Meet the incredibly talented ATL-based dancer Leah Boresow. Her story was one of the most inspiring stories we’ve heard in a long time and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you below.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
It’s funny how sometimes the most cliche quotes are the ones with the most truth. For me, this oh-so-common statement defines one of the most significant experiences of my life. And I am so grateful for it.
I was like so many aspiring dancers across the globe, those who decided early on that they must be dancing. Ever since I was 5 years old, it has been eat, dance, sleep, and repeat. I fell in love with dance early on and since then, I have used it as my passion that drives me through life. For the first 18 years of my life, ballet was the dream. I was introduced to ballet, of course, as a simple activity for young children. I just don’t think that anyone could have predicted that I would have loved it as much as I did.
From elementary school to high school, I would go to dance every day after school- mostly ballet classes, though they were complimented by jazz classes and a few other genres in the mix to help me become a more diversely educated dancer, not just a one-trick pony.
By the time I got to high school, I had decided that I would do anything to become a professional ballerina. I was dancing in the pre-professional program at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. Dancing six days a week for hours at a time, ballet class, partnering class, pointe class, repertoire- I loved it. I couldn’t wait to finish school each day to go and dance for hours. We also got the opportunity to dance in Atlanta Ballet company productions, and it fueled me even more to pursue it all as a career.
In 2007, everything changed. I was 17 and it was my senior year of high school. I had been cast to perform in the Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre, alongside all of the other students and professionals. It had become a more regular show for me, like most ballet dancers, as I had already danced in the Nutcracker for four years prior. The ballet had a few changes to their production that year- they were using a recording of music instead of the live orchestra, and they had incorporated characters of pandas into the show, in relation to the then-new pandas at the Atlanta Zoo. I was ecstatic as I always was, I had been given the opportunity to dance a wide variety of characters, including a dream fairy, a lamb, and a panda.
During one of the earlier performances of the season when I was cast as the panda, the costume that I was wearing malfunctioned during the finale, preventing me from being able to see, and I blindly fell off the stage into an empty orchestra pit. From that moment, everything in my life changed.
The fall was approximately 12 feet. While I strangely remember the sensation of falling, what I remember the most is what happened right after I landed on the ground. It felt like shock, and in addition to hearing close-by audience members shout things like, “don’t move!” and “are you ok,” I remember the worst feeling of embarrassment as everyone was staring at me. I was quickly rushed off to the hospital, where it was diagnosed that I had a compression-burst fracture in my spine, and I underwent a spinal fusion surgery two days later. My brilliant neurosurgeon had told me that I would most likely never dance again. Needless to say, I was filled with despair, and felt so completely out of control of my life.
Post-surgery marked somewhat of a new era for me. It was like starting anew in so many ways. My brilliant neurosurgeon, who had filled me with despair, completely saved my life, along with so many others at Atlanta Medical Center, for which I am eternally grateful. With new hardware in my spine and a hideous back brace that prevented all movement in the torso, I slowly began to re-learn how to walk. After a few weeks, I returned to school, where I spent the rest of my senior year taking just 3 classes in the afternoon, while I spent my mornings doing physical therapy of all kinds. During this early recuperation I had the most amazing support system, not only from my incredible parents and twin sister, who pushed me along and helped me find my wings again, but also to so many in the community, from whom I received beautiful letters of support which helped restore some hope.
I want to take a moment and say that I had a big choice to make in the early stage of my recovery- and that was having to choose between being angry and holding onto the tribulation of knowing that my life would never be the same, or choosing hope and strength. The second choice, of course, was the more difficult.
My beacon to keep on came from two ideals; one was the overwhelming sensation of gratefulness to be alive and moving, and the other was my love and need for dance. These two feelings got me through it all, and I live by them to this day.
Because I was so young when I had this injury, my body recovered quicker than anyone had expected, and after about 4 months I slowly, as in, doctor-ordered snail-pace slowly, started to dance again. Though, everything felt different. My body felt outside of me, like I had to repossess it and train it again to move the way it once had. I was already back at the ballet, participating very minimally in classes and leading some choreography that I knew I needed to do in order to stay sane while not being able to dance fully. Everyone around me tried their best to be as supportive and encouraging as possible, which I appreciated so much, though I knew that the only person that could give me the mental perseverance needed to move forward, was me.
