Entrechats with Louise Drysdale

Louise Drysdale is a member of Queensland Ballet’s Performance Health team. An enthusiastic dance student herself, Louise graduated from Kelvin Grove State College and Queensland Dance School of Excellence (QDSE) in 2008 before making the decision to combine her two passions for science and dance by studying Physiotherapy. She returned to Queensland Ballet in 2015 and splits her time as a Physiotherapist between the Academy and the Company.

Entrechats with Louise Drysdale

Where does your story begin?

I grew up in Lismore, NSW. I was never good at sport, so when I discovered dancing at 12 years of age, I fell in love – it was something physical that I was good at. Unfortunately, by starting ballet so late I missed quite a few of those formative years that most elite dancers have. However, I still wanted to pursue it professionally, so I auditioned successfully for QDSE and moved to Brisbane in Year 11 to dance full-time while finishing high school at Kelvin Grove State College.

I knew I wanted to apply for Physiotherapy before I came to Brisbane, so I wanted to reach my dance and academic goals while I was at QDSE. I have always loved science and took biology, chemistry and physics throughout high school, and I worked hard to get good marks. At the end of Year 12, I was accepted into WAAPA and UQ’s Physiotherapy program at the same time. At this point, I felt wasn’t quite the best dancer in my cohort, so I chose to study Physiotherapy, always knowing I wanted to work with dancers within the profession.

Louise from her dancing days at QDSE

What led you to work at Queensland Ballet and Queensland Ballet Academy?

At the end of my degree, I worked in a couple of private practices with a bit of dance focus, and also for Qantas as a physiotherapist for their baggage handlers. This provided me with great exposure to the life of a workplace physiotherapist as opposed to a clinical practitioner.

Having been a student at QDSE prior, the home of Queensland Ballet; The Thomas Dixon Centre had been a big part of my life on and off for many years. In 2014 I saw a job advertised with Queensland Ballet for one day per week. Initially I wasn’t successful but later that year I started helping Zara, our Head of Performance Medicine, for two hours weekly. It’s funny: In Year 12 I was reading Li Cunxin’s book, Mao’s Last Dancer and then all of a sudden, I was working for his Company and Academy, which was very cool.

My first year in at Queensland Ballet (2015) was probably the first time that the Academy students had access to a physiotherapist on-site, and it’s been an interesting journey growing that service. Every year we’ve been building it up slowly, increasing our available hours and now to finally be in our own building and have our own physiotherapy room and gym all in five short years has been pretty amazing.

What does your job entail?

I split my time between practising as a Physiotherapist in the Company and Academy, and I also teach two Academy classes per week in Safe Dance Practice. I really enjoy this aspect of my role – my parents are both teachers, so I have always been exposed to teaching and innovative ways to help students learn. Bringing out the best in a dance student in a performance or practical context is really different to content teaching, and all the Academy students are very driven, focused and enthusiastic about what they are here to learn.

In my role as a Physiotherapist, I have different expectations between working with the Company and the Academy. Working with the Company, I am mostly there to assist the process of maintaining their performance. At this level, the dancers are older and more experienced, and the repertoire they are dancing is a lot harder. There’s a bigger team involved in this and their schedules can get crazy with the frequency of performances. In contrast, there’s a real sense of constant discovery working with the Academy students. For example, a Company dancer may have gone through hundreds of pointe shoes and will know what works for them, whereas a student might be on their third pair ever! There’s a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments and teaching them things they’re seeing for the first time

Louise taking care of some of the Queensland Ballet Company dancers

How has the Academy evolved since you were a student at QDSE to seeing it now?

It’s brought so many students in from so many other places. When I went through the program in 2007 – 2008, most of my peers came from Brisbane. There weren’t many of us living away from home at that time, but now I can see it’s become a program that people from all sorts of places aspire to join. There’s more international students and a majority of the students now come from NSW and Victoria. It’s been really interesting to see how it’s changed in this way.

The other nice thing that has been introduced recently is additional studies, like Dance History and Musicality Studies. I would have loved those subjects when I was going through the program!

What’s the best part of your job?

When people get better! There’s nothing more satisfying than when your patients feel better, whether it’s from something I have done to treat them, or because I have helped them to find out how to fix a problem themselves.

Also, watching our students perform on stage is incredible. The standard at every graduation show or Gala performance is so impressive and every year it gets better. It’s nice to know I have been a part of that, even if it’s just taping an ankle here or there! My job is quite rewarding in that sense.

What’s next?

Outside my day job, one of the highlights of my career has been coming up with a research proposal I’m really passionate about, which complements my line of work. Next year I will finish my Master’s thesis on bone health in female dancers. I’m aiming to finish it in mid-2021, which will be great.

It’s exciting thinking about what could happen in the future!

Louise holding a prop from 2015's Dirty Dancing in Brisbane, where she was the cast's Physiotherapist.

All photos provided by Louise Drysdale. Headshot taken by David Kelly. Dance photo taken by Tom Baker (2008). 

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. Long before we performed on this land, it played host to the dance expression of our First Peoples. We pay our respects to their Elders — past, present and emerging — and acknowledge the valuable contribution they have made and continue to make to the cultural landscape of this country.

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