Trending

Washington Ballet Trainee Gianna Forte's Journey Back to Ballet After Life-Threatening Health Problems

Gianna Forte reveals her scars. Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy The Washington Ballet.

Before I was born, my parents found out that I had a condition called an omphalocele. All of my organs were outside my stomach. I was rushed into surgery as soon as I was born, and they put a little patch in, pushed in my organs and sewed me up. When I was 1 1/2, I had another surgery to remove the patch. Ever since, I've just had a scar on my stomach—I didn't have a belly button, but I had no problems other than malrotation, which means all of my organs were going the opposite way.

I was raised in Connecticut, and stayed there until I graduated high school. It was the year Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes were taking over The Washington Ballet company and school, and I sent my video and got accepted into their professional training program.


Baby Forte in the hospital

Courtesy Forte

Last February, when I was 19, my health got worse. I had torn my labrum in my right hip, and my parents drove to DC for the surgery. When we got home, I started to feel nauseous. We thought it was from the anesthesia, so we waited it out for a few days, but I ended up in the ER.

I spent two days in the hospital, and was just getting worse, so they rushed me into surgery. I had gone into septic shock. My doctors described it as the perfect storm because of the malrotation and something that happened with the anesthesia when I went under for my hip surgery. I ended up having four surgeries altogether. They closed me up with 30 staples, so I have a big scar going down my stomach. I was in the hospital for about three weeks total.

The first week or two that I was home was probably my darkest time. The reality set in of what had happened. I couldn't even really sit up straight. I wasn't supposed to use my core muscles. A physical therapist would come to my house every other day and we would work on walking and small things. I was getting really defeated; I didn't want to go outside, didn't want to get off the couch. My biggest fear was not being able to get back to dancing how I was before, or be able to progress. I had a lot of anxiety, so I would stay up really late, but I would watch ballet videos, and that inspired me. I emailed back and forth with Julie and Xiomara. Xiomara told me to visualize, keep the feeling of dancing in my body, because it would help when I could dance again. Once I got the staples out of my stomach I started to feel a little better, and wanted to get back to ballet more.

Two months after my first surgery, I came back to DC. I didn't dance, but I went to the physical-therapy room, and eventually I could try some barre—no fifth position, but some pliés and relevés. I would find an open studio and work by myself. Then I decided to do the summer intensive here, and I think that was one of the best decisions I made. I just worked on what I could. My leg was at 45 degrees for a while, but by the end of the summer I was doing grand allégro. I started back at the end of August in the professional training program.

Forte in the hospital post-surgery

Courtesy Forte

During one of our last shows of Nutcracker, Julie came down to the dressing room and promoted me to trainee, saying how brave and courageous I was. I'd just done the snow scene and was getting ready to go on for "Waltz of the Flowers." It was a really special moment. I felt so supported by her and everyone here—I was shaking and couldn't stop crying.

I have a lot of scar tissue in my stomach, so it's still hard for me to engage my core, and even now there are days where I get frustrated. But I'm just excited for what's to come, and I'm not going to stop working.

The Conversation
Viral Videos

Dreams, drama, and capital-D DANCE: The brand-new High Strung Free Dance trailer just dropped, and it is chock-full of everything we love.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Getty Images

Do you have any tips for starting at a new studio? How can I impress the teachers and make friends? —Jaclyn

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
American Ballet Theatre corps member José Sebastian (center) is launching the Hamptons Dance Project with a cast of fellow ABT dancers this August. Rochelle Brodin, Courtesy Hamptons Dance Project.

From coast to coast, and on the shores of Lake Michigan in-between, professional dancers and choreographers are going one step beyond putting together a summer pickup company. Some are now curating multi-evening festivals in their hometowns and beloved vacation areas, and featuring an impressive range of companies, dancers and dance styles. So get ready to plan your next trip—here are three dance fests in beautiful resort areas to keep on your radar.

Keep reading... Show less