COVID left her barely able to walk. This week she dances again

In January, with stages reopening across Australia and mothballed musicals returning to production, professional dancers were treated to a flood of audition opportunities.

For most it was a joy and a relief. But for Romy Vuksan the joy was tinged with dread. This was the big test: had COVID stolen her career?

Dancer Romy Vuksan at the ‘bump-in’ for The Wedding Singer in Melbourne.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Since August, when the 25-year-old caught coronavirus, whenever she tried to dance she would soon have to sit down.

“I’d get bad chest pain as soon as my heart rate would go up,” she says. For five months she was knocked flat.

“All I did was basically sit on the couch and lie down and sleep, I couldn’t stay awake,” she says.

“I just didn’t want to see anyone or do anything. I just felt so alone, I didn’t know anyone else my age that it had affected. I thought, ‘what are they going to think of me? Are people not going to want to hire me any more?’”

The memory triggers tears.

“There were so many times that I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to [dance] again’. Something that I’ve worked my whole life for. I lost a lot of hope and faith in my ability, I would think, ‘how am I going to get into a two-hour show when I can barely breathe going for a walk?’”

But when the audition opportunities came pinging into her inbox she drew a breath and made a decision. She would throw herself into it, and try.

And here she is: fit, healthy and ‘dance captain’ – the choreographer’s chief dancer – in The Wedding Singer musical that opened in Adelaide and comes to Melbourne this week.

Vuksan, who grew up in Brisbane and moved to Melbourne in 2013 on a scholarship to Jason Coleman’s Ministry of Dance, has a slew of big shows under her belt: Dirty Dancing, West Side Story, Legally Blonde and a couple of TV shows.

Romy Vuksan in an Athenaeum dressing roomCredit:Scott McNaughton

“I cried,” she says. “I was in shock. I was confused, I was a bit scared.” Her housemate packed his bags, under instructions to leave within half an hour. She was alone in the house and 24 hours later the symptoms came. A fever of 39-plus, a loss of sense of smell, of appetite. She would sweat through the night, delirious. Her mother, a nurse, kept in touch on the phone with support and advice.

But she just kept getting worse and worse.

“There was the nausea, headaches, flu-like symptoms; the runny nose, a really bad cough. It was extreme.”

As the worst symptoms waned the hardest part of recovery was “there are no COVID specialists, there’s no recovery timeline,” she says. She did what she could, and hoped to get better.

Then, one day, she was.

“It was almost instant. It was almost like letting out the biggest sigh or breath ever. I felt myself again.”

The experience left her feeling stronger. “It has kicked a lot of my self-doubt,” Vuksan says.

On their first curtain call in Adelaide she looked out at the audience, welling up. “There was that feeling that I know, that I love. Especially now, I will never be ungrateful or complacent in being up there on that stage. I count myself very, very lucky.”

The Wedding Singer is at The Athenaeum from Friday for six weeks until June 5. See the show’s website for more details.

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