Chapter 13, Boysie Dikobe: Hip No. 5

Updated: May 17, 2020

Dancer (on leave) with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Photo by Zoran Jelenic

My name is Boysie Dikobe. I was born and raised in South Africa. I started ballet at the age of 10 in the Cecchetti method privately with Sue Le Cordeur then went to Fiona Brown while attending The National School of the Arts. I later joined The South African Ballet Theater before moving to the US in 2008 after competing in the inaugural South African International Ballet Competition. I had received a scholarship to join The Washington School of Ballet with Kee Juan Han and Carlos Valcarcel before moving to New York to dance for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Back then I was young and figured that living away from home would give me a chance to have a better career as well as to see the world. New York is not an easy place at all but it sure teaches you how to be tough or it will ruin you. Traveling all these years is something I will never take for granted before my initial injury in 2014 when I had nothing else to balance me out besides ballet, little did I know that was about to change drastically.

I had been struggling for a while with my right hip and I kept thinking that I was stiff and needed to stretch more. Never having had the natural facility for ballet I always pushed myself more than most in order to manufacture the turnout and flexibility I wanted. While on tour in Ravello Italy in 2014 I was dancing Don Q Pas and Paquita on such a gorgeous outdoor theater overlooking the water. I made it through the run-through and the performance but I was limping in Basilio's variation—which is never a good sign. After having a conversation with my director we decided that it was best to take care of my injury asap which meant that I had to miss out on the rest of the tour to Hamburg, Germany.

Upon my return to New York, I went to see the comps orthopedic and it turned out that I not only had a stress fracture in my left shin but even worse, a chronic Avascular Necrosis (AVN) in my right hip which had already started to collapse. Not knowing what AVN was, all I really wanted to know was how long I'd have to stay off it and how much physical therapy I would need. I was in for a rude awakening. Turns out, AVN is the death of the bone and in my case, it had been caused by the trauma of having such a demanding and very athletic art form for someone who “never had the body." I did some research and Maria Mulnar at Westside Dance informed me that this is not a regular injury and that the best solution would be to have a partial or total hip replacement. Larry Demaan was the man I went to for a second opinion with my results and after a few phone calls, I was connected to a surgeon that was a specialist in this kind of field and who'd worked with athletes at the Hospital for Special Surgery. I was told that with the partial replacement called a ‘hip resurfacing’ that I would be back to ballet doing pliès within 3-months bearing in mind that every surgery has its risks and that everybody recovers differently.

The amount of pain that I was in was nothing I would even wish upon my worst enemy. Being in pain and having your quality of life taken away as a human being is terrifying. I booked the surgery for December 2014 and had a great outcome, initially. As the first months went by I noticed that I couldn’t bring my leg back into the midline and that I was somehow in more pain than before the surgery, which was rather odd. There is something to be said about people in the medical field not believing us dancers when we say there is something wrong, I mean it's not like we spend every minute of every day in tune with every bit of our body more than the average person.

Months went by and I was only getting worse and I was met with animosity from my doctor. Though I was exhausted, I decided to seek a second opinion. The second doctor told me right away without having to examine me that I had far too many MRIs in such a short period and that by looking at the prosthetics put in me he could already see the problem. What I had in my body had been recalled and nobody from my surgery bothered to tell me. I knew right away I was in great hands with this second opinion. After investigating some more, I decided that I would have a second surgery with Dr. Scott Marwin from NYU Langone in November 2016. This was all while I was still trying to figure out if I could even dance again and do what I love and am passionate about. I was so over sitting at home or being in the gym, losing all the flexibility I had worked so hard to achieve and so on. I had the surgery and it was successful.

At that point, my relationship with my then-boyfriend was at its end-stage and I had to support myself even more mentally now than ever post-surgery. My contract with the ballet company no longer existed as it's a business after all and you can't have a ghost dancer “on leave” for 2 years. I am in my second recovery now and working with my guru Charla Genn who is also my coach in retraining me, she understands all my habits before the surgeries. I had to start again from square one. My physical therapist Rocky Borstein whom I've worked with for years had me on a very personalized program that had me healthier than I have ever been.

My shrink whom I've been with since 2012 talked me through every breakdown, self-doubt, etc and brought me to a place where the question of 'will you be back on stage' was no longer doubt or something to even waste time thinking about. I'm 2 major surgeries in on the right hip and I am no longer in a place where I have to pull myself out of the darkness. When 2017 rolled around, instead of all that new year new me crap, all I wanted was just to be at the barre, with no distraction but the sound of the music and me working hard on every bit of my body, striving for something greater than I am.

People always think that what we do is all physical—newsflash, it's all mental. If you can't push yourself and get into the zone to execute what we do daily then I must be missing out on something. Why is it that nobody talks about all the tears in the bathroom and forcing yourself out of bed? Or the number of pain killers that some teachers encourage from a very young age and the whole “I am being hard on you to build you into the best dancer possible?"

Photo by Min Wu

When a person has experienced trauma growing up, one automatically learns to shut it off and then somehow post 2 hip replacements within 2 years on the same side, one is asked: “How do you do it?" I can honestly say that I don’t know. It is all happening upstairs. The mind for me is the leader in all the decisions that I make from the head on down, not to mention growing and coming into your own as an artist also helps to navigate against all the fake stuff standing in the way.

I've just had my 3rd hip replacement and I am in such a different place. That's another story for another day but to all the dancers out there who are injured or in recovery, please don’t feel ashamed of falling apart both physically and mentally. There is so much beauty in what you will create artistically even after your injury. You will see the world in a whole new light and thus explore yourself with no fear or limits!

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