Legends of the Fall

May 10, 2012

We all have nightmare stories about falling onstage. Mine happened when I was 16, dancing my first real soloist role in my first real tutu ballet. I was supposed to enter with a big, beautiful grand jeté. But on opening night, something went wrong. My back foot slipped as I attempted to push off for the jump, and I went down—hard. Even worse? I made this weird, involuntary “pfffffff” noise with my mouth as I fell.

Oh, the misery! I cried and cried afterward. Twelve years later, thankfully, I’m able to laugh at it all.

This morning I came across this collection of “ballet bloopers” on the Huffington Post. And yes, my first reaction to the slips, trips and spills was hilarity. I giggled for a good five minutes. (Sorry, cubicle mate.)

But then I had an epiphany: I realized that I appreciate it when dancers fall onstage. And not in a mean, schadenfreude kind of way.

I know that sounds weird. Hear me out.

First: Usually when a dancer falls, it means she’s GOING FOR IT. Safe dancers don’t faceplant, generally speaking, but they’re also never all that exciting. Dancers who take risks might end up on their tushes—but when they do pull off whatever crazy stunt they were bold enough to try, it’s an incredible rush (for them and the audience). Legendary ballerina Suzanne Farrell was famous for her dramatic wipeouts. Of course she was. She never did anything halfway, which is exactly what made her so magnetic onstage.

Second: It’s easy to think of dancers as superheroes. How could mere mortals pull off the spectacular feats they accomplish onstage? But when they fall, they regain some of their humanity. And that’s a good thing. Nobody wants to watch a robot perform. We want to watch people—flawed, complicated, messy people. The best artists aren’t trying to convince us they’re perfect; they’re trying to make us feel something. And it’s pretty hard for a robot to make you feel.

So when you fall—because we all do—don’t be like 16-year-old me. Let the initial shock pass, and then be proud that you were dancing hard enough to end up on the floor. Maybe even take a little bow, as danseur Edward Villella apparently used to do after a flub. Above all, know that the people in the audience—though they may gasp or chuckle for a second—are rooting for you.

Do you have a story about falling onstage? Tell us in the comments!