“We’re idyllic, graceful beings onstage, but…in the light of day we have our more human moments.”
Ballet dancers are a rare breed. Superhuman, flexible, musical, artistic, graceful – all are common adjectives used to describe this specific subset of artistry. However, those of us within the dance field have definitely had our share of non-graceful moments. Let me share one of my personal un-graceful, unlucky moments as a dancer, braving the “elements” of the real world.
Seven years ago (whoa) I attended Ballet Austin’s summer intensive program in Austin, Texas. It was an exciting time for me. I took my first solo plane trip, and as a soon-to-be college graduate, investigating a potential company for the summer was a thrilling opportunity. The BA program was six weeks long. Dancers were given not one, but two opportunities to learn original choreography, by Artistic Director Stephen Mills, and perform for audiences in the studio theatre. It was a difficult program, and definitely a challenge for me. As a more classically inclined, Vaganova trained dancer (from my days spent at Bossov Ballet Theatre) the more neoclassical, quick, and sometimes dry classes were very different from what I knew, yet still very valuable to my training.
As the summer passed and I developed friendships with other dancers within the program, we used our weekends to not only rest, but also to explore the culture of the Austin scene (did I mention I was 21 at the time?..) On a typical weekend adventure, we sought out one of our favorite delicious Mexican restaurants. I attended, dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops, prepared to combat the hot, dry weather of Austin. (I was obviously a much younger version of myself, since my feet weren’t killing me hiking around Austin in only flat flip flops..)
Graceful ballerina that I am, on the way back I tripped dramatically on an uneven section of sidewalk, stubbing the very top of my big toe bluntly into concrete. The pain was immediate and the force split my skin, blood gushing out onto my flip flop and the sidewalk. Since we were just a few blocks from our dorm, my friends and I thought I could make it back without requiring first aid care. But I couldn’t make it. My sandal was now stained with blood, and it just wouldn’t stop. We made a quick pit stop at a gas station (ew), and I wrapped my toe up like a mummy, with a thick glob of toilet paper. Glamorously blood stained, I made it back.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’d nearly incapacitated one of my precious feet within the course of about three hours.”
I proceeded to panic with my suite mates for a bit about the status of my toe, and we debated whether or not I’d be able to suffer through pointe work and rehearsal the following day. I figured all I could do was care for my toe and hope for improvement as quickly as possible, so I hopped in the shower to rinse off from the day. My toe finally clean, I stepped out of the shower into the small bathroom. Now this next part I promise you I did not make up; it is the honest truth. I pulled my towel from the bar on the wall, and the wobbly hardware loosened, sending the bar down. I wish I could say I had been quick enough to step out of the way, but I had no such luck. The towel bar came down vertically and smashed directly into the pinky toe of my injured foot. The force and the sharpness of the metal, immediately sliced my pinky toe nail into two pieces, and for the second time that day, I started losing a lot of blood. I finally cried with disbelief at it all. I couldn’t believe it. I’d nearly incapacitated one of my precious feet within the course of about three hours.
Suffice to say I got some pretty weird and unbelieving looks when I explained my unfortunate tale at the summer intensive the next day. I remember Michelle Martin, the ballet mistress, looking pretty skeptical as I gave the details, but my gauzed, mummy toes sealed the deal. A visit to the company’s nurse was less than comforting, as she cautioned that I be very careful not to let the wounds become infected.
After taking one full day off from dancing and a few off from pointe work, I was able to jump back into my classes and rehearsals, bandaged and ready to make the best of things. The pressure of a pointe shoe didn’t bother my toes much, but with only the barrier of a technique shoe and some gauze between my toe and the floor, ‘flat’ was rather painful for a while.
This wasn’t my first unfortunate event by any means, but this episode was one of many times where I learned to grit my teeth and power through. There are definitely occasions as dancers when we need to admit defeat, give ourselves a break, and “sit one out”. However, we are also often asked to spring back into action as quickly as possible. Time is precious, and we must defend our title as superhumans, after all. We’re idyllic, graceful beings onstage, but, obviously, in the light of day we have our more human moments. Today, my little raggedy pinky toe nail (that never really grew again) reminds me of my imperfections, but it also reflects my superhuman ability to carry on.