Dance has been part of Sharon Pryor’s life since her mom took her to her first dance class when she was in kindergarten. Throughout elementary school, Pryor took classes for ballet, modern, jazz, and even tap dance.
As an adult she danced professionally for a time, including training with Dance Theatre of Harlem. With her two kids off at college, it has been about 12 years since Pryor last danced on a stage. “Now I dance in my living room,” she says. “When I'm cleaning my house, I'll put on my favorite music, and I'm dancing around.”
Although Pryor was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) at age 24 – a few years after her psoriasis diagnosis – it did not cross her mind to stop dancing, even though at the time her PsA primarily affected her ankles, a key part of any form of dancing.
“Movement, for me, was life,” she says. Even just talking about dancing visibly brings her joy.
PsA is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints and entheses, where tendons and ligaments connect to bone. Unlike some forms of arthritis, with PsA, exercise often improves flexibility of joints and tendons and helps reduce inflammation and pain.
Looking back, Pryor realizes that having a regular exercise routine likely helped alleviate some of the symptoms of her PsA. “The more consistent I was with movement – getting out there, working out, and just making it a part of my routine – [the more] I was able to kind of keep [my PsA] at bay,” says Pryor.
While she was nervous about her ankles giving out during a performance, she found that being able to focus on the performance itself relieved any pain she was having. “I can definitely say there is a great benefit to movement,” says Pryor.
When Pryor was a senior in high school, she experienced trauma to a finger, causing her to lose the nail. Eventually it grew back, but the nail was not quite like it had been before. Soon it started affecting her other nails. Pryor cites this as the beginning of her psoriasis journey. While she did not know it at the time, nail psoriasis is a risk factor for PsA.
After being prescribed numerous antifungals that did nothing to help, she developed her first psoriasis plaque on the back of her neck when she went away to college. Fortunately, her health care provider quickly diagnosed this as mild psoriasis and prescribed topical treatments.
As it turns out, that was not the last Pryor would see of nail psoriasis. She soon found that ballet – specifically pointe ballet, where dancers stand on the tips of their toes in specially designed shoes – was not going to be a part of her life.
“The one time that I felt like ballet wasn't going to be my best friend was wearing pointe shoes,” says Pryor, “because psoriasis affected my toenails. That was very painful. Putting my feet into pointe shoes and then rising up onto pointe – I can't even begin to tell you how excruciating that was, and at that point I was just like, I don't know if I am going to be able to continue.”
Pryor’s nail psoriasis was bad enough that her health care provider recommended permanent surgical removal of her toenail. Pryor is grateful now that she declined to proceed with that recommendation. And her toenails are faring much better now.
Sharing the Passion
Although it has been years since she danced professionally, Pryor is a certified yoga and flexibility coach and is planning on offering barre or ballet classes to her clients. This will not be the first time she has shared her passion for dancing with others. When her children were young, she taught dance to elementary students.
Now she works with adult clients who want help in getting moving. “As we get older, we stop moving as much,” says Pryor. “Flexibility is an area that we neglect, and it's so important for stability in walking, sitting, standing – for almost every area of your life.”
Instead of giving her clients a set regimen, Pryor works with them to figure out what sort of movement they enjoy. “Select something that brings you joy,” she recommends, because the goal is long-term success. “It's a life change. It's not something you're going to do for a couple of weeks – a couple of months – and then you're good, and then you stop doing it. You’re going to do this for the rest of your life.”
She adds that focusing on doing something you enjoy can help to take your mind off the things you do not like about having psoriasis or PsA.
“Movement of any kind is great,” says Pryor. “But dance was my thing.”