Not just a ballerina
When a journalist addressed Karen Kain as "prima ballerina" in 1974 the dancer quickly corrected him: "I wouldn't go that far." Kain didn't know at the time that she would one day become Canada's most popular dancer. The ballerina from Hamilton went on to draw ovations from international audiences, with performances of "Swan Lake" to the more risqué "Carmen." By the time she retired in 1997 after 27 years as a dancer with the National Ballet, Kain had more than earned the title prima ballerina.
"I have more confidence in my abilities than I ever had when I was young," she explains.
Kain is bold and self-assured. She's also become something of an activist. Interested in the plight of other dancers, she takes on the role of president for Toronto's Dancer Transition Resource Centre.
The centre helps ballerinas ease the trauma of getting injured or retiring. In this CBC clip, Kain explains that leaving the ballet can be a highly distressing experience. Because "you sleep dance, you eat dance and you dream dance," some ballerinas become extremely depressed when ballet is taken from their lives.
• The centre says retirement age for ballerinas dropped from an average of 40 years old in the 1980s to 29 in the 1990s.
• Because of budget cuts in the 1990s, the National Ballet more often hires young affordable talent over veteran stars.
• Notable retirements:
• In 1971, Eric Bruhn, who later became a teacher, left the ballet at the age of 43.
• In 1985, Vanessa Harwood retired from the National Ballet at 38.
• Veronica Tennant retired at 41 in 1989.
• Frank Augustyn ended his career abruptly in 1993 after watching himself in what he called a "choppy and stiff" television performance.
• In 1998, dancer Kimberly Glasco sued the National Ballet for an alleged "wrongful dismissal" by artistic director James Kudelka. The ballerina claimed she wasn't dismissed because of poor performance, but because she was too old.
• In 1999, Kain backed Kudelka in a written statement.
• She said respecting the director's vision was essential for the company to function properly.
• Vanessa Harwood took the opposite view. The retired dancer posted a letter of support for the dismissed dancer on Bring Back Kimberly Glasco — a now defunct Web site.
• A settlement was reached between Glasco and the National Ballet. The ballerina agreed to retire after 20 years for an undisclosed "high six figures" paid to her by the company.
• Glasco was earning an annual salary of $100,000 when she retired. Novice dancers earn about a quarter of that.
Broadcast Date: Dec. 23, 1985
Guest(s): Karen Kain
Host: Peter Downie
Last updated: February 10, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
A 20-year-old Kain tells CBC why she started dancing.
Even royalty comes out for Kain and Rudolph Nureyev's performance in L...
Kain talks about how her ankles sometimes feel like "glass."
Ballet moms Winnifred Kain and Doris Tennant discuss bringing up their...
A media circus shows up for the ballerina's big day.
Kain becomes founding president of the Dancer Transition Resource Cent...
On Kain's 20th anniversary with the National Ballet, she talks about t...
Rex Harrington and Kain Kain demonstrate against Ontario's decision to...
Kain hangs up her pointe shoes.
Karen Kain is the National Ballet of Canada's new artistic director.
When a journalist addressed Karen Kain as "prima ballerina" in 1974 th...