Paige Fraser, Creative Director of "Bent But Not Broken," Speaks Up About Scoliosis
June Is National Scoliosis Awareness Month
"Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature in the spine. It can affect any part of the spine, but the most common regions are the level of the chest. A person with scoliosis will have either a C- or an S-shaped curve in their spine. In addition to the spine curving sideways, it also twists, making the ribs look uneven. Girls are more likely to develop scoliosis than boys."
Thus begins the opening narration in "Bent But Not Broken," a two part film starring dancers with scoliosis. In honor of National Scoliosis Awareness Month in June, we spoke to Paige E. Fraser, a spirited young dance enthusiast and the founder of The Paige Fraser Foundation.
Fraser, whose accolades and achievements are many, has trained with The Ailey School, American Ballet Theater, Dance Threatre of Harlem, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Jacob's Pillow, and The Juilliard School, and danced with Ailey II, Visceral Dance Chicago and Ailey II, Visceral Dance Chicago, and Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre. She is currently living her dream job in The Lion King National Tour, save for the fact that the show has been put on hold in light of Covid-19.
Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: You were 13 when you had your first scoliosis screening. What do you wish you could have told your younger self then?
Paige Fraser, Founder of The Paige Fraser Foundation: You are not alone!!! At the time of my diagnosis I did not know what scoliosis was. It was not talked about at my school. Seeing the X-ray of my spine and hearing the words surgery come out of the doctors mouth was terrifying. Up until that point all I wanted to do was become a professional dancer. This seemed like the end to all of that. With the love and support of my parents and my burning desire to dance, I was able to push through. From that point on, I knew I had to work even harder. Not only because I was a dancer of color, but also because I had a spine deformity that would effect my alignment for the rest of my life. 15 years later, it is beautiful to connect with other scoliosis warriors online. It is so important to have that support with people who understand you.
The Dance Enthusiast: Why establish The Paige Fraser Foundation? Was there a lack of support in existing Scoliosis support systems—or did you prefer to do it your way?
Paige Fraser: TPFF was created in 2017. I was in a winning season in my dance career and was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. I told my family I wanted to give back to my community in The Bronx more than I already was. That conversation led to creation of The Paige Fraser Foundation. In March 2018 TPFF launched online, and in June 2018 we had our inaugural event at New York Academy of Music.
The Dance Enthusiast: Have you ever been looked over for a role due to misinformation or misunderstandings about scoliosis?
Paige Fraser: To my knowledge, no. It’s funny because when people see me dance they can’t even tell I have scoliosis. I firmly believe that what is for you will always be. Anytime I step into an audition room, I have the confidence in myself and trust that my technique will get me through. If I don’t get a job, I have to trust and believe it wasn’t it wasn’t for me.
I remember when I was in Ailey II I did an interview and openly spoke about having scoliosis. I think back to that moment and how brave I was! It honestly just poured out of me effortlessly. I do not regret being transparent about my struggles. By opening up I became a voice for other dancers like myself. As I’ve gotten older I realize that so many people look up to me because I was honest and willing to talk about my experiences with this condition. That very moment led to the creation of my foundation. Not to mention, living in my truth allowed me to book one of the biggest jobs ever. I was hired by INTEL to be the featured dancer in their campaign that aired for an entire year throughout the US and internationaly.
There are many other dancers with scoliosis who have had very successful careers: Wendy Whelan, Jacqueline Greene, Beckanne Sisk, and Taryn Russell to name a few. I think the commonality among us is that despite having this challenge, we worked very hard and went after what we wanted.
The Dance Enthusiast: The Lion King! It’s hard to imagine one of the most action-packed Broadway performances come to a screeching halt during lockdown. How are you and your fellow performers coping?
Paige Fraser: Honestly it all happened so fast. I was in my sixth month of performing and touring with The Lion King. It was a scary time because we didn’t really know much about the virus and how quickly it was going to spread. One day I was performing and doing what I love, the next day I had to pack up my AirBnb and head home. It was a stressful time. When I got home I caught up on a lot of sleep. I needed time to process what was going on. I just kept thinking about how this virus would effect the world much less the performing arts. After being home for two months, I have found my groove—finding a balance between rest and staying active has been my main focus. I have enjoyed this time and being able to tap into my creativity in other ways. For instance, I started co-writing a children’s book with my mom. I am also working on building new programs through my foundation. A lot of exciting things. And then some days I go for a long walk and do absolutely nothing at all. I want to take advantage of this time to rest and heal my body and mind!
The Dance Enthusiast: Tell us about “Bent But Not Broken” and collaborating with Beckanne Sisk and Jacqueline Green.
Paige Fraser: “Bent But Not Broken” is a film project highlighting three professional dancers with scoliosis: Jacqueline Green of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Beckanne Sisk of Ballet West, and myself. It displays our individual story with this condition and how we pushed past our limits.
The main phrase that we each dance was choreographed by Rena Butler. We are dancing to music by Bronx native Darryl Joseph. The second part of the film ends with a beautiful montage of dancers from all over the world who also have scoliosis. As artists, especially those of us with this spinal condition, we must keep moving and breathing. We are lucky to have social media, which keeps us all connected. I hope this film will inspire other dancers with scoliosis or any disability to keep going. Remember you are not alone!
The Dance Enthusiast: What is the best way for dance enthusiasts to show their support during National Scoliosis Awareness Month?
Paige Fraser: I believe the more research people do, especially educators, the easier things will become for dancers with scoliosis. Having scoliosis can make dance much harder and it is important to be understood while we are young and growing into our bodies. I was and am fortunate to have teachers who understand my needs as a dancer, and who have guided and coached me towards a healthy and long career in dance. Please visit www.thepaigefraserfoundation.org and support our mission to raise awareness and provide programs for artists with scoliosis.