On a busy day, Laura Gilbreath is on her feet for up to seven and a half hours.
As a ballet dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Gilbreath starts in the studio at 10:15 a.m. and wraps up rehearsals by 7 p.m., with just a few breaks in between sessions.
“It’s exhausting, preparing for a ballet. We go nonstop,” she said. “We’re in the theater all day. We have to keep every part of our bodies strong.”
A Louisiana native, Gilbreath loved dancing from the moment she first watched her 5-year-old sister in dance classes when Gilbreath was just 3 years old.
“I was dancing in the waiting room when we went to pick up my sister from dance class,” said Gilbreath, 24. After training in New Orleans, Gilbreath moved to New York City at age 15 to study at the School of American Ballet in Manhattan. By the time she was 17, she headed to Seattle where she enrolled in the professional division of the PNB, the school’s top level. A year-long apprenticeship with the ballet followed, after which Gilbreath signed her contract.
Because Gilbreath has been on her own since her mid-teens, she learned quickly how to make big decisions for herself – including where to get her health care.
When she moved to Seattle, she chose the Belltown Clinic
, part of UW Medicine’s network of Neighborhood Clinics that provides primary care. The clinic is close to where Gilbreath was living in Belltown at the time and near the Seattle Center.
“Another dancer in the company used the clinic and highly recommended it,” she said. Gilbreath relies on the UW physicians and staff there to help monitor her nutrition, including iron and calcium intake to keep her bones strong. UW physicians also can keep an eye on potential problems for dancers, such as bone spurs or stretched ligaments.
“I always try to make sure I get enough calcium for my bones because we use our bodies daily. We put them through the grind,” she said.
The dancers’ schedules are always hectic, and sometimes they find out rehearsal times the day before. The clinic staff always accommodates her, Gilbreath said, fitting her in for last minute appointments.
And when patients need services beyond primary care, Belltown Clinic provides patients with access to UW Medicine specialists, whether that might be specialty care for anything from sports related injuries to joint replacement to advanced eye care.
UW Neighborhood Clinics offer eCare, an e-health service that enables patients to securely use the Internet to help manage and receive information about their health, schedule appointments, request referrals and prescription renewals, view test results and communicate with their health-care team.
Gilbreath and other dancers know that one injury can end a career prematurely.
“In the back of your head, you know that’s the risk,” she said. “So, you do everything you can to stay healthy, stay on track.”
Photo: Angela Sterling