Breaking a leg, almost

Allynne Noelle was portraying a Turning Girl in "Symphony in 3 Movements" when she snapped her Lisfranc ligament.

With adrenaline coursing through her veins, the Huntington Beach-born ballerina didn't discover her injury until she fell out of bed the next morning, overwhelmed by pain. A soloist at the Miami City Ballet in November 2009, Noelle knew that the turnaround time was too short for the company to replace her before its matinee performance in a few hours.

A combination of Aleve and "the show must go on" attitude got her through the rigorous Balanchine ballet, as well as the next 10 months.

"It was a 'mind over matter' kind of situation," said Noelle, a self-described perfectionist. "I was in pain the whole while, but my body did what I made it do. My mind blocked it out so I could keep dancing."

After undergoing surgery, in which doctors replaced scar tissue and fracture chips in her right foot with an artificial ligament, and physiotherapy, Noelle, undeterred, auditioned for a principal role at the Los Angeles Ballet.

Dancers at the academy will perform "Balanchine Gold" — part one of the Balanchine Festival 2013 — at locations across Southern California beginning March 9. The second installment, "Balanchine Red," lasts from May through June.

"Artistically, ballet allows me to express myself," said Noelle, 31, of Santa Monica. "I love being able to go to work and do what I love every day. There's a feeling on stage, when you're sharing a part of yourself with the audience, whether it's a story ballet or abstract — it's an experience with someone that comes to be entertained, and we get to move them in some way."

Noelle was led to the barre and ballet shoes in kindergarten due to an invitation by her then-best friend. She immediately "fell in love" with the discipline and structure of the dance form and the opportunity to set goals and work toward them.

It was at the Huntington Academy of Dance that both Noelle and fellow Los Angeles Ballet dancer Kate Highstrete got their start at ages 5 and 3, respectively. Marnell Himes-Ushijima, artistic advisor and founding member of the training institution, provided a strong foundation to both dancers early in their careers, inculcating the importance of an unaffected and clean technique.

Noelle said it was Marnell's lessons that instilled in her the etiquette and professionalism to be respectful and respected in the ballet community, adding that in the years since, she has added heart and artistry to her personal style and works "every day to be anything but vanilla."

Highstrete, whose biggest idols are Gelsey Kirkland and Wendy Whelan, has danced as Myrtha in "Giselle" despite suffering from scoliosis. She also recently worked with local choreographers, including Sonya Tayeh, known for routines on the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance."

"After I started, I just couldn't stop," said Highstrete, 26, a fourth-season corps de ballet dancer who lives in West Hollywood. "It was all I wanted to do. There's just something about ballet that I love, and I think when you want to be a dancer, you know that it's something you absolutely have to do."

While both mapped different journeys, with Highstrete training and climbing the ranks at North Carolina School of the Arts, Lauridsen Ballet Centre and Saint Louis Ballet, and Noelle paying her dues at National Ballet of Canada and Inland Pacific Ballet, neither can imagine her life minus ballet.

Noelle and Highstrete agreed that balance is hard-fought in the life of a ballerina, with practice lasting at least from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week, with time demands increasing before performances.

"Being a dancer is challenging because it's not a 9-to-5 job from which you go home and you're done," said Highstrete, who teaches Pilates as a second job. "It's a lifestyle. You have to stay in shape and it's an entire dedication of your life — not only a day job."

It was Noelle's injury that forced her to take a close look at the possibility of life without ballet. Drawing momentum from that experience, she now works harder to prioritize herself by picking up new hobbies, spending time with friends and taking undergraduate classes through a satellite program at St. Mary's College.

"Earlier, my friends, my social circle, my career, my goals — it was all ballet," said Noelle, who has long revered the feminine strength of Julie Kent. "It becomes easily all-consuming. When it's something you have been doing since your childhood, you don't always recognize a problem with it until you hit a certain age, which I have. It takes making an effort to have other goals, but it's made me a better artist."

Hooked to pushing themselves to reaching new heights in the ballet studio and outside, the dancers marvel at new discoveries they continue to make, both about ballet and their bodies.

"Every time I thought of quitting, I just couldn't," Highstrete said. "I can't not have ballet in my life. I think it's hard for dancers when we retire because we're used to having something that we are so passionate about, and it's often hard to fill that part of our lives with something else."

Twitter: @RMahbubani

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