Keeping Them on Their Toes

By Lisa Nickchen, Editorial Contributor

Ah, the ballet ... dancing across the stage with such grace and beauty, they take our breath away with the talent and ease with which they move. Of course, it’s anything but easy. Behind every arabesque, plié and pirouette are years of dedication and hours of rigorous training and rehearsals — all of which can take a toll on the body.

For the Orlando Ballet dancers, dozens of volunteer medical professionals play key roles off stage in an effort to keep these athletes healthy through every performance of The Nutcracker and beyond. Athletic trainers from the sports medicine team at the Orlando Health Orthopedic Institute are on-site at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts immediately before and/or during performances, and a team of 12 Orlando Health physical therapists care for Orlando Ballet dancers throughout the year. In addition, Orlando Health provides internal medicine and radiology services to the dancers. 

Care for the Ballet’s dancers is coordinated by Teresa Volkerson, PT, MPT, Outpatient Rehabilitation supervisor for Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC). The physical therapy team serves as the dancers’ frontline healthcare providers, triaging injuries and coordinating further care when needed. While dancers have open access to Orlando Health physical therapy services year-round, therapists visit the company’s studios weekly during the September through April season to assess injuries. 

“Having the physical therapy team on-site every week is a big help,” says 26-year-old Alberto Blauco, a 6th year Orlando Ballet dancer. “They can spot injuries before they become a bigger issue that could keep us from being able to rehearse or perform.”

Over the 22 years since the Orlando Ballet volunteer medical program began, the physical therapists have become very adept at identifying dance-specific injuries and catering to a dancer’s rehabilitation needs, Volkerson says. Therapists’ familiarity with ballet enables them to give dance-oriented instructions and restrictions.

“They understand what needs to be done for dancers,” says Blair Bagley, 24, a 6th year dancer. “The therapists know a lot about ballet movements, which makes it easier for us to explain what problems we may be having. That’s a huge benefit for us that we really appreciate.”

The therapists encourage the dancers to contact them right away if they are having a problem. Usually a same- or next-day appointment can be scheduled at ORMC Outpatient Rehabilitation so they can receive timely treatment.

That level of accessibility was a great advantage for Isabella Mendez, who underwent surgery on both hips in her second year. “Physical therapy played a huge part in my rehab,” says the 23-year-old Mendez, now a 6th year dancer. “With their help, I was able to recover and finish out the year and still perform, rather than missing the whole season. I healed much sooner than what the doctors had originally thought.”

André Gallon, now 19, had been dealing with a stress fracture before starting as a trainee with the Orlando Ballet at age 16, and had undergone previous surgery and rehab. Young and in a new city, he says of the Orlando Health team: “They made me feel as though I didn’t need to worry about my injury. They were going to help me, and I could focus on other things in my life. I trusted them.”

The dancers also appreciate that the therapists listen to them and consider their input. “As dancers, we probably know our bodies better than most people, and we can often guess what an injury might be,” says Mendez. “The therapists really listen to us and take that into consideration.”

That shared respect and trust enable the dancers to focus on what they do best — entertaining, educating and enriching the Central Florida community. 

Learn more about Orlando Health’s role in the Central Florida community at