Letter: Temperature or temperament?

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Sir: I would like to comment on the cancellation of the English National Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker in Manchester ('Cold ballet dancers strike over a question of degree', 1 December).

I am sure the dancers were as upset as anyone else to disappoint an audience, probably many of whom were children. However, it must be understood that ballet is an extremely athletic activity carried out by highly-trained athletes, albeit artistic athletes.

Like any athlete, the dancer has to warm up very well before a performance. In simple terms, this means a period of exercises to increase the blood supply and flexibility of muscles and other soft tissues so that everything can work at its optimum with minimum risk of injury. Once warmed up, the dancer is ready for an athletic

performance. However, unlike the athletes, much of the time in a performance is spent standing around or only moving in a minor way, either on stage or in the wings, while very scantily clad. These pauses are followed by sudden very strenuous bursts of activity, with maximum effort being demanded from the muscles.

In a low air temperature, there will be considerable surface cooling during inactivity and this cooling will rapidly penetrate to the muscles, causing a contraction of the blood vessels (dancers have very little insulating fat). In those conditions, a sudden return to strenuous muscular activity is very liable to produce irregular contraction within muscles which will also have become less flexible.

There will, as a result, be a greatly increased risk of muscle tears or even, if the muscle contractions are too incoordinated, significant tendon damage. The cooling effects are greatly increased by the dancers being wet with sweat after a period of dancing and made even worse if there are any draughts. Even when in the wings, the costume prevents much wrapping up to keep warm.

Ballet is an activity that carries a very significant risk of injury, usually relatively minor. It is unfair to greatly increase this risk and possibly even end a dancing career. The Equity minimum temperature of 66F is in itself on the low side in which to stand still with body and clothing wet with sweat, but a balance has to be made between responsible risk and audience disappointment at cancellation.

Would anyone expect Linford Christie to warm up, stand still for a quarter of an hour or more, and then go straight into an Olympic sprint? Why expect the dancers to do just that?

Yours faithfully,

A. J. G. HOWSE

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

English National Ballet

Company and School

London, W1

30 November

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