Dancer Steps Up To A Challenge

Danielle Loustau-Williams CBS/The Early Show

By all appearances, Danielle Loustau-Williams is a normal 21 year old. She grew up in a small Quaker community in Pennsylvania, left home at 16 and wants to make it as a professional dancer in New York City.

But to tell her to "break a leg", as they say in the business, would be an odd joke.

"I have my own program, I'll just say it like that," she says with a laugh.

Two years ago, while pursuing a professional career with the renowned Philadanco Dance Troupe's second company, the unthinkable happened. While boarding a commuter train, Danielle missed the step, falling beneath the train's wheels as it pulled away.

"There was a nurse that was on the site and she asked me if I knew what happened, and I said, "Yeah, my foot's gone,'" she recalls.

Her best friend and fellow dancer Krystal Breakley rushed to her bedside.

"When I got that phone call, I was afraid that she was going to die," Krystal says.

Danielle began the process of getting a new foot at Hanger Prosthetics.

When Danielle first arrived there three months after her accident, her leg was still sore and swollen but her main concern was not whether she would ever walk again. She was determined to dance.

"When I walked into the class, everybody thought I was crazy. My dance teacher pulled me aside and said, 'OK, what are you planning on doing here?' And I told him, I said, 'I'll just do what I can do'," Danielle says.

Despite her optimism, Danielle faced major struggles

"I can't wear heels," she says with a laugh. "I can't go on point, in dance. I can't point my foot, which is a lot. I can't go up on the ball of my foot, which is very limiting," she adds.

But she has persevered, finding positives in the negatives.

"If I have a piece that has a lot of turns. It's so easy to turn. It's easier to turn with this (prosthetic) than it is on your regular foot, because it's like a skater. You just spin around."

Prosthetist Bob Austin adjusted Danielle's new feet to fit her body.

"It was exhilarating for me to see Danielle dance because she had been dancing in the hallway here and kind of testing things out. But to see her really be aggressive, to jump and land on that prosthesis," Austin says.

Danielle reached a milestone when she performed for the hospital trauma team just 16 months after her accident.

"I don't want to try to hide the fact that I'm an amputee. Any dancer can walk across a stage but when I walk across the stage I've already made a statement," she says.

A blur of movement, Danielle blends in now. But look more closely and you will see more than just hands and feet…you will see a courageous heart that refuses to give up a dream that started in childhood.

Beginning with ballet at age 5 and later with rhythmic gymnastics, Danielle always knew she had a gift for movement.

She followed her dreams to Brooklyn where she was a a college student, bartender, sometime-waitress and dancer.

"When I was younger, I was always shy but on the dance floor, it's the most beautiful thing in the world," she says.

Choreographer Ron K. Brown thinks Danielle is special: ""Not everyone has that passion, the drive to dance as if your life depended on it and so it's beautiful that Danielle has found that for herself despite the tragedy that she's gone through."

"Sometimes I feel like it's a miracle," Danielle says. "So I feel like I'm exploring. I feel like I'm opening other people's minds. And that everything that I've learned how to do, I just feel like I'm pushing the miracle further and further,"

She hopes to perform a duet at an upcoming AIDS benefit. She would also like to create a prosthetic foot that will allow her to dance on point again.
  • Tatiana Morales

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