Competitive Edge: When You Fall

What to do if you take a spill onstage during a competition
Published in the June/July 2012 issue.

Miko Fogarty at the YAGP finals. Photo by Hideaki Tanioka.

In her first solo at the 2010 Youth America Grand Prix semifinals, Miko Fogarty leaped onstage with a buoyant jeté. A suspended attitude turn followed; the 12-year-old dancer looked calm and steady. But moments later, after a simple pirouette, Fogarty slipped and belly flopped, landing hard on the marley floor. The audience gasped—and her fall was caught on film forever in the documentary First Position.

Falling in the middle of your variation can be humiliating. But know that you’re in good company down there. Achieving success in ballet requires pushing the body to daring extremes. If you dance full out, you’re likely to lose your balance at some point—especially during a competition, when you’re tackling difficult material and are filled with nerves.

After her onstage slip, Fogarty sprang back to her feet and continued dancing with power and fluidity. “Nothing hurt, so I thought, ‘Just keep going,’ ” says Fogarty, now 15 and a student at Westlake School for the Performing Arts. “It was a blur. It wasn’t until I got offstage that I even had time to process it.” Her graceful perseverance (and a stellar second solo) earned Fogarty a spot in the finals, where she won a bronze medal. As her experience proves, how you recover from a fall is equally if not more important than the fall itself.
    
Move On
Fogarty’s reaction was spot on, says Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre, a frequent judge. “Just get back on the horse,” he says. “Don’t acknowledge the fall with a face or sigh. Don’t cry, leave the stage or give up. When someone falls, they leave the variation for a moment. So getting back to it with as much enthusiasm as possible is the first priority.” Stay focused, and then bow with elegance and modesty after you finish.
    
Don’t Lose Your Artistry

Staying in character is essential. “If you’re Kitri, stay fiery as you get up,” says Webre. “If you’re Giselle, remain soft. Even when there’s a lapse in movement, there should be no lapse in artistry or character.” Laughing out of nerves only further disrupts the mood you’ve worked so hard to create onstage.
    
The Viewers Are on Your Side
“Judges and audiences appreciate the heroism of a good recovery,” says Webre. Judges understand how easy it is to fall, since most were dancers themselves. Nancy Raffa, a recent Prix de Lausanne juror, remembers her own worst fall. “It was my first solo with American Ballet Theatre, and Mikhail Baryshnikov was in the wings. I went to the center, got ready for turns in à la seconde with a dégagé to the side, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor,” she says with a chuckle. “I thought the universe had exploded. But when I got into the wings, Misha laughed and asked me if I’d had a nice trip down! Then he told me, ‘It happens. We fall.’ I realized, if Misha has fallen, we all do.”

Raffa reminds dancers that ballet’s adjudication is subjective. “It’s not like the Olympics where they take a tenth of a point for every mistake,” she says. “We’re looking for potential. Often, we watch the candidates for a whole week. If they’ve been consistently dancing well, the judges won’t be very harsh over a fall.”

Be Proactive
Check out the stage conditions before performing. “I make sure I have rosin and I always check the floor,” says Fogarty. Bruce Marks, chair of the jury for the 4th Beijing International Ballet Invitational for Dance Schools, adds that, if there’s time between variations, it’s completely acceptable to ask for the stage to be mopped—especially if you notice the floor has become slick or sweaty. “If a dancer before you did floorwork with bare skin, requesting a sweep is worthwhile,” he says. “The worst they can do is say no.”

Don’t Ignore an Injury
Marks recommends assessing your physical condition quickly. “There’s no shame in stopping if you’re hurt,” he says. “Don’t dance injured just because you can do so from adrenaline. Consider your entire career, not just that one competition.” If you can walk, go offstage to ask for medical help. If you can’t, motion to the stage manager to bring the curtain or lights down.

Be Daring
Difficult technique and expansive artistry require pushing yourself beyond your limits. Don’t let fear make you tentative. “Some of my favorite dancers fell all the time,” says Marks. “There are falls that happen when you dance fully…and that’s worth it.”