French ballet stars bring hope to young dancers affected by Fukushima disaster


A group of French ballet stars from the renowned Paris Opera donned tutus and tights in the shadow of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant and held classes last month, its second visit to the region since the 2011 disaster.

The troupe of about 10 dancers gave dozens of students advice on their technique and offered moral support as the youngsters try to return to a normal life after the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

“Today I learned where to put my hands when I’m turning and how to express myself through movement,” smiled 12-year-old Moyu Sakai, a student at the Hitomi Takeuchi Ballet School in Fukushima city, about 60 km from the plant.

Like tens of thousands of others, Sakai and her family fled their home after the tsunami hit the Fukushima plant, sending reactors into meltdown. “I could only think about ballet. As soon as I returned, I started my lessons again,” Sakai said.

French ballet star Dorothee Gilbert praised the children.

“I think they are courageous. It’s tough to recover from a disaster like that and move on,” she said. “They’re very diligent and have some good dance skills.”

The troupe visited five schools last weekend, in Fukushima city, Sendai and Ishinomaki. Yuka Oba, a former student of the school who left after the disaster and now dances professionally in the U.S., said some of her former classmates were still living in tough circumstances.

“But when they dance with all their might, that helps them feel better and forget the situation,” the 26-year-old said. “That is fantastic to be able to escape reality, even if it’s just while they’re dancing.”