When It's Time To Speak Up For Your Safety Onstage
Last month, Yann Arnaud, an aerialist with Cirque de Soleil, died after plummeting to the stage in VOLTA. He was performing an aerial straps routine in Tampa, Florida, when one of his hands slipped and he fell 20 feet.
Professional dancers are often asked to perform stunts, some of them extremely dangerous. Even when the risks aren't life-threatening, it's important to listen to your gut.
Don't Feel Obliged To Put Your Safety At Risk
One job is never worth your physical safety. Photo by Louis Blythe/Unsplash
"When you're in the chorus, its tempting to say, 'I'll do it,' when they ask if you'll climb that 40 foot wire," says Broadway veteran Adrian Bailey. He suffered multiple injuries after falling through a trap door, and had to stop performing.
Dancers shouldn't feel obligated to attempt anything that's awkward or frightening. While dancing at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, I didn't feel comfortable performing 35 feet up in the air on the trapeze without a net. Because I was honest with the circus coach, she let me walk on a ball instead.
If I hadn't spoken up, I would have remained terrified and shaky, doing something that felt unsafe, just to stay employed. Instead, I was cast as an understudy in a role that was much more appropriate for me.
How To Say No When You Feel Unsafe
Ask for a private meeting to express your concerns. Photo by Joshua Ness/Unsplash
It's best to speak up right away, calmly and firmly. You can request a private meeting and say, "I don't feel safe," or "That hurts my back." You don't have to explain why.
If you bring it up respectfully, without an attitude, Bailey says, "you're not going to lose your place in the spotlight."
Which risks are you willing to take? It's a personal decision. I was asked in some shows to fly. I felt secure in the harness, and the person who rigged me was excellent, responsible and trustworthy. For me, it was an exhilarating experience. Other dancers I know refuse to fly. One man told me that he had a cable break during a performance in Reno. He was clinging to the curtain and hanging by one wire, instead of two. After that, he never flew again.
You Can Only Enjoy Performing When You Feel Secure
Don't suffer in silence. Photo by Hailey Kean/UnsplashIt's critical to know and trust anyone you are dependent upon during a show. This includes your dance partners. If you are having trouble with a lift, ask the dance captain to watch you rehearse and advise you. You wouldn't get in the car with a drunk driver behind the wheel—you shouldn't be partnered by a person who is on drugs or intoxicated. (This is more common than people realize.) Stagehands also carry a tremendous responsibility when it comes to the performers' safety.
Professionals may lose their balance, or have an off night. Sometimes the accidents happen after the most challenging part of the act is over. You can slip on the dismount or when sliding down the rope. Nobody ever expects this to happen, but it does.
Each dancer has to decide for themselves which risks they are willing to take. Because if you are anxious about your safety, you won't be able to enjoy performing.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.