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Why I Dance: Parisa Khobdeh

After two surgeries, Khobdeh found her way back to dance. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy PTDC.

I was soaring through the air in a double-attitude jump during a rehearsal of Paul Taylor's 1978 classic Airs—and when I landed, I immediately knew something was wrong. A searing pain tore through my lower right leg, and with nausea and fear rippling through me, I fought to breathe.

A pall fell over the dancers as they gathered around me—I felt like I was awake at my own funeral. In shock, I turned over, raised my ankle, scooted myself off the floor and shouted, “Keep going, start the music! Don't stop!"

I love dance. And love for me is growing together and growing apart. I had to learn what it was to grow in the absence of dance.

Ironically, I'd spent most of my career on a partially torn left Achilles tendon. Amy Young, then my fellow dancer, often practically carried me offstage to make it in time for curtain calls; I danced on the stage but limped in the wings. When I could no longer walk home from the subway, I decided to have surgery in 2010.

So when my right Achilles unexpectedly ruptured just two years after I finished recovering, I felt defeated. Sidelined for months, I spent sleepless nights with my leg elevated, only to see it turn blue. I lost feeling in my toes. I took painkillers, ran scorching water down my neck to distract myself from the agony—nothing worked. I felt like I had danced my body to death. Sleep deprived and emotionally eroded, I told the doctor, “I don't want to dance."

But even during this darkest of times, those words didn't feel like the truth. As I lay in bed after the second surgery I thought, I have to create and I have to dance. Paul called me the next day to ask if I'd watch rehearsals; Carolyn Adams called me to teach for her at Ailey; artistic director friends asked me to create a dance, a film. I felt those familiar muscles twitching to life along with the music, even from the confines of a chair. And sooner than I'd allow myself to hope for, everything began to transform for the better—I was dancing again.

I ran barefoot for the first time in months onstage in April 2014. My smile had never been more real. I was awed by my body's ability to heal. And my soul's.

Dance is the light in someone's eyes, the sound of silence suspended while running onstage before I catch the beat right out of the air; it's compassion compressed in a touch and the tilt of a head that begs that question: “How is your heart in this moment, in this breath?" It's throwing yourself backwards to your partner from across the stage and trusting that he'll catch you. Dance is love. I can't stay away.

Health & Body
Getty Images

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

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"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.

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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