Careers Restored:
Dancers' Own Stories of Rehabilitation Thanks to Gaynor Minden

Alina Cojocaru, Principal Dancer, English National Ballet

Bridgett Zehr, Principal Dancer, English National Ballet

Jennifer Cavanaugh, Principal Dancer, American Repertory Ballet

Gemma Pitchley-Gale, Artist, The Royal Ballet

Bridgett Zehr

Principal Dancer, English National Ballet

In 2008, before I switched to Gaynor Mindens, I was finishing my run of Giselle and my feet were a little tired. I took off for a jump in class, and I heard a pop in my foot. I got chills up and down and I just knew right away [that] something was really wrong.

After two weeks [of] staying off my foot, I was told I should start dancing because it was just a torn ligament. When I started back dancing, the pain never went away and it finally got to the point where I could hardly even walk anymore. [So] I took a whole six months to see if it would heal by itself. Finally I had an MRI, and it showed that I had a ďnon-unionĒ stress fracture in my mid-foot. The two bones never connected together again due to the scar tissue that had built up when I was still dancing on [the injury], and I was told that my foot would never heal.

Luckily we have a very good surgeon in Toronto; he agreed to do surgery by taking a bone graft from my hip and putting it into the space in my foot. I felt so confident with the surgeon and trusted him completely. Still, thereís always that thought, Ďwhat if it doesnít work?í

My whole year off was a really hard experience and there were times when I thought I would never dance again. I read a lot of self-help books, to get back to being simple and good to myself, because itís easy to become depressed. It helped to go watch rehearsals; John Neumeier came to do The Seagull and I went every day to hear him speak about the ballet. I [also] had a lot of free time to sit at home and watch YouTube videos. This was the closest way I could come to seeing other dancers outside of my own company.

I noticed that all my favorite dancers were wearing Gaynor Mindens; I thought, Ďthere has to be something about this shoe that allows them to jump higher and turn more and have the shape of the foot that [is] so beautiful.í More importantly I realized that I had never heard of any of them having feet problems like me. That was all I needed to make the switch, because all I wanted was to get back on stage ó and I knew I didnít want to go back to my old pointe shoe because that might have been what was causing my problems in the first place.

After not dancing for a whole year, I was so excited to try my Gaynor Mindens. On the first day [back], I tried them on my uninjured foot and they felt so good. There was a girl in the company that [had] told me, ďtry them, and youíre gonna think for maybe two or three weeks, ĎI canít wear these; itís too difficult for me,í but after that, youíll never want to go back to another shoe again.Ē After a month of starting back slowly in class, I felt ready to put pointe shoes on again. I did go through two weeks like that, where I thought, Ďnothingís working, I canít turn.í Then all of a sudden, they just started to work for me. I was in the center, doing so much more than I expected.

Since then, I feel like Iím stronger than I was before. I releve using my whole body to do it, which is so much better. [Iím] able to use more of [my] hips, more of [my] upper back to get up onto pointe ó not just muscling up onto pointe like most shoes make you do. I am able to roll through my feet so much better, [because] Gaynor Mindens promote all the small muscles on the ball of your foot. Youíre so flat and so stable on the ground that you donít have to hop up [onto pointe]. The way you hold yourself in the shoe, youíre able to do small adjustments without completely going off your foot. Itís been a whole new experience.

My technique has changed in so many ways from using the Gaynor Mindens. They have been able to free me to feel completely comfortable [so] I can concentrate on every section of the shoe. The shock absorption, itís so therapeutic for my feet and my whole body. I donít have to worry about little pains in my feet anymore. Coming back from my injury, I was expecting to have all sorts of ankle problems, but Iíve had none. [Also] I havenít had any Achilles problems; I feel that my ankles have gotten much stronger. Iíve had comments from my coaches and from my artistic director, Karen Kain, that I am a stronger dancer than I was before my injury.

I feel that everything has changed. I feel like I donít want to go back to another shoe, ever again. Iím able to do the things that I wanted to do with my other shoe, but couldnít figure out how. My jumps are higher, my landings are softer, the shape of my feet is nicer ó I point my foot and it hugs my arch. In my other shoe, I wasnít sickling my feet, but my shoe would twist. With Gaynors, theyíre like a glove ó the longer I wear a pair the better they mold to my feet.

In the future Iím looking forward to continuing to wear Gaynor Mindens because I feel that theyíll make my career much longer. People might say that Iím an injury-prone dancer, but I feel that [was] because I was wearing a bad shoe. Now I have such a good shoe, so organic for my feet, that I can continue to dance for a much longer time. I never liked to jump because my feet always felt so fragile, but with Gaynor Mindens Iím looking forward to jumping, to turning, and doing more because finally I have a shoe that supports me. I feel really strong, good about how everything has turned out, and relieved.

Read more about Bridgett Zehr by clicking here