A Dancer’s Story from an Accident to the Stage
A Dancer’s Story from an Accident to the Stage
In this episode, we’re talking to a young, local dancer, Hannah. In 2019, Hannah had a life-changing car accident that took her away from the dance floor. Also joining us is Holly Nieman, MS, an athletic trainer at Children’s Health Andrews Institute, and part of Hannah’s recovery team. Together, they set goals and worked hard to meet them, ultimately taking Hannah from not being able to walk, to dancing on stage in a matter of months.
Enjoy this episode and other episodes of Hustle and Pro in our archives.
[00:29] Hannah’s dance background
[01:23] What’s on Hannah’s playlist
[02:12] 2019 car accident, injury & goals to return to dance
[10:02] Common dance injuries and treatment
[14:35] What’s next for Hannah
Resources within this episode:
- Children’s Health: Website | Instagram @childrens and @childrenshealth_athlete
- Kelly Walker: Bio | Instagram @kelly_walkertexas | Twitter: @kelly_walker_TX
Connect with Lifestyle Frisco:
Welcome to this episode of Hustle & Pro. I’m your host, Kelly Walker. We’re celebrating International Dance Day as we record this. And, y’all, we have a dancer with us. Welcome, Hannah.
Hi, thank you for having us.
Yeah, I’m glad to have you. And as we learn your story, we’re also going to chat with Holly Nieman. Uh, so also welcome, Holly. Hi, thank you. Okay, so Hannah, you’re the dancer, and I know you’ve been dancing a long time, pretty much your whole life. So, tell me a little about that and like, what are your, your styles that your strongest or your favorite styles?
Yeah, I started when I was two. And I’ve done ballet since the beginning and occasionally I have like tap or modern class, but it was mostly always ballet. And then when I was about 11, I started training in everything. So like, jazz hip hop, modern ballet, contemporary, Broadway jazz. And I’ve been training like that for as long as I can remember.
So in all of those. That’s a lot, that’s a lot of training. What does, um, how many, like how many hours a week are you working on dance?
Um, it depends, but it’s typically around 20 to 25 hours a week.
That’s a lot, that’s like a job, right? That’s a lot of time of the year that you’re in there working out. So one thing just as a side note, I like to know from my athletes that I talked to, um, like, what’s on your playlist? That’s something I’ve been asking lately. And I’m curious, um, because you’re a younger person. You’re close to my daughter’s age and what she listens to is definitely different than what I am listening to on my like workout playlist. So what are you- when you’re dancing for enjoyment, what are you listening to?
Yes. I listen to a lot of Taylor Swift. I love her music. I listened to a lot of Lewis Capaldi. Sometimes more emotional music just depending on my mood. But most of the time, it’s Taylor Swift.
Yes. That’s kind of what I expected, the emotional stuff. There are definitely some really good songs out now, or, you know, the last few years that are really good, like contemporary type of dance songs. And so I was wondering if that’s kind of what you’re into. Okay. So part of why we’re talking to you today is that in 2019 you had a, a major kind of a life change. And I was curious if you can tell us. What do you want to tell us about that?
Yeah, it kind of changed my life, but for the better, which seems crazy sometimes to some people, but it really just made me a better person and it was hard. It still is hard to deal with PTSD and the anxiety and stuff that comes with it. But yeah, it was definitely crazy. I’d never been injured like that before. And it was a totally different lifestyle from then.
So you mentioned the PTSD, so this was not a dance injury. You know, when I first heard about your story, I assumed, you know, you probably got hurt dancing, but that’s not what happened. Yes. I was in a car accident with my brother. Okay. In a car accident. And so, um, you- I’m sure there were other diagnosis, but you dislocated your hip and your knee, is that right?
Yes. I dislocated my right hip and then I dance with the nerves in my legs, so I can’t feel my knee and my calf. So yeah. I don’t have feeling in that leg. So it’s a little odd trying to dance on it sometimes.
So the road back, I mean, it’s one thing to just get strong and in your knee and get back to dancing, but then you have this nerve issue also. Is that something that repairs itself over time? Are you always going to feel that difference?
Um, I honestly don’t know.
Maybe that’s a question for Holly. So Holly, um, you’re an athletic trainer at Children’s Health Andrews in Plano. Is that nerve issue something that you guys can do anything about or is that something she’ll adapt to and just get used to it?
Uh, it’s a little bit hard to predict. Nerves do take quite a bit longer to heal and regrow, essentially, when they’ve been damaged. Uh, an ideal situation is that yes, she will get most of the sensation back in that knee. Um, but sometimes, sometimes it may not happen. So it is a little bit of a longer recovery for nerves in most cases.
Oh, yeah, I bet. Talking about your recovery, how long was that recovery? And I heard that you set a goal, like a specific goal for an event. Can you tell me about that Hannah?
