Early On-set Glaucoma
Copyright 2017 – Written by Noelle Rose Andressen
“My name is Noelle Rose Andressen. I am a professional contemporary ballet dancer for Rubans Rouges Dance. I have had many things to overcome in my life: breast cancer, sexual child abuse, and then something new presented itself that would threaten my ability to dance.
About 3.5 years ago, I started noticing that my vision was becoming more blurry than usual. I had thought it was due to lack of sleep or eye strain and brushed it aside. However, one night during a performance, I realized it was much more than that.
My dance partner and I often perform a beautiful and technically challenging duet called: “Couer de Verre” – a section from “Red Ribbons”. It incorporates intricate choreography with passionate drama. One risky move that is a trademark of our company is called the “T-Split.” It is a place in the dance where we separate across the stage, I run and leap upwards and he catches me in his arms as I come down and precariously balance on his hips. We then lean back and split apart forming the shape of a “T”.
This night when we got to this portion of the dance, I noticed that my vision grew limited. It was like a dark tunnel, I could not see peripherally. I blinked my eyes and strained to see where my partner was. It was so very dark and the stage lights created a surreal double-vision like glow. I counted my steps and ran to where I believed he was but I had over traveled and as I leaped into the air our bodies slammed into each other as I went upwards. I trusted he would be there to catch me on my way down. He caught me, barely as my satin dress slipped on his costume. We executed the rest of the movement and I balanced best I could and we leaned back. I knew I had missed our signature move. As we finished the dance and took our bows, I my heart sank. Even though the audience was so supportive and applauded louder than I ever heard, I knew that something wrong had occurred and it was my fault.
After the performance I went backstage. I sunk into the wall and wanted to disappear. I had let my partner and fans down. I also disappointed myself. I never missed this part in the dance. We were always flawless. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to my vision. My partner approached me and said, “Our costumes slipped. I don’t think anyone else noticed.” I knew he was being gracious. He kissed my forehead and went in the dressing room.
When I got home, I had told my husband what happened. He thought I had had an occipital migraine. I had them every once in a while. I told him that I didn’t think so but he encouraged me not to worry but did take me to the doctor.
After several examinations and tests, the words from my doctor: “You’re legally blind with early on-set glaucoma.” stunned me. I had been near sighted for many years, but this–this was a nightmare. On our way home I felt faint, in part due to a side-effect from the eye drops and also disbelief. “How can this be?” I had already gone through so much in life and now this. My eyesight grew worse over time so I took some time off from performing as I learned how to adjust to not seeing as well as I could and how to do ever day regular things. There were several issues with this diagnosis: my reactions/side-effects to medications and the risk of the disease if left untreated. I needed time to think about all things and needed to figure out a effective plan.
My first day back in the studio for rehearsal proved to be more challenging. I had a huge blow to my self-esteem after a less than perfect performance and I didn’t know if I’d be able to continue. I let the music: “ROSEWOOD” scored by my husband, play for a few minutes. I hoped that his emotional sound tapestry would enrapture my heart enough to overcome my fear of failure. I heard my favorite part in his music where it reached a crescendo and trickled into softness then rise with dedicated passion. I moved my arms as I closed my eyes and thought, “Is this what lays in my future…dancing to music without ever again seeing it?”
Just as a tear threatened to fall, I mustered up inner strength. “No!” I was determined to beat this somehow. My nick name was: Dance Warrior for a reason. I had earned this title because I had overcome many things that were put before me to challenge me and I used these things to make me stronger and better. With that, I danced ferociously and fervently. I wasn’t going to let this overwhelm me and win.
My partner and I got another chance to dance our infamous duet again. This time I spoke to the technical director before we staged our dance and asked if they could accommodate my disability. I was most concerned about falling off the stage so we worked out a plan to have lights set on stage in such a way that would alert me of where the edge was. I also worked a little with my partner and I learned how to angle my head a specific way so that I would be able to see him when we performed our “T-Split”. I wasn’t about to let it get messed up again.
While being legally blind is considered a disability, I see it as a super-power. It allowed me to do things that most people cannot do. It showed me that I am strong and this too can be overcome. I am a “Dance Warrior”, I had finally proved it to myself. My strength in turn encouraged others with disabilities and now my dance company has started a “Dance Warrior” program that does many things to help encourage others, one of which is helping those with disabilities. We are showing others that dance is for everybody.
I am currently working on other solutions and medical treatments for my eyesight. I am ultimately hoping for a cure for others and myself.”