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Pirouetting in protest: Paris Opera ballet dancers demonstrate in style against Macron’s retirement reforms

At Christmas time in Paris, even anti-government protests are beautiful. Ballet dancers with the Paris Opera donned their tutus and staged a performance in front of the iconic Palais Garnier, to demonstrate against pension reform.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms are deeply unpopular. The president announced plans at the beginning of the month to overhaul France’s pension system – raising the retirement age and merging the country’s 42 separate pension regimes into one, points-based system.

Weeks of strikes, protests, and riots ensued, with more than 30 unions downing tools. Even the beloved ballet dancers, singers and musicians of the Paris Opera took part, belting out a rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’ from the steps of the Opera Bastille last week.

On Tuesday, a line of ballerinas gathered in front of the Palais Garnier to perform an excerpt from ‘Swan Lake.’ Over the last year, Paris has seen near-weekly ‘Yellow Vests’ protests, none of them rivaling the dancers’ demonstration in terms of choreography and class.

The dancers have a keen interest in opposing Macron’s pension reforms. Trained since childhood, the life of a dancer is one of constant physical exertion, and brings with it the risk of debilitating injury. “At 40, some already have titanium hips,” one dancer told France 24.

As such, dancers enjoy a mandatory retirement age of 42, after which they can draw a modest pension while switching to new work. This retirement regime has been in place since 1689, and was implemented by King Louis XIV. Now, though, Macron’s reforms would do away with it.

“There is only one retirement system, the universal system, the same system for everybody,” Culture Minister Franck Riester told BFMTV last month. 

Despite a nationwide outcry, the French president has insisted that he “will not abandon” the reforms, designed to curb a rising pension deficit as France’s population ages. However, his office said last Wednesday that Macron may be “willing to improve it, through discussions with unions and within key establishments.” 

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