Emerson Joyner, 14, demonstrates movement from one of her ballet performances. She’s fully recovered after a small bone was removed from her foot.
Emerson is a rising freshman at Waccamaw High School, and puts in 20 to 25 hours per week of tough but fun training for her dancing.
NOTE: Ballet isn’t normally the image you might expect on a sports page. Watching Emerson Joyner dance and learning about her recovery from a sports-type injury, however, brings to mind the grit, determination and fitness that any athlete would be proud to possess.
By Tommy Howard
Emerson Joyner of Pawleys Island faced foot surgery that could have ended her dancing career.
She and her parents, Holli and Sonny Joyner, decided to have a small bone removed. The surgery was successful, as outlined in the companion story here.
Veteran dancer at 14
Emerson has been dancing for 11 years. She started when she was three years old.
She began her formal training with Ilka Doubek at Litchfield Dance Arts Academy when she was 5.
One of the primary visual images for a ballerina is dancing on her toes.
"Emerson had a lot of pain when she was on her toes, in pointe shoes," her mom Holli Joyner said. "It felt like something was blocking her toes."
After about a year of the pain, Emerson and her parents made their visit to Dr. Ross Taylor.
Holli said "With her goals, we knew she couldn't continue to progress and grow if we didn't fix the problem."
Along the way, there were a number of blessings that came to Emerson and her family.
Qualifies for summer program
"One of the blessings is that she is going to go to a five-week 'summer intensive' in Orlando."
That's something a ballet dancer has to qualify for, not something that can just be "bought."
There were 250 spots, and Emerson got one of them, even though more than a thousand dancers auditioned.
Emerson said she'll be dancing and learning six hours a day, six days a week. There will be a special day at Disney on the Fourth of July when she and the other dancers will be able to enjoy fireworks and the attractions there.
There's a lot of hard work to dancing.
Watch a ballerina, or a clogger or a shagger and you'll see someone who spends hours and hours of disciplined work.
That's the same kind of effort that many football, basketball and baseball players and other athletes put in to their activities.
For Emerson, "I like the freedom it [ballet] gives you from everyday life. It makes all the stress go away. It's fun."
"Generally, ballet is very structured," Ilka Doubek says, "but if you learn the structures early on, you can express yourself and soar and fly."
Holli Joyner said "I think she loves the challenge of it."
Emerson's surgery was on September 2.
She wore an orthopedic boot for three weeks, after using crutches and the boot for about four days. Then she was able to walk unassisted, but in tennis shoes only.
In early November, the physical therapist started letting her do a little bit of ballet exercises. By Thanksgiving she increased those, but still couldn't do pointe work until December.
"The first time she put pointe shoes on was at the physical therapist's office, to be sure how she would handle it," Holli said.
"It was tough work," Emerson said. "But my mom, Miss Jen (the physical therapist) and Dr. Taylor all said I had to do the exercises if I wanted to be able to dance again."
And dance she did.
In a really short time after surgery, Emerson was on the dance floor, learned her routine and went on to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix.
She's gone every year since she was 9 years old. At 11, she made it to the finals and has made it to the top 12 at the regionals every year but this year, Holli Joyner said.
"The prize was going, because we didn't think she would be able to go."
"The fact she was able to do this was truly amazing," Doubek said, "but you couldn't stop her. She was going."
Holli noted that for the Grand Prix, it usually takes four months to prepare.
"We went from four months to two weeks," she said.
"I am proud of myself because of how I did," Emerson said. "I feel like I did really good."
Way of life
Emerson has been in school chorus since the 5th grade, loves to spend times with her Australian cattle dogs, and likes to bake and cook. "I do it for people at school."
While she spends a lot of time learning routines, practicing and dancing, she also helps teach some of the younger kids at Litchfield Dance Arts Academy.
A typical finger movement for dancers is "fluttering." That can be used to show wings in motion, leaves rustling or rain falling.
There's a video on the newspaper's Web site of Emerson dancing during the academy's spring gala. As you watch her hands and arms fluttering, it's easy to visualize the "Dying Swan" that she portrays.
Visit www.gtowntimes.com to see the video.
"I dance in the aisle at Waccamaw Middle, at McDonald's, and at Chick-fil-A," Emerson said.
Principal Bill Dwyer would often caution her about dancing in the halls.
Emerson is a rising freshman at Waccamaw High School.
"I'm just blessed to be able to dance because of everything that's gone on.
"I'm blessed to have a good surgeon, an amazing teacher, amazing parents and a supportive sibling" [Austin], she said.