In 2013, a few days before The Bang Group left for a tour to Italy, a dancer pulled out of the company's production of Nut/Cracked. The reason? A callback for another gig. "We were left high and dry. We somehow pulled it off, but it wasn't the show I hoped it would be," says David Parker, the company's choreographer and co-director. The debacle didn't just affect that tour—it ended a professional and personal relationship of 10 years.
Dancers are often faced with tough decisions about when to tell choreographers or directors personal news about illness, injury, pregnancy or even schedule conflicts. Many dancers fear that being honest could lead to being let go, but withholding information could burn a bridge. Strike the right balance with these tips.
Parker was especially hurt to find out that the dancer who pulled out of Nut/Cracked had known about the callback for days before informing him. If the dancer had come to him sooner, the situation might not have been so devastating. "I wouldn't have been thrilled, but at least I would have felt included," he says.
Although it may be a difficult conversation to have, dancer Vasna Aguilar recommends sharing news with a choreographer or director as soon as possible. In 2013, while working with Dance Company Theater Osnasbrück in Germany, she started feeling pain in her ankle and initially tried to deal with it on her own. Finally, she saw a doctor and was diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles tendon. "I knew that I had to tell my director immediately. I was feeling down, but I was listened to very carefully and with great understanding," she says.
Choreographers may be more willing to work around conflicts and injuries than you think. Aguilar found this to be the case when she returned from her injury and was immediately included in the process of making a new work. "I was worried about not being able to participate since I was just coming back," she says. "But the choreographer found a gentle way of involving me in the piece."
Share On Your Terms
Pregnancy can be an exception to this rule, as many people prefer not to make it public until after the first trimester. However, if you want a choreographer to know why you might be taking certain precautions in rehearsal, or that you will be taking time off, Parker suggests telling them privately and asking them to keep your news in confidence until you are ready to share more widely.
Dancer and choreographer Erin Cairns Cella, who has a longstanding collaborative relationship with Dages Juvelier Keates, performed throughout her first and second trimesters. "I didn't want to share my news casually. I told Dages outside of the studio, so we had an opportunity to process and plan," she says. "My advice would be to share the news in a way that feels right for you and your company or collaborator."
Think of Others
Some dancers are hesitant to say how little they're available, says Parker. But that's a mistake. "We'll schedule rehearsal around one person and then they'll cancel. If that's a pattern, it weakens my commitment to that dancer, even if they're fantastic."
If you are contemplating pulling out of a project for a non-emergency reason, consider the other artists who have put their hard work into it. "I do understand why dancers in larger companies might wait to tell a director that they are looking for other work, because they're afraid they'll be dismissed," says Parker. "But with a company like mine, we don't have understudies or alternates. Think about what the consequences are to other people." Plus, the dance world is small and gossip travels fast, so burning a bridge could affect your career far beyond the project in question.