Blessyl Buan (2002) / Photo by Wendy Vaubel
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be many things. I wanted to be a doctor, a teacher, a mother and, secretly, I wanted to be a professional dancer. My story is about how a little dream can drive intention and how dreams of dance don’t have an expiry date.
When I was in my third year at McMaster University studying kinesiology and juggling dance classes and shows, I was preparing to decide what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” Around the same time I was narrowing my career search, a talent agent who had noticed me at one of my shows asked to represent me. One year later, I submitted my application to the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College just as my agent was insisting, “You need to audition for The Lion King. You’re booked to go.” Without hesitation, I packed my dance shoes and took the train to Toronto with a childhood dream tucked in my back pocket.
I arrived at the audition with confidence and an open mind. Gorgeous dancers with long legs, flexibility and lots of experience were everywhere. At the time, I had experience on stage, but was still pretty amateur. I was new to my agent’s roster of talent and, with a potential chiropractic career ahead of me, I had nothing to lose.
The first round was technique and across the floor combinations. To my surprise, the “Fosse girls” were being cut and I was still in the running. My mind was racing. I thought, “If I get cast and I also am accepted to chiropractic college, I’ll defer my entrance and dance after my undergrad!” What a plan.
The second round was choreography from the musical itself. The casting director was smiling at me. As I practiced the combo I just couldn’t get a beautiful battement line à la seconde. I thought, “Maybe they won’t notice.” However, they did notice and my name was called. I was cut. As I walked out, heartbroken, the choreographer yelled out, “Go to ballet class, ladies!” I peeked through the door to see the audition continue. From that point, I gave up on dancing.
If I transplant myself back to that time, I see myself internalizing the message, “You are not good enough for this level. You are not a REAL dancer.” When I watched the production a few months later and looked at the bios and headshots in the program, I cried. It’s amazing how rejection can make an impact especially when you are at a crossroad. It took eight years for me to understand that it was a necessary experience.
My aspiration to be a chiropractor was also strong at this time in my life. One year earlier I had been experiencing chronic groin and hamstring strains while performing. It was later attributed to a sacroiliac joint problem. In Toronto, I met Dr. Julie Houle, a former ballerina with The National Ballet of Canada. She was the first practitioner to tell me that I didn’t need to quit dancing while I was injured. Her approach and way of educating inspired me. I would travel to her Toronto clinic monthly even though I was studying in Hamilton. It was through meeting her that I decided to combine my two passions: healing and dance.
In 2001, I started my four-year program at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and vowed that when I graduated, I would teach dancers how to be injury free, and I would improve their dance technique by being a sound practitioner and teacher. In my second year, I was awarded the Robert J. Cannon Award, given to the student who shows promise in contributing to dance health upon graduation. Reading books and writing exams consumed my time. Although I had said “goodbye” to my dance career, my hunger for it continued and dance eventually called me back under the light – except this time it was for film and television. A friend encouraged me to audition for a commercial that needed dancers. I booked it and became hooked. These types of dance contracts were short and allowed me to work as a dancer while studying.
During my four years of pursuing my Doctor of Chiropractic designation, I gained experience working on a dance series, a CBC documentary, a music video, a variety show and several commercials. I also earned my apprentice status for ACTRA. My experiences taught me what it was like to be a working dancer and also that dancers have specific needs for performance. I also started to teach hip hop classes as my part-time job and opened my own hip hop school with weekly classes on Sundays for youth and adults. It was called “choreograFIT: the choreographed solution to fitness”. I managed to juggle both worlds – dance and school – and graduated in 2005 as a chiropractor with professional commercial dance experience under my belt.
As I entered the workforce, I started to believe that my dance days were over again since I had to focus on building a practice. I also got married and began a family. But a friend once again encouraged me to audition. I was four months pregnant when I booked a commercial in which I had to dance in front of a green screen. My wardrobe mysteriously didn’t fit but I didn’t tell the director I was expecting. We figured something out and my first-born gave me little kicks when the music cued.
From that point, I continued to take ballet and contemporary drop-in classes as part of my fitness routine. (I also secretly hoped that a dance contract would come my way again and these classes also served as training.) My chiropractic practice grew throughout the years and my inclusion of Pilates, chiropractic and acupuncture techniques and treatment helped dancers and non-dancers learn about their bodies and to be injury free. For seven years I treated both emerging and professional performing artists and dedicated myself to being a resource for education, rehabilitation and treatment for my patients.
In July 2012, with the coaxing of yet another good friend, I auditioned and was cast with ten local dancers to perform with the lead actors of the movie Step Up Revolution 3 on Much Music’s live show New Music Live. At the age of thirty-three and a mother of two I was laughing inside: I was dancing with nineteen and twenty year olds who assumed I was also their age. The experience definitely gave me some validation!
These days, my oldest daughter is taking dance classes and it’s been a catalyst for me to target dance studios and dance educators on how to ensure that dancers are being trained safely. On September 16th, 2012, I spoke at the Healthy Dancer Canada Conference in Vancouver about “Achieving the perfect line: Demystifying flexibility and stability in dance training”. The presentation was well received and I plan to speak at future conferences and organizations. Recently I was invited to be a part of the Healthy Dancer Screening Committee for Healthy Dancer Canada and I’ll be a speaker at the Performing Arts Medicine Association’s regional meeting in Toronto in 2013.
As a practitioner, I can truly empathize with the dancer’s desire to be free from injury and the anxieties they experience whether they are working or between contracts. It’s knowledge that I gained from being a working dancer. I am very fortunate to juggle both careers.
As a mature dancer, I embrace the changes in my physicality. There are other ways to showcase your body as you age. Interestingly, I am much more confident in my own skin now than when I was younger and had the flexibility and physique that I didn’t appreciate at the time.
This is what I have learned: dance is an extension of your heart. Dance is wearing your emotions on your body through movement. Under this definition, dance never ages and so your relationship with it should never end. In actuality, dance becomes more colourful as you age. I want a new generation of dancers to dance with no regrets and to have the tools to be successful. Being a healer and a dancer is my life’s work. It is both my intention and my passion to be a practitioner who is knowledgeable to treat and educate the performing artist; I can be genuinely empathetic to their needs because I am also one of them.
Your childhood dreams are messages of what you intend to become. At thirty-four years of age I can honestly say that I am a doctor, a teacher, a mother and a professional dancer. It took the writing of this article for me to appreciate my ongoing journey. For that I am both humbled and grateful.
On January 27th at 2:30pm at the Creswell Dance Academy in Toronto, Dr. Buan will lead a workshop in Acuball for Dancers. The Accuball Mini is a tool for self-care between class and rehearsals to prevent injuries. Participants will learn breathing techniques as well as ways to scan the body and release muscle tension. email@example.com for more info.
Dr. Blessyl Buan, B. Kin (Hons), DC, Dip. AC, Pilates, practices chiropractic, medical acupuncture and rehabilitative Pilates. As a professional dancer, she has a passion to educate and prevent injuries of the performing artist. Find Dr. Blessyl Buan on Facebook or Twitter, @drblessyl.