“Gimme the one!”
Backstage. Oh the drama of backstage. Combine uncomfortable costumes with bright lights, a bundle of nerves mixed with that weighing feeling of pressure, ballet dancers with a bad conductor, and you have a recipe for disaster. The audience has no idea what’s actually going on backstage during a show. It’s stressful! Timing is everything and everything is set on counts. If you miss an entrance you’re screwed. There are quick changes, wardrobe malfunctions, set adjustments, musical cues and tons of other things to worry about.
Knowing counts helps a lot with entrances. It’s really obvious if a dancer comes on stage way too early or too late. The “Oh Shit!” expression on their face says it all. It’s such a bad feeling. One dancer was so paranoid that she would miss her entrance, she asked everyone around her to count out loud backstage. “Gimme the one ok? GIMME THE ONE!” I’m sure even the technicians backstage knew the counts by the end of run of shows, but she still needed the “ONE”. Stress makes people crazy. There’s a lot of yelling and cursing behind the scenes. A lot of which is directed at the conductor. If the music is too slow or too fast it can really screw you up as a dancer. I think its more mental because I remember once complaining about how “slow the music was” one night, only to have another dancer point out that we were dancing to a CD for this specific production. So yea. That was awkward. But other times it IS actually the conductors fault and it’s infuriating. Sometimes if the music is really off, mid variation the ballerina might turn her back to the audience for a second and let out a little, “Seriously?!”. We all know what she’s talking about, and we all feel her pain.
It’s really important for a dancer to be musical. Music and dance goes hand in hand. But sometimes we need little “cheats” that help us to hear the counts of the music. If a big group of dancers are dancing together and have to be in perfect unison, there might be one or more dancers in the group that are in charge of quietly singing out the number of the counts for everyone else to follow. It usually sounds like, “One…..four………seven!”. The more people aren’t following, the more aggressive the numbers sound. “FIVE!……EIGHT!…..TWO!….UGH!”. Hey, we’ve all fallen victim to counts, sometimes the music can be really tricky and hard to hear. For me, I don’t actually like dancing with counts, I prefer to just listen to the music. “Feel the music”. Usually I can hear it, but then sometimes I can be completely tone deaf. Actually, you know, you should probably just gimme the ‘one’ just in case.
Spit, Shit, and Break a leg.
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into putting on a show that the audience has no idea about. The hours of rehearsal, the costume fittings, the hair and makeup. Not to mention the emotional breakdowns, the tears, the sweat, the drama of someone getting injured a day before the show and their second cast freaking out because they have to jump in for them after only two rehearsals. All details that when added up together, should make a pretty seamless show. There are not only these standard types of routines to prepare for a show, but also some other less “traditional” ones. Its funny how I never thought any of these things were weird until I took a step back and looked at them through an outsiders eyes.
- Don’t wish me good luck. In Germany I learned that you say “Toi Toi Toi”. Its usually said really quickly and incomprehensibly, as to add some dramatic flair and ultimate confusion to anyone from the outside world. The response is then “Vielen Vielen”. Pretty straight forward if you speak German. If not then it just sounds like you have some kind of weird stutter. One of the ballet mistresses will combine a “Toi Toi Toi” with a hug and a little spit over the dancers shoulder. It’s a special moment which has only happened to me once, but it’s one that I’ll treasure always.
- Mierda. Merde. Basically just means “Shit” in Spanish or French. If someone says “Mucho Mierda” or just plain “Merde” your not allowed to say anything back. Or else.
- The chocolates. Usually if you have a big premier, its customary to bring your partner or your fellow dancers good luck chocolates or sweets. These are also called “Toi Toi Toi’s”. There is a fine line, however, between a nice gesture and an obvious sabotage. Giving out too many Toi Toi Toi chocolates and you start to look like the witch from Snow White trying to poison everyone with empty calories and fat. The best Toi Toi Toi I ever got was a beer that I drank right before going on stage for good luck*.
