Dancer to Dancer

A Difficult Diagnosis

The “So You Think You Can Dance” tour is an unreal experience. During the three months on the road, we perform almost every night in sold-out venues filled with thousands of supportive fans.

The “SYTYCD” Season 7 tour, in the fall of 2010, was going amazingly well until October. That’s when the lower half of my body started to feel numb. It’s difficult to describe the feeling (or non-feeling) exactly, but it was like a mix between pins and needles and when you get Novocain at the dentist. During the same time, I started to get an electric sensation down to my toes when I put my chin to my chest. Although I couldn’t think of a particular moment of injury, I figured maybe I had herniated a disc. After all, we were doing six performances a week, which was hard on our bodies.

Since I never experienced pain during these episodes—the symptoms were always just nagging discomforts—I didn’t mention any of this to a doctor. I tried to overcome the feelings as best I could, with regular stretching and body care. By mid-March, I thought I was getting better because I began to regain feeling in my legs (though I never felt 100 percent). But then later that year my entire right side started to go numb. That’s when I realized something was seriously wrong.

My grandmother has multiple sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects movement, sensation and bodily functions. I watched her live with the disorder and knew many of the symptoms of MS overlap with the symptoms of a herniated disc, like the numbness and tingly feelings I was having. So when I finally went to the doctor over Christmas, I asked to be tested. I had a gut feeling I had the disease, but he said he doubted my test results would come back positive. There have been no studies proving MS is hereditary, although some studies show that many people with MS have family members who have the disease.

Performing a jazz routine with Mark Kanemura on “SYTYCD” Season 4 (Kelsey McNeal/FOX)

I got a series of MRIs done, and my inkling was correct: The films showed plaque on my spinal cord and lesions on my brain, confirming MS. When the doctor told me the news, I was upset, but I also felt a sense of clarity. I had a diagnosis and could start treating the disease. My first question was, “Will it affect my dancing?” But my doctor said, “The best thing for you is to keep dancing and keep your muscles strong.” I definitely didn’t have any objections to that!

At first, I was apprehensive about sharing the news of my diagnosis. This disease comes with the assumption that you’ll get progressively worse and perhaps eventually become immobile. (MS attacks the myelin covering your nerves. Without that, your brain can no longer convey messages along the nerves to your muscles, which stops the muscles from working.) I was afraid people would think I could no longer do the things I’ve always been able to do or that they wouldn’t hire me.

However, because of advances in medicine and research, there are many things a person with MS can do to prevent this from happening. I get an injection called Rebif three times a week. Rebif is used to prevent episodes of symptoms and slow the development of disability in patients with relapsing-remitting MS, which is the type I have (my grandmother has primary-progressive MS). Rebif isn’t my favorite thing, but it’s what I need to keep myself healthy, along with eating right and exercising.

I occasionally experience certain symptoms, like tingling or feeling off-balance, if I’m upset or stressed—stress is one reason relapses occur. But I’m currently in remission and able to dance. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve filmed episodes of “Glee,” I’ve danced with Al Pacino in a new movie called Stand Up Guys (that was a whole lot of awesome!) and I’ve performed on “Dancing with the Stars.” I was in the Rock of Ages movie, and I’ve traveled with “SYTYCD” doing Season 9 auditions. Plus, I started my own dance convention with my family called The BEAT. Some of the teaching faculty are former “SYTYCD” contestants, including Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Allison Holker, Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval, Robert Roldan, Ade Obayomi and William Wingfield. I found out about my MS diagnosis the day after our first BEAT event in NYC. I was grateful for the timing. The BEAT gives me a chance to surround myself with family, friends and dance no matter what course MS takes.

Performing a hip-hop routine with Gev Manoukian on “SYTYCD” Season 4 (Kelsey McNeal/FOX)

After receiving my diagnosis, I decided I wanted to help raise awareness about MS, so my brother and I teamed up with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and started a foundation called BEAT MS. Now a portion of every BEAT registration will go toward the organization, which funds MS research. The society also provides people like my grandmother with nurses, helps pay for costly MS medication and hosts the MS Walk every year all over the U.S. This year my friends on both coasts took part in the walk and raised more than $20,000.

I have good days and bad days, but I’ve learned a lot about life that I don’t think I would have otherwise. Since MS is an anxiety-driven disease, I’m trying to stop worrying (I’m a worrywart by nature) about my future. I’m also learning not to obsess about my past, wondering what I could have done better. I’m working on enjoying the now.

During the “SYTYCD” tour in 2008, I got a tattoo across my feet that, when I stand in first position, reads, “I walk forward with certainty that my dance is secure.” Those words apply to my life now more than ever.

