'Bald Ballerina' Maggie Kudirka is Educating the Dance Community About Breast Cancer

by Bridget Conrad | 6/12/2019 9:19 PM

Photo Credit: Andrew Holtz

At 23-years-old, ballet dancer Maggie Kudirka felt invincible. She had just graduated college and began her first season with the Joffrey Concert Group on a full scholarship, but little did she know that something was about to happen that would change her life forever. While in the shower, she discovered a pea-sized lump in her breast which she didn't give much thought to since she was only 23 and it wasn't causing her any pain. Unfortunately, by the time she saw a doctor, she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and the lump had grown bigger than a tennis ball. Now, widely known as the 'Bald Ballerina,' Kudirka is determined to help educate the dance community and beyond on the truth about breast cancer. 

More: 'Bald Ballerina' Maggie Kudirka Inspires at iDance4ACure

In 2013, armed with a B.F.A. in Dance Performance from Towson University, Kudirka moved out to New York City to join the Joffrey Concert Group. Although, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, her life went through some dramatic changes. With no history of breast cancer in her family, Kudirka was informed that her type of cancer was hormone-driven, which caused her to go strictly vegan and begin menopause very early in her life. During her first chemotherapy treatment to shrink the tumor in her breast, Kudirka received shocking news that her cancer was stage 4 and had spread to her spine, sternum, and hip. This meant that she would be on maintenance chemo treatments for the rest of her life. Right now, those treatments consist of two infusion drugs and two injections every three weeks. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Holtz

These days, Kudirka has found new ways to insert dance into her life amidst her maintenance treatment schedule. In addition to teaching and taking classes, one of her college instructors encouraged her to start a blog that she named “Bald Ballerina.” Through this blog and her social media accounts, Kudirka spreads awareness and documents her personal journey of dancing through cancer. I recently got the opportunity to speak to Kudirka about some of the projects she’s currently working on and how she met one of her mentors in dance and life.

More: To the Pointe: Maggie Kudirka

Tell me about some of the special projects you’ve been working on.

I recently partnered with Stand Up To Cancer for “The 100%," which is a virtual reality experience that just debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the Tribeca X award. This experience documents my journey from when I was 5-years-old up until my cancer diagnosis, and Stand Up To Cancer plans to use it when speaking to prospective donors. Eventually, it will also be shown to patients in hospitals to educate them and boost their hope and morale. Slowly, the experience will roll out to various film festivals and Stand Up To Cancer and HP will show it at events.

Also, I just put on my 5th annual 'No One Can Survive Alone' concert. When I was first diagnosed and working at my dance studio, all the students’ moms wanted to put on a show where the students performed and the proceeds would help to pay for my medical care. We had the first concert in October 2014, which was a very small show in a small theater. Year after year it keeps growing, and our recent show on June 2, 2019 was in a 400-person theatre that almost sold-out. The concert is just a fun day of friends coming together to perform and give back to the community.

How has dancer/choreographer Doriana Sanchez has become a mentor to you? How did the two of you connect?

I first became a fan of Doriana’s from watching her on So You Think You Can Dance. Then, in 2017, she introduced me at the Industry Dance Awards and we immediately bonded. We both were diagnosed with cancer out of the blue and understood how cancer affected lives and futures. To know that there was another dancer with cancer out there who has a huge career was very comforting. That same year at the Industry Dance Awards, I was able to meet Kenny Ortega and he gifted me his Lifetime Achievement Award which was such an honor.

Photo Credit: Andrew Holtz

More: LivStrong: How Dance Helped Olivia Hutcherson Overcome Breast Cancer

Ultimately, what message do you hope to spread in the dance community?

I want the dance community to know that cancer doesn’t have to be your whole life- it doesn’t rule your life. You can still do what you love, but you just have to modify it. Also, never give up! Some days it’s hard to stay strong, but you have to keep reminding yourself that you can get through it. 

Visit baldballerina.org to learn more about Kudirka and to purchase 'Bald Ballerina' merchandise. All proceeds help to pay for her medical treatments. You can also follow Kudirka on social media @baldballerina.

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