Shearer overcomes back injury to continue love of dance at Indiana University
What at one point seemed impossible for a young ballerina has now become a reality.
After suffering a back injury, Mary Kate Shearer is attending Indiana University Bloomington and is now part of the ballet program at the Jacobs School of Music.
Mary Kate has been a Northsider all her life, and she has been dancing since she was three years old.
“The International Ballet Competition comes to Jackson every four years. My mom (Janet) and I went to one, and I immediately wanted to do ballet. I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
Mary Kate danced at the Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet and attended Ridgeland High School. During her senior year last December, she suffered a back injury that included two stress fractures.
“The doctor said it was overuse, which is really the scariest thing an injury can be,” Mary Kate said. “I was just using my back too much. Overuse injuries are pretty common, because (ballet) work is so strenuous on the body. If you’re not taking care of it, it doesn’t end well.”
When she initially noticed a problem in October 2016, she tried to work through it and continue dancing.
“Once I realized it was going to be a problem, I told my parents, went to a doctor and was told it was muscular.”
Mary Kate didn’t want to undergo x-rays, and worked with a physical therapist for two months until December, when she realized it wasn’t going to improve.
“The Nutcracker came (in December), and I did it in a lot of pain.”
Even with her back causing her so much pain, she danced in the Nutcracker as the Snow Queen, lead mirliton and the Dewdrop Fairy.
Following the Nutcracker, Mary Kate returned to the doctor for a CAT scan, after which she had to wear a back brace for two stress fractures from January through March of this year. Physical therapy followed for two months to begin restrengthening her back.
“I got out of the back brace at the end of March. I jumped right back in (ballet), but I didn’t want to push it.” She did dance in metro ballet’s final performance “The Wizard of Oz” as Glinda, the Good Witch.
However, those four months of December through March were critical to Mary Kate.
Looking to attend a ballet program at a number of schools throughout the country, auditions were under way during her injury.
The most important audition was for Indiana University Bloomington.
“The audition process started in the fall of my senior year. I applied to the Jacobs School of Music, the department the ballet program is in, and I had to send a video of me dancing. I sent my video, and they invited me to audition in person in January.”
But her December injury kept her from going to the auditions in January, February and March.
However, the school encouraged Mary Kate to go ahead and attend Indiana University Bloomington, and audition for the Jacobs School of Music again during her fall semester as a freshman.
To prepare, she attended a five-week intensive ballet program this past summer in Atlanta to regain strength and form. She danced Monday through Saturday for those five weeks.
“It helped me get back in shape and get where I needed to be for the beginning of the year,” she said.
She was accepted into the Jacob School of Music program at the end of October, finally reaching the goal she’d been working toward since she was a junior at Ridgeland High School, where she was valedictorian.
“I applied to other schools, but it was difficult with my injury. I didn’t get to audition at other places. I toured Indiana University during spring break when I was a junior. I sat in on a ballet class, and all the girls were beautiful. They looked like professional dancers already. The campus was beautiful. I just kind of fell in love.”
Mary Kate’s life-long teacher, Jennifer Beasley, is not surprised that Mary Kate has overcome her injury and is now even more passionate about her future in ballet.
“I saw something special in Mary Kate when she was very young. She always had an incredible work ethic and would never give up in class and rehearsal. I knew that she would never let anything get in the way of achieving her dreams, including this serious injury.”
Now that she’s in the program, Mary Kate will switch her major from English to a bachelor of science in ballet with an outside field of English.
“It’s a little more than a minor in English,” she explained.
In the Jacob School of Music program, Mary Kate will dance Monday through Friday every week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and she’ll take other classes in the morning and at night, working around her dancing schedule.
“Straight-up rankings of ballet schools are hard to find. Still, I think it’s clear that IU-Jacobs Ballet is one of the top ones, and probably number two,” Mary Kate’s father, Dale, said.
Some of the requirements for her new major will include a piano class, a pedagogy class and other electives required by the school of music.
“I’ll have to teach ballet for a semester. I’m nervous about it, but the classes range from beginner to advanced. I’m enrolled in one of the elective classes, so I’m seeing the other (ballet) majors that are teaching it to see what they’re doing. It’s also to help me stay in shape until I get to join in January.”
Mary Kate will learn a new ballet piece each semester when she officially begins the program in January.
“Every year they do (new) repertoires… They bring choreographers from around the nation and world to set pieces… We get to work with people from professional companies and learn new pieces… All the pieces are different except for The Nutcracker.”
Mary Kate said that even though she’s beginning the ballet program a semester late, she still plans to graduate on time.
“Ballerinas usually graduate early because they might get jobs or want to get out in the ballet world sooner. It’s not going to be a huge issue hopefully.”
Once she does graduate, Mary Kate’s dream is to join a ballet company.
“I really love the Boston Ballet and everything they do. That would be amazing, but they’re so good… They have really great outreach programs, their repertoire is amazing, their dancers are amazing. The city of Boston is great, too. It’s an all-around really great place.”
But really, Mary Kate will be happy as long as she has a career in ballet.
“I’d be fine with anywhere willing to pay me to dance.”
But because ballerinas usually have very short careers that usually end in dancers’ late 30s, Mary Kate said her second profession might be an attorney.
“If you get injured, it can end your career in an instant if it’s bad, so a back-up plan is good. I could be teacher or choreographer, which is what a lot of people do. But (when) I get done with dancing, I’ll probably go to law school or something.”
Mary Kate’s father, Dale, is a lawyer.
“I always like hearing about his stories in court. I’ve always just liked the idea of being in court, and I like arguing,” she said.
Mary Kate also has a little brother, Sam, who is 16.
On top of her recent successes at Indiana University, Mary Kate just celebrated her 19th birthday.
“It is rewarding for me as a teacher to see the drive and determination that Mary Kate exhibits,” Jennifer said. “She has what it takes to succeed in the ballet world and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”