Updated: Aug 28
Elissa Sara is an Occupational Therapist (an OT) who originally planned to be a ballet dancer. She now spends her life helping others who’ve experienced serious injury get their lives back on track. Her goal is to help her clients regain their health as far as possible and improve their quality of life by giving them support and exercises they can incorporate easily into their lives.
Elissa had been struggling with her own rehabilitation after tearing her achilles tendon playing netball. She hadn’t been able to stick to the regime of rehab ankle exercises she was supposed to do to rebuild her ankle strength, and as a result her achilles wasn’t getting any better. She needed to find a way to do ankle exercises that she’d enjoy and that would support her rehabilitation.
Dragonfly Dance’s ballet and dance conditioning classes have given Elissa a way to do ankle exercises that she loves and keeps coming back to, and she’s been able to return to her teenage love of dancing.
The dance classes she does with Dragonfly Dance have helped her to strengthen her achilles, and get back on demi-pointe. Not only that, but she’s also discovered new friends and a way to keep stress and anxiety at bay.
Wouldn’t you love to find out more about Elissa’s story and exactly how Dragonlfy Dance has helped?
Keep reading for her full story.
When she was a teenager, Elissa Sara planned to be a professional dancer. It didn’t turn out that way, but Elissa did find her way back to dance eventually.
“I am occupational therapist by trade but currently doing service planning, treatment care and support after a catastrophic motor vehicle accident. So it’s pretty full on. We pick them up from when they are in hospital and see them through rehab, and if injuries are severe enough we support them for the remainder of their life.”
The start and the hiccup
Elissa was very young when she first fell in love with ballet, and stuck with it for around 15 years.
“I started doing RAD ballet when I was about four. I would have started earlier if I’d had my way. I think I was about two and a half and went to see a family friend’s daughter do a ballet concert and from then on I pestered mum to let me do ballet, but the only school in Pt Pirie, where I grew up, didn’t take children until they were three.”
“I did ballet throughout school, did the RAD grades up to grade 8, and had started on pre elementary and elementary. When I was in year 11, I planned to do dance for a career. I’d been accepted into Sheila Lang, and whole family was going to move to Adelaide, but then Dad couldn’t find a job there, so continued as I was.”
“I was devastated. I was 15. It was during the summer school holidays, so I’d said goodbye to all of my friends at the end of year 10, and then rocked up back at year 11. That was a bit awkward. But I was still going to Sheila every couple of weeks, hoping that in the future I could move down or board with someone, but then my Dad had a major work accident during year 11. I stopped going fortnightly, but I was still dancing a couple of times a week in Pirie. So I still kept up with dance, but stopped when I went to uni because I just didn’t know where to go. I already knew I was going to be an Occupational Therapist by then, so I didn’t want to go to a serious school because it wasn’t the point for me anymore.”
Through the years she’s dabbled in various dance forms, including ballet, ballroom, Latin, jazz, blues, and swing, just for fun. But after she graduated from university she worked in Pt Lincolns for a few years but couldn’t find any suitable dance classes there.
The injury that brought her back to dance
When she moved back to Adelaide, she was playing netball, but then she tore her achilles. Ironically, it was this injury, and the need to find ankle exercises she can stick to, that brought her back to dance.
“When I tore my achilles, I was really slack with my rehab and my ankle and calf were non-existent.” she admitted. “So I was just searching for something. I had a gym membership on and off for a couple of years and never stuck with it. It wasn’t really me. I went because I thought I had to.”
“Luckily, a friend of mine had liked the Dragonfly Dance Facebook page and it popped up in my newsfeed. I thought it looked interesting so looked into it, and thought it would be perfect for rehab. And also just for the love of it. I’ve stuck with it longer than gym membership, and I’m just loving it!”
Leaping the hurdle of fear
Even as an ex-ballet dancer, Elissa was nervous about coming back to ballet classes because it had been so long. It’s a common worry that ex-dancers have when they return to class, but really, it’s just like riding a bicycle. Your body remembers.
“I was worried because I knew that things had changed with my ankle, and didn’t know if I’d be able to do anything, if I’d remember anything. I hadn’t done any form of dance for years, and had only done netball and fitness type stuff which is very different to dance. I was worried I’d be disappointed in myself. Because I loved ballet so much, and was concerned I’d go back and be really disappointed.”
“But going back to ballet has been good. I’ve been surprised how much my brain remembers. I remember pretty much everything. My ankle doesn’t let me do everything I would like to do, but I still remember how to do it. After doing ballet for so many years it’s nice to know I can still do it.”
