Breaking Stereotypes

Meet the "Bald Ballerina" Fighting Breast Cancer

Maggie Kudirka. Photo by Dancers Care Foundation/Andrew Holtz

Maggie Kudirka was just beginning her ballet career with the Joffrey Concert Group in New York when she discovered an ache and a knot in her sternum that would not go away. It became excruciating.

The company physical therapist gave her exercises and massages to assuage the pain. "I just thought it was a muscle mass…we were doing a lot of partnering, but it didn't get better," she says.

Months later, as her first season was ending, she found a doctor to take a look. It took a few appointments to get the diagnosis because, at 23, Kudirka was not in the risk group for breast cancer. But that's what the lump was. Within weeks she was in treatment for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, meaning it had spread to other parts of her body and was incurable.


After a double mastectomy and the start of chemotherapy, Kudirka was advised to cut her hair so it wouldn't fall out in clumps on her pillow. She took the plunge and had it shaved. Bald Ballerina was born.

Kudirka was determined to share her treatment journey through a blog and other social media and it grew from there. One part of Bald Ballerina raises funds to cover the dancer's ever-growing medical costs, which now surpass $600,000, even with insurance.

But aside from helping pay expenses, Bald Ballerina's larger mission is awareness. "I want people to know that no one is immune. Anyone can get breast cancer," she says. "I want young girls to know they're in charge of their bodies and if they feel something is not right they should be able to ask for help and get what they need."

That means it's never too early to start teaching young girls to do breast self exams. "They should do it in the shower every day and get to know their bodies, so they can realize when something is wrong," Kudirka says.

She works with Starbound National Talent Competition, sharing her story and traveling the country teaching ballet master classes; in return, Starbound raises funds for cancer treatment and research. Kudirka recently visited the Capezio store in New York, where she shared her story for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Performing at Starbound Finals

She still spends one day every three weeks at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore for chemotherapy. In between, she continues to take class and perform when she's able, dropping in for classes at Towson University, her alma mater, or other local studios near her Ellicott City, Maryland, home.

She is in the midst of producing her fourth "No One Can Survive Alone" fundraising concert, scheduled for January 14 at Howard Community College's Smith Theater. Proceeds will contribute to her medical expenses. Dancer friends like Adrienne Canterna of Bad Boys of Ballet; Houston Ballet's Derek Dunn; Jon Ole Olstad, formerly of Netherlands Dans Theater; alums and students from Edna Lee Dance Studio and many others have signed on.

Kudirka says, "Anyone can get cancer at any age. Just because I was fit and healthy, dancing every day, doesn't mean I couldn't get cancer. That's my message to other young girls and women."

Image via Stock Snap

We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.

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Training
Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

Keep reading at pointemagazine.com.

Breaking Stereotypes
Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

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Dancers & Companies
PC Getty Images

Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.

The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.

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Training
PC Kyle Rowling

You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.

1. Master the Basics

When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.

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Dancers & Companies
Photo by Mark Perry Shelby, Courtesy High10 Media.

Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.

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Dancer Voices
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In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.

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Advice for Dancers
Photo by Bob Jagendorf, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?

—Injured Rockette, New York, NY

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Breaking Stereotypes
Freddie Kimmel

Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."

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What Wendy's Watching
Kota Yamazaki, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly and Julian Barnett, Photo by Janelle Jones

Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.

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