Dance education major Daylin Williams shares how her experience with serious injury has made her stronger
College has been a busy time for Daylin Williams. A dance education major entering her senior year, Williams has performed and choreographed with BYU’s dancEnsemble several times and has served as both vice president and president for the company. Last summer, Williams spent six weeks touring Europe with a contemporary dance study abroad, and has participated in several local and national dance festivals.
Vibrant and outspoken, Williams is a leader in the Department of Dance, and it is difficult to imagine that anything could stand in her way. During her time at BYU, however, Williams has undergone three major knee surgeries and grueling recoveries, a setback that could have ended her career. But instead of letting that keep her from dancing, Williams decided to push forward and use her experiences to help other injured dancers on the road to recovery.
Williams’ journey with injury began her freshman year at BYU.
“I came in with the mindset of ‘no pain, no gain’ that a lot of dancers have, which is actually a terrible mindset to be dancing with,” said Williams. “I thought I must just be working hard and that this was just something I had to deal with. It got to the point where I would be in tears by the end of most technique classes because I was in so much pain.”
After returning from a mission, Williams hoped the pain would heal on its own — it didn’t, and she was soon diagnosed with a severe meniscal tear in her knee, an injury that would require surgery. The news was a huge blow to her career plans and identity as a dancer.
“Hearing that you’ll be out for a while is a shock, especially as a dancer,” Williams said. “We devote our entire life to this art form, and anytime you take a break, you notice the consequences in your body. You lose time to improve and you lose opportunities to perform, choreograph and audition.”
Over the next two years, Williams would undergo three operations to remove damaged portions of both knees, followed by painful recoveries.
“The hardest part was going into class every day,” she said. “I would just sit there watching all of my peers work so hard, improve, perform and do all the things that I wanted so badly to do, but was not physically able to.”
Throughout the recovery process, Williams relied heavily on her testimony and trust in God.
“The biggest help has been my faith — looking to the Lord and trusting that everything is going to work out,” she said. “I’ve had to trust Him and know that all of these things are to give me experience and to refine and purify and sanctify me.”
Williams’ firsthand experience with injury has made her passionate about sharing safe dancing practices and has heavily influenced the kind of teacher she wants to become.
“I think part of the reason I’ve had to go through this is so that I can be a better teacher,” Williams said. “It’s made me more conscious of how each student that I will teach will have a different body and different capacities. I look back on how I was taught growing up, and I love my teachers, but I can see that some of the things they required me to do may have been the root of the problems I’ve had. They just didn’t know. I hope that my experience helps me become a better and more sensitive teacher.”
Her experiences have led Williams to take on academic research on the connection between injury and mental health in dancers. She hopes to present her findings at the National Dance Education Organization’s 2020 conference in October.
“My research and the things that I’ve gone through have helped me to realize that not only are the physical repercussions of an injury negative, but the mental repercussions can be even worse,” said Williams. “There are so many dancers with injuries who struggle with self worth, identity, depression and anxiety.”
Even more than academic research, Williams believes that what the dance community needs is greater awareness of the damage an injury can cause to a dancer’s psyche.
“We need to be so aware and so empathetic to these dancers,” she said. “Though we may see the physical injury on the outside, we have no idea what’s going on in their head.”
“For dancers,” she continued, “dance is everything. When that’s taken away, it can be a very critical time in our lives. Our minds can go to dark places. It’s important to worry about our dancers physically, but almost more important to worry about our dancers mentally and emotionally.”