“Whatever you choose as your comfort and encouragement, make it personal…”
Routines, lucky leotards, good ol’ wishes of “Merde!” – we all have our superstitious rituals that we think ensure us a shot at a perfect performance. But do all these drills really guarantee our success? Not at all, but the peace of mind that comes along with them certainly can’t hurt.
What brought this topic to mind this week was my leotard selection Monday morning. To anyone else, it was a peach colored Yumi (short for the popular brand Yumiko, for the non-dance folk) with sky blue trim. Style – Noe. It’s gorgeous and gets constant compliments, but to me it’s not just a pretty little number. It’s also the leotard I was wearing when I brutally sprained my ankle four and a half months ago. I’ve honestly completely avoided it until now. Seeing it just made me sad and angry, and also terribly afraid that it was jinxed with injury. But Monday morning, I went for it. Audition ready for a guest artist at Charlottesville Ballet, I donned the dreaded, beautiful Yumi, put up my hair in my favorite Sarah Lamb copycat braided hairdo, and strapped on my pointe shoes. And I got it – a role in a beautiful classical, pointe piece, awarded to me by a completely outside party. It was the proof that my mind needed that not all hope is lost. Leotard curse – eliminated.
Another superstition example that comes to mind is a ritual I used to participate in during Nutcracker. During my time at Ballet Theatre of Maryland, performing snow was an experience. Intense. Hats off to this version, for sure. My second or third season at BTM though, a good friend and I developed a small tradition that we felt guaranteed success. Whether in the studio or backstage, we would take our “snow sticks” (small wooden props outfitted with blue and silver tinsel, one for each hand, giving the illusion of icicles onstage), tap them against each other’s, and do a little whispered chant – “J.O.D., J.O.D., J.O.D.!” (needless to say this is where the inception of my blog occurred, as well…). Three reps would complete the chant, and we then wrapped it up with a little nuzzle of tinsel against both sides of each other’s necks. To an outsider, or even to our colleagues in the company, we looked crazy. But we did it every time. Did it affect our execution of the steps or guarantee smooth sailing? No, but it cheered us up, gave us a good laugh, and boosted our spirits for the chaos about to begin.
” ‘Merde.’…the most honorary of wishes for ballet dancers worldwide.”
If you’re not a dancer, I’m sure you’ve wished dancers a good show in the past by saying, “Break a leg!” Don’t. Never. Will the dancer actually break their leg? Most likely, no, but know now that this phrase is for actors only. For dancers, no thanks, too risky. You should instead be prepared to say, “Merde.” Upon research and translation, you will find that this term does in fact mean s**t in French, however, it is the most honorary of wishes for ballet dancers worldwide. Opinion varies on why we actually use the term, but there are two tangents of thought. The first – that ballets and operas in the past, involving actual live animals onstage, led to spectators yells of “Merde” to warn performers to watch their step to avoid the droppings. The second – that a successful performance would see a great deal of carriage traffic outside the theater, and therefore, a large quantity of horse droppings – the more carriages, the more poop, the more people who attended, the better the show, the better the luck! Makes sense!
So regardless of what you wear, what you do, or what’s said to you, anything can happen when you perform. Whatever you choose as your comfort and encouragement, make it personal and make it something that lifts you up. Maybe a warmup that literally lifts you and gets you “on your leg”, maybe a special pair of earrings, maybe a prayer, or even just a hug from a friend…don’t worry how silly you feel, or who’s watching or judging – do exactly what you must do to succeed and to triumph.