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Amputee Hip Hop Student to Compete at Dupree Dance Convention
Inspirational High School Dancer to Perform with Camano Dance Academy's Non-Profit Team
By: Camano Dance Academy
“I love showing people video of our Competition Hip Hop team and asking them to point out the dancer with the prosthetic leg,” laughs studio owner, Terah Partridge. “Nichelle dances and compensates for her disability so well, they usually can’t pick her out of the group.”
When those shocked glances do occur, Nichelle good-naturedly educates the younger dancers by demonstrating how her prosthetic leg functions and answering their questions.
“Being a hip hop assistant is me showing the younger children what they can do if they put their minds to it,” Nichelle explains. “If they work hard they can accomplish so many things!”
That’s not to say that Nichelle’s journey through dance - and life - hasn’t been an ongoing struggle.
Nichelle, a senior at Stanwood High School, has undergone constant surgeries since she broke her leg walking down stairs at the age of 14 months. After a weekend in a bubble cast, Dr. Vincent Mosca at Seattle Children’s Hospital diagnosed her with congenital pseudarthrosis of the tibia.
“Congenital pseudarthrosis of the tibia is rare,” says Nichelle’s mom, Lori. “It was explained to us that the bone is genetically programed to break without provocation, and not to heal. It also usually results in bowing of the tibia bone.”
Since the original break sixteen years ago, Nichelle has endured 24 surgeries. The first implanted steel rods into her tibia and fibula in an attempt to stabilize her leg. At age two, and again at age eight, physicians performed an Ilizarov, which is normally a bone-lengthening procedure. With Nichelle, however, the procedure was used in reverse – holding the bones tightly together in the hopes of achieving new bone growth.
Despite her physical challenges, Nichelle loved physical activity from a young age. She played volleyball, joined a youth cheer team, and most of all, she loved to dance.
“I started dancing in elementary school at a studio in Marysville. Back then I could only be in hip hop due to my leg issues. When I would watch other classes before my own, I would always say I want to be them. But if I was them, I wouldn't be who I am today,” Nichelle says.
By 5th grade, Nichelle needed a straight leg brace and a 5” lift in the bottom of her shoe. She began developing scoliosis from the strain her uneven legs placed on her spine.
Doctors knew that the lift could not be increased much higher. At this point, they breached the subject of amputation with Nichelle and her mother. They hoped that removing the foot and tibia altogether would allow them to attach a prosthetic that would even the length of her legs, allowing her more freedom in her activities.
Faced with such a difficult choice, Lori allowed Nichelle to dictate their course of action. Nichelle decided on her own that amputation was the path she would choose. It was performed when Nichelle was in 7th grade.
After her surgery, Nichelle had to learn to walk again, this time with a prosthesis. As soon as she got the hang of it, she wanted to dance. Nichelle didn’t listen to those who said she couldn’t do it, fighting hard to achieve her goals. She frequently surprised her parents with her tenacity.
“After doing some research we found Camano Dance Academy. They were happy to have her join the hip hop class, and didn’t even question her ability. Her teachers helped acclimate her to the steps, and were great about making adjustments to routines. They wanted to include her and her abilities,” Lori states.
After a while, Nichelle began to see how she could adjust choreography as needed on her own. Her instructors were amazed at how seamlessly she could blend into a group routine.
Nichelle’s passion and talent for dance did not go unnoticed by her hip hop instructors, Marissa Wenner and Sarah Cooper, who eventually invited Nichelle to become a dance assistant and a member of the elite CDA Competition Hip Hop team.
Nichelle is now a fixture at the Camano Dance Academy studios – helping at fundraisers, inspiring the younger students, and shining onstage. She and her mom actively participate in raising funds for the CDA Stars non-profit dance team, which provides free dance seminars and performances for the local community.
At the end of February, Nichelle will compete for the first time at a state-wide dance competition. Her non-profit dance team will be performing in two dances at the Dupree Dance Competition in Seattle at the Hilton Seatac. When she struts onstage, her mom, her dance instructors, and the young dancers she assists will all be there to cheer her on.
Watching Nichelle reach such a milestone is sure to be an emotional moment for all involved.
Nichelle credits all her supporters with this achievement:
Those who know Nichelle have no doubt that she will, indeed, go farther.
Following her dance competition and her starring role in the Camano Dance Academy production, “Dancing to the Top,” this June, she will be looking to the future.
Nichelle is currently dealing with the bad alignment in the remaining portion of her left leg, which constantly causes her knee to dislocate. Hoping to alleviate these issues, she is considering undergoing a secondary amputation this fall.
Whatever hardships may be in store, Nichelle’s love of dance will help her thorough the hard times.
“Dance gives me a chance to express myself,” Nichelle says, “and it’s important to me because it’s my passion. Dance always brings me happiness in times of sadness.”
To learn how you can help young dancers, or read updates on Nichelle and her team, please visit http://www.camanodance.com.
Camano Dance Academy