Dancer’s positive mindset allows her to return to the stage

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A hip injury left a modern dance major facing two options: a steroid shot, which would delay the bone deterioration and let her keep dancing temporarily, or immediate surgery that would force her to put away her dance shoes for seven months, but protect her long term career.

Leah Williams, a junior from Allen, Texas, said she cried when she got the news.

She was told her left hip bone ground into a sharp point, which was pushing into her ligament. The timing of the surgery put Williams’ plans to audition for professional dance companies in jeopardy as it took away crucial practice time.  

Her dance professor, Susan Douglas, said she was concerned.

“Surgery is invasive,” Douglas said. “There is a risk in surgery, but I followed Leah’s positive outlook.”

Williams opted for surgery and come Dec. 9, was dressed in a hospital gown and rolled into the operating room.

Leah Williams asleep in the hospital bed before her hip surgery. Photo Credit: Freda Williams

“I didn’t have butterflies because this surgery meant I could dance again,” she said. “I wanted this.”

 Perseverance

Williams had undergone a similar procedure before.

“I had hip surgery in high school and the doctors said it would take about four months to heal,” she said. “However, it took me about seven months because I wasn’t in the best environment to get back to dancing.”

Williams said she felt her recovery time after her first surgery took longer than expected because of her negative attitude.

“I was angry with God and asked him why he put dance in my life and wanted to take it away from me,” she said.

Dance has been a part of Williams’ life since she was three-years-old, dancing in her aunt’s studio. When she received the news she needed her first surgery, she felt like her life was crumbling. 

She said she wanted to have a better outlook for her second surgery.

After the surgery, Williams said her hip mobility was limited, but she was able to regain hip flexibility and strength from physical therapy built into her dance classes.

“In physical therapy, we did roll downs and squats to get my body moving and muscles to realign,” she said. “I also did pilates classes.”

Williams’ mother, Freda Williams, said recovery wasn’t easy, and she was disheartened when her daughter injured herself again. However, she also believed her daughter’s surgeries, while a struggle, increased the depth of her character – something Williams herself, agreed with. 

Leah Williams taking a selfie of her in the hospital room eating a cracker. Photo courtesy of Leah Williams.

“It’s OK I’m not going 160 percent right now,” she said. “My time off has actually made me a better dancer now than ever before because I see dance differently by watching my peers.”

Williams said her time off the dance floor allowed her to spend more time with her friends and family, mentally work on her choreography skills and teach additional dance classes to children at Arlington Dance.

Those choreography skills came in handy when during recovery, Williams choreographed a contemporary piece that one of her students competed with during a national dance convention.

“Out of the top-100 solos, my little girl placed in top 12 and now gets to travel to New York to perform it,” she said. “Once you teach kids there is no greater sense of love in the world.”

Williams’ father, Brad Williams, said her recovery taught everyone a lesson of mixing fear, faith and perseverance to overcome adversities.

Under the spotlight

Leah Williams holding a light in the dance studio. Photo courtsey of Andrew Trihn.

A month and a half after her surgery, Williams danced under the studio lights in front of an audience at the Brown Bag Dance.

Her spectacular recovery, she said, was “a God thing” because she originally wasn’t supposed to dance for the entire semester.

She said her faith and positive attitude over that month of recovery helped her find the strength to grow during her time away.

“I just had a very positive mindset that comes with maturity because high school Leah did not know how to take care of herself like college Leah does,” she said. “I’ve learned how to do self-care and be my biggest ambassador.”

Williams said she surprised her professors and peers as she leaped, turned and moved across the dance floor to a piece called, “The Sleepless Hour.”

She choreographed “The Sleepless Hour” as a tribute to obstacles she’s faced in her life. The weeks leading up to her return to the stage gave her time to reflect on her anxieties and discover strength in stillness.

Looking back and comparing the two recoveries, Williams said it was God’s intuition to challenge her in ways that made her grow as a dancer and as a person.  

Future

Williams said she is now preparing to finish the semester strong and continuing to grow artistically and technically as a dancer.

When asked about her future, Williams said she wants to dance professionally for companies and teach at more studios and eventually own one. Williams said she has also found an interest in accounting and wants to use it in her future.

“I want to understand how business and dance work together, so I can pay dancers and give them health benefits when they work for me one day,” she said.

Professors, friends and her parents said they are excited to see what Williams’ future holds because of her hard work ethic and stage presence.

Adam Mckinney, Williams’ ballet and modern professor, said he knows Williams will continue to impact the world in deep, meaningful ways.

“She is a true and natural mover,” Mckinney said. “Her capacity to embody deeply felt emotions and express them through her body is exceptional to watch.”

Her mother said she hopes for her daughter to touch the lives of hundreds of young dancers like many of her teachers did for her.

Whatever path Williams encounters her father said, “we don’t ask what her real job is going to be because dance will be the real job.”