DANCE; A Young Survivor In an Unforgiving World

The New York Times—NEW YORK—June 16, 2002

At 21, Alexandra Ansanelli is making a comeback. She was a promising newcomer at New York City Ballet at 15, but within a few years she had developed a mysterious pain in her left foot and questioned whether she would ever dance again. After more than a year away from dancing and months of physical therapy, she made a tentative return to the stage, appearing in Christopher Wheeldon's ''Polyphonia'' and ''Variations Sérieuses.''

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Always a hard worker, she never turned down the chance to learn a new role. By the end of the 50th-anniversary season, however, she began feeling a pain in her foot. It was initially diagnosed as a fracture. After taking the summer off, she cautiously started work again, only to find that the pain was worse. ''I could hardly stand on the leg,'' she said, ''and no one seemed able to find out what was wrong.''

Over the next year, Ms. Ansanelli said, her foot swelled to three times its normal size as she went from doctor to doctor, receiving ''a new diagnosis every month -- rheumatoid arthritis, possible cancer, pinched nerve endings caused by scoliosis, psychosomatic origins.'' She underwent CT scans, X-rays, electrical nerve scans, an M.R.I. and physiotherapy, and was told by several doctors that she would probably never dance again, that she would be lucky to walk properly.

''My emotional state was very shaky,'' she said. ''I knew that the company must be wondering if it was a psychological thing, and sometimes I wondered myself.''

Eventually she found a doctor, Rock Positano, the well-known Manhattan podiatrist, who was able to make the correct diagnosis: she had almost severed the plantar fascia, which links the heel to the undersole of the foot -- a rare injury for a dancer. She began treatment, and her foot improved, but she remained afraid.

Read the full story at NYTimes.com.

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