Guest Posting from SUU Ballroom Dance Company Director, Beth Feild
A Coach’s Perspective:
As ballroom company president, Ryann has been an integral part of our team since before the school year even began. Not only does she assist me with behind the scenes preparations for tours and performances, but she also serves as an exemplary dancer to the rest of the team. Knowing this was her final year at SUU, I wanted to give her every opportunity possible to shine. I casted her in the majority of the tour team’s dances fall semester, as many as I could without her having to dance an hour and a half straight for the show. (Because–despite her requests for more–the girl has got to breathe sometime!)
Like most serious dancers, Ryann is one who pushes through the pain when something is bothering her. She is not one to “baby” her injuries or play it safe by sitting out on the side. Sitting out of a rehearsal has a huge impact, especially in ballroom dance, and Ryann knows this from her years of dancing with the company. Not only does it affect your own performance, but your dance partner is affected, as well as everyone else on the floor who is trying to keep formation with the other partnerships. This non-stop drive is a strong attribute to have as a performer, but it can also be dangerous. It is difficult to find the balance between listening to what your body really needs, pushing your physical limits, and being there for your partner and the team.
I knew Ryann had knee problems in the past, but I didn’t know they were still bothering her to the extent that they probably were last fall. Whenever she was experiencing knee pain, she would come talk to me about it and explain that she might not dance certain moves full-out if they involved lots of bending and straightening or jumps. I always encouraged her to wear her knee brace during practice and ice when she got home. I don’t think either of us anticipated an injury might occur.
Everything was going smoothly as we prepared for the November show. A few days before dress rehearsal, I met with each of the teams to teach the finale number. It was during this rehearsal with tour team when it happened. The finale isn’t a difficult dance, it’s mostly just steps and kicks with some pretty arm movements and bows. I don’t think there is anything Ryann could have done to prevent the injury from happening, but in one little step her knee gave out and she collapsed to the floor. I’ve teased her since then that it should have been the jive or samba that did her in, but it was literally a simple step in the finale that did it. In that moment of not knowing what was going on, I hoped that it was just a sprain or a dislocation that could easily be corrected. With just days until opening night, I couldn’t imagine how the show could go on without Ryann.
Over the next few days, Ryann saw local doctors and drove to Salt Lake to see specialists. We had very open communication during this time, and she was constantly giving me updates on her knee and what the doctors were saying. First and foremost, I assured her the team and I wanted and needed her to get better. It was more important that she take all necessary steps to recover than try to perform on a serious injury for our sake. I prepared for the worst by putting the alternate dancers in her spots to fill the holes in the routines. It took some extra practice time, but thankfully we had an incredible team who was willing to step in at the very last minute so the show could go on. This entire time Ryann kept insisting she was fine to dance in the show, but I felt strongly otherwise. I told her if the doctor gave her full permission to perform, I would put her back in her dances, but that she was to listen to the doctor above all else.
I was devastated for her. As a dancer myself, I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak she must have felt not being able to perform after all the time and energy she put into this show. What was more disheartening was knowing this was her senior year, and a serious knee injury could potentially pull her out of everything for the rest of the year. When she told me the doctor recommended an immediate surgery, I encouraged her to do it, the sooner the better. The sooner she had surgery, the faster she could recover, and the sooner she could return to dance with us. I wanted her back spring semester and hoped that would be the case.
Ryann had surgery and came to our show on crutches. I know it was hard for her to watch from the audience, but I think in a way it inspired the other dancers to dance not only for themselves but for her, too. That’s what being part of a team is all about.
The biggest challenge I faced as her coach during all of this was trying to make her realize she wasn’t burdening me or the team, and that this wasn’t her fault. I could tell she was really down both mentally and emotionally right after the injury occurred, and despite me insisting that I wasn’t mad, she wasn’t ruining everything, and that sometimes things just happen, I never felt like she fully accepted it or believed me. There was nothing she could have done to prevent the initial knee collapse/tear. When you are involved with a high intensity sport such as DANCING IN HEELS, there are inherent and unexpected risks every time you step onto the dance floor. It was hard to help her understand that she wasn’t guilty for what happened. I know it is hard to see things that way when you are the injured one, though. In the end, I think she was able to grasp that and move on.
When classes and rehearsals started again in January, Ryann was still recovering from her surgery. She always came to rehearsals, even if it meant observing from the side or taking it easy. As always, I encouraged her to wear her brace and to avoid deep “squatting” movements. Little by little she came back in full. I was actually shocked at how quickly she was able to recover and get back to dancing. I could tell she realized the magnitude of the situation and didn’t want to push her injury any further. Because she was smart about it, she recovered in record time. (It might not have felt like “record time” to her, but it did to me!) It was such a relief to have her back for spring semester. Watching her dance in the spring show, knowing what she had experienced and overcome this year, was amazing. I am so proud of her! Although what happened wasn’t ideal, I know she is stronger physically and mentally for conquering this trial. I’ll just encourage her to stick with the tricky, dangerous movements and avoid the simple steps from now on. 😉
– Beth Feild, SUU Ballroom Director