When It's Time To Speak Up For Your Safety Onstage

April 29, 2018

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/Unsplash

It’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.