To say Jolene White has had a rollercoaster year is a massive understatement.
In January the 33-year-old belly dancing teacher suffered a brain bleed, broken hip and broken ribs in a car crash (pictured below is Jolene in hospital and the car after the crash that left her badly injured).
During three months spent recovering in hospital, it was her determination to return to seeing her students and running classes for them that pulled her through.
She says: ‘If you’re making a black coffee and accidentally put milk in it, you have to start again. That’s how I see this year.
‘When you mess something up, you have to remake it the way you want it to be.’
After leaving hospital Jolene, from Havant, threw herself back into dance despite still recovering from her injuries.
Just two weeks after being discharged, she performed alongside her Just Dandy Bellydance students at Majma, an Arabic dance festival in Glastonbury.
Despite an horrific start to the year which has left her with some long-term memory loss, Jolene remains optimistic – and she owes it all to her students.
She says: ‘I’m so grateful to my girls and would like to thank each of them. They are the reason I’m better.
‘I had a really speedy recovery. My doctor is amazed at how fast I’ve recovered – now I can do the splits!’
She adds: ‘The reason for it is that the medicine I took was my students, the Just Dandies.’
Jolene and her boyfriend, Sam, were driving to Redhill when the accident happened near Petworth.
Jolene’s car, an old Mazda with no airbags, collided with a 4x4 after sliding on some black ice. This was caused by the trees overhead forming a micro-climate.
She says: ‘I consider myself an eco-warrior, so it was ironic. I was like “you mean that nature did this to me?”
Jolene can’t remember the accident, but saw the effects of the crash on both vehicles.
‘My car did its job by crumpling up at the front to protect me, but their car just had a small dent. Their airbags didn’t even go off.
‘I feel sorry for my boyfriend who can remember the entire thing.’
Jolene was airlifted to Southampton General Hospital for initial x-rays and head scans before being transferred to Queen Alexandra Hospital at Cosham.
Her students came to visit her during her time in hospital and have told her some of the crazy things she did.
‘I was put in a room on my own because apparently I kept getting into other people’s beds and I wasn’t allowed a phone because three or four times I tried to ring a taxi to leave,’ she says.
‘One day Coral and Lucy saw me lock myself in a cupboard and they helped the nurses to get me out.’
‘Being dosed up on morphine and without my conscious self to hold me back, I can imagine I was a right pain .
‘But it shows that I was in there somewhere. I’m a strong-willed person.
‘It was only when I said no to the morphine that it was like the clouds parted and I became myself again.’
Before the accident, Jolene quit her job as a sales estimator for a circuit board company to run her belly dancing business full-time.
While she was in hospital, Jolene’s students stepped in to help her.
She explains: ‘One of my long-term girls, Nikki Todd, covered some of my classes and kept the home fires burning.
‘My students and I are so close, we know each other’s boyfriends, husbands, children. We refer to ourselves as the Just Dandy family.’
Jolene has suffered lasting physical effects from the accident, including eyebrow scarring and numbness and pins and needles on the right side of her face.
She says: ‘The hospital offered me plastic surgery, but I thought of the Just Dandy philosophy, of loving yourself for who you are, and turned it down. Each scar is a part of me.’
Her memory loss, which mainly affects the past five years of her life, led to many cognitive tests.
‘I had to show a nurse I could make tea, heat soup or cross roads,’ she says.
‘I wanted to be in the classroom with my students – they were my hope and my future goodness.’
Jolene was released from hospital on the condition she didn’t dance.
But two weeks later, she was up on stage – despite a broken hip.
She says: ‘When you break a bone with a head injury it can cause the break to spike rather than fuse together. When I first did a hip drop I could imagine all the spikes on the bone shearing off,’ she says.
Jolene had forgotten her routines, but she used the tutorial videos and notes she prepares for students to relearn them for the festival.
She says: ‘There were women right at the back of the room that were just grinning at me the whole time I was dancing, giving me courage by smiling.
‘Getting back on that stage with those lights on my face – that was an amazing feeling I’ll never forget.’
Jolene has a positive attitude despite the trials of this year, including her memory loss.
She says: ‘I can’t remember my favourite films, so every time I watch them it’s like seeing them for the first-time which is pretty cool.
‘But I say if you stumble, you don’t sit down and never walk again, you get back up.’
When Jolene came out of hospital, her girls at Just Dandy Bellydance helped her get back on her dancing feet.
She says: ‘They would remind me if I had forgotten a step and they were so patient and supportive.
‘My students could have gone elsewhere, but they waited for me to leave hospital and I am so grateful for that.
‘I am the teacher and they are paying for lessons, but they were teaching me sometimes. It was amazing.’
This network of support forms the basis of Just Dandy’s whole ethos.
‘We aim to make you feel comfortable in your own body and make you feel like you can do anything,’ Jolene says.
‘That is what I teach the girls and this year that is what they have taught me.’
‘I will applaud any belly dancer, male or female, for their outstanding bravery for getting up and performing.’