Katie Lake

The journey Katie Lake made cross country to dance at Dominican University of California has a happy ending, yet it wasn’t without a dramatic detour. A waltz it wasn’t.

Along the way, the LINES Ballet/BFA In Dance graduate encountered physical pain and mental anguish that led to two hip surgeries a month apart and a doctor’s warning to quit dancing or be at risk of not being able to walk normally later in life.

Now Lake is beyond all of that, looking to dance this summer in Switzerland. Her Dominican experience is culminating with a jump for joy.

 “It was a roller coaster,” Lake says. “I had a very different experience than most people have coming here.”

The ride was more bemusement than amusement for awhile, but it has had a profound impact on Lake’s life.

“Katie was always talented, but her fight has burnished her luster,” said Maurya Kerr, an adjunct faculty member for the LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican. “Once you have experienced the depths and really stared down your fears, you are forever changed, and it manifests in everything you do and touch.”

 Lake chose to come to Dominican sight unseen. She is from West Newbury, Mass. and the Northeast School of Ballet in Wakefield and Dance Studio in nearby Melrose who figured it was her destiny to go to college and dance in New York. She was in New York auditioning when she saw a poster advertising Alonzo King LINES Ballet and the BFA in Dance program in California.

“I never thought I would get in. When I got my acceptance letter, I felt like I had to come,” Lake says. “The company is so renowned.  I thought it was a big reach for me. And I never pictured myself going to a school on the other side of the country. I never pictured myself here until I came.”

There naturally was some homesickness at first, but Lake’s fellow freshmen students evolved into a family away from home. All was well until November of 2009 when pain developed whenever Lake did an external rotation. Her legs would lock, but she would crack the joint and dance on.

However, the pain persisted and reached a point where it became difficult to sit and even sleep. It was determined that Lake had a congenital defect in the structure of her hip socket that was causing a labral tear. Surgery was unavoidable.

Lake had surgery on her right hip in June of 2010 and her left hip in July 2010. She missed the fall semester at Dominican to go home to Massachusetts to work and rehabilitate.

In the spring of 2011, Lake returned to Dominican and attempted to resume her dance class, but the pain was still too great. She consulted several doctors and the last one told her that her dancing career was over.

At 19 years old, Lake was devastated. Her dream had pirouetted into a nightmare. She leaned on Kerr for support and advice. Kerr has had three hip surgeries. She was forced to retire as a LINES dancer in 2006.

Kerr understood Lake’s plight. Kerr's advice was contained in a famous quote by noted psychiatrist and author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

A beautiful thing happened to Lake. The doctor who delivered the bad news recommended more tests. During this process, a scan revealed that though her hip sockets were not ideal, it appeared she could not cause further damage to soft tissues by continuing to dance.

“If I could find a way to cope with the pain or to get past the pain or rehab in a way to allow me to dance then I could,” Lake says.

So last summer Lake began working out at a physical therapy center in San Francisco and also started a massage-like therapy called rolfing, a system whereby the alleged manipulation of the fasciae by specific methods is believed to yield therapeutic benefit.

 “I basically retrained myself how to dance in way that wouldn’t put stress on me,” Lake says. “I found muscles that I never knew I even had. I use them all the time and now I rarely have any hip pain.”

Lake’s comeback is remarkable. By last October, she felt she had fully recovered. She was even learning to surf now with a friend, LINES Ballet/BFA in Dance graduate Elisabeth Schiffbauer who has formed her own dance group called TheBigStrongGang.

In April, Lake and her senior BFA classmates at Dominican performed at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Novellus Theater in San Francisco.
“Dancing on that stage is an incredible opportunity that lot of dancers never get a chance to do,” Lake says. “It was really amazing.”

In May, Lake walked at Commencement, and glided across the stage as her parents, Carolyn and Dana, and younger sister, Courtney and Jessie, were among an assemble of 17 family members and friends to cheer on Katie. Her dance career has come full circle, or fouette en tournant.

Now comes the encore. In August, Lake will tour with Garrett Moulton Productions through Switzerland. The young lady who thought less than two years ago that her dancing career was finished will promenade in Europe. For Lake, success has been the journey, not the destination.

 “It’s been sort of a whirlwind, but in the best way possible,” Lake says. “It definitely surpassed my expectations.”

In other words, this ballerina is one of the beautiful people. Bravo for her.