It’s 6:35 p.m. Jordan Gooding wheels herself out of the student center dance studio and on to the outside patio. Wet from the night before, her right wheel skids off the concrete as she tries to park herself, knocking her wheelchair off balance and shaking her lighter and pack of marlboro reds cigarettes onto the grass.
“Goddammit,” she yells reaching for her pack of cigarettes. “Can’t even smoke a cig without some BS trying to stop me.”
She doesn’t allow me to help her. “I got it. I got it. I broke my hip, not my arms. I’m good.”
She lights her cigarette, takes a puff and lets out a cloud of smoke. The sun has already settled, but the lights from the studio are on and “Too Original” by Major Lazer is playing inside on the speaker system.
She takes her last puffs. Takes a big gulp of her water. Wheels herself back into the studio, without any help.
“Julia, how’s that Kick Ball Change Move coming along?” Jordan asks. “Let me see if you got it down.”
The music is off now, and Jordan, from her wheelchair, is directing, correcting and eliminating steps as Julia dances and moves to the routine. Jordan envisions what she wants to teach her hip-hop class that begins at 7:00 p.m.
“No, I want you to jump up and look to the left. Good, but when you land, I need your foot to be facing the front.”
After many trials and errors, Julia got it right.
“Yes perfect! Now I’m going to need you to do it the same exact way when I ask you to demonstrate in front of the class.”
This process has been in the works for about four weeks as Jordan had to fit in six practices in order to get all her girls ready for the Marist Dance Ensemble Recital, “Move.” Julia has been at Jordan’s aid ever since her accident but helping her teach the dance was no easy task.
“It has been a bit of a guessing game,” Julia said. “Relaying it to the other dancers was not really a problem other than the fact that it is difficult to try and show a dance that you learned 30 minutes prior yourself. The biggest challenges were imagining what Jordan was envisioning and trying to do that while demonstrating hip hop to a bunch of girls when that is definitely not my genre.”
It wasn’t easy for Jordan to teach Julia what she wanted and not being able to physically show her how she wanted it.
“Jordan seemed to struggle with not being able to move. She desperately wanted to be physically doing the dance herself but that wasn’t possible,” Julia said. “The process took a lot longer than it would’ve if she could just do it herself because she had to explain each option to me. I had to understand and do it before we could decide if it was good.”
Before her accident, Jordan enjoyed sitting on her giant windowsill. While standing on the ledge, the window continued to span an additional four feet above her 5-foot-4-inch body. She had spent most of her time perched next to the window, watching movies, doing homework, drinking wine or even smoking a cig.While in her wheelchair, Jordan demonstrated how she would sit while inside the windowsill—butterfly style. In order to make room, she would raise both the window and the screen just enough to give her knees more space so she can sit comfortably.
As Jordan continued to reminisce about her time on the windowsill, she pauses and pulls something out of her bag.
“Mind if I smoke a cig?” I nod, and she takes a few puffs before letting out a small cloud.
Jordan lives on the second floor of an apartment building in downtown Poughkeepsie. Under her apartment is an art gallery which has a protruding ledge for spotlights. In order to hang these spotlights, there is a 2-foot overhang below the ledge extending from Jordan’s window.
Getting distracted by a million things at once, Jordan had never worried about forgetting to close the screen and the window from time to time. That is until she adopted her cat, Niko, from the Dutchess County SPCA. Then it became a problem.
“My dumbass forgets and leaves the window open for him to slither under. I didn’t even have him for ten full days.” She stops for a moment and sighs. “I walked over and raised the window and screen all the way open so my body could fit through. When I saw him walking on the ledge, I kneeled down to grab him. Then slip!”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a barrier to prevent this type of accident from happening. All that was in front of the window was the ledge extending from her window and the overhang which lies less than six inches below it.
“I hit my head on the same ledge my cat was on. That ledge was the only thing that saved me from hitting my face on the concrete,” Jordan said. “I kind of tumbled over my head, and after my face hit the ledge I landed on my left hip. I fractured it in three places on my left side and another smaller fracture on my right side.”
She paused for a moment and a look came across her face, like she had a realization.
“It’s very possible if I hadn’t hit that ledge I could have landed face first into the concrete. We could very well not be having this conversation.”
When she was in 11th grade, Jordan suffered an injury that limited her participation in her dance classes. Despite being unable to dance, she was allowed to continue to be a part of the team and compete alongside the other girls who felt they were putting in more effort and time than Jordan was. As a result, Jordan felt she was undeserving of being on the team. Judgement from her team and the chronic back pain from overusing her body paid a toll on her, but it didn’t stop her from doing what she loved.
“I would overcompensate and use my knees and for two years in high school I began developing a back issue,” Jordan said as her face looked as if she’d lost a loved one. “By the time I was a junior and once I finished with volleyball, cheerleading and dancing, I fractured my back and had to drop the rest of the dances.”
While in high school, Jordan had been using her body 50 hours a week between the her three different activities. In addition to the hours, Jordan also performed 15 dances on any given weekend; oftentimes, performing two solos.
By the end of her high school career, Jordan had reached her limit and was no longer able to stand up straight. Stuck in an “L-position” due to the overuse of her back, doctors diagnosed her with chronic bulging L4 and L5 discs. Jordan had to attend physical therapy in order to be stretched out and was prohibited from participating in any activity involving heavy impact. This meant no flipping, no jumping, no running and ultimately, no dancing.
After her freshman year abroad, Jordan was back at Marist for her second year of college. As a result of her injuries, she wasn’t able to do anything that put too much stress on her neck and back. She couldn’t compete or be involved in the physical extracurricular activities she participated in in high school. Rather, she decided to join the dance ensemble at Marist and has since been performing and choreographing hip-hop routines for three years. Although she can’t do all the activities she used to or even move like she used to, she was able to perform and teach a lot of the moves on her feet.
After sustaining serious but non-fatal injuries, Jordan was released from the hospital and four days later was already attempting to attend a meeting for choreographers which consisted of 17 girls including the club’s president, vice president and treasurer.
“When I wheeled in and they saw me, it was like a surreal moment. Everyone was running around and then all of a sudden everyone stopped and gasped,” Jordan said. “Some of the girls started crying. This was four days out of hospital. I was fresh out with a black eye, scratches and bruises everywhere. I wasn’t teaching yet, but I still wanted to show up to the meeting.”
“I knew she would be in a chair, but it didn’t sink in until I saw her and how beat up she was, ” said Carmen Capppbianco, current vice president at the time of the meeting. “I actually started crying. I had just seen her that weekend dancing at the bar and a few days later she was basically dead.”
Many were surprised to see Jordan at the meeting and were curious as to what she was going to do with her dance. Everybody thought she would cancel her routine, but Jordan Gooding, completely bound to her chair, insisted on teaching her girls and getting them prepared for the upcoming recital.
Disclaimer: The title of this article was previously “Heart of the Dance Team Uses Her Voice, Not Legs” and has been changed. Jordan Gooding is not on the Marist Dance Team.