A dancer with scoliosis rises to become one of the breakout stars in her field
Paige Fraser is taking the dance world by storm. In the past year alone, she earned a fellowship from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, was named one of Dance Magazine’s “breakout stars” of 2017, and was featured in an Intel commercial—all while performing as a founding dancer of Visceral Dance Chicago.
But if Fraser had followed her doctors’ advice her freshman year of high school, she might not even be dancing today.
In 2004, the Bronx native was diagnosed with scoliosis, and doctors encouraged her to undergo a spinal fusion procedure.
“What they do is put two rods—sometimes three, depending on your curve—in your back,” Fraser says. “But as you can imagine, it’s very hard to move with a metal rod in your back.”
So Fraser decided she would cope with the pain of scoliosis rather than give up the art form she had loved since she was 4. Her parents supported the decision, and she found a chiropractor who was willing to work with her. She wore a back brace through high school, and went on to enroll in the Ailey/Fordham BFA in Dance program, graduating in 2012.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she says, “there are days when arches in my back are tight, or my ribs are inflamed. But you just have to learn about your curve, and know how to listen to your body.”
Fraser achieved a longtime goal as a Fordham senior, when she was asked to join Ailey II, the junior company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. After two years with Ailey, she joined Visceral Dance Chicago. Helping to lay the groundwork for a new company gave her the opportunity to “find out who I am as my own artist,” Fraser says. “It’s very creative, and we each get to share our own artistic voice.”
Fraser has used her platform to serve as a spokesperson for dancers with scoliosis—and to promote diversity in dance.
“When I joined Visceral, I was the darkest woman in the company. It doesn’t bother me, but sometimes there are things you don’t have control over,” says Fraser, a first-generation American of Jamaican descent. “Like you have to do extra work so your shoes match your skin color.”
That’s why she was so excited when the nonprofit organization Brown Girls Do Ballet featured her on its website this past April. “It is so important for dancers to see other dancers like themselves,” she says. “Every time I go on stage, I carry the hopes of those little girls who look up to me, because I want them to know that anything is possible. They can do it with hard work and belief and knowing they’re beautiful inside and out.”