Dancer puts best foot forward as stroke recovery continues
By Michael Tsai
August 09, 2011
Hillary Brown had just finished walking her 8- to 10-year-olds through their pre-dance warm-up when the headache hit. It was a doozy. Surprising, too, since Brown rarely got headaches back then. Still, there was a class to teach, so Brown gulped some water and soldiered on.
But as she led the class in an exercise, Brown found she couldn’t keep her balance.”I felt inebriated,” Brown recalls. “I kept falling and I couldn’t speak clearly. I was afraid my students were going to go home and tell their parents that Miss Hillary came to class drunk.”
Not wanting to alarm the class, Brown told her students to stretch while she went to the classroom next door for help. It wasn’t until two days later, after her mother arrived from Utah, that Brown learned she’d had a stroke.
A native of Salt Lake City, Brown had a passion for performing. She took her first ballet class at age 8 and was soon mastering jazz, tap and other styles.
Brown also enjoyed a successful acting and modeling career, appearing in numerous films, TV specials and commercials as a child.
She moved to Hawaii days after her high school graduation and was soon busy working with a talent agency, teaching dance, even choreographing routines for the Miss Hawaii pageant.
Unbeknownst to her, however, Brown was also carrying a neurological time bomb in the form of a congenital arteriovenous malformation, which caused a stroke when it ruptured.
In the nearly three years since her stroke, Brown has worked diligently to relearn such basic skills as standing, walking, getting dressed and eating. She sets short-term goals — skipping, hopping on one foot, walking backward — and devotes all of her will to achieving them.
Brown credits Pilates, which she discovered while recuperating from knee problems several years ago, with much of her recovery. So enamored is Brown with the fitness discipline that she has made it a core part of her new venture, The Total You, a holistic health and fitness program that combines Pilates, dance, nutrition education and personal development.
Brown still struggles with seizures and cognitive impairments. She says she is easily overwhelmed. But she also says that her stroke helped her to better recognize the power of positive thinking so aptly demonstrated by her mother. It has also allowed her to become a better, more empathetic teacher, she says.
“I just knew that it happened for a reason,” she says. “It sounds like such a cliché, but I just want to help other people. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I survived.”