Eight Threatening Illnesses Weren't Enough to Stop Choreographer Marinda Davis
When Marinda Davis was named second runner-up at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, she dove headfirst into choreographing and producing a full-length show for her company, marInspired; the storytellers. But as her career was booming, Davis' body was breaking down. Behind the scenes, she was dealing with eight very serious illnesses, one of which led to a months-long hospital stay. Now, as she prepares a piece for Giordano Dance Chicago (debuting in March), Davis reflects on how she's powered through it all.
In addition to leading a company, you've also choreographed for "Dancing With the Stars," and your dancers just competed on "World of Dance." But what don't most people see?
I was adopted, so growing up, I didn't have any idea of my family history. I got sick a lot as an infant, and when I was 4, every time I stood up, I would completely lose my vision. I would faint a lot, and we just couldn't get answers. Eventually doctors recommended I see a psychologist.
It wasn't until I was 28 that a team of specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center started making diagnoses. The first thing they found was Hashimoto's disease, which is a thyroid autoimmune disease. Between the ages of 28 and 31—I'm 34 now—they gave me seven additional diagnoses, including lupus, Cushing's disease and mastocytosis. Some are genetic, and most are autoimmune. Once I got those diagnoses, it was this weird feeling of being validated. Then came this horrific realization of what each disease entailed.
How do you treat eight different diseases?
I'm on 25 different medications a day, and every single one comes with about 40 side effects. Mornings are particularly hard. And every four weeks, I'm in L.A. for chemotherapy treatment for the lupus, which completely knocks me out for about five days. I'm throwing up, I have a lot of bone pain, and I can't push through that.
How did these diseases affect your dancing?
Dance was always such an outlet for me, and I was able to pour so much of my frustration into my dancing. But as I struggled with my health, I started losing my facility and was constantly injured or dealing with surgeries. That's when I shifted to choreographing, and my career took off.
"Anything is possible as long as you're willing to take a different route." Photo by Louise Flores, Courtesy Davis
One of your diseases—vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome—is not only extremely rare, but also life-threatening.
Eighty-five percent of people with type four Ehlers-Danlos don't live to be 40. I'm 34. While I hope to shatter those statistics, it's in my head every day. My aorta could rupture anytime. So that saying about living every moment to its fullest because it might be your last? That's very relevant.
You were at your sickest when you did your 2016 show, UNbreakable, with your prize from the A.C.E. Awards.
Everybody told me not to do it. Looking back, it was insane that I did. But I had a story to tell, and I had this company of dancers I loved and believed in. I think it actually kept me alive. It kept me fighting for something and gave me a purpose.
What can we expect from the piece you're creating for the Giordano company?
My work tends to straddle the contemporary concert and commercial worlds. It's been a lot of commercial lately, which means I'm cramming everything into 1 minute and 15 seconds. Actually getting 15 to 20 minutes is so exciting!
Any advice for dancers facing scary, serious setbacks like the ones you go through every day?
Where there is a will, there really is a way. Maybe your intended path was straight up over the mountain, but that's not going to work, so find a different way. Anything is possible as long as you're willing to take a different route.
- marInspired ; the storytellers. - Home | Facebook ›
- Meet marInspired from NBC World of Dance Season 2 ›
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- Marinda Davis' journey with vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome ... ›
- Marinda Davis Faculty Bio | Broadway Dance Center ›
- Nothing Can Stop Contemporary Choreographer Marinda Davis ... ›
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.