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The pain of ballet

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.

"Like they might shatter when I walked on them," Karen Kain says, referring to how her ankles felt when she woke up this morning. Pain is a fact of life in the ballet, the Canadian ballerina explains in this 1976 CBC interview. Kain's body aches everyday -- she once compared it to being "near arthritic" -- and due to physical exertion she needs more sleep than the average person. Ballerinas have to push themselves, practicing up to eight hours a day. And the harder you work, "the stiffer you get," says Kain.
• Betty Oliphant and Celia Franca founded the National Ballet School of Canada. In a 1997 Chatelaine Oliphant said a ballerina who is more flexible usually suffers less pain. Oliphant explained: "Karen has a long back, which makes certain positions quite difficult for ballet, and she didn't have a lot of flexibility in her hips. What it involved was a lot of pain and stress ... She actually fought physical limitations mostly by not accepting them."

• Pointe shoes cause blisters and bleeding feet. Canadian ballerina Evelyn Hart has deformed feet from years of dancing pointe.
• European ballerinas are a more natural fit for pointe shoes because they typically have smaller feet than Canadian dancers.
• In 1998, dance shoemaker Freed of London debuted a shoe especially for North Americans called "The Maple Leaf." It was wider and had a more square platform.

• Pointe shoes often need replacing. They last no longer than about a month. During one performance a professional ballerina can go through three pairs.
Medium: Television
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: April 29, 1976
Guest(s): Karen Kain
Interviewer: Mary Lou Finlay
Duration: 10:37

Last updated: March 22, 2012

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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