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UPDATED: March 19, 2012 NO. 12 MARCH 22, 2012
Pain Behind Glory
Always on their feet, ballerinas face a challenging lifestyle behind the stage curtains
By Deng Yaqing

PRACTICING HARD: NBC dancers stretch to warm up before a routine rehearsal in Beijing on March 9 (JIANG XIAOYING)

From the best seats in the house, audience members easily fall under the ballerina's spell, enraptured by, or even envious of, the graceful performers and their carefree lives of dance. But behind the curtains and dreamscape sets hides the unknown pains and tribulations that can easily overcome even the most committed of dancers.

For almost all ballet dancers, particularly the elite troupe at the National Ballet of China (NBC), the path to ballet excellence is paved with hurt toes and hard training.

In a bright dance hall in the Xicheng District of Beijing, a dozen ballerinas finish their warm-up routine before beginning a daily rehearsal. Following the orders of Xu Gang, a renowned Chinese ballet master, they practice basic ballet skills, associated with the dramatic plot of the performance.

In another corner, a girl rehearses the classic Swan Lake, in which the true love of a swan has moved numerous performers and audiences over the past century. With the plaintive tone of the violin accompanying her dance, the ballerina twirls about elegantly and gently, drops of sweat falling from her forehead and bandages covering her injured ankles.

She is Zhu Yan, the principal dancer of the NBC.

"In a ballet, a player often gets cast in a few roles. So some ballet dancers change costumes several times in the backstage area during performance," said Zhu.

Established in 1959, the NBC has grown into a world-class ballet troupe with a professional crew of 70 dancers, 10 teachers and masters, most of whom are well known internationally.

For ballet dancers, the stage becomes their home, and the dance becomes their life, said Zhu. Many dancers spend between 10 and 15 years of their lives on stage.

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