Yeah, so I got injured at the beginning of January and I didn’t start walking until like the middle of February, maybe. And so it was crazy learning to like re-walk after walking all my life. Yeah. So I didn’t go back to school until around February, beginning of March. And I slowly started dancing, but it was definitely hard waiting and just sitting on the sides for most of the class. But yeah, my goal was to get back for May cause that’s when our Spring recital was. So I did get back. I was only dancing in like 3 pieces out of maybe like 13 or 14, but it was still just crazy to think I was not walking and dancing on stage.
To me, three dances sounds like a lot for someone who wasn’t walking at the beginning of February. I mean, you go from 23 hours of your week, you’re using your legs and your knees and your ankles hardcore, and then you just, it all stops. You can’t walk for a few weeks and then yeah, within just a few months, you’re already dancing on stage again. I think that’s a really quick timeline probably by setting that May goal is what made that difference. I mean, Holly, is that, is that a normal timeline of what you expected or was May- at the time did that seem too fast?
Um, I think it was something, well, we were definitely willing to see what we could do within that timeline. Everyone recovers differently. So it’s hard to always give somebody a deadline on when they’re for sure going to be doing all of the things that they would like to be doing, but our goals are going to do, you know, we’re going to align our goals, the best that we can with their goals as well. So were more than happy to have that goal in mind with Hannah while we were working through her physical therapy, um, knowing that we may reach some of the goals that we may not reach all of them. Right.
I guess that goal was to get, to get it, be able to be on stage and dance and participate in your recital. So whatever that looked like is, you know, would be determined by how far you came, but it sounds like three dances to me, that’s a win. I feel like that’s, that’s great. Um, what kind of dances were they?
I did a contemporary piece, part of a ballet piece, and then like a modern, another contemporary one.
Awesome. Okay, now. And you’ve had a knee rehab before, is that right? So you at least knew that this was going to be some hard work. Coming back from this car accident, was this the most difficult thing you’ve done?
Yeah, definitely. My knee, I was only really in because I have an extra bone in my knee, so it was just causing a little bit of pain, but yeah, I definitely the physical and mental trauma was one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with.
Yeah. But like you said, at the beginning, it changed your life, but you’ll come out of it, you know, stronger. And now knowing that you could get through that mental and physical challenge and you know, you’re coming out a stronger person for it overall. Um, I want to talk about the type of floor, cause I don’t understand this, but I also know that when you guys are working in your dance, um, injury and recovery program, there is the floor that you’re using is important in the recovery journey. So I don’t know. Maybe, maybe Holly, that’s a question for you. What does that mean?
Yeah, so dancers typically in their dance studios have what’s called a sprung floor. Maybe a lot of people would hear “sprung floor” and think kind of the gymnastics flooring whereas actual springs, there’s a lot of give to it. It’s kind of a similar concept, but much less noticeable. He probably wouldn’t look at the floor and realize that the dancer is receiving a little bit of give when they land on the floor. But we also then installed a strong floor in our physical therapy gym so that when we’re working with our dancers and we’re having them progress into their more functional movements, they are going to be in a space that’s going to be very similar to their environment outside of here as well. So we have also a sprung floor and that’s extremely valuable for our dancers because that spring and the floor, um, takes up some of that dynamic landing. So it can take some of the pressure off of the joints as they’re landing. Sounds like a shock absorber. Exactly. So,
So as you’re working up through progressions of doing different dance moves, you’re using that floor to take off the pressure of the joints and it just helps in, you know, recovery. But also like, you’re sort of training baby-steps up, I guess. Right?
Yes. And that was how we progressed in the dance studio as well. And Hannah’s dance studio was amazing about communicating with us and Hannah and being in the loop about what Hannah was being cleared to do in class. And then on occasion, uh, her dance teacher and I would even email back and forth so that if they had any questions regarding her clearance and specific moves that they would be performing in class maybe that week or that day, they would check in and say, “is Hannah okay to be doing this or should she modify?” Or “is there something else she can do?”
The collaboration there is really nice to hear because, Hannah, you’re, I think- how old are you now? I’m 16, 16. When this happened a couple of years ago, you know, it shouldn’t all be up to the athlete to communicate what’s happening in training versus, you know, her real life dance scenario because that can get confusing and you might feel like, “well, the teacher thinks I should push myself to this or that.” So I love that the team there communicated with her dance studio to look out for like Hannah’s best interests, not make it all up to Hannah to decide what she’s allowed to do.
Yeah. It was, it was honestly an ideal situation for Hannah’s recovery, where we had that communication with her dance teachers.
Okay, so this was not a dance injury. We talked about the car accident, but Holly, what are some of the most common dance injuries or Hannah, have you had other major dance related injuries?
Yes. I’ve had some problems with my back, specifically my SI joint, and I still have problems with my hips from the accident. I have had a sprained Achilles at one point, but most of the time, not anything too serious. Yeah.
Holly, what are some of the most common dance injuries that you’re seeing.
Yeah. So the most common even research-wise is shown to be the foot and ankle in dancers. And then from there it’s often the hip and the low back and then caught in between those two is the knee. So it’s usually all low body. We very rarely see upper body, but we do occasionally see some shoulders and things like that. Yeah.
