Sometimes it's just not your night. You might have warmed up perfectly, sewn every superstitious stitch into your pointe shoes and reviewed your choreography until you could do it—and have, in fact, done it—in your sleep. But despite your best-laid plans, some performances are simply disastrous. You wipe out. You blank. You crash into other dancers. (Or scenery.)
That's not to say these indelible moments onstage are without silver linings. These five performers gleaned what they could from their worst performances.
Katia Carranza, Miami City Ballet principal
Carlos Quezada, Courtesy Ballet y Circo of México
"I had to dance Swan Lake once when I was sick with a really bad fever, because the second-cast dancer was injured. It was so hard—and that ballet is hard enough even when you feel good! I really felt that I was dying at the end when I 'jumped to my death.'
"Even though I felt so bad, I tried to push myself to enjoy what I was doing. And it was amazing: When I was onstage, I didn't cough! When I finished the first act, I went into the wings, and then I would start coughing like crazy. But when I went back out for the second act, I didn't cough either. When you're onstage, something happens—it's adrenaline, maybe, that helps you keep going."
Rena Butler, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago member
Butler in Peter Chu's Space, In Perspective
Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Hubbard Street
"One night I got elbowed in the eye, got a slight concussion and had to recite a monologue right after. It was when I danced for Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company—Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka The Escape Artist started off with a petit allégro where the dancers cross and intersect in the middle. One dancer was a little early, so spatially, it didn't work out.
"All I saw were these white dots. I scrambled to remember my words and how I was supposed to deliver them, and I ended up stuttering my way through the whole thing. I tried to make my voice into a quiver and it was all types of wrong—I was adding all of this weird emotional context. I looked up afterward and saw all of the other dancers looking at me like: 'Girl, what are you going through?'
"Instead of freaking out, and improvising my way through that freakout, it would've been fine to just collect myself and calm down. That's the beauty of live theater—you have to feel yourself in the moment and feel what your colleagues are doing. They have your back."
Christopher Grant, commercial and Broadway dancer
Kyle Nunez, Courtesy Grant
"Two years ago, I went to Los Angeles to audition for 'World of Dance' with my wife, Lauren, and our friends from Pilobolus. We were about to go onstage for the first filming of our portion of the show for J.Lo, Ne-Yo and Derek Hough. After they announced our group, as soon as I turned to run onstage, I ran headfirst into a guy with a handheld camera and cut my eye.
"At the time, all I thought was 'I think my contact came out.' We did our full routine, but things were starting to get a little blurry. When we finished, my wife, who I was partnering, looked at her leg, and there was blood on her tights. She said it looked like I was crying blood.
"Needless to say, we didn't get on TV. They sent us home. When I think back, this is one of those moments that I shouldn't have kept going. I probably should've said stop as soon as it happened; it would've been better to play it up. Think about it—that's better television."
Jennifer Stahl, San Francisco Ballet principal
In Yuri Possokhov's The Rite of Spring
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
"On the opening night gala for my first year as a principal dancer, all of my insecurities flooded in. I got so nervous. I was performing Jerome Robbins' In the Night—the second pas de deux—and I put so much pressure on myself that I was in my head the entire performance. I completely self-sabotaged.
"Instead of celebrating my first opening as a principal, I really cracked under my own pressure—I slipped, I was shaky, all these little things went wrong that had gone smoothly in rehearsal.
"But it was kind of a great start to my season, in a way. It highlighted this horrible habit of mine: I realized I was not present. I thought, Wow, that was actually a very selfish performance, because I was so wrapped up in myself and what I was feeling that I took away from what I was giving the audience and what the role was meant to be.
"I decided that going forward, I would approach my performances as an artist, completely immersed in the work, instead of as a dancer just thinking about how I'm presenting myself. I've had to play some mind games—staying as calm as possible, telling myself 'It's not about you. This isn't about your struggles or insecurities. This is for them.' "
Danzel Thompson-Stout, Rennie Harris Puremovement dancer
Tyler Sakil, Courtesy Thompson-Stout
"I got cast in a music video for Liam Payne, featuring French Montana, for a song called "First Time." I had to be at the shoot in Brooklyn by 10 pm, and I was told it would last an hour. When I got there, I got dressed, got lotioned up, fixed my hair.
"Then 11 pm goes by. 11:30 goes by. 12 am. Finally, it's 1:45 am, and they need me.
"We walk to the subway, but apparently they weren't allowed to shoot in the subway, so we had to sneak in and try to rush the shot. The whole time, I was just waiting for any type of direction. Eventually, they decided that I should just go ahead. They told me 'Do your thing' and to just look at the camera.
"I started dancing and they shot it, and then they had me keep dancing so they could do the shot one more time. Then we ran out of the subway station. It was 2:05 am. They needed me for a total of five minutes.
"I learned to expect the unexpected. And to remain completely professional and do what you need to do to do the job. Because there was no second chance—those first two takes we did, that was all I got."