Once I found this mentality, things slowly fell into place for my plans. I figured out that things could not be as they once were, and I needed to stay open minded about exploring all dance avenues to keep me moving forward. While I had missed all of my college dance program auditions when I was injured, I was lucky enough to have been accepted into Indiana University’s Contemporary Dance Program, where I knew I would be getting my degree in dance. This marked the beginning of a new dance journey that, unbeknownst to me, would change my career path entirely.
While I was in college, I dove deeply into modern and contemporary dance, where I felt a new world of possibility in movement- concepts of being able to move outside of structure intrigued me, though I never let go of my classical training. I was also introduced to ballroom dancing in college, which I never thought I would have loved so much, and I dipped into the salsa scene as well, where I started to feel more free movement and expression in a social setting.
In 2012 after graduating college, I had plunged myself into contemporary dance scenes in Atlanta and abroad, in places like Israel where I received great training for different spurts of time. I also had been dancing and training with Atlanta based dance company, gloATL, under the direction of Lauri Stallings for something like five years, and was honored to be their company manager towards the end of my time with them. I also reached further in to my new found love of ballroom and Latin dance, competing and training to soak in the great fun of partner dancing. Choreographing, one of my branches of dance passion, stayed with me as I continued to explore different ways of moving. I presented work in Atlanta’s Dance Chance event in 2013, as well as in Dance Canvas in 2016. At the same time on the ballroom side of my ambitions, I competed at many events across the Southeast, such as Atlanta Open and Millenium DanceSport Competition. And so, developing my career of dance in Atlanta, I was a classically trained, contemporary dancer and choreographer who fell in love with ballroom and Latin dancing- fairly unique for a diverse dance background.
I began seriously teaching dance from all of the genres that I knew and loved in 2012. I then discovered just how much I loved to teach dance, relating to people of all walks of life, and sharing my passion of movement with them. I was fortunate to dance and teach abroad in Israel for about a year and a half, though it’s clear to say that Atlanta is my home city, where I have been most inspired to purse my dance dreams. I have met so many people that I connected with to indulge in dance in all the ways that I love. People inspire me to share my knowledge and growing experience of dance, just as I hope that my story inspires others to dance when possible.
It is sometimes hard to believed that it has been almost ten years since my injury. Even after all this time, that incident is still guiding me in life. When I really think about it, my “freak accident” led me to find myself in a way that I never thought I could. I realized then, and now more than ever, just how important dance is to me- it is all I know and all I want to know, it was my beacon of hope and my guiding force in life. For a while, and even now still, breaking my back became a calling card for me, for better or for worse. I have done my best to use it to stay inspired and keep dancing. While we all know that the art of dance is no easy track of love, I feel lucky to be dancing and sharing with with others in this city that I love and grew up in, because there was a time when I wasn’t sure at all if I would ever dance again. I have learned to appreciate my body and my dance ambitions, I would advise to anyone to not take your ability to physically move for granted. I reflect upon my life-changing injury from time to time- and I try to remind myself that I have to stay open minded, because you really don’t ever know what will come your way, what kinds of people and ideas are just waiting to inspire you, and potentially take you in a direction that you would have never expected. When you think you can’t do something, you may have to find a different way, and you might be surprised of how that way might be even better.
~ Leah Boresow
ABOUT LEAH BORESOW:
Leah currently teaches at Ballroom Dance Clubs of Atlanta while actively dancing and performing at dance festivals both nationally and internationally, such as the Atlanta Bachata Festival, Tampa Salsa and Bachata Festival, and the most recent Tel Aviv Salsa Congress in Israel. She has many upcoming projects in the dance scene in Atlanta, and looks forward to sharing them with others to keep inspiring. You can see some of her work on Vimeo, and she regularly posts about upcoming performances and workshops on instagram @leahboresowdance, and on her website at www.leahboresow.com. She shares that she is “always happy to hear from fellow dance lovers and artists in the city, may we keep the love of dance going strong!”