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

Why I Dance: Parisa Khobdeh

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.

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