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August 2012, and Jessica Chen was driving from the wedding of a friend in California. To this day, she doesn’t remember what happened next – but she woke up from a coma 13 days later with injuries so severe her loved ones feared she may not survive.
The car she was traveling – a Mini convertible, top down – had been driving along the winding roads of vineyard country when it hit a stretch limo coming towards it in the wrong lane. Swerving, the Mini flipped over three times before finally landing upside down. Jessica was left with broken bones, open wounds, and major head trauma. She spent eight hours in brain surgery immediately following the accident.
“I just didn’t believe them. I knew that I was going to dance again, and I just told myself that the doctors didn’t know any better. They didn’t know who I was and what I was capable of.”
“The doctors told me I would probably not be able return to dancing professionally,” she says. “For them, my injuries were too severe and too many to get back to the physical shape I was in.
“I do remember hearing them and I don’t even remember being mad or upset. I nodded, told them I understood, and said I was just grateful to be alive. And in reality, I just didn’t believe them. I knew that I was going to dance again, and I just told myself that the doctors didn’t know any better. They didn’t know who I was and what I was capable of.”
For the 30-year-old, who had been living in Hell’s Kitchen since 2006, getting back to her New York home was fundamental to her recovery.
“My boyfriend urged me to come back to NYC as soon as I got the OK from my doctors. He knew it would be good for me to spend time around my community and the life I built here. He was right.
“When I walked through the front door of my apartment, I let out a huge exhale because I truly felt like I was home. My community here was so important to me, to give me the inspiration and support to fully recover.”
Two and a half years later, she has created Never Was Broken: a dance through life and death and life, to celebrate what she describes as her “second chance”.
“This show examines the concepts of living, letting go of and recreating your life,” says Jessica. “Everyone has their own reality. Rules they live by. Boundaries they create and ones they break. Each journey is unique. Everyone is working through their own things. Everyone has a gift to share with the world. But it takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers.
“I’ve learned to have faith in my ability to turn challenges into victories. It is clear that a slight shift of perspective can change your world, because the idea of ‘being broken’ is only one way of looking at a situation or a person.
“I hope this performance will ignite emotions and inspire conversations well beyond the end of the show. I want people to take a chance on themselves, to see the beauty in their lives and find gratitude in all the magic they already possess.”
This article originally appeared in Issue 4 – March 2015. Pages 15.