David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance —Illnesses and Injuries

Illnesses and Injuries

• Apparent setbacks may not be true setbacks. In the United States, Mary Anthony once danced some difficult steps well at a rehearsal for the musical Touch and Go, which was choreographed by Helen Tamiris. Ms. Anthony kept dancing the difficult steps and suddenly she heard a crack like a board being broken, but it was her foot that was broken — in two places. She was not able to dance in Touch and Go, but the musical’s director, George Abbott, witnessed her injury and was so impressed by her dedication that he asked her to stage the musical in London.

• Accidents occur while dancing on stage. At a charity performance, Nicolas Legat was dancing with Olga Preobrazhenskaya when she raised an arm while doing a series of pirouettes and accidentally hit him in the mouth, knocking out several of his teeth. Mr. Legat remained calm, kept his mouth tightly closed, and finished the dance. Because of the applause, Ms. Preobrazhenskaya wanted to dance an encore, but she fainted when Mr. Legat spat four teeth out on the floor backstage.

• Nora Kaye was a New York ballerina who mixed classicism on stage with earthiness off stage. Sometimes the two characteristics would meet. A dancer in Pillar of Fire once suffered from muscle cramps and had to stumble off stage. Three dancers gathered around to help her — although they were supposed to be dancing with Ms. Kaye on stage. This forced Ms. Kaye to improvise a dance. As she leapt past the just-off-stage group, she asked in an aside, “Where the hell is everybody?”

• Young dancer Alicia Alonso had two operations on her eyes to repair detached retinas, forcing her to lie still for months until the physicians allowed her to get up from bed. As she lay in bed, she practiced dancing using only her fingers, moving them as she visualized the movements of the dancers in such ballets as Giselle. When she finally got out of bed, she was unable to stand by herself, but she got herself in shape again and became a world-famous ballerina.

• Agnes de Mille attended the ceremony in which President Gerald Ford presented her fellow choreographer Martha Graham with the Medal of Freedom. (Trivia: President Ford’s wife, Betty, had been a dancer for Ms. Graham.) Shortly after the ceremony, Ms. de Mille suffered a major heart attack and went to the hospital, where she complained, “That’s what comes from having dinner with a Republican!”

• Anna Pavlova frequently danced when she was injured. After she had injured her left ankle while rehearsing in St. Louis, Missouri, newspaper reporters asked her which ankle she had injured. Ms. Pavlova told them, “The right one.” After the reporters had left, she explained to her dancers why she had lied: “Now they will watch the right ankle during the performance, and nothing will seem amiss.”

• Watching is an important part of a dancer’s education. Ballerina Marion Tait once had a nerve removed from her foot. As soon after the operation as she was able, she hobbled into ballet rehearsal, leaning on a cane and wearing a blue plastic bag on her foot. She then began to watch the rehearsal and so learn the choreography.

• After Margot Fonteyn had retired and was ill, Rudolf Nureyev was speaking with her on the telephone. Worried that her illness might tire her too much, he said, “I should go, or I tire you out.” Ms. Fonteyn replied firmly, “Listen. You never tire me out. Never.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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