’s living at home in New Mexico, performing with a local dance company and working toward returning to a professional dance career. If this is physically impossible, she’s considering acting as her next endeavor! To learn more about dancing with scoliosis from Faye, read on.
I first started dancing at Alwin School of the Dance in Albuquerque when I was 5 after taking gymnastics for a year. Then I was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic scoliosis when I was almost 9. Since the impact of gymnastics is really bad for an unstable spine, the doctors told me I had to quit. However, I could continue dancing because there isn’t as much danger or force as there is in tumbling.
I liked gymnastics, but I wasn’t planning on being an Olympian, so the news wasn’t earth-shattering. But it was very frustrating to be told that I couldn’t do something—that my body couldn’t handle it. What was worse, though, was that at age 10, the doctors told me I was supposed to wear a back brace for 23 hours a day until I stopped growing. The brace holds the spine in place and prevents the curves from getting worse. I was only allowed to take it off when I was showering or dancing. That’s when I started taking every sort of class my studio offered—about 20 hours a week!—so I could spend all afternoon without my brace on.
Being diagnosed with scoliosis gave me a lot of drive: I didn’t want to be told I couldn’t dance, too. So when I was 14, I moved to NYC to study at ABT. Then I got hired into the Studio Company (now ABT II) for a year until I severely injured my knee. Now I’m home in New Mexico training at Alwin School of the Dance again and working with a personal trainer, as well as taking yoga, kickboxing, Gyrotonic and Feldenkrais classes.
Managing My Scoliosis
At age 16, I started feeling a lot more pain, so I’ve been using somatic practices to keep my back healthy. I was done growing, but hormones can have a huge effect on the musculature around your spine. When you’re tired, your hormones are out of whack or you’re in a bad mood, your spine can compress. For someone with scoliosis, this means that you can also be more crooked.
There are days when you’re in a lot of pain, and then there are days when you’re fine. It’s really hard to control. The worst pain was when I went on tour with the Studio Company. I had so many people helping me take care of my back at home, but as soon as I went on tour without a team of people, my back went out of whack.
When my knee was first injured, my scoliosis got better because I was forced to not do anything for a while. But muscle tone is really important to support your spine. So then once I got out of shape, my back reverted to its normal self and it wasn’t doing so well.
Getting enough rest is key to managing scoliosis. When I was growing, I would have days when I’d wake up after a good night’s rest with my back properly supported and my depth perception was all messed up because I had woken up a little taller!
At first when I was in Studio Company I would push myself because everybody else was, but after a while I started to have pain from not taking care of my body. I had to miss rehearsals for a couple of weeks in order to recover. My muscles were just too tired from holding my spine up, and that resulted in muscle spasms. I had to relax. I did a lot of Rolfing, a method of deep-tissue manipulation, and it’s been a saving grace all my life.
A Spine Is Still a Spine
Managing scoliosis takes a lot of work, but having it has actually helped me when executing choreography, because my range of motion tends to be more extreme than other people’s. I have to be careful not to overdo it, though, and to communicate with the choreographer. They’ll love me for a week and then when I can’t move anymore they’re like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’
I think people forget my spine is still a spine, though, and most spines with scoliosis don’t have any actual deformities in the bone. It’s just that for some reason they don’t line up correctly. A lot of people think I might break if they even touch me. I threw out my back the summer before I started Studio Company. A disk slipped a little out of place, which had nothing to do with my scoliosis, but because I have scoliosis I was advised to see my orthopedist, who ended up just performing a routine adjustment. I was left with the problem for almost a day, though. Because it wasn’t relieved immediately I couldn’t do anything for four or five days.
I used to think I knew so much about my body because I had scoliosis, and I had to find new ways to do simple things. But now I realize I was just cheating correct alignment. Because I’m now forced to constantly think about my alignment to protect my knee, I understand even more about how correct alignment also helps my back. I’ve learned so much about my body from being injured that I feel like the second time around I’m actually going to be able to deal with the scoliosis better.
Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.