Sheila Nixon has dancing in her bones.
A lifelong athlete, Nixon, 73, didn’t know this until, at age 20, she took a ballet class in Chicago. What began as a hobby quickly evolved into a full-blown love affair.
“I needed to dance,” she said.
Two years after her first class, Nixon auditioned for a dance apprenticeship in New York City. She was selected for the program, which allowed her to perform at venues around the nation. From the late 1960s to the early ’80s, she said, she danced for renowned choreographers, including Bob Fosse and Twyla Tharp, and performed in Broadway shows such as Pippin, Oklahoma and West Side Story.
Though she retired from her dance career, Nixon stayed active and retained her passion for wellness. Then, a dozen years ago, when she was operating two businesses in homeopathic medicine, she suddenly developed a debilitating joint condition that doctors believed was brought on by a virus.
She never received a diagnosis.
Some doctors told her she had symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, she said, but “they couldn’t get to the bottom of it.”
One doctor predicted she would be confined to a wheelchair within a year and dead within three years, she said.
The woman with a love for movement wasn’t ready to give up.
Her response to the physician who gave the poor prognosis: “I’ll show you.”
Frightened, but determined to find an alternative outcome, Nixon said she began testing countless healing methods: acupuncture, laser work and a full-body vibration machine called Power Plate, to name a few.
“Little by little, I gained mobility,” she said, noting it took nearly nine years to regain 90 percent of her strength.
In the process, she discovered technological advances in health and wellness that she wanted to share with others — so they, too can have “dancing bones.”
Now, Nixon who also co-owns Joe’s Dining with her husband, Roland Richter, runs Dancing Bones, a health and wellness studio on Rodeo Road focused on rebuilding strength and bone density using high-tech exercise machines.
The goal, she said, is to to ensure her clients can continue “to do what they love to do.”
She opened the business in 2017, working with a range of clients, from stroke victims and lifelong smokers to young athletes and people with osteoporosis.
“When I couldn’t move very well,” she said, “it made me question my identity. … It seems that recovering your ability to move must be as important to others as it was to me.”
The results of the exercise tech, Nixon said, are “phenomenal.” She has grown a half-inch in height — a sign of spinal health — and bone density in her left leg has improved, she said. Nixon also has regained most of her mobility.
“I don’t know how much healthier I could get,” she said with a laugh.
Gretchen Goff, one of Dancing Bones’ first clients, said her doctor recommended she start the center’s regimen to offset her sciatica — back pain. Ever since, she said, “I feel good. My strength has increased.”
Nixon said it’s exciting to see the clients benefit from Dancing Bones.
“It’s the little stories like that — people saying they can lift things easier and can run their dogs when they used to barely be able to walk with their dog — that’s what I love the most,” she said. “I’m just so thrilled … something is making their life better.”