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."

Latest Posts


Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS

Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest