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In New Book, Champion Pro/Am American Smooth Dancer, Darla Davies, Chronicles How She Fought to Recover and Regained Her National Title after Undergoing Hip Replacement

Used by Permission

For years, we had fun running into United States Pro/Am American Smooth champion, Darla Davies, along with her professional dance partner, Jim Maranto, both at the studio, where we often exchanged friendly banter, and at competitions, where she was known, not only for her Smooth dancing, but also for her fashion-forward costumes, some of which we even purchased for our own students. She was a veritable fixture whom we could always count on seeing. So, when she was gone from competitions for nearly a year, we felt her absence and wondered what had happened.

Now, in her own words, Darla gives us, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The Rest of the Story,” in her new book, Who Said I’d Never Dance Again? A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory. But, as publicist Darcie Rowan states, “More than a memoir from a champion athlete, this book is a positive plan for finding the best doctor for your needs. Plus, Darla explains how to understand fully about the diagnosis, process, surgery, physical recovery, and the secrets of sports psychology behind a dramatic recovery that leads back to an active life.”

Used by Permission

What we particularly like about Darla’s book, though, is that it fits right in with some of the philosophy that we tried to share in our blog post Where There Is A Will To Dance, There Is A Way. In a nutshell, we said:

If you feel like you are too old or don’t have the physical ability that you used to….if you are still alive and vertical, you’re not too old… As long as we have our health, really, the only thing stopping us from accomplishing our goals…is we ourselves. Even then, there are now countless examples of differently abled people who have not allowed physical hindrances to stop them from pursuing their passions. Start where you are now, with what you have. It is better than never starting at all, which is the only sure way to fail.

So, when her publicist reached out to us and asked if we would like to share a bit from the book on our blog, we jumped at the chance. Here, then, is an excerpt from Who Said I’d Never Dance Again? A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory:

Used by Permission

This has been adapted from Who Said I’d Never Dance Again? A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory, 2019 by Darla Davies. Published by Morgan James Publishing.

About four months after my surgery, I progressed to basic dance steps and drills along with my gym exercises. Jim and I took it slowly by just doing the basic Waltz and Foxtrot for a couple of weeks. I was naturally fearful about placing my full weight on my left leg with that new hip. It felt odd and somewhat weak at first, but when I realized that I was not going to fall over, I became more confident.

I was anxious to try some Cha Cha and Rumba to test my Cuban hip action. Prior to my hip surgery, that hip rotation in the Rhythm dances was really painful.

One day I stood in front of the mirror at the dance studio and thought, This is it; this will be the true test of my new hip: a nice, slow, Rumba box step. I recalled the piercing pain that I had experienced the last time that I had tried to make my hips do those Rumba boxes. Trying to forget the past, I took a step back on my right leg, settled my weight, and pulled my right hip back. Next, I stepped sideways on my left leg. I was so afraid. I wondered if my new left hip was going to accept the weight and the required hip rotation. My excitement was building as I settled my weight onto my left leg and pulled my left hip back. As I closed my right foot to my left, settled my weight, and pulled my right hip back, I looked in the mirror feeling absolutely delighted as I saw my own smile looking back at me.

A couple of private dance lessons were underway in the studio while I was in the corner making this earth shaking discovery. Unable to contain my excitement, I turned around and shouted at anyone who would listen, “It doesn’t hurt anymore! No more pain! I can do a Rumba box and it doesn’t hurt!”

They all chuckled, and shared in my extreme elation. Just to be sure, I did Rumba boxes, and Cucarachas for another ten minutes. My reflection in the mirror was still smiling back at me.

Used by Permission. Inserted here by GQ Ballroom.

After dancing moderately in my very low-heeled practice shoes for about a month-and-a-half, I switched over to my two-and-a-half-inch high heels. The transition was not a problem, and I was feeling sturdy and confident. Soon Jim and I went back to practicing our Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz routines.

