Believe in a way back to the dancefloor

January 7, 2015

By Julie Coté, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital

It’s 9 a.m. in Magee Riverfront’s therapy gym. Marilyn Palley walks in with her grandmother Butzi’s cane in hand. Approaching her therapy like a full time job, she asks herself, “Do I give in to my limitations or do I go beyond what I think my limitations are and push the envelope as hard as I can?” With a greater goal in mind, her focus is to return to competitive ballroom dance. As of now she is recovering from her second hip replacement in only eleven months and is participating in Magee’s Orthopedic Day Rehab program.

61-year-old Palley found a new passion for dancing just three and a half years ago. She began taking ballroom classes after her husband encouraged her to accept a free lesson offered by the Academy of Social Dance. Her first lesson was in Argentine tango. She left feeling frustrated. “It was the most difficult thing that I ever did. I felt like I had three left feet.”

Her ‘Can Do’ attitude and AAA personality allowed her to keep trying when the owner of the studio suggested ballroom dancing. One day after several weeks of persistence, it all fell into place.

Palley, who had a challenging childhood, learned at an early age to do what she could with what she had and how to push herself beyond her own expectations. In just three months, she began dancing competitively. It was music and movement that helped her heal the wounds of her painful past “Everything about me changed in three and a half years,” she said. “Dance enabled me to be in a different world where no one knew my baggage. My life has never been more full and enriched.”

Early in her dance career, she developed severe bone- on- bone arthritis in her hips. She danced with pain for a year and a half until her left leg completely locked up one day during an important competition. Once pain had completely taken over the pleasure of the sport, her husband, Reese, convinced her to see a surgeon. After interviewing many, Palley met Dr. Craig Israelite who operated on her left hip on January 8, 2014. The timing was perfect. Dr. Israelite had a cancellation just before Palley’s dance partner, Vincenzo Minieri, was scheduled to be traveling to Italy.

The day after surgery, Palley woke up pain-free and worked diligently at her therapy with an “I am going to make this work” attitude. Just two weeks after surgery, she returned to dance class. Her dance partner/teacher gave her a new appreciation for music, technique, and rhythm by making her work on motor visualization, where she could actually see the moves of her routine until she was ready for physical practice.

In just three months, she was back in competition, performing 141 dances in just two days, but in practice clothes as she was not quite ready for high heels. The judges, when asked about the practice clothes, did not believe she was only three months post-hip replacement. She scored a First in that competition and several more afterwards, finishing up the year with a win at the Ohio Star Ball Championships. She won Top Bronze International student, competing against very seasoned dancers who are 20-30 years younger than she is. Palley shed happy tears, grateful to be dancing again.

Even when her second hip became more and more painful, Palley never stopped dancing. Under the guidance of Vincenzo Minieri they modified their choreography until her second hip replacement surgery, also by Dr. Israelite. When she arrived at Magee’s Orthopedic Day Rehab program for the second time, she presented her therapist, Deborah Davis, PTA, with her first place medal from the Hollywood DanceSport Championships and donated her First Place Trophy to Magee as a thank you where it remains on display.

Palley feels very fortunate to be in the positive environment where she is continually pushed. “It was through Magee that I gained appreciation that everyone has a goal even if it is only the slightest of improvements. Each must take responsibility for it themselves and make the extra effort.”

She continues to work diligently at her therapy in preparation to return to dance early in 2015. “Call me titanium,” she said, spoofing the titanium replacements in both her hips.

Photo: Stephen MarinoNew