Degree Interrupted: A Dancer Rethinks Disability

04.09.18
04.09.18

Photo: Seji Gaerlan

This is the second essay of our three-part series, “Degree Interrupted,” in which Youth Radio reporter Brooke Reotutar interviewed college students who had non-traditional paths to higher education. Today’s story comes from Gina Marie, a student at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.


Everyone knew me as “Gina the Ballerina.”

I was 17, and my aspirations to perform professionally and tour the world were about to become a reality. I ran a dance studio, had accepted a university scholarship to dance in London, and worked with the American Ballet Theater in New York. I had a plan.

Then, a twist of fate: a terrible accident. A collapsed building structure left me with a compression injury to my spine, a broken tailbone, mild head injury and herniated discs in the cervical and lumbar areas. I was told I would need to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

There are different stages that people deal with grief. For a long time I put everything on hold, waiting like a video on pause.

I kept thinking I would go back to life as I knew it and be “Gina the Ballerina” again. When that didn’t happen overnight, I went through a long period of shock. It took time for me to come to terms with the outcome of the accident. I thought my dreams of being a dancer were over.

Photo: Seji Gaerlan

Then, I was checking class offerings at Palomar College for a friend, and something inside me reignited. I realized I still deserved the opportunity to be creative, but I needed to find new ways to express that creativity. So, I enrolled.

A wonderful dance teacher at the college noticed my passion for ballet, approached me and said, “I want you to join my class.” I was in awe. I looked down at my wheelchair. The thought of attending an entire dance class again had never crossed my mind. I eagerly took her offer and it changed my life.

Wheelchair dancing is now one of the many ways I have shaped my new identity. I once saw my wheelchair as a deterrent to my dancing. Now. I’ve learned to embrace this new reality.

Present day, I partake in theater and dance productions. Proudly, I help plan an adapted, integrated dance education workshop sponsored by the dance department and enthusiastically supported by the Disability Resource Center.

As for the future, I hope to transfer and inspire others to see how passion can transcend life’s toughest obstacles. Each one of us has challenges to face. Mine just happens to be visible.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Support young journalists and artists