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Exploring Life & Business with Amy Anderson of Engage Movement Arts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amy Anderson.

Hi Amy, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
The only thing I ever wanted to do was be a ballet dancer. Ever since I was three years old and saw the Kirov Ballet do “Swan Lake” on public television, I was transfixed. When I started taking ballet lessons at nine years old, it became a single-minded pursuit until I was finally a professional. My career took many turns, but I always made a living through dancing until I was struck with a terrible back injury when I was 27, the very peak of my career. It took me out of dance for two years, and I was told it was career-ending and I would probably not be able to dance again. I had no idea it would lead me on a path to the career I have now as a Pilates Instructor in private practice with expertise in rehabilitation for the general public but particularly for dancers. I have been working for 30 years in this profession but was also able to keep a professional dance career going part-time through it all. It has been a very surprising and full-filling lifestyle.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I ended up becoming a Pilates instructor because of all the twists and turns I had to take in an attempt to get better from my injury when I was 27. Never had I ever even given Pilates a thought before I ended up in a Physical Therapy clinic that had a former dancer who was a rehab Pilates Instructor. I went through so many physicians, physical therapists, osteopaths, etc. in the first year of my injury who did not know what to do with a hyper-mobile dancer with a sacroiliac injury. I do not blame them since dance medicine was barely even recognized at that time and the unique problems of dancers were unknown to all of these practitioners.

I finally ended up in a Physical Therapy clinic that had someone who was a dancer, and one of the PTs there took a special interest in learning more about what dancers need to heal that is different from the standard sports medicine approach. With the two of them, I began learning more about the body, movement, strength, recovery, etc. The clinic hired me to learn Pilates and assist in building a dance medicine program. Slowly we were able to form a Dance Medicine clinic at Colorado Ballet, and through this process, I began to understand my own pain and how to control it as I started seeing not only dancers but also normal patients at the clinic.

I had just gotten certified as a Dance Medicine Specialist in 1992 when the Pilates Instructor I had been training with left and the whole program was in my lap. I was certified but not nearly qualified for all that responsibility. I was petrified, suddenly having all sorts of people relying on me to help them heal their injuries, and I am just barely out of my certification and still injured myself. I started to use my own experience with chronic pain and injury to inform how I would deal with the patients. With the help of all the Physical Therapists that I worked with at the clinic, I kept learning on the job and started to build confidence working to rehabilitate all sorts of injuries. This terrible injury that I thought had ruined my life started to become such a great asset in having compassion and understanding of pain. Ironically, as I worked with other people’s pain, mine became controllable enough that I could start dancing again, which was something I had given up on completely.

After a year, Colorado ballet went through some changes, and the Physical Therapy clinic was bought out by a national conglomerate, so I had to move on and started a private practice. Through all this upheaval, I was back dancing again part-time with my former company, David Taylor Dance Theatre. I spent a few years doing both, but it was too much to have my own business and dance so I moved to a Physical Therapy clinic down the street from the dance studio in Littleton, Colorado Center for Physical Therapy.

It was there that I started really strengthening my skill level. The PTs and massage therapists there were fabulous and so helpful when I was given some very difficult cases. I learned and grew so much from my 13 years there, but I was also struggling with the recurrence of my back injury and decided to quit dance. I was away from it for three years and just completely threw myself into the dance medicine program that I had started while there. The program grew but I felt lopsided and incomplete from not dancing and using my creative/artistic side. At this same time, one of my former dance partners called me and asked me if my husband and I wanted to join him and his wife in learning Argentine Tango. The next thing I knew, I had a professional career in Argentine tango, and I left the PT clinic to start my private practice, Engage Movement Arts, which has been going strong for the last thirteen years. I found that I needed to do both Pilates Rehabilitation and Dance Medicine as well as a side career performing and choreographing. It has been incredibly busy and exhausting at times but very fulfilling. Currently, I have let tango go and am back to my first love, which has always been ballet, by working with the dancers at Colorado ballet and choreographing my own show “Shoes” with ballet dancers as well as modern dancers and even a tap dancer!

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Engage Movement Arts?
It is so incredible to me that my worst fear (getting injured and losing my dance career) became the catalyst for my current and highly engaging and fulfilling career working with injuries and dancers through Pilates. When I was first hurt, I was in total denial to an extreme degree. I could hardly walk, but I would still try to go to rehearsal. I would end up lying on the floor the whole time because I just could not remain standing due to terrible pain. I kept thinking I would wake up the next morning and feel good enough to start dancing.

When finally, after two weeks of this, I realized how truly terrible this injury actually was. I had a complete breakdown (the first of many). As a dancer, you think that if you miss two weeks, you will never recover and get back to dance, let alone the whole two years that I was completely out of commission. What this experience did for me was to help me learn about the mental obstacles that go along with a chronic injury, whether the person is a dancer or not. The struggles to get through the day, deal with other people’s perceptions, try to work and earn a living, and act like you are ok when you are far from it really change who you are on a profound level. Your life becomes an endurance test everyday. I got to a point where I did not care if I ever danced again. I just wanted out of pain!

Through all of it, I learned how to rebuild the body and treat it carefully so it can heal as one tries to regain strength instead of overdoing it all the time and re-injuring oneself or being too scared to move at all because everything hurts. This is the lesson that I can give to my clients when they come to see me at my practice, whether they are dancers or not. I also learned to coach dancers through the healing process so they are not so depressed and disheartened since I had been through it myself and came out the other side still able not only to dance but dance late into my fifties even!

Now I have both a thriving Pilates Rehab practice and involvement in dance as an artist. I stopped performing two years ago and started my own show called “Shoes,” which is an outdoor concert involving many art forms all about shoes. There is original live music as well as dance, photography, painting and sculpture. This year we are doing it a third time in July in Carbondale, CO, which I am very excited about. I am the creator, artistic director and did most of the choreography, but as the show grows, I have added other choreographers who are also dancers in the show. Some of the dancers even compose and play their own music. It is so rewarding to give them the opportunity to work outside of their normal genre and utilize some of their other talents. We have a lot of fun!

I feel so very grateful that I was able to turn a horrible situation into something that has allowed me to thrive later in my life. Everyone who helped me along the way gave me so much and, as cliche as it sounds, I really could not have done it without them. I would name them all, but it would take up pages of this article, and I would still leave someone out! It is the other people in your life who give to you that make it possible for you to give back and keep the cycle of support going. None of us are alone in this, and together we really do make lives change for the better.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
I love that the arts community has grown so much since I was a child in this community. I have been in the arts here my whole life, and it is so wonderful to see it thrive! I am so proud of our beautiful arts complex downtown and all the lovely smaller theaters all over the metropolitan area. The variety of dance companies and festivals has grown over time, and the quality is at such a high level.

Of course, I can say, and many would agree, that the worst thing about Denver is the traffic! Argh! I know it is not as bad as some cities, but I feel it is heading there. I have made a point of changing my dentist, veterinarian, etc, to someone close so I do not have to drive so much and avoid rush hour as much as possible. I hate wasting time in traffic!

Pricing:

  • Private session $80
  • Duet session $50
  • Classes $17

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Francisco Esteves Photography Marie-Dominique Verdier

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