At the age of 14, I left my family, school, home, and country to pursue my dream of becoming a professional ballerina. After only two years of training in New York City, this dream turned into a nightmare when a prior stress fracture became severe. I broke my sesamoid, one of the most highly impacted bones in ballet. I was at the height of my career, fulfilling my greatest aspirations and had no other choice but to stay quiet about my injury to avoid losing momentum and subsequently, being sidelined.
I danced for months in extreme pain until I reached a point where I could no longer walk. After waking up to my usual alarm at 5:45 one Friday morning, I stepped out of bed to get ready for the day. As I walked to the kitchen, I heard a loud crack then felt an excruciating pain in my foot. Later that day, my doctor told me that I would have to get a bone scan to figure out what exactly was happening in my foot.
A few weeks later, I went to the local hospital where I had booked my appointment for my bone scan. Upon arrival, the nurse told me that I would be injected with radioactive dye contrast to enable the doctors examining my scans to have a better understanding of what was going on. A week later, my doctor reviewed the scans and called me into his office. He soon told me that I would have to immediately stop all weight-bearing activities for a minimum of six months. Sitting in my doctor’s office, all I could think was what now?
All I had ever focused on was dance. It was my entire life. At 11, I left my traditional school environment to pursue a homeschooling education in favour of more time in the dance studio. At 12, I began training in a pre-professional ballet program that required me to attend a specialized school for athletes. At 14, I had put my career above everything including my education, time with family and my wellbeing. I began online schooling so that I could completely devote myself to my career. I left my parents behind and everything that I had known to dance in New York City at the prestigious Joffrey Ballet School. Two years later, this trend caused me to sacrifice my health for ballet. I was addicted to the high that came from being onstage, fueled by the applause, and astonishment at how each performance represented incremental progress towards fulfilling my ultimate goal. It was a europhia that I struggled to let go of even when my body desperately pleaded for me to take a break to recover.
For weeks, I was forced to wear a boot cast on my foot to decrease the amount of stress when walking on standing. The cast was complemented with icing to reduce inflammation and epsom salt baths to increase circulation. Regardless of my lack of weight bearing, the pain did not go away. The injury had gotten too severe from my months of dancing on it. At this point, there was no other option than to go on complete bed rest to prevent any further damage to the area. Being on bed rest gave me ample time to reflect. During this time I recognized that I had allowed my tunnel vision to steer me in one direction. When faced with the real prospect of having to alter my rigid life plan, I was lost. The failure that came from being consumed by my professional pursuits, to the detriment of my health, taught me one of the most painful and meaningful lessons I have ever had to learn. While having a direction and destination is important to fulfilling one’s goals, it is vitally important to remain agile along this journey and recognize that a change in course can yield even greater rewards.
Although I could not physically dance, I knew that I had to remain immersed in the world of ballet. This is when I turned a vision of mine into a reality and created Révolutionnaire, an innovative dancewear company catering to dancers of colour. I had spent my entire career dyeing my dancewear to match the colour of my skin to make up for the lack of dancewear products available for diverse complexions. Recognizing this pervasive problem, I decided to craft my own solution. I began looking for manufacturers to create dancewear that was diverse and inclusive. I then started sourcing swatches that spanned several hues and used paper and a pencil to design my products. My staying involved in the art that I am passionate about helped me stay positive and motivating during that difficult time where I was not allowed to dance.
After weeks of being in a cast with very little progress, I began receiving traumeel injections in the bottom of my foot. These injections were initially extremely painful and temporarily caused an increased amount of swelling. However, over time they helped to reduce the pain within my foot and the inflammation involved. While the injections were helpful, the effects only lasted for about three days after which I would have to return to the doctor for more. In short, the traumeel injections were not a sustainable long term solution, so I stopped the treatment process and began exploring other options.
On the evening of my last traumeel injection, all I could think about was the necessity of finding alternative solutions. I decided to do some more research before icing my foot and going to bed. This is when I came across ultrasound bone stimulators. Ultrasound bone stimulators are machines that have a small attachment on them that when anchored to the injured area can increase blood flow and stimulation to the area through ultrasound waves. I ordered a bone stimulator online in hopes that regular usage at home would help speed up my recovery. Unfortunately, after nearly three months of daily ultrasound therapy, not much had changed.
I began worrying about the long term effects of the injury and if I would ever be able to return to my passion. I met with Dr. Glenn Copeland, one of the premier orthopedic specialists in North America. Dr. Copeland advised that I begin focal shockwave and high intensity laser therapy to stimulate the area and promote circulation. The idea was that these shockwaves would cause additional injury to the surrounding ligaments thus causing more cells to accumulate in the area and help heal the original injury in addition to the new found pain. The focal shockwave was coupled with a high intensity laser which worked to stimulate tissue regeneration and healing by transferring energy from the machine to the injured area. This was the treatment that changed my life and truly saved me. After 24 treatments I was able to walk, run and jump with no pain. It was not long before I was back in the dance studio, training to regain my technique.
While my journey to a healthy body has been long and ongoing, it has been the most powerful learning experience that I have ever undergone. Not only have I learned how tenacious and determined missing my passion could make me, but I also learned that I am more than a dancer, I am also a passionate entrepreneur and changemaker. Through building Revolutionnaire, I am constructing a new future for myself. A future that enables me to be a ballerina and use my experiences as fuel to advocate for greater inclusion in the dance world and beyond. What I once thought was a catastrophic break in my plan, facilitated a necessary pivot towards a path with perspective and purpose, and for that, I am forever grateful.
19-year-old Howard University student, Nia Faith had a dream that every dancer would have apparel that celebrates the skin they’re in. The Révolutionnaire Shop goes beyond dance, and is now home to a collection of apparel and accessories that celebrate the skin you’re in. Shop our collection of dance tights, boob tape, KT tape and Ts.
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