Especially if you’re doing, you know, some of the styles that have more acrobats mixed in and everything. Yeah. Yeah. So partnering work. Absolutely. But there’s so posture-related, especially in ballet and yeah. There’s probably a lot of stress on that lower back. So that makes sense. I can completely see that. Yeah.
Yeah. And the nature of, uh, external rotation where dancers are often turned out that if they’re, um, improperly trained or trying to use too much external rotation, that also goes right into their low back as well.
Oh, I didn’t realize that. It all, even down in the feet, it affects the lower back.
Absolutely. Yep. A lot of compensation can happen in the feet and the knees that turn out as well.
Well, you know, the next question I was going to say is, do you need to treat dance injuries different than, you know, somebody comes in with an ankle injury from soccer or football necessarily? So that, that’s probably a yes, because you just mentioned, you know, that the rotation might be causing issue because of how they’re dancing and standing. So is that true, there’s different treatments specifically for dancers?
Yes and no. Actually I would say part of the fun part of my job as we kind of get to play detective and find out why a body is doing what it’s doing or reacting the way that it is. So we get to do a little bit of detective work and try to figure that out. And so with the dancer, we often knowing that they function so much in external rotation. Sometimes we go back to basics and we take them out of their external rotation or we’re going to start building back their foundation of their anatomical positions. So once they gain really great strength and stability back in those positions, then we start transitioning them back into their functional motions. And that’s going to be very similar to any of the sports that we do or they’re going to work function, but they’re going to work anatomically first and then progress to functional. So that is a yes-and-no answer. So we will treat them all very similarly initially. But then we start transitioning into what’s fun in their sport, right?
What they’re going to actually be doing to make sure that they’re ready and strong and all the right parts are working for what they’re, you know, the functions that are going to be in their sport. So you guys are Zooming with me today from probably a session. Now this car accident was January, 2019. And here we are, the tail end of April of 2021. Are, y’all still rehabbing from this injury.
Nope. Okay. No, we’ve had the breaks in between. Hannah’s here seeing us for a different injury.
I was going to say, “man, this is a long one,” but now, so you got back to full strength from the 2019 injury and, you know,
I think we discharged her for the hip pretty close to right after her spring concert show; she was doing so well. So she had been discharged fully for the hip.
That was probably like a six month thing. And like any other athlete who trains hard and trains a lot, you’re going to have other injuries come up and you’re going to work through them. So, um, Hannah, tell me about this team. Are you always seeing, um, a team of people when you go to Children’s or is it just always, you know, when physical therapist or Holly, an athletic trainer- how many people do you work with?
Yeah, I’ve kind of worked with almost everyone at this point. I mean, the staff is just like my second family. I’ve seen hip, knee, back doctors, dance doctors. I’ve worked with a couple of the physical therapists. And yeah, it just kind of is like my second home.
Yeah, I bet. When you’re there, you know, so often plus now what back three or four times for different things. So Hannah, what are your, what’s the future look like for you? Obviously you’re dancing still. Um, you want to keep dancing? You’re in the age where you have a couple more years of high school left, right. So what is your dance journey look like or goals in dance?
Yeah, so this fall I’ll be auditioning for colleges which is kind of crazy. And I’m hoping to keep dancing through college as long as my body will let me and hopefully go on to teach or maybe do some choreography professionally. That sounds fantastic.
Yeah. I mean, you want to keep doing what you love as long as your body, as long as you’re physically feeling good, Right? Yes. Sorry. No, it’s okay. No, I was just confirming what you said. So, um, when you’re applying to colleges, is dance part of that application process? Are you applying to any performance-related schools or are you doing traditional continuing education and then just maybe dancing on the side?
Yeah. So my plan is to, when you audition for dance at a college, you have to get into both the college and the dance program. So you can get into the college, but not the program and vice versa. So it’s a very meticulous situation. So my plan is to major in dance and something else. So I have another option to fall back on or whenever my body starts to burn out. But yeah,
Well, I love your story and I love, um, you know, it’s inspiring that even when the unexpected happens to us, right, um, that comes across my mind all the time, driving down the road, you can’t always control what happens to you in your life. And someone with such a dedicated, you know, tool like you have, which is, you know, your legs in dance. So even when you have these injuries, it’s inspiring to see that you can work hard and come back from those and get back out there. So, thank you for your time. Is there anything else, um, Hannah or Holly that you guys wanna add?
Not that I can think of. Thanks for having us. Thank you.
Yeah, we wanted to tell your story. Like I said, it’s, we’re celebrating International Dance Day. When this does, um, publish, it’ll be a little after that. But still, it’s always worth having a chat to hear about what you’re doing out there. So, thank you so much, um, Holly and Hannah for your time. Yeah. Thank you. And thank you for listening to this episode of Hustle & Pro. Remember to subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts. We’ll see you next week.