Dancing all the way to the top with prosthetics

Dancing With the Stars is a show in which celebrities pair up with dancers in hopes of dancing their hearts out all the way to the top.  Contestants include athletes, actors, musicians, teen stars, astronauts and more.  This year however, the popular show, which originally aired in 2005, has gained more attention with Amy Purdy, a double amputee being among the contestants.

When she was nineteen, Purdy came home with what she believed to be the flu.  Within 24 hours, she was hospitalized with a 2% chance of survival; bacterial meningitis was taking its toll on her body, and after two and a half months of hospitalization, Purdy had lost her spleen, hearing in her left ear, both kidneys and both legs below the knee.

Today, Purdy is an Olympic snowboarder, spokeswoman, actress and now a dancer.  She quickly became a favorite on Dancing With the Stars among judges and audience members alike, wowing the majority of viewers with her performances week after week.

A common inquiry is, “What’s the technology of Purdy’s prosthetics that’s helping her dance so swimmingly?”  According to an article written by Rose Eveleth, “Every amputee has a differently shaped residual limb, which means that every amputee has a uniquely shaped, specially fitted socket that fits over that residual limb.  Each prosthetic socket is fitted to the individual person by a specially trained prosthetist so that it conforms to their body perfectly.  This fit is perhaps the most important piece of the whole setup–you can have the most state of the art leg around, but if it doesn’t fit your body nicely, it’s essentially useless.”

While many would assume Purdy’s performance would be nothing but inspiring, there has been some tension among the amputee community with statements such as, Purdy can afford whatever devices and training she wants, which is not something the average amputee can afford.  However, Purdy isn’t dancing on anything exceedingly expensive, but rather basic feet or ones designed for swimming, not dancing.  When she is doing the cha-cha or swing dancing, she wears a very basic solid foot that lets her rotate her toes, called a sach foot ($500.)   For jazz and Latin dances, Purdy wears a carbon fiber foot with an adjustable heel that allows her to dance on her toes.  These feet are designed for swimming and the most expensive prosthetics used by Purdy costing $3,800.  The feet made by the company Freedom Innovations, offer flat or flexed settings designed so amputees can walk along the beach, get into the water and flex the foot to an angle to swim.  Prior to Purdy’s performances, no one has ever used these feet like this, so they were never tested for that kind of use, but Purdy felt it was worth the risk.

In close, Amy Purdy is the dancer, the star; she’s the performer, not her legs.  A prosthetist at Freedom Innovations stated: “You walk the leg, the leg doesn’t walk you.”  Technology such as prosthetics can help individuals walk, run, dance and more–but no amount of technology can make someone a performer.

Author: Laura Medcalf

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