A black cat crosses your path, something bad is going to happen. A broken mirror is seven years of bad luck. And don’t even mention Friday 13th… Superstition is something everyone is familiar with. Some believe in it, some disregard it as, well, superstition. Different cultures and groups has their own superstitions, and for some, it makes an important part of their religious or philosophical beliefs.
But did you know there are a lot of superstitions in any theatre? In a line of work where you constantly have to present your best at a given time, it’s always good to have some old superstition to blame if something goes west. With the possibility of accidents and injuries hanging over an already pressed dancer, you can see why superstition has become quite common in dance communities world-wide. I’m sure you have all heard about the Phantom of the opera, the theatre ghosts and the reason why no actor will ever mention Shakespeare’s Macbeth by name. But have you heard about these dancer-supersticions?
For example, do never (and I mean never) whistle in the theatre. However catchy the music might be, or how good a mood you might be in, just don’t. Whistling inside the theatre is commonly believed to cause accidents and injuries. Apparently, this rule evoked from the rigging of the stage. As original stage crews were hired from ships in port (theatrical rigging has its origins in sailing rigging), sailors, and by extension theatrical riggers, used coded whistles to communicate scene changes. Whistling in the theatre could confuse them, possibly causing disasters.
If you happen to be back-stage or in a ballet theatre, you will see that dancers sit a lot on the floor. It’s a habit, we do sit a lot on the floor, usually with our legs sticking out in all directions, possibly blocking the opportunity to move freely around the room quite a bit. But whatever you do, do not step cross the legs of a dancer! Supersticion says the leg will break, and I think you can see why we don’t want that. If you are so silly to walk cross a dancers legs by chance, you have to immediately walk backwards crossing the legs to undo the curse.
Ways to wish “Good Luck”
And then there are the ‘good luck’. As common for both actors, singers and musicians, dancers neither are not very found of the expression ‘good luck’. It is believed to bring just the opposite. Dancers have a bunch of expression to wish each other good luck, some of which are:
- “Toi Toi” is used frequently, meaning just ‘good luck’. Fun fact: in Africa, “toi toi” is used when a lot of people are protesting against something, as the equivalent of a demonstration.
- “Break a leg” is a greeting quite common for luck, and however ironic, it is also frequently used by dancers.
- “Merde” is French for shit, and is usually said before a dancer go on stage for good luck.
- In Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries the crew gathers and screams “Muita Merda!”, meaning “lot of shit!”. The term “A lot of shit” reputedly comes from the success of a play. Historically people would arrive by carriage – lots of people meant lots of carriages and horses, leaving “a lot of shit”.
There are also several gestures to communicate the same message. A friendly clap on the shoulder is something anyone understands, but if someone comes up to you and kick your ass with their knees back stage, don’t worry. The person just wants to wish you luck on your premiere.
Some dancers go to more extreme measures to protect themselves from the curses of bad luck. I won’t say names, but I’ve seen dancers both kissing the floors before a performance, and (more disturbingly), their shoes. A more common tradition though is to give your fellow dancers small gifts like chocolate or other candies before any big performance – a collegial way of wishing good luck, or a secret evil plot to make them gain weight for you to get their roles?!
Finally, it’s common to think the general rehearsal decides the outcome of any bigger premiere. A terrible general equals a great performance. However, I’ve never heard anything about how it works the other way around…
Do you know of any theatrical superstitions not in here? Leave a comment, I would love to hear about them!!!
Finally, a good one for you: A company should never practice the bows before they feel they deserve them.
Until next time,