- Praying to… God? I honestly don’t even know how many dancers actually believe in God. As a group we generally don’t tend to be very conservative (flamboyant, whimsical, flaming are all words that come to mind before conservative). I think a lot of us are agnostic or atheist until about 5 minutes before the show. Then suddenly we all believe in God. Or something.
- Good luck kiss on a pointe shoe. Yep, I saw it happen. It was one dancers own personal tradition. She would kiss each one of her pointe shoes right before going on stage. Now that’s love. Or something.
- Another guy before every show would touch the stage and then touch his forehead. I don’t really know what else to say about this.
- Carbing up. I’ve heard many different theories on diets and foods that help provide energy before a big show or rehearsal. One dancer swears by sandwiches. For her that’s all she would eat before. Another dancer would eat an entire bowl of pasta “for energy”. Rice seems to be a pretty popular choice. So trying to follow this kind of theory, as an apprentice, I made the rookie mistake of eating a burrito before a show. What? It’s like a wrap! … No its not. Not at all. Such an epic fail. The costume department had to bring me a bigger dress for the first act of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ because I was so bloated and full I couldn’t fit into mine! True story bro. To this day, I’ve never eaten a burrito since**.
I guess in a way I can also be a bit superstitious. Not like the “don’t walk under a ladder” or “don’t open an umbrella inside” kind (I even HAVE a black cat at home that crosses my path all the time and I’m totally fine. Knock on wood). But I also have little things that I have to do before a show just in case. You never know what can happen with live theater. It’s better to have these little weird traditions or rituals that help ease some nerves or stress. I mean who knows what could happen if forehead guy doesn’t touch the stage before curtain.
*That totally didn’t happen. I drank it right after the show and got pretty drunk from being so thirsty and dehydrated. Like I said, Best. Toi Toi Toi. Ever!
**Also not true. Burritos are like my third favorite food of all time.
As mentioned before, I have a certain amount of “white girl problems” or “strugs” as I like to call them nowadays, that I just can’t seem to shake no matter how ridiculously shallow or unimportant I try to tell myself they are. These strugs could also be partially, if not directly, correlated to the fact that it’s the end of the season and myself and everyone else around me at work seem to be dealing with a lethal case of “endoftheseasonitis”.
I wasn’t intending on using this blog as a sort of outlet to release some inner stress I may or may not have bundled up deep down inside. You know what I mean, like how therapists tell their patients to write in a journal to get all of their thoughts out on paper so that they don’t one day wake up and decide to shoot up their school. Sorry. Too soon? Anyways, I never thought about writing as a way of expressing myself because, until now, dance was pretty much the only form of expression I knew. Which is ironic seeing as it’s a form of expression solely based on movement and no words, whereas writing is purely about the art of words. Oh the irony. It’s killing you isn’t it? So as a way of combining these two interests of mine I sort of ended up writing about what I know. Which happens to be a lot about ballet. Its funny how looking back on some of the posts one might assume that either A. I’m this weird ballet girl that one day just decided to write down all the random thoughts that seem to be running around in her head. Which probably means that therapy could also be a good option. Or B. I just got a lotta strugs that I wanna share because ultimately I find my world to be really funny, in a “glass-in-the-pointe-shoe-if-you-ever-cross-me-bitch” kinda way.
Originally for this entry I wanted to make a list of cleaver and witty ballet and/or just plain white girl strugs that I have. But then I kind of went off into this random tangent about why I started writing, and about how I may or may not need therapy. So I think I’m just going to leave it on that note for now, and save my OCD listing thing for another time. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Fuck you chocolate.
