In this scene, young Karen not only shows the experts that dance could do what their therapies could not, she says goodbye to her leg brace for good.
The video clip is of me, the grownup Karen, dancing and talking about the impact of dance on my life. It also shows my teacher, the famous Al Gilbert, talking about this from a teacher’s point of view.
Scene 4: Clinic
The next day, Karen found herself once again sitting on a hard, wooden chair in the hallway outside the Physical Therapy room. It was the day of her winter clinic, and once again, Mama could not attend. With the brace strapped around her left leg, Karen felt like a helpless little girl about to face the mighty experts who would determine her future.
Then she heard Pegasus’ voice in her mind. “Dance. Take off the brace and show them what you can do.”
Yes! She would show them. Karen dug into the dance bag she now carried with her everywhere and changed into her tap shoes. She unstrapped the brace. She warmed up with simple shuffles and hops, and in a moment had forgotten why she was in that dismal hallway, again.
She did not know how long she had been dancing when the door to the Physical Therapy room opened and Dr. Lambert looked out. He cleared his throat, and she stopped dancing. He was still tall and fat, and he still wore a gray suit with a gray tie, his bald head covered with tiny beads of sweat, but now there was a difference. She was not afraid of him. He did not know this.
He looked up from his clipboard with a frown. He did not know her by name. “Karen Hearshstein. Is that you? You look different from last fall, and you are dancing. I would not believe it, but I just saw it. Come in for your clinic.”
His frown deepened into a glare as he spoke the last few words and pivoted away from her. She followed him in with her taps clicking on the linoleum floor. As usual, there were several rows of graduate students and interns seated auditorium style on hard steel folding chairs.
She felt like the star in a freak show to entertain them. The horrible Mrs. Pinzetti and Mrs. DeLuca from a few years before were gone, and the new therapists were nicer, but no one helped her like Gilberto. Her life was now devoted to helping others through dance, so she would cooperate with the experts, even the detestable Dr. Lambert. They would be happy to learn that dance had done for her what their therapies could not.
Dr. Lambert took her through the steps of the clinic. He examined her spine and commented that it was much straighter. He examined her gate and her heel cords. As always, he treated her like a trained animal that could respond to simple vocal commands.
After a few minutes, he turned to the assembly of experts. “When I first treated this girl, I thought she would never walk. She was diagnosed with paralysis on the left side, and no one saw any hope for her. I recommended to her mother that we amputate her left leg and arm so that her little body could put its energy into developing the right side, which is not paralyzed. We even recommended hospitalization at Sonoma.”
Several of the experts gasped and talked among themselves. The horrors of Sonoma were no longer a secret.
Dr. Lambert continued. “Over the years, the mother stubbornly insisted that we not perform any surgeries to improve her daughter’s life, and she refused to even discuss the Sonoma option. Regardless of scientific evidence, she would not budge. During last fall’s clinic and eval, she reported that her daughter had begun dance lessons. I told her I thought that might be enjoyable for the child, but not to expect any significant physical improvements from it. The testing we did showed a slight improvement in Karen’s gate and overall strength, but nothing unusual. However, we now see major improvements. Karen, please dance a little for us.”
Without speaking, Karen did a few shuffles before spinning across the floor with one Maxi Ford turn after another.
“That’s enough, Karen.”
She stopped. He continued. “Today, I found that Karen’s heel cords appear quite normal. You can see that she no longer needs the brace to walk, and her left leg—the one we thought would be paralyzed forever—can now bear weight and even propel her upward, so she can hop into the air with it. Her back is almost straight, too. This is all scientifically impossible. There is no known therapy that could have produced these results. The only conclusion is that we misdiagnosed Karen, and so the therapies she received at school produced this unexpected result. It could not have been the dance lessons, which are for amusement only.”
He sniffed. “Karen, you may go to lunch now. We will continue with your evaluation this afternoon.”
Karen picked up her dance bag and brace. “What should I do with the brace? I don’t need it anymore. Could I give it to a child who needs it?”
Dr. Lambert’s upper lip curled. “Take it with you. I certainly don’t want it. Now, go!”
For a moment, Karen frowned back. Then, she gave him her most dazzling smile and danced out of the room, spinning in one Maxi Ford turn after another, her eyes focused on the doctor’s face, using it as a stable reference point to maintain her orientation. In the doorway, she did a routine of shuffles in place, faster and faster until the taps on her shoes created a rainbow of rhythm that even the experts could not ignore. Some of them swayed with her rhythm.
As suddenly as she began dancing, she stopped. The experts froze with her, eyes fixed upon her. She quoted Dr. Lambert. “‘There is no known therapy that could have produced these results.’ But, there is dance. This is dance. I am dance. Dance produces dancers. Known therapies produce cripples.”
She jumped into the air, clicked her heel taps together, and whirled down the hallway to the cafetorium, repeating Maxi Ford turns and ball changes as Dr. Lambert and the experts stared through the PT room door.
Original text ©2023 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.