Three broken ribs, two broken ankles and one broken wrist. These are the last things a dancer wants to hear, let alone experience. On September 28, 2019, dancehall and soca choreographer and teacher Betty Rox found herself facing this reality when she was struck by a car while out for a walk in Los Angeles, California. She awakened in the arms of a caring stranger, unable to move.
But despite her initial disorientation and multiple injuries, her optimistic mindset led her down a path to a speedy recovery. Here's what got her back to dancing.
Her First Thoughts
"Being rushed to the hospital and not really knowing what's going on is a little bit scary," says Rox. "But I never, not once, felt like I wouldn't dance again." At the hospital, Rox's mother relayed the good news: She'd ultimately be okay. But what followed was an unsettling feeling when she learned that doctors were unsure how long it would take for her to walk or dance again based on the extent of her ankle injuries. Although this came as a shock, Rox felt grateful to still have both legs after being pinned within the grill of the vehicle. "I'm very spiritual, so I always had the faith that I would bounce back from this, and that I needed to just give myself the time to heal," she says.
Known for her unique island flavor combining soca, a cultural dance style originating from Trinidad and Tobago, and dancehall, a style rooted in Jamaica's energetic reggae culture, it came as a shock to friends, family and students when they discovered that, after two surgeries, Rox would have to learn how to walk again. One friend created a GoFundMe campaign, and over $14,000 was raised to support Rox on her road to recovery.
The support from both loved ones and strangers helped Rox stay in a healthy mental space. "I went from dancing, moving and doing whatever I want to literally being in a position where I needed to call someone every second that I needed to do something," she adds. "That was a frustrating process because I'm so independent. It put me in a really humbling position."
Her positivity made the transition into the Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center and working with physical therapists that much smoother, going from wheelchair to walking within two weeks.
Jason Facey, Courtesy of Betty Rox
On Taking Her Time to Heal
"My students were asking me when I'm gonna teach again, so I did feel some obligation," she says. "But at the same time, I told myself 'You're allowed to take this time to yourself.' "
Rox has a few friends—mostly dancers—who have been injured in the past, and all of them offered similar advice: "You are by no means being pressured to come back to dancing or teaching. Take your time to heal, because once you reinjure yourself, then it makes it even harder for your comeback." She channeled that advice and used it as a reminder to not rush her healing process.
The pandemic has only helped her take a more intentional approach to her recovery. "It pushed me to take some more time to heal, and I'm glad because I really do feel like I would've probably tried to teach a lot earlier," she says, laughing.
The Healthy Habits That Helped Her Recover
Meditation, journaling and prayer were key factors in Rox's recovery, and have remained her go-to healing habits even almost a year after the accident. "I always did these things, but it just became more heightened in the situation that I was in," she says. "Now, I'm just so much more aware and prepared to take care of myself on a different level."
Jason Facey, Courtesy of Betty Rox
How Her Teaching Has Shifted
So, how has this life-changing experience made Rox a better teacher? For one, it has made her more aware of her body. "I want people to be able to experience what's happening with their bodies, and not just rush through the process," she says. "It's made me aware of how much I want to explain to my students how to properly utilize their bodies and connect to the movement more."
As she approaches the one-year anniversary of the accident, Rox is back on her feet and teaching her first class on Instagram Live this weekend.
How Being a Dancer Helped Her Heal
"I think our bodies register healing very differently because we are used to doing so many things, and I think they've gotten equipped to making changes very quickly," she says. "Our bodies are in a whole different process when it comes to healing because of our background."