Legends of the Fall
We all have nightmare stories about falling onstage. Mine happened when I was 16, dancing my first real soloist role in my first real tutu ballet. I was supposed to enter with a big, beautiful grand jeté. But on opening night, something went wrong. My back foot slipped as I attempted to push off for the jump, and I went down—hard. Even worse? I made this weird, involuntary "pfffffff" noise with my mouth as I fell.
Oh, the misery! I cried and cried afterward. Twelve years later, thankfully, I'm able to laugh at it all.
This morning I came across this collection of "ballet bloopers" on the Huffington Post. And yes, my first reaction to the slips, trips and spills was hilarity. I giggled for a good five minutes. (Sorry, cubicle mate.)
But then I had an epiphany: I realized that I appreciate it when dancers fall onstage. And not in a mean, schadenfreude kind of way.
I know that sounds weird. Hear me out.
First: Usually when a dancer falls, it means she's GOING FOR IT. Safe dancers don't faceplant, generally speaking, but they're also never all that exciting. Dancers who take risks might end up on their tushes—but when they do pull off whatever crazy stunt they were bold enough to try, it's an incredible rush (for them and the audience). Legendary ballerina Suzanne Farrell was famous for her dramatic wipeouts. Of course she was. She never did anything halfway, which is exactly what made her so magnetic onstage.
Second: It's easy to think of dancers as superheroes. How could mere mortals pull off the spectacular feats they accomplish onstage? But when they fall, they regain some of their humanity. And that's a good thing. Nobody wants to watch a robot perform. We want to watch people—flawed, complicated, messy people. The best artists aren't trying to convince us they're perfect; they're trying to make us feel something. And it's pretty hard for a robot to make you feel.
So when you fall—because we all do—don't be like 16-year-old me. Let the initial shock pass, and then be proud that you were dancing hard enough to end up on the floor. Maybe even take a little bow, as danseur Edward Villella apparently used to do after a flub. Above all, know that the people in the audience—though they may gasp or chuckle for a second—are rooting for you.
Do you have a story about falling onstage? Tell us in the comments!
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.