Elena Degler

Vicksburg • Mississippi


I have danced 2 years from 6-8 and 5 years from 12 to 17. I dance ballet, modern, lyrical, and smoothe and Latin ballroom. I enjoy dancing even through my mitochondrial disorder, asthma, and dysautonomia. Mitochondrial disorder is a disorder in the energy processors in my cells, basically I have less energy than others including stamina, seizures can occur, blindness is a possibility with the type I have(I am thankfully not blind), early Parkinson's (I do not have this either), and I have an inability to make muscle as fast as others. Dysautonomia causes my blood pressure to spike dangerously with changes of position(even standing up) causing my heart to pump to fast and not getting enough oxygen to my brain. Dehydration definitely can worsen the effect, and any other changes in my body. Thankfully I'm able to dance because of blood pressure medicine but it is still difficult for me to keep up with average dancer. I have fainted 3 times in class before. Despite my difficulties, I am in love with dance.

Dance has always been a part of my life, but these past 5 years are when I actually started pursuing it. My first dance lesson was when I was six, I was ecstatic! There was something about dance (particularly ballet) that I understood and desired. It was like a language to me that I understood; I saw people communicate through dance either their story, their passion, or an interpretation of the music. I wanted to do it. I hated class as a kid, but I loved the stage. I had great flexibility and strength, but I was not the ideal body type. I was muscular and a bit puffy, not overweight, just stocky. But it did not stop me from dancing. Right before I went en pointe at eight years old, my dad had to find a new job and suddenly my sickly brother was dying. He was only one year younger than me and was like a twin. I never got back into dancing since things were difficult at home and we had to move to Pikeville, Ky where there is almost no ballet; and if there was, it was not that good.After a year and a half later, my brother died, and our family was devastated and my heart was broken. My dad had to find another job not long after and we moved again. I still was not dancing, but because of the loss of my brother, I did not mind.
It was only when I was 12 that I felt a calling back to ballet. We had moved to Lubbock, Tx, and my new friends fromChrist in the Arts ballet invited me to their performance to see if I might be interested in dancing again. Their company mixed ballet with contemporary and lyrical dance, and once I watched it, I fell immediately that I needed to dance again. It was hard to start form the beginning again, to train my muscles to do what others had learned since they were two, and many times I cried because I was so discouraged and felt I would never be a good dancer. But I worked hard and soon saw improvement. In the two years I danced there I found that I could speak through dance with the way I moved and found that it was also a way for God to speak to me. He filled my heart with the joy of dance and I was able to spread his love through what I did.
As I excelled rapidly, my teachers began to notice and they encouraged me to keep working hard so that I might become professional one day. Sadly, I had to move to Fort Worth due to my dad's job again. I new there were no studios like the one in Lubbock and that I would have to go to a Classical Ballet studio; I was scared to go into such a strict environment, but I wanted to keep dancing and knew the technique Classical ballet could give me would be beneficial. I was placed in the level under advanced but the teacher thought it would be a good challenge for me to take advanced classes too. My teacher thought I would not make it through the advanced classes because of my lack of experience, but I muddled through and after a year of going six days a week I leveled up. I went from barely able to make a single pirouette to almost triples. The sub teacher said she saw potential and thought I could become professional, but the owner of the studio did not like me. I will never know why he was so harsh to me, but he degraded me and eventually stopped paying attention to me in class. Towards my second year he told my other teacher I would never go any further and I was as good as I would get, mostly because of my metabolic problems and other difficulties. I had a hard time keeping up with others in class, my muscles would give out sometimes; I also did not know about my Dysautonomia then, so I would overwork myself to the point that my heart would beat so fast I felt out of breath and I fainted. My sub teacher told me that I was pushing myself too far with my conditions and that I needed to take more breaks during class. But despite my troubles, I was always able to do the performances and never missed a practice. But I believed what the owner had said, that I would never get any better; I eventually had a nervous breakdown because I was so depressed. But my sub-teacher believed that I could become something great and told me it was time to move to a bigger studio where they would give me a chance even through my disabilities. My self esteem was still damaged, so I took the summer off after my second year of ballet at that studio and tried ballroom dance.

Ballroom dance came so naturally, my teachers could not believe how fast I could pick up steps and movement; but truthfully I was cheating, ballet helped so much :D. I loved it and wanted to start pursuing it, but I felt held by ballet. I still loved ballet but I also loved ballroom and it was less difficult on my body. My mom told me not to be hasty since I had invested so much in ballet, but my Grandma, who was like a second mother, knew I was going to have to make a hard decision and told me to do what I loved in the short life I had. So I decided to do ballet for a little while but focus on ballroom and that I would decide in winter which I would pick as a career.
My new ballet studio was larger and harder, but I learned so much and proved my teacher, the one who disliked me, wrong and I advanced. My only problem, my disorder that had caused difficulties in previous years of dance, started to get worse. I could barely make it through class without feeling dizzy and faint. I began to worry that I would never be able to be a prima ballerina or even a professional ballroom dancer. I still carried on and soon got to be in my first ballroom comp. But soon before, my grandma fell ill and was about to die from a rare case of lymphoma. It was so sudden, I told her I would cancel the comp so my parents and my siblings and I could be with her when she died, but she insisted I dance and dance for her. She told me she would not die until I had finished. We had to obey. Every moment of that comp, I danced for her and for Jesus and cried my eyes out. She died on my last dance(just as she had promised), it was then that I followed her advice to follow my heart and do what I love in this short life we have. I decided to become a ballroom dancer. It was a pivotal moment in my life and now after another move, I am still pursuing ballroom and keeping a hand in ballet for technique. Eventually I learned that I was having trouble in dance mostly because of the Dysautonomia and got on blood pressure medicine, it was a miracle. I can now make it through whole classes and I have a whole dance adventure ahead of me. I'm doing what I love and cannot wait to see what the Lord has ahead of me in dance. My life is dance, and nothing (not even disorders) can hold me back from pursuing my dreams.