Give your partner space to process their own emotions about the injury. Photo via Thinkstock

The Crushing Guilt Of Injuring Your Partner—8 Ways To Cope

Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Chris­topher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.

"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."


Dealing with an injury can be devastating, but the guilt of seeing a fellow performer injured because of something you did is uniquely challenging. Despite all the partnering classes that students take, little or no time is spent dealing with the reality that injuries will happen, and even less on how to deal with it emotionally when they do. Dancers need to confront the feelings that follow an accident in order to move on with confidence and keep it from happening again.

Accept the inherent risk

Accept that accidents are going to happen. Photo via Stocksnap

Choreographers are constantly pushing the boundaries of dance, asking dancers to do bigger, more complex phrases. There is a risk every time two bodies are coordinating their movements, but the likelihood of something happening just keeps getting higher. "Both partners have to accept that accidents are going to happen," says Brian Goonan, a sports psychologist working with dancers in Houston.

Know that guilt is productive

Use the opportunity to reflect on what happened. Photo by Matteo Vistocco/Unsplash

The remorse you will likely feel after a partnering accident can be crushing. But those feelings are part of a larger healing process, says psychologist Kate Hays, who founded The Performing Edge in Toronto. "It shows human compassion, and presents the opportunity to reflect on what happened and learn from it," she says. Guilt also compels us to talk to others to seek advice and comfort, which can be helpful for moving on.

Give your partner space

Don't expect to be forgiven immediately. Photo by Jim Lafferty

McDaniel says that in the moments after your partner's injury, you'll want to do everything you can to help—apologize, get ice, help them to a chair. But it isn't fair to expect to be forgiven immediately. "You have to take blame out of the situation," he says. "They may not accept your 'I'm sorry' right away. You need to give them space." Fortunately, despite McDaniel's fear that Serrano wouldn't be able to trust him again, she was completely understanding, and the pair has gone on to partner successfully in other ballets.

Remember you're not alone

Dancers are tough. Photo by Michael Alfonso/Unsplash

"Typically, and particularly in classical dance, the guy is supposed to 'keep the woman safe,' so there is an added layer of guilt," says Hays. There is an old-school kind of chivalry to this mentality, one that embraces ballerinas as delicate creatures in need of unwavering support. But remember: Dancers are tough as nails. And partners, by definition, share responsibility for the risks they take together.

Think of the advice you would give a friend

Consider how you would console a friend this happened to. Photo by Kyle Froman

It's almost impossible to maintain perspective while you are wrapped up in your own emotions. Hays suggests that you imagine that, if your best friend were in the same situation, what would you tell them? "It is a great way of getting out of that self-recrimination cycle," she says.

Start small

Start partnering with more comfortable steps to build confidence. Photo by Joe Toreno

It's normal to feel afraid of repeating the same movement that led to the injury, or even be afraid to partner again. But partnering hesitantly can increase the odds that something could go wrong, warns Goonan. "You have to move away from avoidance and approach it in a systematic way," he says. Before you start working on a complex partnering maneuver, start slowly to build confidence with less daunting movements.

Visualize success

See the movement going well in your mind. Photo by Thieng Dang/Unsplash

Hays says that visualizing a positive outcome of the movement rather than a negative one can be very useful. "Play through that particular movement and see it happening successfully," she says.

Forgive yourself

Let it go. Photo by Matthew Murphy

"At a psychological level, remind yourself of all the times that the partnering has gone really well and how competent you really are," Hays says. "It sounds trite, but accidents are accidental."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021