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Backstage Banter: 8 Things Dancers Say Backstage

By Stephanie Wolf of Dance Informa.

“What’s that you said?” Here’s several words and phrases overheard in dancers dressing room around the globe.

‘Merde’

French for a four-letter word that rhymes with pit, the origins date back to the early days of ballet in Paris. The urban legend goes that dancers used to say “merde” to each other as a warning to watch out for any animal droppings onstage. It stuck, and is now a staple salutation of good luck in the dance world.

“It’s the day of the show y’all!”

As Parker Posey’s character says in the 1996 Christopher Guest mockumentary, Waiting for Guffman, “It’s the day of the show y’all” has become a popular game-day phrase among many ballet and contemporary dancers.

“Look at my crazy bruise…blister…burn…or other dancer aliment”

Dancers just love love love to compare their battle wounds. Gwen Phillips dances with 3rd Law Dance, a modern dance troupe in Boulder, Colorado. She says she and her fellow company members are guilty of this. “We always compare floor burns and splits in our feet from the night before,” Phillips says.

‘Toi Toi Toi’

The phrase is more typically used by opera singers as a means to wish good luck, but can also be heard among dancers.

Apologies

“I’m sorry” — it’s part joke, part for real, some dancers put the apology out there as a pre-performance disclaimer. Independent Minnesota-based choreographer Penelope Freeh had such a catch phrase during her James Sewell Ballet dancing days. “I love you, I’m sorry,” Freeh used to say at the five-minute call.

The stage is a battlefield

For freelance dance artist and James Sewell Ballet co-founder Sally Rousse, performing is serious business and not for the faint of heart. It’s a battlefield out there. “I always said ‘Take no prisoners!’ to the JSB dancers,” Rousse says.

‘Nutcracker’ makes you nutty

The dancers in the Staten Island Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker have adopted their own pre-show mantra, according to company artist Laura Di Orio. “We say or sing to each other before walking up to the stage to do party scene, ‘It’s tiiiime tooooo paaaaarrrtyyyyy!,” Di Orio says. “It may be somewhat of an inside joke, but it’s also very fitting.”

‘Chookas’

In Australia, a popular theater “good-luck” slang is “chookas”. If you ever get the chance to perform in Australia you’ll be sure to hear this at five minute call.

Photo (top): Dancers wait to go on stage in the First Position documentary.

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