Dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis took the stage at the TED Conference in Vancouver on Wednesday, for her first performance since losing part of her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at The MIT Media Lab and a double-amputee himself, said during his TED talk that he studied the mechanics of dance and worked with Haslet-Davis to design her a bionic limb that would allow her to continue her career and passion.

"In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor," Herr said.

"In 200 days, we put her back."

Haslet-Davis then came on stage and stunned the audience by dancing an intricate, twirling rumba with professional dancer Christian Lightner.

Jodie Martinson with CBC Radio One's On The Coast spoke with Haslet-Davis about her journey, just after that life-changing performance in Vancouver at the TED Conference.


Boston Marathon Survivor Dancer

Haslet-Davis took to the stage to perform Wednesday for the first time since losing part of her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. ( James Duncan Davidson/TED 2014 Conference/AP Photo)

Q: Tell me about dancing.

Adrianne Haslet-Davis: It was my full-time gig. I was working on the clock for you know nine to 10 hours a day, but practising before and after, and competing and doing things on the weekend. So it was absolutely my life, and then on Marathon Monday, it was just my day off.

So it was my full-time gig. It was all I knew for years and years and years.

Not only that, something was happening with me. It was the feeling of, you know, being graceful, and being like the Ginger Rogers and the — you know — the people in these black and white films that my parents would watch, is a beautiful feeling.

Q: So it was your full time-gig. So what happened that Marathon Monday?

H-D: I'm not going to go on to that. I don't talk about it until... It's not healthy for me: I'm in a really good place right now.

Q:  You began recovery, and at a point you met a person called Hugh Herr. Pick the story up for me there.

H-D: I met Hugh Herr shortly after the marathon. He had written an article about me in the Wall Street Journal, and he mentioned what I had said to Anderson Cooper, my dear friend, and it was that I would dance again, and I knew I would dance again.

It was just days after the marathon, and it was in the hospital room, and I had major bandages and stitches still in and Hugh had written an article saying, 'I believe she can dance again. I believe there are advancements in prosthetics and there need to be even more advances in prosthetics to allow her to do this'

I heard him speak and he made this statement: 'I believe in a world where people can take their legs on and off with the same acceptance and looked at with the same acceptance that people have taking off eyeglasses or popping in contact lenses. And we all remember a day in the past history that wearing eyeglasses was a disability and now we don't even think twice about it.'

And I just remember thinking, how can he think about prosthetics? My whole life has changed. My world is different. My whole body is different. It's so different, in fact, it felt like I had a hand growing out of my head.

Boston Marathon Survivor Dancer

MIT's Hugh Herr designed the bionic leg specifically for dancing after visiting Haslet-Davis in the hospital. ( James Duncan Davidson/TED 2014 Conference/Associated Press)

Him saying that was the first time that I felt like he had reached me, someone had reached me, and maybe it could be okay to be an amputee. Maybe. Just maybe.

And after that speech, I sat down with him for an hour and a half, which turned into two or three hours.

And the week after that I was in his lab at MIT looking at all these robotic things, still uncertain of why I would want to look like a robot when I'm a lady and I'm a dancer and I've got great legs and wanted to show that off.

And he made it OK. You know, through our friendship and through trust and and through exposure to that world and the feeling of that, he's starting to make that okay.

To quote Jackie Kennedy, above all I'm still a woman, so I bug him constantly about making this leg look like a regular leg.

Q: This leg, what can it do?

H-D: Gosh, he's going to be able to explain that so much better than I can.

In my own experience, this leg can make me feel like...the closest thing to my biological limb.

It's able to...I'm able to push down on the toe and my heel lowers. So, in other words, my ankle moves and no other prosthetic that I've worn can do that, [though] they do have movable ankles other places...To feel that, and to feel that again is incredible, and it allows me to do the correct footwork in dance.

Q: So I want to set this up for people listening because they were obviously not at the TED Talk. Hugh Herr got up and he spoke and he explained his science, and then he said, 'We have a very special thing that's about to happen' and then you walked out and you look stunning, and you're wearing a beautiful white dress with glittery diamonds. And then what happened?

H-D: And then I got to dance. For the first time...I was performing for the first time since the marathon. It was incredible.

And I danced, and then I cried.

Boston Marathon Survivor Dancer

Haslet-Davis said she cried after the performance, out of happiness for being able to dance again and also because she knows she has a long way to go in her recovery still. ( James Duncan Davidson/TED 2014 Conference/AP Photo)

I was crying because I know it's still a long way to go. So it was both happy and sad. It's a struggle and it's tough and it feels incredibly different than it did before. 

They always say comparison is the thief of joy and I compare everything. I'm still at that stage its still very, very new to me, so I constantly think about what it felt like before.

I constantly think about what my feet could do before, the moves that I could do before, and its all different.

And it's a great different, but it's different.

So, crying for happiness that I was able to get here, and crying because I saw grown men bawling in the audience, and crying because I know I still have a long way to go. So, gosh, it was a mix of emotions.

Q: When you came out, and I watched, people just bombarded you with congratulations. a certain famous [former] vice-president even wanted to say congratulations. What's next for you?

H-D: I think I called him 'Al,' like, 'cause I didn't know what to say. [She laughs]

Next for me is just continuing my recovery.

Continuing to be emotionally honest with where I am in my recovery, and making sure that I am taking 'me time', and not overexerting myself.

Continuing to dance, obviously.

I'm getting into public speaking. I've been able to do that and have success with it, so I'm looking forward to continuing to inspire others, both through dance but [also] through the new performing art of public speaking.

Q: And when you public speak, what is your message to people?

H-D:  You know, I really talk a lot about the marathon. I talk about what happened that day, I talk about what my life was like before and then I also talk about what my life is like now and how I'm able to deal with the absolute terror that happened to me.

And that all of us go through grief, you know. We'll all suffer a loss in our life, and the steps of grief that you have to go through for that are all the same.