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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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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