That Time I Face-Planted Onstage: 7 Pros' Most Embarrassing Mishaps
All of us---even the dance world’s biggest stars---have had less-than-awesome performance moments. We asked seven professionals to share their most embarrassing mishaps.
Samuels Smith with the cast of Imagine Tap! in "Samurai Shuffle," the number that landed him in the emergency room. (photo by Michael Brosilow)
Jason Samuels Smith
I once played a tap dancing samurai confronted by ninjas in a production of Imagine Tap! I wanted to take my performance to another level during the last show, so I decided to jump into the orchestra pit at the end. Other dancers used a mattress in the pit to break their falls, so I assumed it would work and didn’t practice the jump. I finished the number with a dramatic leap. But as soon as I landed on the mattress, my momentum bounced me into a three-foot drop in the pit, and I ended up landing on my head. I reassured the band I was fine and finished the show. After flying back to L.A. that night, I went to the emergency room to make sure I was OK. Turns out, I wasn’t. I had to work the whole week with staples in my head and half of my cornrows undone. Next time, I’ll practice a stunt instead of winging it!
(photo by Oliver Correa)
Member of Dance Theatre of Harlem
When I was 16, I had a demi-soloist role in the snow scene of my studio’s Nutcracker. I got into my opening pose in my white costume—and realized I’d forgotten to take off my black legwarmers. I was already nervous about the role, and dancing the piece in my legwarmers made things so much worse. I definitely got scolded for it afterwards!
Walsh as Colas in La fille mal gardée (photo by Amitava Sarkar)
Principal with Houston Ballet
In the pas de deux in Frederick Ashton’s La fille mal gardée, there’s a moment when the lead man, Colas, tosses a ribbon to his partner, Lise, while continuing to hold on to the other end. Then he does chaînés toward her, wrapping the ribbon around his waist. But during my second performance as Colas, I didn’t realize my partner hadn’t been able to catch the ribbon, so it was wrapping itself around my ankles. There’s no graceful way out of a situation where your feet are bound together. While my partner attempted to find the other end of the ribbon, I clumsily stepped out of it.
Froderman with Russell Ferguson on the 2010 "So You Think You Can Dance" tour. (photo by Cory Shwartz)
During some of the performances on the 2010 “So You Think You Can Dance” tour, I had a solo in the group piece that opened the second act. One night, I went to the restroom during intermission, thinking I had enough time. But as I was making my way back to the stage, I heard the music start. The choreography began with me in a chair on a table and the boys fighting over the chair. Since I was missing, the boys had to fight over an invisible person. I eventually was able to run on in character, and the rest of the piece went smoothly, but we burst into laughter after we got offstage. To cap things off, during the final performance of this piece, the chair’s legs broke while I was sitting in it.
(photo by Gene Shiavone)
Corpyphee with the Mariinsky Ballet
During a performance this past spring, I picked up too much speed during a set of fouettés and spun out of control. Eventually I stopped, dropped and rolled…and kept rolling. I got up with my head spinning and heart racing. I finished with one last pirouette and ran offstage. Several dancers sent me videos of their own onstage catastrophes to help me laugh it off. We’re all human, and a ballet will never be perfect. That’s what makes it interesting!
(photo by Brian Mengini)
Brandyn S. Harris
Dancer with Rennie Harris RHAW
While on tour with RHAW about three months ago, I was performing a piece in which I normally wear tightly tied high-top sneakers. For some reason, I decided to wear my low-top Chuck Taylors that night. While dancing, my left foot stepped on the back of my right ankle, and my right shoe came off. I quickly stuffed my foot back into the shoe as much as I could mid-step. The other dancers onstage whispered, “What’s wrong?” Luckily, I was able to make it through—and the audience didn’t seem to notice!
(photo by Mathew Murphy)
Dancer with Keigwin + Company
We do a piece called Bird Watching that’s set to Haydn’s symphony no. 6 in D major. One time, a few minutes into a Bird Watching performance on tour, the orchestral score was accidentally replaced by a track from our pre-show music, Beyoncé’s “Ego.” In the moment, our gut reaction was to freeze. It was probably no more than 10 seconds before the music jumped back into Haydn, but it felt like forever.
Komal Thakkar is a former Dance Spirit intern and a graduate of the George Washington University.
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!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
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.