In the interest of being honest with the general public, I'd like to start off this blog by telling you about the worst I have ever danced (at least by my own opinion; my teachers over the years may beg to differ with an even worse moment). My website only shows the "best," so I want to talk about the worst.
There are multiple moments that contend for this title, actually. I could tell you about the time I did an entire piece of choreography...facing backwards onstage. Luckily it was only a spacing rehearsal.
Or I could tell you about the time I went "splat!" in the middle of Kiyon Gaines' "Bolero." That was embarrassing, and slightly funny, but it was my slippery pointe shoe that let me down, not my dancing.
I also once took class with a new choreographer after pulling an all-nighter to work the load out of the national tour of "Wicked," launching straight into a full rehearsal day with 0 hours of sleep. And I auditioned for the SAB summer course with pointe shoes that had never been worn prior to that day (I didn't get in, but I did get spectacular blisters). And I did a 4-hour audition with staph infection.
No, all of those were memorable moments, but the one that stands out as the most terrible representation of who I was as a dancer definitely occurred in my sophomore year of college. I'm sharing it with you because professional dancers don't often call their own dancing "bad." They talk about difficulties with their technique, or limitations in their bodies, but most prefer not to share when they hit rock bottom.
We all start out awkward: usually elementary school children, we have little control over our gangly limbs and our parents videotape recital dances that end up being hilarious years and years later. As we get older, we see significant improvement. Our dancing is on an upward trajectory...mostly. I'd say that my sophomore year of college was a notable exception.
I attended a public university in the middle of the country that has a reputable dance department, with gorgeous facilities to boot. Every semester, the ballet company puts on a big production where it gives each of the 50-or-so ballet majors a chance to experience some stage time. I was really happy to be a student at this school; everyone was friendly, and I got to dance all day, and we performed "real" ballets. This spring's show included Act 3 of Sleeping Beauty.
At the beginning of the semester, I approached casting with a hopeful mind. Maybe they'd notice me? I was a sophomore, after all, and had good training. The problem was that I was nowhere near in dancing shape by that point of college, and had a rather ungainly disconnect between my feet, my arms, and my core. It was as if my prior twelve years of ballet had decided to take a sabbatical and leave a poor schmuck in its place.
The second problem was that I had NOT prepared for our first rehearsal at all. I'd decided to coast along on my quick-thinking brain, wrongfully assuming that picking up choreography was all I'd need to do. I do memorize patterns with alacrity. However, I stepped into the studio (along with all 49 other dancers) and heard, with dread in my stomach, the music for the Temperance Fairy coming out of the speaker. Watch this video here to see some of what the dancing entailed.
It was too fast. I couldn't do it; I couldn't coordinate; I couldn't nudge my way out of the crowd of women learning the variation. The real kicker was that I had gotten lazy about keeping pointe shoes in good condition, and this particular pair was completely dead in the box and shank. In ballet-speak that means it feels like your toes are being ground through the jaws of a paper shredder.
So there I was, clumsy and red-cheeked, behind the music, struggling just to stand on my battered pointe shoes. That's not what a 19-year-old ballet major should look like. That's not who I was trained to be, but at that point in time, it was who I had set myself up to be.
The professors wisely did not cast me in any solos for Sleeping Beauty. They stuck me in the back, instead, with a heavy dress that came down to my ankles and choreography that consisted of basic mazurka and polka steps. I deserved it; I needed to have that awful terrible WORST rehearsal/audition in order to know that real dancers can't afford to be lazy.
Real dancers move on from their mistakes and prep their pointe shoes. They get up when they fall (and they do, sometimes even onstage) and study choreography that doesn't come naturally right away. They cross-train and stay humble and remember that dance is a gift, not a given.
I hope that I've become just a little bit more of a real dancer since that day in college.