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Syracuse University drama student Kat Kelly was 13 years old when she realized doing what she loves, dancing, causes her pain. When she was 14, she was diagnosed with a labral tear in her right hip, a common injury for dancers, and hip dysplasia.
“There’s that emotional-mental connection to knowing you’re injured or knowing you have limitations when you are feeling pain, and you’re in a room full of people who can do those things without feeling pain,” Kelly said.
What started as a personal struggle for the dancer soon evolved into a senior thesis project Performing with Pain, a performance focused on reducing stigmas surrounding illness and injury in the performing arts.
Renée Crown Honors drama students Elana Babbitt, Jessica Cerreta, Gabriela Moncivais and Rileigh Very told their stories about navigating health in the acting world alongside Kelly on Sunday night at the Skybarn on South Campus.
“This performance strives to put a face on the issue, and prove that with correct support, injury and illness do not have to be career-ending,” Kelly wrote on the event’s webpage. “Rather, it is a normal part of this profession.”
When Kelly received her hip diagnosis, she realized the importance of taking care of her body.
“You have to maintain your body in order to do what you love,” Kelly told the audience. “Doing what you love doesn’t maintain your body.”
Very had a similar epiphany at 13 when a gymnastics accident caused a spinal compression, leading to four bulging discs, one decreased disc and spondylolisthesis, a spinal injury caused when vertebrae slip into one another. The latter cannot be healed without surgery, which Very chose not to have.
“The first thing (my coaches) said to me: can you walk? I remember sitting there being like, ‘can I move?’” Very said. “I was in complete shock. I was in so much pain. I took up dancing so it was less pounding, but the chronic pain never goes away.”
Very believes building a community of people also experiencing health challenges in the arts industry will help others like her feel less alone.
“We deal with impostor syndrome already in this industry… and it’s such a ‘keep going’ mentality that there are multiple times in class where, on my bad days, I not only have that imposter syndrome, but I’m also in physical pain,” she said “I feel alone in a room full of people who are dancing with me.”
As a high-schooler, Moncivais underwent surgery to remove a polyp on her left vocal chords that required her to remain silent for two weeks. The need for surgery left her afraid to use her voice, she said.
“There’s this fear of that happening again,” she told The Daily Orange. “It took me realizing that sometimes attempting to not do things so that you can keep your voice safe can almost hurt you even more and you have to actually just release it and let it go.”
Kelly reminded the crowd that “performance psychology” is just as crucial as sports psychology while simultaneously engaging her audience and even drawing laughs.
Kelly said she feels she’s been taught how to to perform, but not how to train. She believes the solution is teaching wellness and anatomy to dancers before they begin attempting complex moves.
“If we instead began by answering the question, how should this feel … we could avoid improper use and injury,” Kelly said. “Working from the inside out rather than the outside in puts you and your health at the center of the work.”
Published on September 4, 2022 at 11:28 pm
Contact Katie: [email protected] | @katie_mcclellan