Every dancer serious about their career faces the same choice after high school: attend college or pursue professional dance. It is a difficult question that seems to be getting easier according to DDS cover girl, professional dancer and college graduate Natalia Alonso. “Dancers can attend universities with great dance training so that becoming a dancer afterwards is not such a challenge,” Alonso said.
Still it is a very difficult line to toe. Tough decisions lay ahead and sacrifices have to be made. However, sometimes the universe steps in and what seems like a disaster turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Alonso was only 16 years old when she suffered a knee injury that could have ended her dance career.
In our exclusive interview she said, “I tore my meniscus (cartilage in the knee) while attending the Boston Ballet Summer Program. I was there also training with BBII and had to leave the program half way through. At that moment, I knew that the injury was going to impact the rest of my life.”
While Alonso gave her knee time to heal, she attended and graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in economics. She is the first to admit her academic achievements may surprise people. “Most people don’t associate dancers as intellectuals, so I like to disprove that theory and break the mold,” Alonso said.
In the same situation many people would have given up on dance. Alonso not only recovered from her knee injury but went on to dance professionally for four seasons with Complexions, one of the most beloved contemporary companies in the United States. She also won the role of prima ballerina Maria Tallchief in the play Nikolai and the Others.
Alonso was eager to share insightful advice for dancers based on her own experience and success.
DL: Earning a college degree is difficult; becoming a professional dancer is difficult. How did you balance your dance life and your school life so successfully?
Alonso: When I was at college I didn’t think that I was going to become a professional dancer. During the four years, I danced more as a hobby than training for a career. I put my attention on my studies during the year, and then during the summers I attended the Alvin Ailey summer programs mostly because I missed dancing.
DL: What was your secret to recovery?
Alonso: Many ballet dancers suffer from the same injury which is caused often times from turning out from the knee instead of the hip. After a year of rehab I was ready to dance again, and I made sure to approach my technique differently this time. I no longer forced my turnout, and I learned to place myself properly instead of trying to distort my body to appear like I had more facility than I did.
DL: Do you have any words of wisdom for young dancers who are dealing with an injury now and are terrified their dancing career is over?
Alonso: I would say to take their time and rehab properly, and try and figure out why they got the injury in the first place. Be patient and don’t try and rush back, because coming back too soon will lead to further injuries.