Although my left leg was so much stronger than what it had been prior to the surgery, there was lingering muscular pain. During hip replacement surgery, the muscles around the hip are cut, and it can take over a year for them to reattach and mold around the titanium implant. I could live with this small amount of muscular pain, because it was nothing compared to the debilitating joint pain that I had endured in the past.

Seven months after my surgery, Dr. Hedley assured me that my X-ray looked perfect, and that any pain in my hip area was residual from what I had been dealing with prior to surgery. Dr. Hedley proudly encouraged me to go ahead and dance in competitions.

“Do anything you want. Just don’t get tackled or slide into base,” he said. We both laughed. No, I did not aspire to play football or baseball. I just wanted to be a competitive amateur ballroom dancer.

I was amazed at how well I was progressing with my new hip. Having been consistent with my physical therapy exercises, I was feeling both confident and capable. In spite of continued minor muscular soreness in the hip area, I was feeling reasonably well supported. I had been practicing my four smooth dance routines (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz) for a few weeks, so it felt like the right time to try out my new hip at a competition. One might have expected me to feel apprehension and fear about dancing on the new hip after nearly a year off, but I was remarkably relaxed. Previous thoughts of tension and insecurity were replaced with uplifted feelings of strength and confidence—almost jubilation. I went from pain, weakness, and suffering to having it all erased. Certainly this must be qualified as a miracle. I felt like a jockey, who after a long recovery from an injury, was back in the saddle again and ready to ride the race. My leg was strong, and for the most part, pain free, and because of this, I could physically do more so my dancing was much improved. I looked forward to showing everyone how I could run down the dance floor like a fast horse (well, at least that is how I perceived it in my own mind).

Used by Permission. Inserted here by GQ Ballroom.

I chose the Chicago Crystal Ball Competition for the debut of my new hip. I felt comfortable with this medium-sized competition for my first comeback attempt. Stamina is always a concern when one has to dance several one minute, fifteen second heats in a row. I would have to dance four heats with only a couple minutes to rest before dancing another four heats. This was not an ideal situation, because it had been eleven months since I had danced in a competition. I would much rather have danced the first four heats, and then had at least a fifteen or twenty minute rest before having to put out the energy to do it all again.

My hip and I handled the situation well, and I won all events that I entered, including the big multi-dance scholarship event so coveted by all Pro Am competitors.

For any doubters not believing that a hip replacement recipient can return to ballroom dancing at the top open gold level of Pro Am competition and win—believe it.

************

Hopefully, Darla’s journey will inspire you. We are thrilled to have her back on the dance floor and wish her all the best.

If you would like to learn more about the book, you can connect with Darla Davies on:

Website: ​www.MyDancingHips.com 

Facebook: ​fb.me/AuthorDarlaDavies 

Instagram: ​Instagram.com/AuthorDarlaDavies

—————

1. Who Said I’d Never Dance Again?
A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory, by Darla Davies
Published by Morgan James Publishing

2. https://gqballroom.com/where-there-is-a-will-to-dance-there-is-a-way

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Things got just a bit crazy for us from Thanksgiving to Christmas, between the usual shopping for presents, attending holiday parties and family gatherings, not to mention getting ready for the Yuletide Dancesport Championships. Nevertheless, the holiday season would not have been complete without at least one trip to see The Nutcracker; although, it wasn’t until the last weekend before Christmas that some of our Theater Arts team were finally able to make it down to the Warner Theatre to catch the Washington Ballet’s uniquely Washingtonian version of this classic ballet. While I realize it has been nearly two months since the last performance, I still wanted to share with you some thoughts on our experience.

The Venue

While I love attending events at the Kennedy Center in DC or travelling to the Lincoln Center to see ABT, a traditional production of a classical ballet like The Nutcracker can have the potential to feel a little incongruous amid the colder, more modern architecture and decor of those hallowed halls. The Warner Theatre, on the other hand, with its luxuriant gilding and ornate molding and elaborate figures, makes it easier for you to suspend disbelief. The scene is already being set, from the moment you set foot inside the opulent foyer, and you feel as if you might have travelled back in time to when Tchaikovsky’s ballet first premiered in Russia. It is classical ballet the way it was meant to be seen.

