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After a major accident, dancer defies the laws of gravity

Christopher Alloways-Ramsey showed true grit as he worked his way back to the Boston Ballet — and earned a bachelor’s degree at the Extension School on the way. ‘I feel I’ve gotten the best of both worlds. It’s all been a learning process.’ (Staff photo by Jon Chase)

Driving along Interstate 80, pulling a rented trailer containing all his worldly possessions, Christopher Alloways-Ramsey had no way of knowing that his life was suddenly about to change.

A tire blew, sending his car careening out of control. When he woke in the hospital, he learned that three vertebrae in his neck were fractured. The spinal cord, however, remained intact. Glad to escape with his life, he still faced surgery, a confining neck brace, and years of physical therapy.

It was an especially tough break for a dancer, and one whose career was just beginning to take off. After several years with the Boston Ballet, he recently had landed a job with Ballet West in Salt Lake City. He had been with the company for three months and was starting to get principal roles. The trip back east to pick up his things was an acknowledgement that joining the Salt Lake City group seemed to be good career move.

“To have that yanked away from you just when you’re starting to get your toes wet was pretty tough.”

After getting out of the hospital, Alloways-Ramsey went back to his parents’ house near Savannah, Ga., for three months of recuperation. As he began to heal, he wondered what he would do with himself. Dancing, of course, was out of the question. It was unclear whether he would ever dance again. But the prospect of earning a B.A. while he underwent physical therapy began to seem like an attractive idea.

Alloways-Ramsey had shown talent in dance early and had attended a boarding school for the performing arts. From there, he had gone right into a professional career. But he’d always enjoyed literature and writing. Why not earn a degree while he was trying to get his body back in shape? He returned to Boston and enrolled at Harvard Extension School.

“I’d thought about getting a B.A. before, but there was never enough time. Ballet careers are very short, so you feel you have to take advantage of every opportunity. But after the accident, the Extension School gave me something to focus on.”

Alloways-Ramsey didn’t dance again for two years. During this period of relative inactivity, he lost much of the muscle tone and coordination he had spent a lifetime acquiring, but he worked hard at physical therapy, never losing hope that he might someday get back what he had lost. He finally regained enough strength and flexibility to return to Boston Ballet and begin taking dance classes again. He pushed himself hard, taking a class every day for the next year.

“It was a very trying time, but I was pretty tenacious about it. When you get a taste of success, you don’t want to give it up.”

The hard work paid off. The company’s artistic director asked him if he’d like to rejoin the company as a “corps man,” an opportunity he jumped at.

“I love being back there.”

While finishing up his studies, Alloways-Ramsey has danced as a member of the corps de ballet in “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Nutcracker,” and others. He has also performed lead roles with smaller companies. His flexibility is still not quite what it was before the accident, due mostly to the metal brace that holds his neck together. There are also unexpected aftereffects, like a loss of feeling in his left index finger, but none of them bad enough to keep him grounded.

“I take a lot of Advil,” he said.

Combining the life of a professional dancer with a full-time college career has been hectic, but well worth the extra work.

“I feel I’ve gotten the best of both worlds. It’s all been a learning process.”

He has also discovered a love of writing and is considering going on to earn an M.F.A. degree in fiction, perhaps after spending a few more years as a full-time dancer.

“Dancers are very visible, but no one really knows who we are as people. It’s great to have an opportunity to express myself.”