Returning to dance classes is nerve racking for people who’ve danced before, because when you’re a teenager in serious dance training, you are hyper-critical of yourself, and often it can be really competitive. Part of our ambition at Dragonfly Dance is to ensure that it is a welcoming and supportive experience. Luckily it seems we’ve succeeded there, as far as Elissa is concerned.
“Meeting new people was a bit daunting. I didn’t know what the people would be like. What if they were judgemental? It was fear of the unknown. I’d never done adult ballet classes before, and had only done serious stuff before, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like.”
Ballet classes were just what Elissa needed for ankle exercises, but she discovered quite a few pleasant surprises doing class with Dragonfly Dance.
“My achilles is the reason I went back to ballet, but I’ve enjoyed Dragonfly Dance so much. I’ve been really surprised. My love of dance and music, and being able to move to music, was really missing in my life. I think I had forgotten how much I love and enjoy dance. That’s what keeps me coming back. There is nothing else that gives me the same joy.”
Elissa explains that as an occupational therapist, it’s completely logical to go back to ballet as a way to rehabilitate her achilles.
“OT’s are a bit different to physios. A physio gives you exercises and tells you to do them, whereas an OT gets you to incorporate things into life, with your own interests. And ballet does that for me. I wasn’t doing my physio exercises, but I have stuck with ballet.”
“The most rewarding part of it is the satisfaction of being able to still do stuff. It still feeds into strengthening my achilles and calf. But I’ve also met a great bunch of people. I wasn’t expecting that. I go along each week now and I know people and know their names, and you can have a chat. It’s been an unexpected pleasure.”
“I love that it’s non judgemental. I love that there is a whole range of ages. And that there is no pressure. It’s just really friendly and welcoming. I found that the classes at Dragonfly Dance wipe out the age difference. I haven’t experienced that before. It’s a mix of ages and abilities, and everyone is in there together to support each other.”
A fresh perspective on dance
From my perspective, as Elissa’s teacher, it was clear she’d had very good ballet training, and had danced a lot. To be honest, I was concerned she wouldn’t continue after the first six weeks she’d signed up for, because it was a beginner class. But she surprised me by signing up for a membership plan straight away.
“I enjoy doing ballet for fun as much as I did when I did it seriously. When I did it seriously, classes were strict and very technique focussed, as you had to be. I really loved that. But I guess these classes are a bit more laid back, and they’re not … you obviously give pointers on how to do things better, but it’s not strict. It’s fun, and you can just go there and enjoy and get wrapped up in the music. I like that you use modern music as well.”
“For me I don’t have to think too hard about dance, it comes a bit naturally to me, so I can just go and enjoy it. I’m someone who tends to be a little bit anxious, so for me on a Tuesday night, I do ballet and then conditioning. It’s two hours that I can go and just forget about life. Forget all the stresses of work and just go and enjoy. And I always, without fail, come home feeling better. ”
“I love it, and that particular timeslot fits well with my life. I lead a fairly busy life, and coming out in peak hour is challenging. But it’s just so worth it.”
More than rehab
Not only has Elissa rediscovered something that brings her a lot of joy, it has also given her a range of ankle exercises that have helped with her initial achilles tendon problem.
“I definitely have noticed a difference. My right achilles is still smaller than my left but definitely stronger than it was. When I first started classes I could barely get up onto the ball of my foot, and I’m getting higher and stronger.”
“Also, while I have seen the changes around my achilles, I’ve also noticed my mental health is better. For me, dance has helped with that because it helps me to de-stress. This is almost like my version of mindfulness where I can just go and let those stressors fade away. I can stop thinking about life for a couple of hours and get immersed in the music. It helps me cope better with life, and be more resilient.”
Elissa still has other goals with dance. She wants to regain more of her flexibility and fitness, and to improve her balance and cardio fitness. She encourages anyone like her, who has danced before, and those who haven’t dance before try it out.
“Just do it. Don’t be afraid. People are really friendly, and it is non-judgemental. So just give it a go. You don’t know until you actually try it. And it’s lots of fun.”
Dragonfly Dance offers dance classes to adults of all ages in ballet, contemporary, jazz, and tap. We pride ourselves on offering you a place to indulge your love of dance, whether you’re a complete beginner, had a long break from dance, or danced all your life. Our classes have a broad mix of ages, and our philosophy is that you are never too old to dance, it is never too late to start, and you can dance forever!
If you have any questions, give us a call on 08 7073 2069 firstname.lastname@example.org