By Lew Whittington for The Dance Journal
BalletX dancer Colby Damon sustained an injury to his left knee onstage at the Wilma Theater last November. He had to have immediate corrective surgery and even though everything went well in the operating room, his recovery is taking longer than predicted. A professional dancer since he was a teen, this has been the longest period of time he has been away from performing and it has tested his centered outlook, as he had to face his career being suddenly put on hold.
Here is an update on his progress and his plans as he makes his way back to the dance stage.
“I’m not at the point where I can rehearse, but clinically, I’m fine… for normal activity, that is, not for someone has to work with their body all day…“ Damon said sipping his double-espresso at Elixir Café earlier this month. He points out the distinct difference in the physical level of dance rehab, “Yeah, as a dancer, you have harder expectations.”
Rebuilding the muscles in his leg has become a balancing act how fast he can push it and not do anything that would result in a setback. ”It was more severe than I realized; I think the doctors didn’t want to tell me. They didn’t to discourage me I guess. But they estimated six months to come back and it’s been eight and it gets very frustrating. I was real patient for a long time, but after a while, I could just think, this really sucks,” Damon acknowledged.
Waiting for your go
As anxious as Damon became, he didn‘t override listening to his body first. Known as a strong character dancers and overall acrobatic dance, including being fearless in the air and very game for innovative choreography in mixed disciplines. Over the spring, he was ready to test his limits, even as he remains cautious about the day-to-day requirements of a dancer’s life.
Damon was determined to get back in the studio, but when he was able to in March, he had to accept reality and he was able to teach company class and some ballet mastering “But not dancing full out yet,” he said.
He described trying to bend his knee feeling like “bone against bone” a condition that went on for several months after he was able to move around. His injury involved a popped off kneecap, dislocated patella tendon and a “big chunk” of (knee) cartilage breaking off. The surgery was part reconstruction and to remove cartilage and help it re-heal.
“Sometimes when I’m moving it around in space, like doing rond de jambe or something, I can feel my ligaments moving around,” as creepy as that feels, he said he is able to take ballet class, “I really can’t plie with all of my weight on my left knee. So I can’t do a lot, even though I can do almost everything else. A little center and actually, all of barre. But have to do it at a 60 percent level,” he assessed.
He admits that the sidelines is a struggle, “Watching other dancers move and not have to think twice, then I stand up I try something and I can’t yet, I’m ready to not worry about it anymore. Julie Green, my physical therapist keeps reminding me of the progress I’ve made. When this first started, I couldn’t even straighten my leg or walk for months. Now I can do full ballet barre and dance a bit, so it’s progress,” he explained. “I have a very deep plie, a ‘loose’ Achilles tendon. I need that range of motion to do the most basic things. But, I need to do that hundreds of times every day. I don’t want to re-injure it, or be in pain.
“I can move quickly, but the degree I need to bend my knee to jump…or to really move through anything in a full, I can’t do yet, my muscles are still relearning the extremes of dance movement. It‘s impossible for me to push it right now. But I‘ve definitely turned a page just in past two weeks, I can fully bend and straighten my knee, before my body wouldn‘t let me do it, so it‘s a big step forward, but so slow.”
To stay focused Damon was using meditation and other strategies of positive to cope, but as the six-month mark came up he was increasingly frustrated at the limits of his progress and he started to worry, but found ways to channel that negative energy. He sees Pennsylvania Ballet therapist Julie Green for ongoing diagnostic “She has been pretty honest with me. Her opinion is that it will take a year for a full recovery. And I think that’s the truth of it now. I don’t think I realized how close to being completely recovered you have to be to do some basic things in dance.”
As summer approached, Damon was mapping out his plans, and again had to accept that he wouldn’t be onstage any time soon. He has already he had to bow out BalletX’s summer programming.
Only in hindsight will Damon be able to tell if he is close to a full recovery, meantime he is pursuing every avenue to speed the process. He in practicing “level two of Qigong practice, “you learn acupuncture points and in what combination of points. I started to do it in California and, I found a teacher here. He is at a point where he can have full days of physical activity and his daily schedule includes ballet class, weight lifting, biking and walking to PT and Vinyasa yoga class. He is even jumping “minimally” he said, using a Pilates reformer. “just a few inches off the floor, not… a foot and a half which is what I could usually do.”
“There was a long time that I couldn’t even make my traumatized leg tired, my full leg would get tired, but my bad leg wouldn’t, it felt like all the brunt was on the joints. Which was scary. Now they are both feeling tired, so that is good. My muscles are starting to register getting tired again. Today I’m sore, so I’m taking it easy,” he assured.
Aside from daily rehab in one for or another, Damon is involved in a number of other projects. “I’m getting my creative juices going. He has also taken courses in screen-printing, bookbinding and fundamentals of design, to wrack up more credits towards his college degree. He also may be creating something for Alexis Convento’s for Current Sessions dance collective in New York and he is hoping thinking of choreographing a piece for the Charlottesville Ballet next year.
The time off from dancing has also allowed more time for his other interests in social movements. “I also working closely with a grassroots anti-fracking collective that sprung up. I’m trying to organize an arts benefit that will feature musicians, poets, actors, film, dance and in conjunction with activists presentations.
“I got involved through the Occupy Movement. That was how I got my feet wet and this is new territory for me, but what I can bring to it is fundraising and public awareness.
Even though environmental issues are “not in the headlines,” Damon said, “There are a lot of people behind this movement, the moratorium on the drilling the Delaware River basin was totally activist initiated-reaction. It would have been catastrophic to the drinking water. I’m trying to build a bridge between the activist community and art worlds. I’m organizing it later this summer. It’s essentially an arts function and positive creation for activism.”
Damon sips the last of his coffee and is rushing out of the café to friend’s rehearsal, then calling it a day. He may have to still observe from the bench, but his mind is moving, if not dancing full out, in many directions.
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