The Production

While I think The Nutcracker was fine, as originally performed, I love it when ballet companies create their own versions. Moreover, while I love children, having grown up watching the Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland version[i] on VHS and having since come to love the Alina Cojocaru/Royal Ballet version[ii], I am a little partial to Nutcrackers that feature a grown, professional ballerina as Clara/Marie. I feel like a character who plays such a pivotal role in the story should be performed by someone whose ability rivals that of the Sugar Plum Fairy; so I was quite happy to see that the Washington Ballet’s production featured a mature Clara as well.

The things that really set this production apart, though, were:

1.     The setting, which, for Act 1, was changed to depict Christmas Eve in a 19th-century Georgetown mansion and, for Act 2, to reflect scenes around the Potomac;

2.     The adaptation of some of the characters to have more of an Americana/Washingtonian feel, from “Dancing Dolls” that included the likes of John Paul Jones and Lady Liberty, to Frederick Douglas, to the “American Cavalry” and “Red Coat Rats” featured in the battle against the Rat (Mouse) King, to the Butterflies and Mushrooms” and “Bees” and “Cardinals” depicting floral and fauna along the Potomac, to the replacement of the traditional “Arabian Dance” with an “Anacostian Maid” and “Brave”, to the alteration of “Mother Gigogne/Ginger” (who has always struck me as being a little scary anyway) and the “Polchinelles” to “Mother Barnum” and her circus “Clowns”, to the reimagining of the “Waltz of the Flowers” as the “Waltz of the Cherry Blossoms” in honor of their annual appearance along the Tidal Basin, as well as the cameo appearance of a contemporary Washington celebrity.

All of this, along with the beautiful choreography of Septime Webre and the beautiful scenery and costumes designed by Peter Home and Judanna Lynn, respectively, combined to create an overall stunning and unforgettable rendition of The Nutcracker[iii].

Standout Performances

To be honest, I became so thoroughly engrossed in the story at times, that I forgot I had also wanted to watch with an eye for detail, so that I could write about it later; however, these are some of the performances that really stood out to us that I remember:

The Children

There were several children throughout the performance, some in more solo roles, like that of Fritz (Clara’s mischievous brother) and the Littlest Clown (who was absolutely adorable), and some in more corps type roles, such as the younger children in the party scene, the Little Mice, the Little Butterflies, the Little Blossoms, and so on. You get the picture. With so many little ones, it could have been a recipe for a meltdown, and yet all of the children were incredibly precocious and brave, genuinely seeming to enjoy being on stage. They were clearly well-rehearsed and danced amazingly well. I saw not one child make a wrong turn. No doubt much praise goes to the school, the parents, and not least of all to the children themselves.

Clara

As I already mentioned, I was so happy to see a mature dancer in the role of Clara. Olivia Dugan’s star shone so much, in fact, that while we did get to see some display of her considerable solo and pairing ability, I was honestly a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see a little more from Clara, for instance in the pas de deux from the Snow Scene, like in the Baryshnikov and Cojocaru versions, and which is set to perhaps the most beautiful music from the entire ballet. However, I realize, then, we would have missed the Snow Queen and King.

Clara’s Grandfather

Andile Ndlovu’s turn as Clara’s grandfather was pure comedic genius, and he had us cracking up. Beneath all the fun, though, you could see there was a lot of depth and skill. We would love to see him in other roles.

Sugar Plum and her Cavalier

I have seen some lackluster performances of the Sugar Fairy’s Grand Pas de Deux, which is why I have sometimes preferred the Baryshnikov version[iv], where it is danced by Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, with Drosselmeyer interrupting; however, Brittany Stone and Gian Carlo Perez were simply stunning. Her every line was perfect, and aside from the fact that he is a beautiful dancer, he had incredible charisma and stage presence.

