Meet the Ballroom Star Who Started Dancing At 40, Had A Hip Replacement—And Still Won Two U.S. Championships
In dance, we sometimes hear of a late bloomer who defies the odds. Or of dancers who overcome incredible injuries to return to the stage.
But both? That's not a story we hear often. That is, however, Darla Davies' story, one that she tells in her recent book Who Said I'd Never Dance Again? A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory. Davies, who is now 61, started her ballroom dance training just twenty years ago, and has won two U.S. championships—one of which she earned after a hip replacement.
But until Davies was about 40 years old, she didn't have any interest in dance. She had been a competitive equestrian, and was getting tired of the "horsey thing" when one day she caught a broadcast of ballroom dancing that grabbed her attention. "I was mesmerized by the costumes and the athleticism," she says.
She soon started taking lessons. "I was a good student and I worked hard," she says. "I would practice at the gym by myself. I could do all my routines without a partner."
Davies began winning medals at the beginner level almost immediately—and with the help of her now-husband Jim Maranto, a professional ballroom dancer who she met early in her training and would go on to partner—she quickly progressed up the ranks. After just five years she was competing at the advanced level, and in 2008 she won the United States Pro Am American Smooth Championship (which includes waltz, Tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz)—even despite intensifying hip pain. "I felt lucky to win because I was so sore," she says.
"With my problem with my hip, everything changed," says Davies. "I was anxious to go back and repeat my title but couldn't go on."
Physical therapy, chiropractic work, steroid injections and anti-inflammatory drugs were no longer enough, so Davies decided to pursue surgery. An orthopedic doctor discovered Davies' severe degenerative arthritis—nearly all the cartilage in her hip was gone—but recommended that she put off hip surgery for the time being. She received the same recommendation from a surgeon, who told her that she was too young for hip surgery and that if she got it, she'd never be able to dance again.
"I was so annoyed and angered that I decided I would have to prove him wrong," she says.
Eventually, Davies found a surgeon who was willing to perform her hip replacement. Post-surgery, she didn't waste time. "I started doing exercises in the hospital bed," she says. Four months later, she was dancing again, and seven months later she competed for the first time with her new hip—and won all her events. Ten months later, she once again competed at the United States Pro Am American Smooth Championship, this time placing fifth.
"As pleased as I was, I still believed I could win the national title," she says. And the next year, she did. "I was fearful that the judges knew that I had hip surgery and I thought they would have some preconceived notion that I wouldn't be as strong," she says. "But the proof is in the performance."
Now 61, Davies is still competing—and winning. "Some of the best dancers are in their 50s and 60s because they've been working on it for so long," she says. "I feel that I'm a much better and stronger dancer now than I was ten years ago, and ten years from now I'm going to be better than I am now."
Davies hopes her book will educate others about what it's really like to get a hip replacement. "I want medical professionals to be able to recognize classic signs of a hip problem," she says. "I don't want doctors to mislead patients and make them believe that drugs and injections are going to magically fix a severely deteriorated hip joint. I don't want people to think they have to suffer for months or years because they're afraid to get surgery. I want them to know that great things are possible on the other side of surgery. I want them to know that you should never let people put limits on your success."
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.