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

Alina Cojocaru, Principal Dancer, The Royal Ballet

Bridgett Zehr, Principal Dancer, National Ballet of Canada

Jennifer Cavanaugh, Principal Dancer, American Repertory Ballet

Gemma Pitchley-Gale, Artist, The Royal Ballet

Gemma Pitchley-Gale

Artist, The Royal Ballet

I’ve had two serious foot injuries, both of which were unfortunate accidents and both to the same bone in opposite feet.

My first [was] as a student at the Royal Ballet School when I was 16, in a non-ballet related incident. I broke the 5th metatarsal of my left foot with ligament damage, and afterwards I found that I could no longer dance pain free in the pointe shoes that I had been wearing. This was what lead me to Gaynor Minden pointe shoes at age 17 — they allowed me to continue dancing en pointe without suffering any pain.

After graduating from the Royal Ballet School, I joined the Royal Ballet company and began my professional career. However, at the age of 20, I sustained a second, more serious and complicated foot injury. I was wearing flat slippers during ballet class, when I landed badly from a grand allegro exercise and broke the 5th metatarsal bone of my right foot. The sound of my bone breaking was so loud that the other dancers in class thought it was the snap of the elastic breaking on my slipper.

This injury was not as straightforward as the first. The bones in my foot were so displaced and out of alignment (overlapped) that they would never be able to naturally heal to the standard needed to continue my dancing career. The doctors told me that surgery was the only way to correct the bones and fix them back into the right position again. So the very next day after breaking my foot, I had an operation fitting a titanium plate and five screws to my 5th right metatarsal bone.

As soon as my foot was out of the bandages from the surgery, I went to the physio and began the rehab by trying to wiggle my toes. During the following days and weeks I did more and more foot exercises to wake up the muscles in my foot and calf until I was able to walk unaided. My recovery process was very daunting; I had good days and bad days. Once the pain was gone and I had more strength and muscle tone, I began a basic flat barre in socks with a coach; when I felt I was strong enough, I joined company class but adapted the exercises to suit my recovery process.

After any kind of injury, it is always hard to return to one’s pre-injury standard, but this time, I felt it was harder. Not only was I working hard to get my body strong and back in shape, I was becoming accustomed to a foreign object in my foot. In addition to this, I was the first female dancer in the Royal Ballet to have this particular injury and operation. Although my rehab was on track and I was recovering well there was still a big question on everyone’s lips: how will my foot feel in a pointe shoe and up en pointe?

In total, I was out of pointe shoes for five months. When I finally felt ready to put them on again, I quickly found that I needed a wider width than my usual Gaynor Minden. The outside of my right foot was just too sensitive to pressure. But once I got my wider shoe I was happy; I couldn’t believe how comfortable I was up on pointe. I began with a lot of barre exercises which I found very strengthening, especially rises (rolling from flat through the foot onto pointe). I did a lot of rises, as they really gave me the chance to feel what my feet were doing in the shoes and also to get used to the feeling of pointe work again. From there I moved on to releves with plie and other barre exercises until I felt ready to go to center. It was a process of adding something new every week and testing out how much my foot could manage pain-free. I was getting more confident with things in the centre, but I still had days where I felt weak. Certain steps were difficult for me, so I would go back to the barre and repeat the exercise holding on. This really worked for me and I felt things improving quickly.

In the end it was whole year for me to feel fit, comfortable and confident again, both in the studio and on stage. However, my Gaynors definitely made my rehab easier. While I don’t think any rehabilitation is easy or painless, being able to go back into my Gaynor Mindens after such a horrific injury was a comfort for me. There is already so much to think about during the process that it was such a relief to know I was safe in my Gaynor Mindens — I could trust them. Tendinitis is very common when going back en pointe after an injury and can really slow down the recovery. In the past, with other shoes, I had experienced tendinitis problems but with my Gaynor Mindens I had none, so this time around I think I made a quicker recovery.

Now that I am fully recovered and dancing full time, I have found that my foot feels more supported when wearing my Gaynor Mindens than in flat ballet shoes. I use my foot more equally and am less likely to roll away from the 5th metatarsal bone, where the pain originated. Because of the support that Gaynor Mindens provide, I feel this will prevent future injuries; I wear them from the very start of class, and flat slippers only when required for a performance.

To rehab properly after an injury takes a lot of time and patience, but it is well worth the wait when eventually you get back on stage. I am back to being a happy and confident performer and I feel safe and secure wearing my Gaynor Mindens. I am certainly not planning on having any more metal put in my little foot!!!