Dew Drop

Tamako Miyazaki as Dew Drop took our breaths away. She nailed every step, without falling out of anything. Her lines were gorgeous, yet everything about them looked so graceful and natural. And did I mention her smile? She made everything look so easy.

Cherry Blossoms

It is a little harder to describe a corps role, but this one stood out, because there was not one port de bras or arabesque out of alignment. Also, I decided to focus more specifically on Nardia Boodoo, since we have been following her a little bit. She danced perfectly in synch with the other blossoms, and yet it was apparent she dances very naturally and cleanly, without falling out of pirouettes or turns of any sort, and her arms and facial expressions are spot on. Overall, she is a gorgeous dancer, and we look forward to seeing her in more roles.

“Away is good, but” sometimes “home is best.”

We have had the opportunity to see some of the best ballet companies and dancers in the world, yet this time, it turned out better that we stayed local. It was a fantastic Nutcracker, and our only regret is that we didn’t get to attend more performances to see some of the other cast. Ultimately, it cemented for us that we don’t have to leave the area to see world-class ballet, and we could not have seen this version anywhere else. LOVE!!!

It is our sincere hope that this inspires you to support the arts locally, here or wherever you may be, and if you are ready to embark on your own Ballroom Dancing journey, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at gqballroom.com for all of your Ballroom Dancing needs.

[i] Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in the pas de deux from the scene known as Snow Scene/Fir Tree Forest/a Pine Forest in Winter, etc:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb4Ps7vqgU0&list=PLcIA3Lksj6bqUns3Vs_dzLu5f2kvHVwxs&index=9

[ii] Alina Cojocaru in the same scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-zX4PYKvKM

[iii]  trailer for the Washington Ballet’s The Nutcracker from 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SD7E5_3XRFs

[iv] Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s pas de deux: Ahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnmbas-eOWI&list=RDwb4Ps7vqgU0&index=2

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When I was six or seven years old, many of my friends were in gymnastics, but putting me into a class was not really on my parents’ radar then; and, besides, we lived in an area where opportunities of that kind were limited anyway. So instead, my friends would show me the things that they had been taught. I learned from them how to do cartwheels, handsprings, roundoffs, handstands, walk on my hands, do continuous flips on the bars, backbends, walkovers, etc. By the time high school rolled around, I remember watching gymnastics on the Olympics one year and thinking that I could absolutely have done that, because I believed I had had the ability and the right physical build and the fearlessness for it, but that life had dealt me all the wrong cards. Consequently, I wrote this poem for a creative writing class:

Olympic Hopeful

Sitting here, watching,

Another Olympics on TV,

I’m another could-have-been,

Who will not be.

In retrospect, though, this was a rather defeatist attitude on my part, because there have been many other instances where I have achieved or come very close to achieving my dreams, because, whether they were to travel or go to college or learn to dance, I made sacrifices and actively took steps toward making them happen. 

Taken in a broader sense, the point is that, in Ballroom Dancing, as with anything, even if some people seem to have all of the advantages in terms of finances and ability and opportunities, as long as we have our health, really, the only thing stopping us from accomplishing our goals (no, I don’t mean world domination, except maybe on the dance floor) is we ourselves. Even then, there are now countless examples of differently abled people who have not allowed physical hindrances to stop them from pursuing their passions. Bottom line: if we want to dance, we will figure out what we have to do in order to make it happen.

How can you achieve your Ballroom Dancing goals?

“Everything starts with a dream…but dreams don’t work unless you do. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can!”         

*If you want to excel at Ballroom Dancing, or anything, really, you are going to have to be patient and put in some effort. You can’t expect to become a world champion overnight, without all of the practice and training that goes into it. As the old adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and, talent aside, the reason the top dancers look as good as they do is because of the practice and effort that they put into their dancing. Every champion was a beginner at some point.

