The last night she performed as a professional ballerina, Katelyn Prominski danced “Swan Lake” with a staph infection. A horn on his right foot had become infected, and six months of antibiotics hadn’t helped. She had rehearsed in socks. To perform, she borrowed a larger ballet shoe from a friend and took the stage at the Philadelphia Academy of Music and hollowed out her heart as her foot bleed through the shoe.
“It was a terrible experience,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m done with ballet. Ended. Ended. Ended.’ “
That’s what she thought, anyway, 21 / 2 years ago. But so much has happened since. This Christmas, the DC native will return to the Kennedy Center to dance to a stage she knows well. She comes home not as a member of a ballet company, but as the “lead ballerina” in the musical “Flashdance”.
If this sounds like a milestone in his career, it isn’t. Not to a young woman who doubted she would ever happen again.
After that painful “swan lake” in March 2011, Prominski left the Pennsylvania Ballet and returned to her mother’s home in Arlington County to recover from foot surgery. She was constantly thirsty, so her mother placed a cooler next to the sofa. Recovery was slow, but when she could, Prominski joined her boyfriend, former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer Max Baud, on the “Billy Elliot” musical tour nationwide. He played the adult Billy, while Prominski worked as a tutor for one of the young actors and taught a ballet class to the girls in the series. Her goal was to be good enough to perform with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center in October. Since 2002, whenever the Pennsylvania Ballet and its previous company, the Boston Ballet, let her go, Prominski had returned to Washington to dance with Farrell’s Pickup Company.
“I decided to take my semi-retirement and dance with Suzanne,” Prominski said. ” But that did not work. Everything collapsed. “
During rehearsals, Farrell, who had known Prominski for 10 years, told her, “You’re not the same dancer anymore and you have to find out what’s wrong.
In December, “Billy Elliot” came to Kennedy Center and Prominski began making medical appointments, including a visit to an endocrinologist at Virginia Hospital Center. After a series of tests came a conversation which, she said, went like this:
Doctor: “So, are you here for your diabetes?”
Prominski: “No, my thyroid.
Doctor: “I think you have diabetes.
Prominski, incredulous: “What do you think I have diabetes?” How do you know?”
Doctor: “Well, if your blood sugar is over 120 milligrams per deciliter, you have it. ”
Prominski: “What is my blood sugar?
As a result, many diabetics have impaired mental functions. But, as a dancer, Prominski’s level of fitness, healthy habits and stubbornness allowed her to ignore the symptoms of diabetes for three years.
“Dancers are stoic and they tend to go through pain,” said Linda Hamilton, a psychologist who is on the New York City Ballet’s wellness team. This not only means that diagnosing a chronic illness is difficult, but dancers can block their own recovery.
“Having type 1 diabetes is a challenge for everyone, but dancers are used to trying to take control of their bodies. It is your instrument. And yet it is very difficult to control your blood sugar, ”said Hamilton.
Back on the “Billy Elliot” tour, Prominski spent several months learning how to give himself insulin injections and regulate his diet. In May 2012, she moved to New York – Baud would join her later – and started thinking about the next step in her career.
“As I started to get better and control my blood sugar, I realized I had to start playing again,” Prominski said. “It was the illness that took all the joy away from me. But I didn’t want to go back to ballet. I just thought it would be too hard to deal with my [blood glucose] Numbers.”
Hamilton knows another high-performance ballerina who returned after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes: former City Ballet soloist Zippora Karz, who continued to dance with the company for 13 years. But Karz was 21 when she heard the news. Prominski was 28 years old. Seven years can represent a whole career in the ballet world.
Prominski began taking singing lessons and working as a photo model. She became a personal trainer at Beautiful Ballet, a studio that caters to Victoria’s Secret actors, fashion editors and models. By giving four lessons a day, she gets back in shape and auditions for dancer roles in musical theater.
There were challenges. She’s not the biggest taper in the world, and in hip-hop classes the teachers shouted, “Hey, you! Ballerina! ”Before even seeing her dance But earlier this year, Prominski got the call she was expecting: a producer offered her a role in the nationwide tour of“ Flashdance, ”a new musical based on the film from 1983. As the “Principal Ballerina,” her characters include a dreamlike version of Alex, the black-laborer who moonlights as a club dancer; a star student at an elite Pittsburgh dance academy; and a professional dancer who performs excerpts from “The Firebird”.
Behind the scenes, the changes are fast and furious. Up to four people help her dress while she lace up her pumps. Yet compared to life in a ballet company, “it’s very cushy,” she said.
“The world of Broadway incredibly appreciates your talent, which is very different from the world of ballet,” she said. “It’s every man for himself in ballet.
The Flashdance team are aware that she is diabetic, so the managers carry candy in their pockets so that if Prominski runs away and feels her blood sugar plummeting, she can take some. (Usually his blood sugar peaks during the performance and drops afterward.)
When the musical takes place for four weeks at Kennedy Center, Prominski will have the added support of performing for his friends and family. A 2002 graduate from Georgetown Visitation High School, Prominski trained for years at the Washington School of Ballet. Her teachers have since moved on, but she is hopeful that many local dance fans will be in the audience, even though “Flashdance,” the musical is not the kind of performance most balletomaniacs go to at the Eisenhower Theater. to see.
“It’s the message that’s important,” she said. “Through dancing you can overcome obstacles.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.
From December 25 to January 19 at Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. Visit www.kennedy-center.org or call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324.