By Laura Di Orio.
Sometimes crazy, usually superstitious and always repetitive, many of us have pre-performance rituals we engage in to help us get focused and ready for the stage. Here professional dancers dish on their quirky traditions and share what they do to prepare themselves for a show.
Christopher McDaniel, dancer, Los Angeles Ballet
In my dressing room, I sit at my station and tear two sheets of paper towels – one to place foundations and eye shadows, and the other for the brushes in the order in which I’ll use them. I also place my performance shoes on the desk in the order I’ll dance in them. I like to then freshen up, sometimes with a full shower. Then I start my makeup. I try to stay in a quiet zone before a show because I get nervous. I put my iPod on and start to listen to music that’s calming and relaxing, usually something Gospel. The whole time I am snacking on mint Mentos and crackers. The chewing of Mentos, which is very different from gum, calms me down and simultaneously gives me a little sugar rush.
I started this ritual while I was on my first tour with the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble. I got yelled at by the ballet master for being too playful and excited backstage. So I explored the things that made me calmer. And as my repertoire on the tour began to increase and I started dancing more featured roles, I developed a love for my quiet time before a show.
Christopher Bloom, dancer, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, New York
I do sixteen entrechat-six before every performance. I began this during my freshmen year of college. At the Ailey School we have a very large studio that acts as a green room when we’re performing. With a whole bunch of energetic young dancers warming up, it is inevitable that little contests should break out. I got into an entrechat-six contest with a friend. Afterward, I realized that I had gotten very warm very quickly, so I remembered it for the future. So, doing them before a show gets me warm, as well as gives me confidence that I am indeed a capable dancer.
Thomas Bradley, dancer, Sydney Dance Company
I listen to Avicii’s “Levels” before every show. Adrenaline always comes knocking when it starts. Right before beginners call, I find a quiet place and rest my head against a wall and say, “Earth, fire, wind, water and spirit be with me.” It sounds immensely corny, but it’s what I do. When I get nervous, I tap my second, third, fourth and fifth fingers against my thumb back and forth as fast as possible. It’s great to distract you from being nervous and also focuses you. The reciting of the elements comes from my interest in their natural and somewhat untapped powers. I haven’t ever forgotten to do it, so I’m not sure if it’s all baloney! It certainly contributes to a stable and ‘ready’ state of mind pre-show.
Sarah Braverman, dancer, Parsons Dance, New York
I have a few little quirks that I have noticed over the years. Pre-show, there must be Diet Coke on hand. In my dressing room, I perform my ‘shake the sillies out’ dance with the other ladies. It’s ridiculous, but it helps to get the adrenaline going. I have to get to the stage to warm up at half-hour. After doing abdominals and a little yoga, I have to crack both hips, then go through the ‘scary’ parts of the choreography.
Then comes the ‘unity breath’ and ‘whoosh’. [The whole company does] a series of big inhales and exhales and relevés to check our balance. Before the fourth time, I always have to say, ‘Last time.’ Then comes the ‘whoosh’, when we all gather our hands on each other’s over center-center and have a pre-show talk from our artistic and rehearsal director. Then I have to kiss my hand and touch the center-center mark. Everyone takes turns doing this and puts both feet, one after the other, on the mark and makes a ‘smooch’ noise. I always have to go last!
During the show, there are certain moments when I make eye contact with certain people at the same time every show, or the same inside joke is repeated at the same point in the program. Ritual or habit, I’m not sure, but I haven’t skipped these ‘rituals’ yet and don’t plan to!
Christina Ilisije, dancer, Parsons Dance
Our Parsons family has a pretty long list of pre-show rituals. Personally, I always kiss my fingers and put my smudged lipstick over the center mark. I also always have Ian Spring from the company fly me like Superman – my hip creases in his elevated legs. Apparently, this ridiculous position lengthens my back and stretches his hips. A win, win for us both. To top it off, he always proceeds to talk to me in Spanish at this point. A fun bonus!
I’m not particularly superstitious, but there is something that feels comforting in the routine. The stage is a special place that forever remains unpredictable, and a few rituals help bring some peace of mind for what’s to come. That being said, there are definitely shows when we are all running late and we only get one ‘unity breath’ in and maybe I don’t get lifted and fly with Ian or get to smooch center. To be honest, once the music starts, my partner is staring me in the eyes and my legs are in the air, none of that matters, and those thoughts of missed rituals are the furthest thing from my mind.
Kimberly Giannelli, soloist, Ballets With a Twist, New York
There are three things that have to happen before I am about to go on stage. I must have one water and one red fruit punch-flavored Gatorade positioned next to one another at all times. In my makeup bag, I have a medallion from Bali that my old boss gave me of Dancing Shiva. Just before I begin applying my stage makeup, I hold it in my hands for a few seconds and then place him back in the right-hand corner of the makeup bag. Then, just after finishing my makeup, just before putting on my costume, I call out to my dance partner, Aengus Ortiz, for a very important job. I reach into my bag and pull out the same thin purple instrument: the neck shaver! He performs a very attentive haircut, making sure the nape of my neck is free from any fly-aways.
I am a very superstitious person. I have to walk the same pathway down the sidewalk into the theatre for the entire run of the show. Depending on how long the run is, and if it was a good show, I have to wear the same pair of tights. If I had a bad show for whatever reason I have to change everything – pathway, tights, order of my makeup, and hair.
Alisha Coon, dancer, Sydney Dance Company
After morning rehearsals, I eat lunch at my favorite restaurant, usually choosing the same meal on each performance day. It is really important to eat properly on a show day, and I can never be bothered to cook, so I go to my favorite restaurant and choose something that I know will give me enough energy for the show but won’t make me bloated or leave me hungry mid-show.
I am admittedly easily distracted, so mental preparation for a performance is really important for me. This means getting to the theatre early to do my hair and makeup, and making sure I have plenty of time to warm up so I never feel rushed. I will always go on stage before a performance as a part of my warm-up to think through entrances and corrections, and I will also dance out certain sections to get my body into the piece.
Top photo: Christopher Bloom, a dancer with the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, does 16 entrechat-six before every performance. Photo by Daniel Bloom.