Butler Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” According to Me and My Healing Right Shin

Stefanee Montesantos rehearses for her role as Snow Queen in The Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of Stefanee Montesantos.

STEFANEE MONTESANTOS | STAFF REPORTER | smontesa@butler.edu

Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner, Starbucks Christmas drinks are finally here and we’ve already had our first snow of the season. To most, this means the countdown to Christmas has already begun. But to every dancer on Butler’s campus it means one thing and one thing only — “The Nutcracker.” 

Nutcracker season has always been my favorite time of year. Getting to rehearse with everyone, seeing all of the beautiful costumes and getting to dance to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score truly has a special place in my heart. Most years, the only qualms I have to tackle are overworked muscles, but this time around I have a larger issue that has taken residence fifteen centimeters up my right shin bone. 

On Jan. 17 at around 5:30 p.m. in Studio 310 at Lilly Hall I created a stress fracture located on my right tibia. Stress fractures to shins are, unfortunately, quite common in dancers, but the particular type of stress fracture I developed occurs more in basketball players than anyone else. Stress fractures mostly occur as a result of an improper landing, but it was the way I was pushing off into the air that ultimately cracked my bone. If you remember the gruesome image of college basketball player Kevin Ware with a snapped shin bone back in 2013 — yeah, if  I continued to dance through the pain, as I normally do, that would have been my fate as well.  

After two months on a crutch, six months in an ugly gray boot and eight months of physical therapy, I will finally be making my way back to the stage this December as the Snow Queen in Butler Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” As much as ballet is an art form, it is just as physical as any other sport on this campus.

We train every day for a minimum of three to four hours, and sometimes we go to the gym at the end of the day to cross train. When I was first coming back to dancing, it was a lot for me to be on my leg for that many hours of the day. I stood in the back and sat often. At first, I could only dance for 30 to 40 minutes without getting a familiar pain in the front of my shin. These days, I can confidently say that I can spend the entire day on my two feet, but I still modify a great deal of what is asked of me. 

Some days are worse than others. There are times I straight panic and the only thing that can calm me down is the voice of reason coming from my wonderful physical therapists — shout out to Carrie Gerte, Tiffany McKinley and Andrea Wilson. Other times I can tackle the day head up, shoulders back and toes pointed with zero pain. That could just be the copious amounts of ibuprofen consumed — but that is a secret, so do not tell. 

What is often shoved under the surface when dealing with injury is the mental pain that comes with not being able to do what you love every day. For the entirety of my semester in a boot, I still had to participate in Butler Ballet activities in order to receive credit for my major. This meant a lot of hobbling around the studios while my friends rehearsed and I sat and took notes. I missed the thrill of accomplishing movement, the satisfaction of a rehearsal well done. I even started to miss the pain of wearing pointe shoes for hours on end.

Last spring, I was cast in the two performances for second semester, and I ultimately watched both of them from the wings. I was happy to see all of my friends perform, but I longed to be alongside them, not forced in the back. Unfortunately, no amount of ibuprofen could dull this aspect of my injury, but I tried my very best to use it as inspiration to keep moving forward. I am very lucky that my injury did not diminish my love for this art form; if anything, it made it stronger.

My advice to any dancer, athlete or student who is recovering from any injury of any kind is to be kind to yourself. Do not expect to get back to feeling normal or as you did before your injury. You can never go back, you can only go forward. You are going to come out of it stronger and smarter than before, and soon enough this injury will feel small and distant. I also advise you to come see “The Nutcracker” at Clowes Memorial Hall Dec. 5-8 so that the magic of this beautiful ballet can lift your spirits just in time for Christmas.

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