I was eighteen when I had my legs amputated and everything about my physicality changed. Eighteen, that time when you’re only just figuring out who you are and what you like. And I knew I liked high heels, and pointe shoes. Dance was my proper love, the only thing I wanted to do all the time. Every night, all weekends long.
And I was just starting to party, hard, and was all short shorts and wedges. It was part of me learning to be a woman, and so much of what I had been taught about being feminine was tied up in the shoes I wore.
Suddenly all of that changed. I felt ill one night, but was a fresher, so everybody felt ill, nothing out of the ordinary. I put myself to bed and figured I’d sleep it off.
But meningitis had other ideas. In the middle of the night I woke up feeling horrendous. violently sick, cold and shaky and delirious. I tossed and turned and luckily in the morning dragged myself out of bed and into the corridor. With the lights blinding me, I staggered from side to side, head pounding, random sounds loud in my ear drums, pounding, pounding.
Fast forward and I’m in intensive care looking down at my legs. Legs turned black and withered, like they were coal. The funny thing about meningitis is how little you know about it until it hits you hard. Sure I’d had an injection, but not for type B, the type that got me.
I remember the words vividly. “I’m really sorry but we’re going to have to amputate your leg, it’s not healing.” What followed is a blur, it seems that the human body has the capability of protecting you from the worst moments, fading the edges so it’s not as sharp as it should be. I remember screaming out loud. Again it’s not a scream in my memory, but a tempered groan of pure pain. My first thought was dance. My one love, gone forever…
Actually dance helped me, even during that time in ways I didn’t expect. A few months down the road, and with both legs amputated, I was in a physio session talking about how dance was helping me learn to walk on prosthetics quickly. “It’s your core strength balance,” my physio said, as I struggled to hold on to the bars that were stopping me from falling straight on to the floor while pulling my incredibly baggy jeans up around my waist. The months of life-support, medication, meningitis, feeding tubes and surgeries had taken their toll on my weight. “We have had amputees dance before, it won’t be anything like you’re used to, but we might be able to get you back to a club on the dancefloor.”
No, dance is not for me anymore, that has been taken from me and it’s gone. And so, I pushed dance away. I shut down thoughts about it. I moved choreography ideas into a sealed box and silently cried after every dream in which my legs were back and I was dancing.
The next thing was shoes. Suddenly shoes were my nemesis. Any kind of heel, even the smallest 1cm high and I couldn’t walk. I was desperate. Trainers were all I had.
And it’s not to say that I didn’t like trainers, Converse and I go way back, but just that the way I looked at them changed. It was the lack of options, flat shoes became a symbol of limitations, of what I’d lost, that my feet didn’t move, didn’t fit into the mould.
It’s a long old process getting to know your body, appreciating it, loving it. And I’m definitely not there entirely. There are days I sit and think about all those things I’ve lost, the whirling speed of dance I can’t achieve, but it’s easier now. Recently dance came back into my life, and with it a deconstructing of everything I thought dance was, and who it is for. Because dance is for everyone, it’s only the way it’s traditionally taught that makes us think it’s not. Learning that, and learning to love it once more is the best lesson I could have had.
Good trainer options help, too.