Focus on Freelance: Dealing With Mid-Performance Surprises

No matter how rigorously we train in class, or how thoroughly we prepare in rehearsals, there is always potential for a surprise at performance time. Whether you miss a cue, a prop malfunctions or your director makes last-minute changes, you have to be prepared to compensate for any incidents so they don't completely derail your performance. Here are a few ways I've dealt with the unexpected obstacles:



The gig: Dancing with Beyonce in the MTV Video Music Awards in NYC

The surprise: Seconds before going onstage at Radio City Music Hall, the choreographer told us to lip-synch while we danced.

What happened: With no time to prepare, some dancers volunteered to quietly sing aloud so those of us who didn’t know all the words could follow along.


The lessons:

  1. Learn the lyrics to every song you're performing, even if you think you only need to know the counts and instrumental cues.
  2. When you can’t think of a solution in the moment, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  3. Try mouthing “watermelon, watermelon,” a common trick used by singers who forget the words.

The gig: Dancing at the awards ceremony for The Mark Twain Humor Prize at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The surprise: Fog machines created a puddle on my mark.
What happened: I noticed the puddle and stepped four inches to the left of my usual spot. Throughout the dance, I discreetly whispered warnings to other dancers headed in that direction.


The lessons:

  1. It is OK to sacrifice spacing for safety.
  2. Look out for your fellow dancers. Everyone else may not notice sudden hazards and they may be affected by your adjustments.
  3. Afterwards, explain to the choreographer what happened so they won’t think you forgot your spacing.

The gig: A concert with Greek singer, Anna Vissi, in Athens, Greece
The surprises: I was supposed to enter on a lift that rose from below stage level. My musical cue came and went but the lift didn’t budge! To make matters worse, when the lift finally rose, the spotlight never came on.
What happened: Stuck in the basement when I should’ve been onstage, I ignored my instinct to run backstage to alert the stage manager. I knew that if I’d stepped off the lift, it could’ve risen up to stage without me on it. I waited nervously until a stagehand finally came by to operate the lift. When the light didn't came on, I simply struck a pose and waited for the light to be turned on before I started dancing.


The lessons:

  1. Take a second to think before taking action. You’ll avoid causing new problems.
  2. Stay still on a dark stage. Dancing without light is dangerous and it calls attention to the show’s technical glitches.

Have you ever dealt with a situation similar to the ones I mentioned above? Tell me about it on Dance Spirit's Twitter or Facebook pages!


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