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Like many professions ballet has occupational hazards. As in sports, these are often physical. Ballet is a very physical art form. The body is the dancer's instrument of expression and, unlike most instruments, is carried wherever the dancer goes. Like sports, ballet demands fitness, stamina, agility and strength. But ballet goes further; it also demands grace, beauty, ease, musicality and line. Many men can pick up a woman and lift her above his head. But making a lift look easy and graceful, executing it in time with music and then bringing the woman down in a beautiful position demands much more than mere strength.

To develop both the physical and artistic sides of ballet, dancers begin intensive training at a very early age, making their bodies execute movements that are not always natural. Classical dancers are trained to turn out their feet or to be more precise, to turn out their legs from the hip sockets, which isn't exactly a natural position. Female dancers dance on the tips of their toes in pointe shoes, which is also not a natural way to move and puts a lot of strain on a very small area of the body, as well as on the ankles and the bones in the foot called metatarcels. As well, dancers are constantly jumping and the landings from these jumps, though cushioned by the bending of the knees (plies), puts a lot of wear and tear on the knees. Mens backs and knees also suffer from all the lifting they must execute. Great stress is put on a dancer's body and it often tires and gives way to injuries.

Dancers do not like to talk about injuries, which are a constant fear and could happen at any time. They can keep a dancer away from the stage for weeks, sometimes months and can even, if severe enough, end a career. Dancers become so used to pain that they sometimes dance while injured, which can cause the injury to become even more serious.

Because of the constant threat of injury, dancers are very conscientious about looking after their bodies. They follow healthy diets and visit chiropractors, masseurs and physiotherapists on a regular basis. In fact, many ballet companies have physiotherapists on staff.

The National Ballet of Canada's physiotherapist is Penny Fleming, who studied ballet for many years and therefore is ideally suited to working with dancers since she understands their physical needs. The company masseurs are Brian Bastedo and Wlodek Kluczynski. Fleming, Bastedo and Kluczynski always travel with the company.

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