Rocky Bornstein: Physical Therapist

When Rocky Bornstein got accepted into the two-year, full-time, PT program at Hunter College, she thought her life was over. “Initially, the transition was hard in terms of identity,” she says.

So during her first year, she still toured with Yoshiko Chuma and The School of Hard Knocks, and performed in the company’s New York Joyce Theater season. “That was really hard,” she admits. In her second year, she concentrated on school only, as she found it was academically overwhelming. “I had to immerse myself and prioritize,” she says.

Bornstein was born to move, so at age 5 she began training at Florida’s Miami Conservatory of Ballet. “It was the feeder school for the Miami Ballet, and at 14 years old, I was asked to join the company,” she says. But she longed to master different movement styles, so her mom located a Graham-based modern studio, with a performance outlet called the Sacred Dance Company. It was there that Bornstein flourished and became an accomplished technician and performer.

 At 18 she joined Otrabanda Company, a movement-based theater group that traveled the world. She briefly settled in Asia, but eventually headed to New York to focus more fully on her dance career. She hit the city with a bang, dancing for downtown artists like Timothy Buckley, Sara Rudner, and Yoshiko Chuma, and choreographing for theater groups like Otrabanda and the Talking Band.

Though she frequently taught, Bornstein couldn’t imagine life as a teacher. As her two daughters began to grow, she realized it was time to look into career alternatives. “I really wanted to do something that offered financial and job security,” she recalls. “I wanted something mainstream, and that would challenge my thinking,” she says.

Though Bornstein had never been to physical therapy, (she’s remained injury-free throughout her career) being a healthy mover was “the most important thing in my life. I chose physical therapy because I thought I could communicate my passion for movement to other people, and help them move, too. Movement is essential, and doesn’t have to relate only to dancers,” she says.

It took her five years to complete the pre-requisites for physical therapy school, during which time she continued dancing professionally. “I’d go on tour, carrying a heavy anatomy book,” she remembers. “I did it slowly, one class at a time until I finished,” she says. This allowed her to still be committed to her dancing life, without ending it abruptly. “But I was looking to the future,” she says.

One of Bornstein’s school internships took place at Westside Dance Physical Therapy on Manhattan‘s Upper West Side. Says Bornstein, “That’s how I met Marika (Molnar, the founder of WSD) and found out about working with injured dancers and ‘civilians.’ I was hired there when I finished school,” she says.
Bornstein believes that dancers shouldn’t be afraid to enter new professions. “Most dancers retire in their late 30s or 40s, which gives them plenty of time to become excellent at what they do,” she says. “Dancers invest time, energy, and discipline into what they love, and they know how to learn new material.” Says Bornstein, “Never forget that you can use your brain in a different way. All the assets you have as a dancer will help you to achieve other goals.”

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