- During the Qualifiers round of World of Dance, contestant Briar Nolet, 20, revealed that she had epilepsy.
- She had her first seizure in the middle of a dance class when she was 16 .
- Eventually, Briar realized that dance was causing her seizures, but she didn’t want to give up.
Ahead, Briar recalls how her seizures began, what she learned along the long road to diagnosis, and finally, why she’s making her comeback on the World of Dance stage.
Ever since I took my first dance lesson when I was seven years old, picking up choreography always came easily to me.
But, a few months after I turned 16, I started having these moments where, in the middle of a dance, my mind would just go blank for a second, forgetting the choreography. At the same time, my body would almost jerk. I started calling them “blankouts,” but I didn’t think much of them until one hip hop class.
I ran into the studio 30 minutes late and snuck to the back of the room. I figured that would be the best place to go unnoticed while I caught up on all the choreography I’d missed. But I couldn’t focus on the teacher’s instructions and kept having blankouts.
When we did the dance routine as a group, I forgot all the choreography, and my mind was in a blur. I saw my right hand shaking and couldn’t stop it. A few seconds passed as I stood there, unable to control my right hand.
The next thing I remember is waking up on the dance studio floor, surrounded by all my dance teachers and other students.
They told me I’d had a seizure and fallen unconscious before I hit the floor. I’d never been unconscious before, not even a faint, so it was a complete shock. While I was unconscious, the dance teachers had called my parents, who came running into the studio as soon as they could. It was all kind of blur, so I don’t remember too much—just the feeling that I didn’t know what was happening, or why.
After that, my parents and I saw a few pediatric neurologists to figure out what could’ve caused the seizure. They gave me some neurological tests, and they all came back clear. The doctors said there was nothing was wrong with my mind, and I wanted to believe them. Why wouldn’t I? Maybe, they said, it was my nutrition, or maybe I just overworked myself. By the time I was 16, I was dancing 40 to 50 hours a week and acting on a Canadian TV show, The Next Step. So I just tried to balance everything out and hoped that would fix it—whatever “it” was.
But over the next two years, I kept having seizures every few months. After my first one, I knew how I would feel before having a seizure, so I knew when one was coming on, and that was really only in the dance studio. I could walk, talk, and even drive without a problem, but it seemed like every time I tried to dance—the one thing I loved more than just about anything else—I had a seizure.
Courtesy of Briar Nolet
I knew that learning choreography was triggering these seizures, but I kept putting myself into these situations because I just couldn’t imagine my life without dance. I didn’t want to give it up. But then, my seizures just started to get worse. I began to have the blankouts when I was just writing really fast, or talking really fast. Trying to turn a thought into a physical action was a trigger.
During these two years, a psychologist diagnosed me with anxiety, believing that was what triggered my seizures. To be honest, I didn’t think I was stressed enough to make myself have seizures. In my heart, I knew this wasn’t causing them—but I trusted my doctors. They talked me through how to stop a seizure from happening if I was in an anxious mindset, like noticing the smell of the room to take my mind off of what was making me anxious.
Even though I felt like anxiety wasn’t the root cause of my seizures, that didn’t mean I didn’t become anxious when I stepped into a studio after having so many of them. It was scary.
My last seizure happened when my boyfriend, who’s also a dancer, and I were working on choreography together. Despite the fact that I’d had 15 seizures before that day, he’d never seen one. But now, he was the only one in the room with me when I told him I didn’t feel well and needed to lie down. “Well, do you want to get some fresh air?” he asked.
“I don’t want to stand up in case it happens when I’m walking or something,” I told him. So, I laid on the studio floor while he went to get his phone in case I had a seizure. As soon as he walked away, I yelled out “Help!” before just completely going into it. I was unconscious for the next 10 minutes and had to be rushed to the hospital because I had barely any oxygen left. My boyfriend was the only one who saw me have the seizure, and he had no idea what was happening.
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It was so hard to watch my family and boyfriend go through this with me—I knew that they weren’t themselves. We didn’t know what to do because, when someone is having a seizure, you can’t do much. You feel helpless, and so I think my family almost didn’t know what to do. My family—especially, my mom—stayed by my side through everything and tried to make sure everything was all right. She called every single person she knew to try to get me help and, eventually, the right diagnosis.
The only way I could control my seizures was by not going into a dance studio, but I kept putting myself into that situation. Every time I would go to a dance class my parents would ask me, “Why are you doing this to yourself? You know what’s gonna happen.” I think that’s what really scared them, but they stood by me through everything, always giving me love and support. And I couldn’t even pay them back—still can’t. I just kept telling them, “We’re going to get through this. It’s gonna be okay.” A part of me hoped that if I just said it enough that would make it true.
In December 2017, Dr. Richard Windburg gave me an EEG that I had to wear home so he could keep an eye on my brain activity and brain waves throughout three days. When the EEG test was over, he told me I had genetic epilepsy. After years of waiting and wondering and hoping, I was so grateful to have an answer, even if it wasn’t a perfect answer.
After Dr. Windburg diagnosed me with epilepsy, he gave me three medication options. All have different side effects, but I chose Levetiracetam, an epilepsy medicine. It had fewer side effects, but it was also less strong, so I didn’t know if it would be able to prevent my seizures. I just had to start taking the medication and hope that it worked. That was one of the scariest parts of my treatment, because I deliberately had to try to trigger my seizures to see if the medication could prevent them.
A month after I went on the medicine, I finally went back into the dance studio. Only the studio director was allowed in the studio with me, and we started with a simple across-the-floor combination, which is just doing a few dance steps together from one side of the studio to the other. I needed to see if I could do that without any symptoms, and I could. Then, I tried doing a short jazz or contemporary combo—still no symptoms.
Eventually, I went to a hip hop class with just my hiphop teacher, and still, no symptoms. Then, I went to a small class with people I knew well and was comfortable around, and I almost couldn’t believe it, but I still didn’t have any symptoms. Slowly, I built up enough confidence to go into a class with an unknown teacher and unknown students. I was so scared to put myself back into the situation that triggered my first seizure, but I did, and this time, I was okay. Better than okay! The medicine worked, and for the first time in three years, I finally felt like myself again.
Courtesy of Briar Nolet
Of course, I can’t see the future, but this medication has really worked wonders for now. I’m doing everything I possibly can to prevent another seizure—taking my medicine at the same time every day, eating well, taking care of my body, making sure I’m resting, taking vitamins that help with neurology.
After more than a year of being seizure-free, I decided to enter World of Dance. No matter how far I go in the competition, I’m just happy to enjoy dancing again—I’ll never take it for granted.
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