Somogyi with Jared Angle in Four Temperaments. Photo by Paul Kolnik. Courtesy NYCB.

True Grit: Why NYCB's Jennie Somogyi Didn't Let Her Injuries Have the Last Word

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of Pointe.

With her natural strength and luscious amplitude, New York City Ballet principal Jennie Somogyi has shone in a wide range of roles since joining the company in 1993. But during her career, she's had three major injuries—and they've been whoppers. Each time, the disaster happened onstage in front of a full house. After the last one, she decided if she did come back, it would be to finish her career “on my own terms." She recovered in time for NYCB's spring season, and will retire October 11 with one of her favorite ballets, Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer. Here she shares how she persevered through each recovery with Dance Magazine editor at large Wendy Perron.


​First injury: 2004

My first injury was the hardest. During a performance of Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, I tore the posterior tibial tendon in my left foot, and technically never should have danced again. At City Ballet I was the go-to girl; I did all the hard stuff. I was 15 when I got into the company, and I would never say no. The week I got hurt, I had a debut in "Rubies," a debut in "Emeralds," my complete Swan Lake and Peter Martins' new ballet. I had so many parts they couldn't even divvy them up among the dancers who were there—they had to grab somebody off a plane from Denmark. I think it was a real adjustment for them because it was always, "Somogyi can do it."

I went 11 years in the company before this injury. During that time, I'd see dancers go out and come back too fast, then go out again for three months and come back another month. So when I first got injured, I thought: I'm going to do this right and not get on that roller-coaster ride.

During my recovery, I had to learn to be patient and to listen to my body. If the rehab was too much, I pulled back. And when I progressed to the next level, I'd do a little bit more and keep it at that level for a week or two.

When I did come back—a year and five months later—Peter said, "You look great. Does this mean you can do Swan Lake?" It was hard for me because I totally wanted to do it. But when I started rehearsing, my calf was fatigued from having to do extra work to compensate. I never did Odette/Odile again.

Second injury: 2012

Somogyi with Justin Peck in Balanchine's Liebeslieder Waltz. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

During a matinee of Who Cares?, I felt like my right ankle was sort of jammed. It was seizing up by the finale. My Achilles was really sore, so I went to the physical therapist, who said, "After your show tonight I'll have a look at it." And then in the middle of Polyphonia, pop it went. I heard it. I thought my partner Gonzalo Garcia had kicked me—that's the force I felt! But out of the corner of my eye I saw that he was pretty far away. That's when I knew something was really wrong. I started losing my hearing and my peripheral vision, so I knew I was going into shock. I still have no idea how I walked offstage, but as soon as I got into the wing, I just dropped.

The Achilles tendon rolled up my leg so you could see that it was no longer attached. It wasn't painful at first. When you have a complete rupture there is no feeling because it's not connected. After the repair surgery, then the pain sets in. That was tough.

At this point I had a 3-year-old daughter, so this injury was more stressful. Mommy was completely incapacitated, so she was my little helper. My recovery took about a year, starting with three months of non–weight-bearing crutches, a cast and an orthopedic boot. My physical therapist had an underwater treadmill so that most of my weight was off of my leg. I was walking pretty quickly—about a month ahead of schedule. That got me back to doing barre. The home stretch, with the pointe shoe, was the hardest. I spent a couple weeks just doing relevés. After being off them for so long, your legs atrophy. I felt like Bambi on ice. You're retraining all the little muscles in your legs to work in a new way.

When I could start taking class again, that was a bonus. But it gets frustrating. I'd always been a very natural dancer—I would just visualize what I wanted to do and my body would make it happen. Now I had to think, Okay, how do I do that? You want to be able to do something because you've always been able to. I'd think, I just want to do that step!

​Third injury: 2013

My last injury was the mother of them all. The recovery took a year and a half. I did a jump in the Russian Variation of Swan Lake and felt my left posterior tendon pop again. I thought, Well, that was my last show. Back in 2004, the doctors had removed most of the tendon. This time I had to have an organ donor because there was nothing left to repair. It's not a common procedure, but that was the only option and there were no case studies. Dr. Phillip Bauman, who had done my Achilles repair, finally found a surgeon in Baltimore who was willing to attempt the surgery using a tendon from a cadaver. They'd never done this before, so I was the guinea pig. The surgeon said, "I don't know if I can get you back to the level you were at, but I can try to get you close." Dr. Bauman was in the wings for my first show back. When I finished, he said, "You just made medical history!"

Every time I've come back, it's been like a gift. I was told with each injury that I probably wouldn't be able to dance again. And there's nothing more depressing than doing months and months of physical therapy and not having the reward of being onstage. But I'm a goal-oriented person; once I have a goal, I'm full steam ahead. I never realized the inner strength I had.

Latest Posts


Gavin Smart, Courtesy ROH

Calling All Ballet Lovers! World Ballet Day 2020 Is on October 29

While very little about this year has felt normal, we're excited to share that one of the dance community's landmark events is returning despite the pandemic. October 29 marks World Ballet Day 2020.

This year's iteration of the annual social media extravaganza features three of the world's leading companies: The Royal Ballet, The Australian Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. Additional participating companies, which include American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and Boston Ballet, have just been announced. Last year's World Ballet Day was the biggest yet, reaching over 315 million social media users around the world.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Are You Rethinking a Dance Career Due to COVID-19? Read This Advice First

Olivia Duran started ballet when she was 3 years old, and it was love at first plié. From there, "I just kept going," she recently recalled over the phone, "and that was that!" Soon, she found herself at Elmhurst Ballet School, the prestigious training program affiliated with England's Birmingham Royal Ballet. She completed the school's full eight years of coursework, but as she neared the professional world, Duran felt more drawn to life as a cruise performer than as a traditional ballerina. Her final year was marked by audition circuits in London, which eventually landed her a contract with MSC Cruises.

After graduation in 2019, Duran returned home to Hampshire, UK, for a few short months to wait for the contract to begin—but with the onset of COVID-19, cruise ships stopped sailing and the job never came to fruition. Her stay at home became far more indefinite, and she was left to consider a life without dance at its center.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Editors' Picks