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Finding dance in everyday movements

by Sonia Preszcator | October 13, 2017

Dr. Paul Winston, MD’02, was born to move.

“The stretch from dancer to doctor isn’t as far as you might think,” said the Victoria, BC, practicing alumnus. “As a dancer, I had a personal understanding of how the body functions. As a physiatrist, I treat problems that impact those functions, ranging from sore shoulders to spinal cord injuries to disorders caused by brain tumours and accidents.”

Starting at 10 years of age, Winston embraced a life of dance. He was a natural – his body was flexible, his limbs beautifully co-ordinated. After being encouraged by family to pursue the dream, what followed was eight years at the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto and six years with the National Ballet of Canada.

He was at the top of the game. While admittedly not the best dancer in the troupe, hard work pushed him to the forefront. He loved every minute. The stage. The travel. The audiences.

At 24, however, a freak cycling accident ended everything. He was left unable to lift his arm. His elite performance days were ending. It was at that moment, encouraged by conversations with National Ballet School Director Betty Oliphant, that Winston “rather naively decided to go to university and become a doctor.”

After three years of undergrad, he applied to medical school at Western.

Dr. Paul Winston, MD'02
Dr. Paul Winston, MD'02 (photo by Chad Hippolito)

“I was over the moon to secure an interview at Western on my first attempt. It was the third interview question that made me realize they knew nothing about me and I had to find a way to make myself interesting,” Winston said.

“The question was, ‘Who is your favourite famous person?’ Madly searching my mind in an effort to perform well in my only interview, I quickly blurted out ‘Karen Kain.’ This was the absolute truth – I was always impressed by how someone who was such a game-changer for dance, who could be so internationally accomplished and famous, still treated all her colleagues with respect and kindness. It was at that point the panel learned I used to dance professionally alongside her and even lift her on occasion.”

He found medical school overwhelming. But in that challenge, he also found similarity to his earlier life.

“The volume of information and workload is extreme. But I cannot say enough about my classmates and faculty. It was very much like being in the dance company – we all had the same purpose and wanted each other to succeed,” Winston said. “We encouraged and coached each other and even circulated study notes online.

His dance background and later injury informed his choice of specialty. He landed on becoming a physiatrist, a doctor who works on the physical, neurological and functional aspects of illness and injury. “Modern medicine is very good at stopping disease progression, but then what? As physiatrists, we practice maximizing potential and restoration of function.”

Winston brings to his practice an expert understanding of how the body moves, even at the highest level of perfromace.

Now in his 40s, Winston considers himself lucky to have found his second vocation early.

“I’m very happy to have left a proud dance career with few regrets,” he said. “At this age, some of my friends would just be retiring from dance and building the next phase of their life. For me, I am still seeing dance in everyday movements, now it is a routine that helps others move and enjoy life again.”


This article appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of Alumni Gazette
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