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Doctors Doubted She'd Be Able to Run Again. Now She's Dancing Principal Roles at Atlanta Ballet

Emily Carrico in Stanton Welch's Tu Tu, Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

In just two seasons with Atlanta Ballet, Emily Carrico has emerged as a lead dancer with depth and dimension beyond her years. Her Sugar Plum Fairy sparkled. Her Black Swan was cunning and treacherous. In a recent rehearsal, her Sylph appeared effortless as she darted along the floor, evoking a fairy here, a dragonfly there. Watching her excel, you'd never know that Carrico has had a partially fused spine since childhood.


In costume for Bournonville's La Sylphide

Rachel Neville, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Companies: Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Columbia City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet

Age: 23

Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky

Training: Kentucky Ballet Theatre Academy, The Harid Conservatory, Magaly Suarez's The Art of Classical Ballet School

Defying diagnosis: At age 3, Carrico was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, or slippage of the vertebrae. Doctors surgically fused her two lowest lumbar vertebrae with her sacrum, and she was immobilized in a full-body cast for three months. After more than a year of rehabilitation, Carrico began studying ballet. "I've been back to the surgeons and they said, 'We did not anticipate you'd be able to run again, let alone do what you're doing.' "

Finding what works: Because her fused lower vertebrae were shaped to simulate a natural lumbar curve, Carrico has to work extra-hard to keep her pelvis properly placed. For arching movements, she thinks of lengthening the spaces in between her vertebrae, and she works with an open hip line in arabesque.

What Gennadi Nedvigin is saying: "Courage, determination and an almost fanatic drive are some of the significant qualities needed to become the kind of dancer that Emily is," says Atlanta Ballet's artistic director, who chose Carrico as one of his first new hires. "Her ecstatic joy for ballet radiates as she performs, which gives her a special ability to connect with an audience."

In Don Quixote

Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Mind over matter: Carrico has learned to discipline her mind, so thoughts about pain or fatigue don't overwhelm her during a full-length ballet. Silent words of encouragement, like "Yes, you can. Keep going," help push her to her max. "The mind is very powerful," she says, "especially onstage."

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