Oh God, nobody wants to hear that. I just didn’t know what the future was going to hold, so I was a little nervous about it. But I knew I had to have it done, so there was no getting around it.
Did you ever find out if you needed the surgery because of the rigors of dancing?
No, actually the problem stemmed from a degenerative disease that ran in my family that I wasn’t aware of. Basically, it was because I had a necrosis of my hip bones. (The hip is the joint most commonly affected by avascular necrosis, a death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply.)
How did you view your future in dance after the hip surgery?
Well, I actually went back [to work] and did a show called Ragtime where I played Coalhouse Walker. But I’d gone back too soon and yanked out my hip, so I had to have it redone. After they went back in this time, I just chilled and let it heal properly instead of rushing back to work. You know, you may think you know your body—I did from dancing for so long—and you go, ‘I can work with this.’ But I went back a little too soon. The second time, I healed up much better.
What lessons did you learn from going through this experience, and how do you apply them to life situations?
Well, I learned I’m not defined by what I do. I’ve always defined myself as a dancer and performer. But the life lesson I learned came from my ability to go on and do other things, such as directing and producing. It was a bittersweet pill for me to swallow. But it was a good pill to take because I think otherwise I would have just continued to rely on dancing.
In what unexpected ways did your life change from the challenges that you went through?
This experience just propelled me into other areas; it pushed me do do more singing and putting out CDs. I’ve got a jazz CD out now called Something New. I went into directing and writing. I wrote a big show for Japan with a cast of 25, and I produced a show called Sisters that ran off-Broadway. So, this experience forced me to look at other avenues that I would probably have never looked at because I was too content being a dancer. I didn’t need to challenge myself.
What kept you going during this time?
Honestly? I don’t know. I think I just had faith and I believed there’s a Higher Power, and what’s for you is what’s for you, so I guess that’s what did it. I never questioned it; I just kind of went with it.
Would you say that you’ve come to terms with needing a hip replacement, and how did you accomplish that?
I know a lot of people live in denial, but my whole career is based on the physical body. You have to find ways to work around something like this if necessary. I had to find a way to do what I was able to do without the hip replacement. It is what it is, but you find a way.
What did you learn about yourself because of going through this health crisis?
Actually, I don’t think I’ve learned anything new. I’ve always been versatile and I’ve always had a strong belief and I always had a way of making things happen, so I don’t think I’ve learned anything about myself because I never really gave up or anything like that. I’ve always been daring, the kind of person to get up and say, here we go and just get out there and hope people like it.
How did this experience change your outlook on life and dealing with adversity?
Well, I’m a lot more sympathetic to people that I see who are disabled and in wheelchairs or on a walker or crutches. You see situations in New York where people will try to knock these people down or not open the door for them. But I’m a lot more compassionate because I understand what it’s like not to have all your faculties. I learned the difficulties of that so I have a lot more compassion. You have some people who just give up, but now, after my doctor said, ‘You’ll never run,’ I run; I bike; I do everything. I worked on these things gradually until I could say, ‘Okay, I’m biking,’ and ‘Okay, I’m running again.’