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Tracey JonesIn June 2007 I was riding my Yamaha XV535 custom motorbike along the A342 from Devizes to Chippenham when a car pulled out in front of me and changed my life forever. I had spent the previous night with my new partner at Stonehenge for the summer solstice. It was our third date and I was hooked! I had met him in my work, as a professional Arabic Dancer, when I had performed at his local pub in Devizes for a hen party. We had hit it off straight away, it felt like we were meant for each other.
The initial impact crushed my left foot and ankle and this resulted in the amputation of my left foot just above the ankle. My partner, Neil was the first one by my side and he has never left it since. I had to lie in the hospital bed for a week before the final surgery took place and then my limb was shortened to 4″ below the knee. I couldn’t take that in because I did not understand why I had to be customised to fit a limb, surely it should be the other way around?
All this time I was in kind of a dream state. I was high on painkillers and morphine and the support from friends and family and Neil was comforting. I was still in shock and remained that way for a long time afterwards. It was too much to think about my returning to dancing. I would dream about dancing in my sleep, and there I would still have both legs. When I woke up the realisation hit that it was just a dream. In November 2006 I had won the UK National Belly Dance Competition and was gaining respect and standing in the dance community. Now I felt like a broken thing.
I busted my leg open twice before I got fitted for a prosthetic and this seriously knocked my confidence and so I didn’t move around so much, or so confidently. I still had fantastic core stability and balance from my dancing but that didn’t help me when I fell. Stupid silly things, one minute you’re up, the next you’re down. I wasn’t used to not having a leg to land on so I automatically put it down and dropped on it like a stone!! When I finally healed enough to get fitted for a limb at my local NHS center, the limitations of prosthetic limbs was conveyed to me. The fact that one limb does not do everything was a shock. I had to decide what was most important. The Prosthetist fitted me with quite a hard springy foot, as I was an active person.
The process of learning to walk and being independent was the starting point.
Before I was fitted I was desperate to get a limb, once I had it I cried and cried, it hurt so much and I was still on crutches. I hated having to put it on first thing in the morning. I delayed getting up and would lie in bed dreading it. I had been told I would ‘get used to it’ it ‘would become normal’. Back then I could never imagine it, not in a million years. Sometimes I would throw it across the room in anger, only to have to retrieve it if I wanted to ‘function’. The hard springy foot was all I had for two years and I hated the way it tipped me around on rough ground. It proved useful when climbing up steep Welsh Mountains though! I found if I put the spring down first instead of the heel I could ‘bounce’ a bit. I wanted to push myself and the limits of my prosthetics to see what I could do. The thought of doing something could put me off before I’d even tried and then after I’d done it, my confidence went up a bit more.
What didn’t help the fitting of my limbs initially was getting pregnant! But what a blessing that was, I now have a 15 month old son, who needs me and needs me to be strong and happy. Needless to say throughout the pregnancy I had a nightmare with my limbs. It didn’t help matters moving and having to change limb centers either. After I had the baby I was determined to get active. As a qualified horse-riding instructor I knew that I could do horse riding. One day I went horse-riding and ended up tripping on the stony track to the riding center and broke my arm! My prosthetic was out of alignment and I was making do, but this was a disastrous consequence. I still went out for a ride with one arm in my pocket, but afterwards I couldn’t even put my own leg on or pick up my baby for 6 weeks!! This was a real low point.
It took so long for my residual limb to settle down; it wasn’t until November 2008 that I got a decent fit. I started to work out a bit at home and dance around the house. I got another leg made so I could set one to flat to dance on at home. The hard springy foot was no good for Arabic Dance though, it had no lateral movement in the ankle which is essential. Another problem was that for some reason the surgeon had cut a bit more off than the Prosthetists would have liked. 6″ would have been great. I was told I may never have great control of my limb because of this. I was also told a suction socket would be best to help that problem and the socket was built up a bit more around the knee. The problem was that this reduced my knee function too much to dance properly.
I thought about the fluidity of Arabic dance, and the balance and flexibility and the need for good strong feet, the problems that just didn’t seem to be addressed in such a way that would allow me to return to my love of dance. I knew that the best way for me to truly get my fitness back was to start dancing again. It would build up my wasted thigh muscles and buttocks and my core muscles would become stronger again. It was time to go private and get what tools I needed for the job!!
I went to Kevin Shaw, a very good Prosthetist at Dorset Orthopedic. It took many, many fittings to get the pin lock socket to work. I have a conical shape to my residual limb which means I can slip into the socket very easily. It took a long time working out how to stop that happening without building up the acrylic so severely around the knee. I tried out a couple of different feet and ended up with a College Park “Tribute” foot from RSL/Steeper. This was a good compromise between lateral flexion and plantar energy return. Basically it mimics the natural barefoot dance that I do as closely as we could find.
Also I wanted a silicone cover so it looks good, you don’t see belly dancers with carbon tubes for legs do you? The weight got some getting used to, but I wasn’t about to compromise on the look. I wanted to feel whole again…not to mention beautiful when I dance!
Luckily, Egyptian dance is a heavy, earthed dance which relies on strong core stability to execute the turns and spins and movements, not the legs. If it had been any other dance, I might not be able to still dance at the level I do. I can do Egyptian style arabesques, but if it was ballet, you could forget it!!
What I have found in returning to dancing is that one of my biggest fears was completely wrong. As a qualified Fitness Instructor I knew how important balance in the body is. My biggest fear was that I might become too ‘one sided’ and that my right leg would take too much of a beating by doing all the work. This is completely NOT the case! The dance is always done on both sides of the body and so if you complete a sequence of moves to the right, you will likely then repeat the sequence of steps to the left.
As a result of returning to Arabic Dancing my left leg has built up again nicely and continues to improve. I have found nothing else that works the quads quite like it ,(muscles just above the knee) largely because of the hallmark ‘shimmying’ movement which involves standing up with straight legs and then bending one knee and then the other, working up to a nice rhythmic speed. My buttocks have evened out nicely and my back and stomach have become stronger, which has improved my overall posture.
My reaction times, control and balance have all improved greatly and the side effect of all of this is that I am much more agile and able to use a variety of prosthetics, adapting to each suspension system and hardware with relative ease. Therefore everyday life has become a lot easier and I feel much more ‘normal’. I go mountain biking with my family, out for walks, jog along with my kids and dance four hours a week. My confidence levels have soured without feeling like I might trip, or fall, although I am still very careful. I do not rule out the use of a stick on very uneven or steep ground, I do not let this detract from the enjoyment of my pursuit. Nor do I think ahead of problems that might put me off giving things a go. I am much more spontaneous.
All in all, Arabic dance has helped me get back to a fitter, stronger, more adaptive body in a fabulously fun and glorious way! I am performing again for the dance community and teaching the dance to able-bodied women.
I would dearly love to run workshops for limb user groups. As a fitness instructor, I always advocated the physical benefits of the dance. They are huge. As a prosthetic user, I would highly recommend this dance to help build balance and core strength and re-build weakened muscles.
On a more personal level, it lifts the spirits, builds confidence and celebrates the individual, and on this note I would like to end with one of my favourite quotes; “There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them”. – Vicky Baum.
For further information please visit Tracey’s website: http://www.liveyourspirit.co.uk/