She Beat the Odds And Survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Now She's Returning to the Stage.
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.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.