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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.