Injured dance instructor gets back on her feet

Sitting at home with her right ankle on ice, dance instructor Kehinde Kujichagulia-Seitu might have been better off if she had snapped her Achilles tendon instead of slightly tearing it.

Sure, a torn Achilles would have required surgery and six-month rehab, but at least there would have been no mistaking how and when it happened. And then she would have qualified for workers’ comp or disability insurance.

As it was, a slight tear of the Achilles, compounded by debilitating tendinitis, was a cumulative injury brought about by years of teaching tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, and kinder dance, up to five hours a day, and that’s not counting her own rehearsals, which surely contributed to her injury.

But no single accident could be blamed, so insurance was denied. Also denied was her ability to teach, which is how she earns her living and makes her rent, paying as she goes, a week at a time. Her doctor ordered six weeks of rest, which forced her to sit and watch her unpaid expenses pile up.

“My car was about to get repossessed, my PG&E was about to be cut off, my water was about to be cut off, and I was getting calls from the property management,” says Kujichagulia-Seitu, 34, the mother of two kids, Xion, 10, and Cameron, 3.

Her cell phone was dying when she got the call from Season of Sharing, which paid her rent for September and October.

Now, instead of moving in with her twin sister, Kujichagulia-Seitu is still in her East Oakland duplex, a few blocks from where she grew up dancing at the East Oakland Youth Development Center and in the dance program at Oakland Tech.

Years later, Kujichagulia-Seitu was ready to enroll in the dance program at San Francisco State, before she became pregnant with her daughter Zion. Career-wise, this was a setback, but she kept teaching and eventually got her degree in theater arts from Cal State Hayward.

After 10 years of teaching, she and her twin, Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu, fulfilled a childhood dream and opened their own studio, Lyric Performing Arts Academy, in downtown Oakland. She also worked a second job, at Ace Dance Academy in Walnut Creek.

She’d taught dance one day in August, rehearsed for a performance the next, and the third day she couldn’t walk. Unable to use her driving foot, she called her twin for a ride to the emergency room, canceling her morning classes on the way.

“My ankle was swelling up and my foot was getting numb and turning color,” she says. “Pain is normal for a dancer, but this was a lot of pain.”

The emergency room doctor made the diagnosis, then referred her to her own doctor, who refused to treat her, stating it was a workers’ comp issue. That’s when she started getting bounced back and forth. Her own honesty probably didn’t help.

“I said, ‘I dance outside of work. It’s not just work, so I can’t pinpoint it. I’ve been dancing all my life.”

Her first doctor told her that her dance career was over, but she’s already back at it. She’s been teaching since October, and plans to be back on stage.

“I want to dance forever,” she says, “as long as I’m alive.”

 

Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at swhiting@sfchronicle.com.

The original article can be found here.