Injured dancer makes comeback in role of Sugar Plum Fairy
Marina Stefano would rather dance when she’s 16 than walk when she’s 30.
Stefano, a junior at Connellsville Area High School who has been dancing for 14 of her 16 years, suffered a knee injury last year during the final performance of her high school’s production of “Cinderella.” Her future as a dancer has been shaky ever since.
“I went to the orthopedic doctor, we got MRIs to make sure I didn’t tear anything, then I did therapy for like four times a week, two hour sessions,” says Stefano.
Despite rounds of steroids and other medications, her knee continues to give her trouble. Her doctors have told her that a risky surgery is her best chance in the long-term, but the recovery time could be anywhere from a few months to a year.
“I would rather push through the pain now even if in ten years I can’t dance,” says Stefano. “It’ll still be worth it now instead of taking a year off with the chance of maybe recovering. That’s just not worth it to me.”
Stefano is currently appearing in “The Nutcracker” as The Sugar Plum Fairy, a step up from last year, when she danced the role of Clara.
Marina finds some of her closest friendships among dancers; their common passion allows them to feed off each other's enthusiasm and dedication.
“[Marina] picks up anything extremely quickly,” says John Wagner, the co-director and choreographer of “The Nutcracker.” “There’s nothing that I’ve given her yet that doesn’t look good on her performing.”
“Since the knee injury, she’s been focused a little more on her technique so that it doesn’t happen again. Your technique is there to prevent injuries from happening. They’re going to happen to some people regardless because that’s the way their body is; they’re prone to injuries,” Wagner says. “I think she has a long career ahead of her, provided she recognizes when her body is tired, and when she’s having pain.”
Stefano has long intended to attend Point Park University for dance, but she had to change her plans after her injury occurred.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world, but you have to think about your health,” she says. “I might get two years out of a career, then have another injury and never walk again. It’s the worst feeling, knowing you can’t do what you love because of a little injury.”
“My parents are heartbroken too.” Stefano remembers, “my dad looked at me and said, ‘Don’t give up on your dream.’ . . . but I really wasn’t, ‘cause I’m still dancing.”
Although her professional future in dancing teeters on the edge, she still shines in community theater productions, and intends to continue dancing in whatever capacity she can. “As long as my legs can kick,” she says, “I’m doing it.”
“I might be giving up on dancing somewhere and being famous or something, but I’m still dancing, and that is my dream… to dance.”