She’s the proud winner of two Emmys and two Tonys, but Bebe Neuwirth is a terp at heart. “Acting and singing are what I do,” she says. “But a dancer is what I am.”
Decades of dancing, though, ravaged her body. She kept the traumas secret through three years of physical therapy, surgery and emotional stress.
“I was in so much pain, and for so long I didn’t know what was wrong. Not knowing the extent of your injuries — it’s terrifying.”
Hip replacement surgery in 2006 allowed her to return to the Broadway company of “Chicago” on New Year’s Eve. She could have just put all the pain behind her, but like many Actors Fund board members before her, Neuwirth identified a need and launched a program: The Dancers’ Resource.
The Dancers’ Resource, she says, will be an ongoing source of counseling and education, helping with “whatever problems dancers face,” from insurance to nutrition to workers’ comp.
In May, an overflow crowd attended a seminar on “Healing the Dancer,” moderated by medicos and insurance experts.
That was followed by an eight-week course of group therapy moderated by a psychotherapist with dance experience. “It’s amazing to offer a place for dancers to anonymously express their feelings and work through them,” Neuwirth beams.
A West Coast edition may be in the cards, and Neuwirth expects to act as “a bit of an ambassador and liaison; a custodian; a cheerleader when necessary.”
Dancers are simply a different breed than other performers, Neuwirth says.
“We train differently, we’re in our bodies differently. We empathize in a physical way, a muscular, visual way. Plus, our career is so much more likely to end 20 to 25 years before anyone else’s.”
In that respect, dancers resemble pro athletes more than actors, with one big difference.
“Everyone expects athletes to be injured, and they have sports medicine at their beck and call. But if a dancer gets injured, she tries to keep it a secret. Those for whom she works don’t have extensive medical resources, and you don’t want to get known as someone who’s easily injured. We are so replaceable.”