I don’t understand how some people can be so disciplined when it comes to chocolate, or alcohol for that matter. But right now I want to talk about chocolate because I feel like this needs discussing. Chocolate for me is like a guy that promises to call you or text you but then never does. It’s a lying, cheating, son of a b****! Chocolate’s all, “No worries baby. All will be well. You are a strong, amazing, and confident person. You deserve to eat me AND my friends!”. Then Boom! That bitch turns around and gives you cellulite! I mean, what the fuck? You’re supposed to comfort and console me in my time of need and then piss off before you turn into fat on my ass and take like two whole months at the gym to burn off! It’s so deceiving. Pretending to be all “healthy” these days. Oh yea, apparently dark chocolate is now “filled with antioxidants that are actually good for you”. So now every girl is just pretending to like dark chocolate when we all secretly are craving the milk and white chocolate caramel hot fudge brownie nougat cellulite amazingness. How is that fair? All I was looking for was a little pick me up from my stressful life. Nothing crazy. I didn’t pull out a deep fried snickers ice cream to go with my coffee. It was just a normal sized bar of “healthy” dark chocolate. I didn’t mean to eat the entire thing and then a bag of Kinder Schoko-Bons. It just happened! I swear it’s like crack! Once you start you can’t stop no matter how much you tell yourself “this shit ain’t good!”. IT’S SO GOOD!
Look, I don’t think it’s that much to ask that chocolate have the same nutritional value as spinach. If it did, the entire world would be a much healthier place. I think we’d all benefit from that. In fact, if I had a magic lamp and had only three wishes I’d make that my number 1. You know, for the greater good of all mankind… Ok, I’ll admit chocolate is not the healthiest thing in the world and it probably never will be. But is it so much to ask for something comforting, warm and rich without sounding like a gold digger lookin’ for her man? Isn’t that what every hard working girl wants? Just something to look forward to at the end of the day (or at the end of every meal) that’s not going to have so many unwanted consequences? I feel like God hated girls and was like “Yea, let’s make all of them crave chocolate once a month and then make chocolate the most fattening and addictive thing EVER!”. Good lookin’ out dude. Are you happy now? You get to hear us bitch and complain all day long about how fat we think we are. All it would take would be one wave of your magic wand and suddenly chocolate is good and broccoli is a no go. That’s all I’m asking for! Oh, but while you’re at it, just make french fries healthy too ok? Just for the sake of all mankind. Or just for America. Or just for me.
Snap, Crackle, Pop!
Warming up is a big part of our daily routine. Every morning as I walk through the studio I see dancers sprawled in the splits stretching or throwing their legs around the air violently, all anticipating that huge pop! That hip release, that means they’re ready for class to start. As I walk to my usual spot at the barre, I hear a symphony of different body parts cracking away. You have The Staccato Ankle Cracks that are usually light, rhythmic, and quite whimsical. Then you have The Deep Hip-Pops (which are usually followed by a slightly sexual “Oh yea!” and maybe a “Nice one” comment from a fellow dancer). You can achieve the same type of deep crack with The Tailbone Roll. The Tailbone Roll is the best one ever. Sometimes if you roll your tailbone on the hardwood floor you get a nice, deep spinal crack that’s just orgasmic. You also have The Twisting Back Crack, which for me, starts at the top of the spine and makes a beautiful domino effect of cracks all the way down to the lower back. A spinoff of The Twisting Back Crack is The Neck Snap. Not as violent as it sounds, this crack entails simply rolling your head around in a circular motion a couple of times. Or simply taking your two hands and physically yanking your head to one side, bringing it up slowly and then yanking it to the other. Totally normal. Totally fine. I think.
I wish I could say that the cracking symphony only happens in the mornings but we have to warm ourselves up several times a day! In fact, if I’m sitting in one position for more than 15 minutes I start to get stiff and feel the urge to twist my back and crack my neck. The hip-pop happens once, maybe twice a day if I’m lucky. The Tailbone Roll even more rare than a solar eclipse. But the Staccato Ankle Cracks are non-stop. All day everyday. It’s almost like a tick, I don’t even notice that I’m doing it until someone (usually a non-dancer) points it out.
I love seeing people’s reactions to the cracking. Non-dancers are always so grossed out! I love it. That probably makes me really weird and creepy but I just find it hilarious to see people freak out at the cracking sounds. Once I get a tiny reaction from my ankle twisting cracks that’s it. I take it and run. I’m like, “Oh that’s nothing. Listen to this…” and then I go through the whole series of cracks, each one getting more and more intense and more gross until the person is screaming at me to make it stop! …Love it. I know, even just typing it out now I sound like a total psycho with some freaky body cracking fetishes, but I promise I have it under control. I totally do.