Transforming Trauma Into Triumph
By: Krysta Kearney
“I’ve chatted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every day, it’s how I have survived thus far.”
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to call forth your Buddha nature within your life. It awakens your soul reminding yourself that you have courage, compassion and wisdom and that you can take any suffering and turn it into happiness, it creates peace around the world. It’s an inherent power that lives within everyone.
Transforming trauma into triumph. If anyone is a true exhibitor of this, it’s Amy Jordan. Not only has she overcome multiple harrowing experiences, she has helped 1,000’s of people overcome their own through the various ventures of her life. As an acclaimed dancer, choreographer and coach she helps people discover their own true selves through dance, as a published author she shares her own methodology of self discipline to help people with their own journeys of discovery and as a PTSD survivor she shares her story with others through multiple platforms including public speaking and the recent documentary depicting her life story, directed by Brian Thomas. The charisma and inspirational attitude she carries is beyond admirable and her dedication to life is an inspiration.
Three days after her high school graduation she moved to NYC to follow her dreams of being a dancer. As a Florida native, she knew she had to hit the ground running to the epicenter of arts and culture in America. Of course it was a struggle, she was young and naïve, there was lots of competition and she also had an underlying health disorder. At the age of four she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which as one could imagine has always played a big role in her life. It’s a disease that affects your blood sugar levels and as a dancer it presented it’s challenges.
Shortly after moving to NYC, she moved to Los Angeles for a dance scholarship and also to pursue her commercial dreams. She found herself pushing everything to the limit, to the ultimate extreme and wasn’t taking care of her body. She deprived herself of nutrition, battled with an eating disorder and was addicted to speed and laxatives. This was a bad time in her life and she needed to make some changes.
“I was derailed from a dance career, I have diabetes and I had an eating disorder that led to complications where I lost a significant part of my sight by the time I was 21, from that combination of things.”
She became legally blind and everything came to a halt. Her life had fallen to pieces, it was hard for her to do anything, even daily activities, here she was deprived of pretty much everything, her sense of identity had been shattered. This was her first experience transforming trauma into triumph. She couldn’t drive anymore, she had permanent damage to her body and was battling her addictions. She knew she had to do something, she needed to make a difference.
“I was at a fork in the road, if I continued what I was doing, I was already legally blind and I would have probably died, with my diabetes, it doesn’t mix. I had a therapist who told me, ‘If you don’t seek treatment I am going to stop treating you because I don’t want to be involved in your death.’”
That day, the therapist literally picked up the phone and made her call a rehab. She admitted herself into a 12 step program, which helped immensely. This is also when she started practicing Buddhism, the two combined helped her overcome that time period in her life. To this day, Buddhism remains to be her number one practice that helps her get through everything. It has allowed her to focus on herself, accept change and embrace what life brings.
“Buddhism is all about bringing forth your highest potential, overcoming obstacles, engaging in life, creating value from your challenges.”
After rehab, she found herself out in the world still battling her disease, and legally blind. She had a new outlook on life. As she continued to get older she grew out of the lifestyle she was once living and began to take a hold of her own life, her priorities became different. Unclear on what to do, she decided she wanted to help children as she didn’t have much support as a young person with diabetes. It was important for her to help kids and have them know they weren’t alone. She started a dance-based advocacy program for youth who were living with or at risk of diabetes and obesity. The program combined hip hop dance, fitness and health to create a culture that was both fun and educational. It went on to be a 2013 top 5 finalist for First Lady Michelle Obama’s, ‘End Childhood Obesity Challenge.’
She loved living in Santa Monica, but L.A. is a city where everyone drives, it’s sprawling and hard to get to places. With the loss of her eyesight, it wasn't a conducive place to live. Being there was limiting her options and she knew there was really no other place that she could live in the country with as good of a public transportation system as NYC, so she moved back for a fresh start. She felt more empowered there than L.A., there were more opportunity, she had more capabilities. That’s not to say that the move was easy. She needed to find a way to pay rent, buy groceries and take care of medical costs! She explains her 30’s as hard but as a time of growth and considers herself a late bloomer. She got her real estate license and worked very hard on grounding herself. Once she was financially stable, she then had choices and sought out avenues of creativity and became a choreographer. Her body couldn’t handle the stressors of being a professional dancer anymore, she loves being a choreographer, teaching them not only how to dance but also how to market themselves and live their lives successfully as a dancer.
Then, in 2009 there was a major tragedy. She was hit and run over by a NYC express bus. Yes, you heard it right, she was actually hit and run over by a very large public transportation bus. Her right leg was completely crushed and she was told she would never walk again. She was rushed to a hospital and she just focused on staying alive.
When she was in the hospital, it was hard to comprehend the severity of what was going on. They wanted to amputate her leg. She had enough awareness that it didn’t seem like the right route to go. It had become very clear to her in the week leading up to that moment that she was not in the right hospital to deal with her situation.
