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French ballet stars offer hope to tiny Fukushima dancers

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 twirled their way into the hearts of local students. 

TOKYO: 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 twirled their way into the hearts of local students.

About ten dancers held classes at the weekend, their second visit to the region since the 2011 disaster. The troupe 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 learnt 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 kilometres (37 miles) from the plant.

Like tens of thousands of others, Sakai and her family fled their home after a towering quake-sparked tsunami slammed into 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 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," Gilbert added.

Another dancer Benjamin Pech said: "I was really touched when I was asked to participate in this project."

The troupe went to five schools over the weekend, in Fukushima city, as well as Sendai and Ishinomaki, areas badly hit by the tsunami.

Yuka Oba, a former student of the school who left following the disaster and now dances professionally in the United States, 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."

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