Features·The Doc Project

Dance was Sophie Kohn's destiny, until her body told her otherwise

The moment a young Sophie Kohn discovered ballet, she was hooked. Now, decades after life-altering surgery, she's donning her ballet shoes again.
A young Sophie Kohn, about 7 years old, at dance class (far right, in blue leotard and white tights). (Sophie Kohn)

By Sophie Kohn

On a field trip to the Kortright Centre for Conservation I stand in a restless, rippling cluster of my 13-year-old peers in a polka-dot raincoat, all of us clamouring to see a giant insect pinned to a velvet board. The bobbing mass of sweaty, colourful toques finally parts in front of me, and at last it's my moment alone with a bug.

I've been joyfully, relentlessly training as a ballet dancer for years now, and I can't ever stop moving. Ballet is tingling in my body constantly when I wait for the bus, when I'm standing around hot and bored in the outfield in gym class or lying restless in bed. Tiny jumps, pushing the turnout of my feet to its limit, stretching, pas de bourrées, arms floating. I impress and confuse my friends by walking on the tips of my toes in purple Converse sneakers. I stand around like this. It's comforting somehow. Up, back down. Up, back down. Up, back down. I'm always performing. "Do the thing!" they shriek. I've chosen this weird life and this identity and it's mine and it makes me different from everyone and I'm happy.

I've chosen this weird life and this identity and it's mine and it makes me different from everyone and I'm happy.

I approach the bug, a crackling mass of hopeful, explosive energy. The beetle is bolted to the velvet in the very centre of its being, a series of delicate silver stakes stabbed through its torso, rendering its whole trunk immobile. Its legs and arms dangle free, impossibly delicate, ready to dance in the gale of the softest sigh.

Sophie performing in her late teens, shortly before giving up dance. (Sophie Kohn)
I blow a quick puff of air from my mouth in the bug's direction and just as I feared, its extremities shudder and lift almost imperceptibly, as though it's telling me a secret: it can't move anymore and it longs to move and it will never move the way it needs to move and this is impossibly sad to me.

It's dead, of course. But somehow I don't quite believe it. Somehow I can see very clearly the parts of it that are hopelessly trapped, pinned, eternally extinguished, and the parts still yearning, still curious. It's maddening, I decide, that these things are forced to coexist, and so calmly too, against a placid navy blue backdrop.

Of course I don't know it in that moment, but in just a few months I will become that bug. At the top of this page, you can hear my story.

Sophie also wrote an essay on her experience in Hazlitt Magazine.

Acey Rowe
About the producer

Acey Rowe is an award-winning radio producer and host of The Doc Project. Hailing from Gatineau, Quebec, she got her start in broadcasting co-hosting the afternoon drive on 103.9 PROUD FM in Toronto, the world's first LGBTQ commercial station. From there, she joined the CBC as a producer for DNTO in Winnipeg, where she told stories and helped other people tell theirs. Acey's work has been featured on The Current, q, Podcast Playlist, Tapestry and Day 6, where she won a Gabriel Award. She is also part of the team that makes Now or Never.

Sophie Kohn
About the contributor

Sophie Kohn is a writer and the managing editor of the CBC Comedy website. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Outpost Magazine, and The Globe and Mail, as well as on CBC Television and Radio One. Sophie is a graduate of Second City's conservatory program and has a B.A. in English from U of T as well as a journalism degree from Ryerson. She performs stand-up comedy regularly around Toronto and gets on planes and into canoes as often as possible.