By Emilie Salabelle
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Every morning, Xaviere Barreau badge at the artists’ entrance, shares the elevator with one or two dancers in warm-up outfits, crosses the interminable corridor called “1000 steps”, walks along dance studios and climbs a few more steps, up to his vast medical office nestled under the roofs of the Palace garnishthe ballet temple of theParis Opera. Arrival during the lightning mandate of Benjamin Millepied, director of dance between November 2014 and August 2016, this sports doctor is dedicated to the health of artists.
From taekwondo to classical dance
With her haughty carriage of the head, her precise gestures and her tight bun, one could easily take the doctor for a ballerina in practice. It is not so, since this practitioner was stationed at theInsep with the taekwondo teams when the Paris Opera came to offer him a job in 2015.
“When he arrived at the Opera, Benjamin Millepied noticed that there was no suitable support for dancers. He came to Insep to look for a sports doctor. I was recommended for this position and accepted. I did not know the dance at all, ”she recalls.
To better understand her new patients, Xaviere Barreau spent a lot of time observing them. “I attended classes, rehearsals, shows. I watched the same ballet with different dancers, to see how each apprehended this or that technical passage. On stage, I see the person I had in consultation, the work of unrolling a foot, receiving a jump…”
Artist and high-level athlete: managing the double hat
Long considered primarily as an art, and much less as a sport, the world of ballet is gradually changing. Consequence: to dance well, the simple practice of dance is no longer enough. “This fact is increasingly integrated, especially among younger generations,” notes the caregiver. “There is pride in having the dual role of artist and high-level athlete, which involves specific training that goes beyond the practice of dance”, she establishes.
Following on from his arrival, a team of osteopaths, physiotherapists, physical trainers, masseurs, pilates teachers and sports psychologists have set up outside the dance studios.
“The idea is to be able to offer a global support and adapted to the practice of dance. We try to bring them all the knowledge we can have in the sports medicineby adjusting to the specific problems of ballet”, explains Xaviere Barreau.
Earn the trust of dancers
During their short but intense career, the dancers submit their bodies to strong physical constraints. “They have classic trauma injuries related to high-level sport: ankle sprains, calf injury, to which are added injuries particularly related to the range of motion of the hips and the use of spikes for women. We treat many pathologies related to the foot and ankle, 90% of injuries affect the lower limbs, ”she diagnoses.
Before treating them, the coordinating doctor had to win the trust of the dancers, a patient group that was a bit different. From an early age, they have had a complicated relationship with injury.
A dancer is not used to listening to himself. In his head, to be arrested is to be put aside, to no longer be distributed… It’s an obsession. We had to learn the importance of communicating. In case of injury, we will try as much as possible not to stop him, but to arrange his training, to put him under observation so that he is not cut off from the company.
Since his arrival and the establishment of a complete medical team, the injuries have decreased by 40% at the Opera, and work stoppages of 53%, assures the doctor. “We were able to obtain these results thanks to the implementation of a comprehensive care, which combines nutrition, awareness of recovery, prevention through muscle strengthening, improvement of cardiovascular capacity. But it is not yet compulsory, which remains a limit, ”she tempers.
Caring for younger generations
The younger generations are given special attention. Each year, the start of the school year in September is busy for Xaviere Barreau. She individually receives new recruits to the company.
“I give them a topo on nutrition, sleep, smoking, active recovery, hydration…” From adapted muscle strengthening sessions, to cryotherapy, to the usefulness of compression stockings, a whole panoply good gestures is presented.
With the development of the physical and mental accompaniment of the dancer, research perspectives are opening up, study work is being set up. Satisfaction for Xaviere Barreau, who in seven years has built up expertise in dance medicine, “a specialty that hardly existed. I receive more and more external solicitations. It’s exciting, everything remains to be done,” enthuses this pioneer in dancer care in France.
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