*If you feel like you are too old or don’t have the physical ability that you used to or are worried that other people will secretly judge you for your perceived lack of ability, I’m here to tell you that, if you are still alive and vertical, you’re not too old. Furthermore, most other dancers are likely too preoccupied with their own dancing to be concerned with yours :)…so stop worrying about them. As for the few who may actually be looking at you and commenting, who cares? The only opinions that really matter are your instructors’/coaches’, your partner’s, and yours.

1. Quote compilation from a post by popular Instagrammer, lilithmoonlife…(check out her account and her YouTube channel, that has awesome hair tutorials): https://www.instagram.com/p/BooZOn_B0Yk/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=13qn7dyebumk0 “Dreams don’t work unless you do.” -John C. Maxwell “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can!” – Arthur Ashe …and I haven’t found the source of the first part of the quote yet.

*If you are worried about the cost of Ballroom Dancing, but you are serious about it, it may be just a matter of making a few simple changes, like cooking at home more and making your own coffee and shopping at more budget-friendly locations, in order to free up that extra bit of cash you need for lessons. Personally, if I ended up having to choose between having cable or taking dance lessons, I’d drop the cable, because I’d rather be dancing than watching TV anyway. No one is asking you to give up your shirt or your house, but if you have the means to take care of your financial obligations, it can come down to what extras are more important to you. Besides, an investment in Ballroom Dancing as an exercise for your health is a form of wealth anyway. 

*If you don’t have a Ballroom Dance studio in your area, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up on your dream altogether. Don’t be afraid to utilize the tools that are on hand. You can try to find introductory classes at your local college, take an adult ballet class, take a barre or Zumba or Pilates class at your gym…anything that will help you improve your strength and balance and flexibility and sense of rhythm, so that if you ever do get the chance to take up Ballroom Dancing, you’ll be ready.

Dos and Don’ts

*Do work hard. You can start out feeling like you have six left feet; but, trust me, you will get better if you practice and stick with it. 

-Don’t quit, because you think you won’t get it.

*Do learn to prioritize, so that you can set aside money for accomplishing your Ballroom Dancing goals. 

-Don’t say, “I can’t afford it,” without even trying to figure out how you can.

*Do avail yourself of whatever opportunities are available to you, because everyone has to start somewhere. If you do, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have made progress toward realizing your dreams, and you might be surprised what other doors will follow.

-Don’t be like the person who gets free tuition to college and decides not to go, because the coursebooks aren’t covered too.

*Do find out what your strengths are…what makes you unique as a dancer and a human being, and play to those. 

-Don’t stop working on your weaker areas.

*Do admire other dancers. For instance, I would love to dance like my favorite female Rhythm Dancer of all time, Bree Watson, who has this incredible flexibility and is, like, the queen of tricks, but I’m not her.

-Don’t be jealous of them. You can try to emulate some things about them, but, ultimately, you have to be you. Besides, you never know what hardships those people who seem to have it all might have faced along the way.

In the end, yes, as with any sport, there will always be people who are younger or fitter, or who have more money for coaching and new costumes and competitions, or who have sponsors or connections. At the end of the day, though, don’t let that discourage you from starting where you are now, with what you have. It is better than never starting at all, which is the only sure way to guarantee that you won’t realize your Ballroom Dancing dreams.

Lastly, be grateful for what you DO have and that you are healthy enough to dance, and don’t squander the opportunities that are available to you. Do what you can, and dance for you—not for scores  at competitions or anything else, because if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it, and Ballroom Dancing is fun. No excuses. Just go for it.

************

A Few Inspirational Reading Selections:

Ballerina Michaela DePrince:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/against-all-odds-ballerina-michaela-deprince-s-remarkable-journey-n783921

The story of a Wheelchair Ballroom Dancer:

https://dancewithmeusa.com/wheelchair-dancing-saved-my-life/

Adrianne Haslet-Davis, the Ballroom Dance Instructor who lost part of her left leg as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing: 

https://www.cnn.com/2014/04/07/us/boston-bombing-survivor-a-year-later/index.html?no-st=1542045845

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