“My name is Paige and I am a professional dancer born and raised in the Bronx, New York. I started the study of dance at the age of four and for many years it was just a hobby and something fun to do after school. I did several years of the Nutcracker with my very first ballet teacher, Mrs. Otto, in Westchester, New York. She pushed me very hard and, so, because of her strict discipline and firm encouragement, I began to believe in myself and my gift.
By the time I was in the 8th grade, I knew I wanted to become a professional dancer. I was one of the only kids in my class who went to elementary school all day then danced until 10 pm at night. Monday through Sunday my life revolved around dance. It was all I wanted to do or talk about. I dreamed of being a ballerina and I was quite good at ballet. I was given scholarships to attend American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) summer intensives; two very prestigious ballet schools in New York City (NYC). One summer Arthur Mitchell, co-founder of DTH, personally invited me to stay the full year, however, that same year the organization folded. I became discouraged because I knew there was a lack of diversity within the ballet world. DTH had been one of my only hopes.
This wasn’t the end. Luckily my parents encouraged me to audition for the Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS). Out of the hundreds of New York City dancers who applied, I got in. PPAS is a performing arts high school in the heart of NYC and I received free training at the Ailey School. There I was introduced to several forms of dance; modern, African, and jazz. I also saw dancers like myself in the main Alvin Ailey Company. It became my new dream and my race no longer deterred me from achieving my dreams. I was prepared!
It was also in high school that I was told by my doctor that I had scoliosis. I remember doctors telling me that I needed surgery because of the intensity of my curvature. I was so confused by what was happening. Why me I asked my parents. I remember crying. I did not know what was going to happen to my dreams. My parents knew how much I wanted to be a professional dancer and that surgery may hinder my future career. Throughout high school I wore a back brace to control my curvature. It was the worst time to deal with this condition because in high school you are constantly trying to be accepted, but my friends made me feel comfortable. I was a pro at buying cute shirts that were loose enough to cover my brace. At the Ailey School, I had a ballet teacher who also had scoliosis. She helped me to feel less of an outcast and gave me tips on how to gain stability and strength in my core and spine.
Twelve years after being diagnosed with scoliosis, I can proudly state that I have accomplished the career in dance of which I always dreamed. After only three years in college (Fordham University), I was asked to be a member of Ailey II, the second company of Alvin Ailey. It was indeed a dream coming true. With Ailey II, I toured the world and performed in countries like France, Finland, and Greece. I am currently in my second year with Visceral Dance Chicago. I am also a founding member of this company, another opportunity I could never have imagined.
I am very fortunate to have a career in dance with scoliosis. Many people do not understand how hard it is to work with this condition. It gets very frustrating at times but I have to constantly remind myself that I am built differently and some things will always feel different. I do a lot of Pilates exercises every morning to maintain strength in my core and pelvis. I am constantly thinking of my posture and how I work in dance classes to maintain consistency in my dancing on stage. I plan on dancing for twelve more years, surgery free, and I want everyone to know my story. I also hope to bring awareness to scoliosis throughout the world. There are a few dancers who actually kept going when they were told they have scoliosis. There are also a lot of dancers who did not keep going because they may have allowed the politics of dance to get the best of them. I chose not to quit and I hope my story can impact and inspire others.”
Feature photo by: Omar Z. Robles
Follow Paige on Instagram at http://Instagram.com/lovingthispaige