Woodford house

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From leg braces to ballet pointe

Watching Amelia Ashby dance is like poetry; she is graceful, elegant and always smiling.  Her dancing draws you to the stage.

Her long limbs provide fluid movement with a gracious presence that would fool anyone into thinking it all comes naturally for the Year 9 student at Woodford House.

The truth is that every pointe, every pirouette, every plié is a rewarding chapter in the story of a determined girl who was once unable to walk without assistance.

Amelia was born with hip dysplasia, curvature of the spine and a torticollis, a rare condition which affects the neck muscles, causing the head to twist to one side.  At 15 months old Amelia suffered a second stroke leading to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

As a little girl, Amelia wore leg braces and special walking boots with iron supports for her ankles. She relied on railings for stairs, a standing frame to support her spine and a lot of time on the floor to strengthen her muscles.

“I also had to wear a special helmet, like the rugby players wear, with a cone on the back for 23 hours a day for many months to stop my face sliding around my skull and to help strengthen my neck due to the torticollis,” Amelia says.

Amelia has had more medical attention than many of us would have in a life time, including years of therapy with the Conductive Education Centre and private therapists.

During her treatment, a specialist recommended Amelia start dancing as it could help with her balance and to strengthen her hips and spine.

“I started ballet at the age of three with Mrs Jill Arkley from Cameron Ballet Academy.  My first ballet tutu was purple, and my knees were locked together due to my weak hips,” she says.

Since that day, Amelia has used ballet to build her physical strength, keep active, make friends and gain self-confidence.

Amelia says dancing allows to her move freely to music in an environment where she is not judged on her weaknesses.

“I enjoy having a presence on stage and participating in productions with others.  I love all of theatre, singing, dancing and acting,” she says.

While sheer determination, courage and passion have taken Amelia from leg braces to ballet pointe, she also has a strong support network to thank.

“Having a mum who pushed me all the way, constantly saying I could do it and was as good as anyone else.  My teachers treated me the same as the other dancers.  My mum never allowed my examiners to know of my disability – I have passed all with them not knowing my background.”

Amelia says she will continue ballet for as long as her body allows and looks forward to participating in school productions.