“They did want to amputate, I was a personal trainer, I'm not a doctor but I had enough kinesthetic understanding and anatomical awareness to understand that if the nurse is in here an hour before your telling me you want to amputate and she is saying there is still a pulse and my toes are pink then something is still connected, but if I was going gangrene and turning blue and you told me that, then I would be like, ok I get it.”
Throughout the whole time she was there, she chanted, she chanted for the team of doctors that was right for her. She was able to be transferred to a trauma hospital that better suited her needs, that did nothing but treat injury. She says what the doctors did for her was heroic. They took many risks saving her leg and it was a long hard road but they were able to rebuild her piece by piece. Jordan underwent 20 surgeries ranging anywhere from 10 - 14 hours each. She was in intensive care for four months and was told there was a lot of hope that she would be able to bounce back. Being a dancer, she was both physically and mentally strong, dancers have a lot of determination and a strong mind.
Once she left the hospital, there wasn’t really a process in place to help figure out, ‘Well, how do I start over?!’ There was so much emphasis on her physical recovery, which was necessary but once released, she was pretty much on her own. Ofcourse, her physical recovery continues to this day and she has a great team of doctors but she also needed to figure out how to live her life as this new person, she didn’t know what to do. Unknowingly, she created a step by step process, tackling how to get through, transforming trauma into triumph. This led to her book, ‘Dance Because You Can.’ It helps guide readers through life’s challenges and the largest obstacles, through her 5 steps of D.A.N.C.E.
“That's where the 5 steps of dance came from in my book. Facing each moment, learning to take things an hour at a time, I couldn’t project because I didn’t know day to day what was going to be happening.”
She found herself at a place where she couldn’t do anything that she had been doing prior to the accident. She couldn’t dance, she couldn’t perform her job or even find shoes to wear. It was important to her to look at life as a blank canvas, to realize and accept that whatever she was doing before, she couldn’t continue to do so. Harping on it wasn’t getting her anywhere.
“As an SGI Buddhist I understand that I am never a victim of my circumstance that everything that happens to us is a source of value creation so when it happened I thought, ok this is big, whatever I do with this, is for this whole idea of the victory dance, if I survive, everything has victory.”
She started seeking alternative ways of happiness, what could she do now that she didn’t do before? How could she add value to her life? How could she be happy? She continued to practice Buddhism and chant. Chanting is extremely engaging for her. It is all about going back into her brain, keeping her eyes open and figuring out what she can do to help both herself and others, how to tackle life's daily happenings and be at peace with oneself. She compares it to physical exercise, how there is a molecular change and you gain an energy that you didn’t have before.
“The exercise of the chant, the vibration of the keo, it literally raises your psychology so I can be depressed or be whatever and then chant and then I feel better. Because your physiology is literally changing.“
Since the accident, she has been very busy. Not only did she write her own book, but she is currently writing a second one. She also founded a professional dance company called Victory Dance Project, where their mission statement is, ‘Making the impossible possible, through the power of movement.’ She is the artistic director and choreographer to an unbelievable group of some of the world's most renowned dancers.
This is what led to the documentary, ‘Amy’s Victory Dance,’ which has quickly become an internationally acclaimed multi award winning documentary feature film. It is directed by two time Emmy nominee, Brian Thomas and tells the story of how Jordan turned trauma into triumph through her life experiences.
“The film is really about the human condition. The director Brian Thomas is extraordinary, he was Michael Jackson's choreographer, he has this amazing resume, Liza Minnelli, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, he is a former dancer, and now director so he really beautifully caught the whole bigger picture of getting back to the stage so there is a subtext to it, the diabetes, being single, being deformed, buddhism.”
It has been an amazing experience for her. Being one that doesn’t like to see herself on video, it has presented it’s challenges, but she realizes that the film is much greater than her. There isn’t much out there that shows the day to day challenges and struggles of diabetes and how complicated it can be. Also, we are our own worst critic, and with her victory dance being only one dance, she wasn’t satisfied with her performance but she never is. There is a much bigger purpose, so she removes herself from the film and focuses on the meaning. She cannot be happier with the movie and says it’s so beautiful, that Brian Thomas is such a visionary. He truly captures so much about life and the challenges that can be presented. They made the impossible possible and are aiming for an Oscar. Already, they have won over 38 accolades. Currently, they are working on ways to have it mass distributed such as Netflix or amazon, it’s just yet to be determined what network it will go to.
“The world needs more stories about the human condition and being a victim of circumstance because we’re all in this blaming (mind frame of) ‘Why are they doing this to me?’ mode in this world.”
Currently, (since the pandemic) the dance company is on hiatus. Jordan is focusing on teaching master classes and workshops with younger artists and universities and is also about to drop an intro coaching program. She hopes that she will start to have more public speaking gigs soon, now that restrictions are lifting. She loves being in the studio with artists, especially ones that have had training but are not quite ready to go professional. Her work and teachings are very technically demanding, so that age in one’s career is a good place for her to focus in.
“I like to work with young artists now and help them focus on, ‘What is your mission, how do you deal with this, what’s your plan? It’s a little bit different now with social media on how to evolve yourself.”
She is finding that dancers are starting to focus more on social media and are heavier on their personal br