LANDER — Krysta Hubbard’s favorite color is pink, although she doesn’t know exactly what pink looks like.
She knows the best part of ballet is the beautiful tutus, although she hasn’t actually seen a sparkly costume.
Krysta’s world is one of shadows. Legally blind, no one is certain how much she can see.
But what her family does know is, Krysta can dance. She can twirl and leap and jump like any other 4-year-old girl who dreams of toe shoes and tiaras. And thanks to the creativity and patience of her ballet teacher, she did it on stage last weekend as a mouse in Positively Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”
She loves dancing
Krysta was born with normal vision.
When she was 2 years old, her mother, Shanell Hubbard, noticed Krysta had started running into things.
It seemed to be more than classic toddler clumsiness, so Hubbard took Krysta to the doctor.
It wasn’t her eyes. It was her brain.
It turned out a benign, recurring tumor grew inside Krysta’s skull, on her pituitary gland. She needed brain surgery.
Doctors removed the tumor along with her pituitary gland and optic nerve.
Krysta would need hormones, including a shot in the thigh each day, to make her grow and she wouldn’t regain her vision.
Every six months she goes to Denver to visit an eye doctor for her vision and an endocrinologist for monitoring her hormones.
Each year, she undergoes an MRI because the tumor could return at any time.
Within a year, it began to grow again.
Krysta headed to Denver, where doctors attacked the tumor with radiation.
Before each treatment, doctors turned on music and let Krysta dance, something she loved to do around the house, her great-grandmother, Peggy Jensen, said.
But dancing for her family or in a hospital room with doctors is one thing. Performing on stage is another.
A sense of body
Every year, Positively Ballet performs “The Nutcracker,” and owner and instructor Tricia Lawrence selects community members who benefit from the production.
Last year she chose to raise money for Krysta, to help the family with travel expenses to and from Denver.
When Lawrence approached the family, Krysta’s great-grandmother posed a question: Could Krysta take ballet?
When Lawrence was in high school she danced in a program with a girl who couldn’t hear. The girl felt the music. Lawrence learned from that girl that anyone can dance.
“I just have to be a little more creative as a teacher,” she said.
Teaching Krysta made Lawrence more descriptive in her instructions. On one of Krysta’s first days she told the girls to rock back and forth. Lawrence swayed side-to-side to demonstrate. Krysta moved front-to-back. Now Lawrence knows to say side-to-side.
Like at home, Krysta memorized the studio space, even the bench she sits on when she’s not listening to direction.
Lawrence marks the floor with tape in a shape specific to each dancer so the girls know to find their spots. Krysta gets on her knees and feels the floor for her shape to find her starting spot before class.
The other girls know to watch for her when they practice galloping or leaping across the room.
Ballet is a visual art, and some of that will always be lost for Krysta, Lawrence said. She can’t check her form in the mirror.
But she can, if she wants, train her body to feel it. Dance gives Krysta a better sense of body awareness — where her shoulders are, how she holds her head.
“Ballet is about disciplining your body to do the things you ask it to do,” Lawrence said.
Krysta tires more easily than the other girls, such as during “The Nutcracker” rehearsals. When she isn’t dancing and is asked to sit still, she doesn’t have the luxury of watching the other girls perform or even observing the people around her as a distraction.
Still, Krysta loves going to class, to rehearsals, to productions.
“I can’t imagine her not dancing,” her great-grandmother said. “This is her one special thing.”
It’s hard to know exactly how much Krysta can see, her mom said. Doctors and her family think she can see shadows and differences in light.
She adapted at home by memorizing the layout of her house.
At her great-grandparents’ house in Lander, where Krysta spends weekends, she sprints through the rooms shrieking she can’t be caught and goading anyone to chase her. She maneuvers deftly around the table, a chair and even her toys. She only stumbles over a toy vacuum cleaner she forgets to put away.
Family members learned to close cabinets after a few minor collisions, her great-grandfather, David Jensen, said.
When she’s not dancing around the living room, Krysta loves to have books read aloud to her. She can’t see the pictures, but if she holds the books close to her face, she can make out shapes and tell you how many bears are on the bicycle.
Her eyelids droop lazily over unfocused, big brown eyes, but she is still, her body rigid with attention when she holds a book.
“What is that Grandma?” Krysta asks if she senses a shape she can’t identify on the page.
“Are there four of them?” she asks about the characters in the book.
“I believe there’s two,” Peggy Jensen says.
“One, two?” Krysta asks, slapping the animals on the page.
Krysta doesn’t usually talk about being blind, although one time David Jensen overheard her arguing with a boy at a play area. The boy said she couldn’t be blind.
Krysta looks up when she hears Jensen telling the story.
“Why did he say that grandpa?” she says. “I am blind.”
Dancing has given Krysta independence and confidence, her mom said.
“Just because she has a disability, doesn’t mean she can’t do whatever she wants to do,” Hubbard said.
On a Saturday before the matinee performance of “The Nutcracker,” Jensen helped Krysta into her tutu.
Krysta had her great-grandmother describe the mouse costume, even though she probably knows the description by heart.
Her fingers stroke the gray top of the leotard. Her hands run across the stiff tulle of the skirt and over the puckers of sequins.
And though she can’t see it, she is certain. “It’s pretty.”
In her first year in the production, Krysta had a buddy guiding her on stage, Jensen said.
This year Krysta was more independent, although Lawrence always makes sure she’s on stage with her at the same time. The stage size and lights can cause spatial distortions and Lawrence wants to make sure Krysta doesn’t dance off the stage.
During “The Nutcracker,” Krysta has a few run-ins with the other mice on stage. But so do many of the other mice. At 4 years old, none is perfect in their timing or their positions. They all just want to dance.
Krysta is no exception.
I categorized this as a Christmas around The World story, cuz THIS is what it is all about. Just had to.