Sophomore Olivia Davis dances with danger


Carissa Mitchell

Sophomore Olivia Davis practices her flexibility, form and balance at the barre.

Ask any dancer and they will agree that injuries are a part of life. In this technical and strenuous art form, routine exercises often pose risks if executed incorrectly. For sophomore Olivia Davis, what started as a pain in her foot in sixth grade progressed into Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a condition which causes chronic and sometimes excruciating pain in her feet and legs.

“It started in sixth grade. I got a stress fracture in my heel,” Davis said. “I was having pain in my plantar fascia. It’s normally a muscle, and it stretches. Mine was really tight so it hurts because [I] have to stretch [my] foot [differently]. The stress fracture was from a character class I took. It’s folk dancing, and you wear heels and bang your heel on the ground. That led to my Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.”

While the stress fracture was caused by the folk dancing class, her feet had been deteriorating since the beginning of her dance career. Ballet requires turning out of the feet from your hips and Davis had been, unknowingly, turning out incorrectly.

Sophomore Olivia Davis poses on a bridge in her pointe shoes and leotard. (Jay Davis)

“I was turning out from my knee, and I was ruining the nerve in my knee. Then also, wearing a boot from my stress fracture compressed my nerve canal,” Davis said. “The boot had to be buckled tightly or else it would have fallen off my foot. It was to treat my plantar fasciitis and my later torn ligament.”

Davis’s pain is caused by the posterior tibial nerve, which runs beside the ankle and is pinched in her foot, causing numbness along the length of the nerve and in her calf. 

“[I get] sharp pains, leg swelling, a lot of different things. It’s always there,” Davis said. “Sometimes it’s completely numb. Sometimes, I’m not thinking about it, so it doesn’t hurt. Then all of a sudden, I’ll stand up and it gets really painful. I won’t be able to move. I’ll be in bed with my foot hurting really bad.”

Davis’ dance instructors were aware that dancing would aggravate the injury and encouraged her to participate as much as she wanted or was able to during classes. In the dance world, ignoring pain is a standard practice as injuries are common, and dancers have high pain tolerances. However, the pain eventually forced Davis to quit dancing.

Sophomore Olivia Davis and her friends pose for a selfie at the University of Missouri Saint Louis, where they were dancing in The Nutcracker. Playing the roles of a page, mouse, soldier and party girl are Davis’s favorite memories from dancing and something that she would have liked to experience again. “It was during Christmas, so we would listen to Christmas music and dance the warm-ups to Christmas music. We would sing while we were dancing,” Davis said. “[Going on stage] was amazing. It was a rush of tons of different emotions. It was excitement and a lot of nerves. It’s one of the most surreal moments when you’re on a stage with lights and music.” (Olivia Davis)

“If I had stopped dancing five years before I did, then I would be almost fine. Physically, I can walk, and I can run. I can do everything, but it will make my injury worse,” Davis said. “I was scared that I wasn’t going to dance. It’s just a part of life. Hopefully I don’t have to get surgery or do any physical therapy.”

Throughout the years, Davis sacrificed a lot for dancing, including schoolwork. Davis practiced four days per week for two to four hours per day. Although she cannot dance anymore, Davis does not regret the time and effort she put into the art form.

“I remember my mom had to pick me up from school early so I could change in the car. I would have to do homework in the hallway. We would stretch and do homework,” Davis said. “It’s sad because I know I can’t [dance] now. I had to make the decision [to quit] because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to walk.”

Davis credits dance with her discipline, maturity and time management skills. The studio also allowed Davis to pursue her passions and challenge herself.

“[During dance,] I could just work on myself. It gave me something to motivate me to work hard. I think a lot of my stress was rooted from school, so it was a place where I could let go because I could be with just myself and music,” Davis said.

To continue her creative career beyond dance, Davis is learning the flute and how to crochet. She plans to study nursing in college. 

“Now I know that I need to pay attention to the things I do because everything I do could change my life,” Davis said. “Even when it’s hard, you have to make the right decision for yourself. Even when you don’t want to, when it’s going to change your life, you have to still do it. You have to do what’s best for yourself.”