Brought to you by La Trobe University’s Australian Ballet partnership. At La Trobe, we’re committed to shaping an outstanding student experience. Our clever partnership with The Australian Ballet means our students have access to exclusive opportunities to enhance their education and employability.
The chance to work alongside elite athletes can be a dream come true for a budding physiotherapist. It means applying their practice to the best of the best.
La Trobe alumna Sophie Emery gets to live that dream every day as a physiotherapist for The Australian Ballet. Having worked with professional dancers for more than a decade, Sophie reflects on her journey from undergraduate student to landing a job at one of the world’s leading ballet companies.
I initially wanted to study physiotherapy because it was a nice way to combine my interest in science with my passion for ballet.
La Trobe was a convenient choice for me and I really loved my time there. I loved the Agora, living on campus and going to the Eagle Bar. The campus itself – being at one with nature while still close to the city – is pretty rare.
In my final year at La Trobe, I took a voluntary position with The Australian Ballet.
I emailed the principal physio, Sue Mayes, and asked if I could come in. I had the most amazing time: they were incredibly generous letting me hang around for four or five weeks to observe their medical team.
After graduating, I went to New Zealand and worked at a private practice for a couple of years.
When I decided to move back to Australia, I emailed Sue again. I said, ‘Hey, do you have any recommendations for places I could work?’. She was going on maternity leave and suggested I cover her. That was about 10 years ago now.
The most rewarding part of my job is definitely working with the team I’m in.
The physios and massage therapists are world-class, and the strength and conditioning people are phenomenal.
The dancers themselves are so motivated, intelligent and aware of their bodies. Every day we teach them things, but they teach us as well because they are so in-tune with their bodies.
A typical day starts off with spending a bit of time with the dancers in the gym.
We check their exercises, make sure they’re feeling good and ask questions about the day ahead. Then the dancers go to class and we catch up as a group to make plans for anyone who’s rehabilitating. We’ll then go into treatment with the dancers, making plans for the next few weeks, then wind down at about six o’clock as the dancers head to the theatre and start preparing for the show.
Physiotherapy is moving fast research-wise, which is probably one of my favourite things about the job.
You never say you know it all.
The things I learnt at uni have now changed, mostly thanks to researchers at La Trobe.
For instance, research from Jill and Craig Perdom and Dr Ebonie Rio has found that strengthening muscles with an up-and-down motion rather than eccentric loading is ideal for lengthening. It’s changed the way I practise; it’s much more efficient and effective.
I think one of the most exciting things that has happened in my time at The Australian Ballet is the partnership with La Trobe.
I have the chance to be involved in some of the research that is happening through the partnership, which might lead me to a bigger research project at some stage. I think that’s incredibly exciting and so beneficial for the dancers. Even if I’m not doing as much hands-on physiotherapy in a few years, I’d still love to be involved from an investigative point of view.
My advice for anyone interested in building a successful career as a physio is to stay curious, expect to work hard and listen to your patients really carefully.
Remain open to everything everyone else can teach you. The best physios I’ve met still want to ask you questions, which is incredibly humbling. Your patients will also teach you so much: they’re the ones telling you what they’re feeling. You can learn from them as much as they can learn from you.
Interested in helping elite athletes reach their full potential? Study a Bachelor of Applied Science/Master of Physiotherapy at La Trobe University and take advantage of our exclusive partnerships.