Breaking Stereotypes

She Beat the Odds And Survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Now She's Returning to the Stage.

Newman with Chase Brock

On May 5, 2016, I was dancing with some of my best friends in rehearsal for The Chase Brock Experience, where I'm a founding company member. I was thrilled to be back doing a show after taking some time off for graduate school.

My next memory is waking up in the hospital with a ventilator tube down my throat. Unable to talk, I saw a semi-circle of people around my bed: Chase Brock, fellow CBE dancers Drew Heflin and Micki Weiner, my husband, Joel, and his parents. Then I saw my mother, who lives in Florida, with her bright blue suitcase. Because these people are not usually all in one place at the same time, I began putting the pieces together that something major had happened to me.

I learned that after rehearsal I had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. Chase immediately called 9-1-1 and dancers Macy Sullivan and Drew Heflin administered CPR. The NYPD arrived on the scene six minutes later, continuing CPR and delivering one shock to my heart with a defibrillator, which restored my pulse.

Before rehearsal on May 5, 2016

To this day, it's hard to believe what happened to me. I had felt great during rehearsal and had no warning signs that something like this would happen. I have been a dancer my whole life, surviving long rehearsals, two-show days and demanding tours. I have never felt palpitations or been unusually short of breath. So why did this happen in that moment? How could I be so active, yet have a heart condition that I never knew about? We may never have answers to those questions.

But I do know how lucky I am. Most people who suffer from sudden cardiac arrest do not survive. Those who survive often have complications with everyday tasks like walking and talking. I have minimal symptoms as a result of my sudden cardiac arrest and I am living life today the same as I was before. My recovery was pretty simple; I rested. After surgery to install a permanent defibrillator, I could not use my left arm for a few weeks. Three days after I was discharged from the hospital, I attended the performance I'd been rehearsing for. After the show, I took a bow onstage with the company.

Newman at the performance after being discharged

In the days that followed, I was surprised by how quickly my body recovered and how much I was able to do after experiencing such a life-changing event. However, I didn't think I would ever dance again. I was able to do yoga and teach dance and that was good enough for me. I was alive, after all! But CBE was doing a residency, and Chase invited me to spend a few days with the company to help coach dancers on roles I'd originated.

While I was there, I ended up dancing and it felt great. I started thinking I might be able to perform again. As Chase started planning the company's 10th anniversary season, I hinted that I'd like to dance my favorite piece, Slow Float. A few weeks ago, we had our first rehearsal. I was really nervous to return to the studio. I felt pretty confident nothing would happen, but I was still scared that something might. I didn't want to put everyone through the terror of May 5 again. But when Chase put on the music and we all just danced, it was like nothing had changed.

Newman in Slow Float. PC Rosalie O'Connor

To prepare for the season, I have been taking several yoga classes a week and rehearsing on my own. Surprisingly, I feel stronger than I have in a long time. As dancers, we are always aware of our bodies and the intricate ways they work. But now I listen to my body with heightened awareness.

I have also found new joy in dancing. I used to take it for granted, but now each time I move, I am filled with gratitude and respect for my body and its capabilities. I am really excited to return to the stage next week. The performances will be emotional for me: It is the 10th anniversary of a company that has been my proudest artistic achievement of my career, I am performing a role I love and I'm dancing alongside the very people who saved my life.

Watch Newman in her return to the stage with The Chase Brock Experience from Nov 27-Dec 9 at New York City's Clurman Theatre.

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