Against All Odds
My favorite story of a person overcoming adversity is about my heroine, the great choreographer Agnes B. De Mille. After suffering a severe stroke, she became paralyzed on her right side and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. From her chair she went on to choreograph Oklahoma, Brigadoon, and Carousel. Unable to walk, she trained herself to stand and work on her stance at the barre. (For more on De Mille, go to http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20080264,00.html )
Agnes B. De Mille’s example inspired me to continue developing my choreographic abilities. Following successful treatment for the cancer that had left me wheelchair bound, my father rented a studio for my personal rehabilitation. Within a year I was already taking in students, and my career as a teacher of ballet and movement had begun. The break-through that got me to Southern California came from out of the blue when I was 21. A local high school drill team director asked me to choreograph a few pieces for an annual national competition held in Los Angeles called Miss Drill Team USA (now Miss Drill Team International.)
This was to be the girls’ first national competition, and they needed training in all aspects of performance, from tilt of the cowgirl hat and synchronicity of movement to overall artistic appeal. Applying principles of classical ballet, my choreography brought a style and impeccability to their performance normally seen in ballet concerts, where details are of the utmost importance. With the routines completed, I was invited to travel with the team to the week-long competition held in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Hundreds of high school drill teams competed in various categories at venues all over the Los Angeles area during the week. Saturday evening the winners were to be announced in the Sports Arena. The enormous venue was packed with thousands of students, dance teams, and their supporters from all over the United States. The show opened with then teenage heart-throb Michael J. Fox being paraded in the back of a convertible around the gigantic stage. The young high school girls were screaming in unison--it was deafening. At last the winners were announced: we won the national competition! And not in just one but two categories: large-group jazz dance precision, and large-group military precision.
As the choreographer I was photographed with the team, and my picture appeared in Let’s Cheer, a magazine for high school drill teams, cheerleaders, and other half-time performers. Soon I was getting offers from schools all over the country for jobs in choreography. I was now recognized in another dance market. I had never considered this to be real dance, but it got me to California and opened the doors to my new career in dance choreography.
To say the least, recovery from life-threatening trauma to the body gives one a whole new perspective on life. You now have reference points that very few people have experienced and lived to tell about. The previous life as you’ve known it is gone forever, never to return. It is a type of re-birth. Things that once seemed important in life fade away and are replaced with thoughts of what really matters, because ego is no longer a controlling force in life. And then when you least expect it new opportunities appear, and that’s when commitment and focus make all the difference.