A Dancer's Comeback
As a multi-hyphenate professional ballerina-radio personality-stand-up comedienne, Carolyn P. from Hartford, Connecticut poured much of her boundless energy and her heart and soul into her first love as a dancer. As the principal dancer, director and choreographer with CONNetic Dance, Carolyn was looking forward to the debut of “Nutcracker Suite & Spicy” that she was instrumental in bringing to the stage.
However, in December 2017, right before the opening, that all changed after a freak fall on ice that left her with a traumatic ankle injury.
As a classically trained ballerina, Carolyn has had her fair share of minor injuries but never anything significant. “I’ve had minor injuries and aches and pains in the past and have been able to push through them and continue dancing,” said Carolyn. “This time, I fell and heard a noise and immediately knew that I had broken something. I wanted to see, and I took off my boot and I will never be able to un-see it as my foot was almost backward. It was a very graphic injury. I very quickly felt dread, particularly as someone who relies on her body and skills as a professional dancer to do her job.”
According to Carolyn, there was little to do immediately except quickly deal with the injury and continue her job as director and choreographer of the production. “I went to my local emergency department, got everything stabilized, got the pain managed and went back to the theater where I still produced the event that was so important to me,” said Carolyn. “On Monday, through networking and referrals, I was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center to see Dr. Hans Van Lancker, who was known as a surgeon for the Boston Ballet. I was really scared about surgery in general, but Dr. Van Lancker was so good at explaining everything to me, helping me be calmer. He fully shared my desire to return to dancing, and his confidence gave me the courage for surgery.”
“Carolyn’s injury was more than a simple ankle sprain. During the fall, she suffered an ankle fracture-dislocation and ruptured several ligaments,” explained Dr. Van Lancker. “She made it clear to me she wanted to dance again, and I reassured her my team would get her back in pointe shoes.”
The next day Carolyn was in surgery and knew she was entering the next phase of recovery. “I wanted to dance by the spring,” said Carolyn. “Dr. Van Lancker was fully supportive of that goal.”
The first week after surgery was challenging as Carolyn was immobile, but after that, she was able to focus on little goals like getting the boot off and sleeping more comfortably, moving her foot around and more. During this time, Carolyn kept busy with her radio show and her stand-up comedy along with teaching dance class on crutches.
As an athlete, Carolyn worked on her recovery with a regiment of Therabands, Pilates and stretches which, after the boot was able to be removed began swimming as well. Dr. Van Lancker approved an ankle brace that allowed her to use the stationary bike along with squats. She was using her kitchen counter as a ballet bar and doing exercises every day. After ten weeks Carolyn tried dancing again. And, while it didn’t feel the same as before, she was able to perform. “Sometimes I jump, and the landing feels a little rough, but I was able to go back en pointe in May 2018,” she said.
From here, Carolyn continued from strength to strength. “Healing is never linear. I felt I hit walls, but I always saw some progress and took courage from that. I had to listen to my body.” She was able to hike the Red Rocks in Sedona and also faced off against the ice at the Ice Castles in New Hampshire.
Key to it all was the support she received from her physician. “Dr. Van Lancker was on the same page as me. He helped me maintain my confidence and find little goals. I felt that Dr. Van Lancker was a little bit of a risk-taker like me, and he really listened and was able to try to support my goal of dancing again,” said Carolyn.