Show Comments ()
Dance News
Mahak Naiwal, foreground, in Kathak class (screenshot via YouTube)

Just in case you missed it: To highlight last Thursday's International Day of the Girl, The New York Times has launched a unique photographic and editorial project called #ThisIs18, all with the aim of spotlighting what life is really like for 18-year-old women around the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways

It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are Artists AND Athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection, and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Quinn Starner performing a variation from Paquita at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA International Ballet Competition)

Quinn Starner is no stranger to competitions. The 16-year-old "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" alum has been slaying the contemporary circuit for years, winning Best Teen Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2017. But lately she's been more focused on ballet, relocating from Florida to train at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory two years ago. And while she's won awards at ballet competitions like ADC|IBC and Youth America Grand Prix, in June she upped the stakes by going to the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS—an audition-only event that's one of the world's most prestigious comps. We followed Quinn on her Jackson journey.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Fashion
@sab_nyc via Instagram

Halloween is almost here and that means its time to get serious about finding the perfect costume. A lot of you dancers need costumes that are both fun and functional so that you can go straight from dance class to the streets, without missing a beat. Here are nine of the most creative, yet versatile ensembles that'll allow you to enjoy Halloween festivities without compromising your dance training.
Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Al Blacksone teaching class at JUMP (courtesy Break the Floor Productions)

Is there anything better than a dance convention? Frankly, we don't think so. Although we love getting a guest teacher to come to our studio for a masterclass every so often, there's just something so exciting about packing up our leotards and dance shoes and heading to a convention for the weekend. Here are 7 reasons why dance conventions are, without a doubt, the greatest things ever.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
(photo by Jim Lafferty)

Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.

And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
via capezio.com

As of today, there are only 13 nights until the spoOoOokiest evening of the year—and just 1 week left, if you're planning to dress up over Halloweekend. Do you have your costume(s) yet?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ashley Ellis in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker (photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet)

Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis' dancing is the perfect pairing of ethereal grace and punchy musicality. The Torrance, CA, native began training at South Bay Ballet at age 6, and attended the School of American Ballet summer program in 1998. In 2001, she was accepted into American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, and the following year, she joined ABT's corps de ballet. In 2007, she became a founding member of Corella Ballet Castilla y León in Spain, under the direction of Angel Corella. Three years later, she headed back to the States and danced with Sarasota Ballet before joining Boston Ballet as a second soloist in 2011. In 2013, she was promoted to principal dancer. Catch her performing this season in the company's Nutcracker. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Jim Lafferty

This story originally appeared on dancemagazine.com.

"So why did you quit?"

It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.

"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
via giphy.com

Costumes: We look amazing in them but, boy, sometimes they're the actual worst. Whether they don't fit correctly or they rip right before a performance, here are 10 wardrobe malfunctions all dancers unfortunately suffer through at one point or another.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Giphy

It's the age-old debate: Is dance a sport? The answer is, without a doubt, YES. Of course, dance is much more than just a sport. But when we get down to the logistics of it all, it's impossible not to recognize it as the athletic endeavor it is. Here are 10 reasons why dance absolutely qualifies as a sport.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Hands down the coolest assistant principal we've ever seen. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Let's take a walk down memory lane to this past September, when the #LevelUpChallenge was in full-blown viral mode. Literally thousands of videos of people dancing to Ciara's song "Level Up" flooded the Internet, but only one truly broke it: an amazing clip of the Wilson Central High School Dance Team—and their Assistant Principal, Ranesa Shipman. Never one to miss out on a viral dance challenge, Ellen DeGeneres decided to have Shipman and the team perform on "The Ellen Show"—and the fun didn't stop there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Thinkstock

You and your phone have more in common than you might guess, says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, pediatrician and clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "If you charge your phone halfway, it works for a few hours," he explains. "But it's not performing at its full potential, and you have to be careful about how you use that energy."

It'd be nice to just plug into the wall for nine hours until you hit 100 percent battery, but for (human) dancers, it's not that simple. So DS asked Dr. Pelayo and Dr. Argelinda Baroni, co-director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Program in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, how to maximize your own battery life—ensuring you'll dance better and more safely in the process.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dance BFFs Findlay McConnell (left) and Payton Johnson (courtesy McConnell and Johnson)

Two dancers from different studios on opposite ends of the country meeting at a dance competition may sound like the formula for a cheesy teen-rivalry movie. But it's actually real life for lots of dancers on the comp circuit. Meet four sets of adorable BFFs who found winning friendships at a competition.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Rylee Arnold and Miles Brown were standouts this week. (via YouTube)

We still can't get over the talent on "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors"—like how many YouTube tutorials do we have to watch to become half as good as these mini dancing machines? And just in case you forgot how skilled these prodigies are, this week's theme was sure to remind you: Last night, the ten couples performed to songs that came out the year they were born. (But let's be real, most of these songs aren't really that much of a throwback.)

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Ava and Emma Blaser performing their duet to Coldplay's "Fix You." (via ellentube)

It's safe to say that the bond between dancing siblings is one of the strongest out there. But for sisters Emma, 16, and Ava Blaser, 10, that bond runs deeper than most can even fathom: The pair continued to dance together throughout Ava's treatment for kidney cancer remission, and they say it helped them heal.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
San Francisco Ballet soloist Koto Ishihara stretches in her warm-up boots. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Dance Magazine.

With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways