What do you do at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet?
My job title is a massage therapist, but I would rather describe myself as an institutionalised caretaker, taking care of people who work in an art institution. My work is much more than just removing tension from tight muscles. Besides dealing with my clients’ physical stresses and strains I aim to help them with other life challenges, too. Today, before this interview, I coached a couple of dancers from FNB Youth Company about the process of fulfilling their dreams.
I am happy and proud to be of service to our entire personnel, from the opera soloists to the stage crew and office workers. Primarily, however, I work with the dancers. Their bodies are under great physical strain.
How and when did you start working at the Opera House?
I’ve graduated as a massage therapist, but over the years I have also studied sports medicine, osteopathy and sports coaching. I’ve also had the chance to use my several years of experience from international-level competitive judo.
Such was my background when, in 1993, I was contacted by the FNOB and asked if I wanted to work at the newly completed Opera House. I was working with the dance group of the Helsinki City Theatre then, but the FNOB’s broad customer base and hence more challenging responsibilities pulled me in. The very same things have held my enthusiasm for nearly 25 years now. While working, I have also been studying the basics of solution-focused and cognitive psychotherapy.
What is your typical working day like?
Depending on the day, I have an emergency hour for customers who need my help immediately. That may involve taping up a muscle, manipulating or mobilising treatments, or examining a painful ankle and assessing the need for a doctor.
After the emergency hour, I carry on with pre-booked treatments or coaching, such as helping with gym training. My days also involve conducting accident proneness tests for dancers, attending meetings, and planning.
What do you like best about your work?
My customers. There is a wide variety of personalities and professional groups working in this institution, and working with them is wonderful. Sunny and energetic people give me lots of energy.
What is your most important work tool?
Communication and interaction. If you don’t genuinely connect with your customers, you can’t make the most of manual tools either. To begin with, I enquire what kind of change the person in front of me is hoping to achieve, and how I could support that process. The answer can be about dance technique, physical fitness or lifestyle, nutrition, or rest. For many, self-awareness – recognising and understanding one’s own emotions – is an important focus area. It can really help in performing, too.
Not all my clients are in need of maintenance, but rather require support in the path they’ve chosen to take. I’m here to make my clients think about where they are heading and how to get there. In my opinion artists should never see their work as a routine or a necessary evil. They should instead find direction and focus for their personal development. Otherwise much of their hard work can be wasted.
Not all my clients are in need of maintenance, but rather require support in the path they’ve chosen to take. Communication and interaction is my most important work tool.
Does your work ever stress you out?
Never. Balance is the key: my work is just challenging enough, it’s both educational and rewarding. Not being stressed out doesn’t mean that I never think about work in my free time. I am curious, and I enjoy learning. I often get so excited about new projects that I’ll think about them after working hours, too. Though I rarely take my clients’ worries home with me, someone’s fate may at times play on my mind.
How do you spend your free time?
In my free time, I’m a teacher and coach for children and young people in my judo group Meido-Kan. I also have my own practice, where my clients range from ordinary people to top athletes. In addition to this, I just joined the Finnish Dance Sports Federation and took up the role of the Chairman of the Top Sports Committee.
I exercise every day, and the older I get, the more I enjoy cultural activities, too. I go to the theatre, I make use of my annual museum pass, and every now and then I attend church concerts on Sunday afternoon. You should try them, there’s absolutely incredible music on offer!
How do you find time for all this?
Leading an active life comes naturally to me, and I enjoy everything I do. Every now and then I may do something out of duty, but once I finish, I feel great as a result. On the other hand, if I’m tired, I don’t do anything but just lay back. That’s quite alright, too.
Text TUIKE LEHKO
Photos HEIKKI TUULI