Almost everyone in the world has had to deal with an egomaniac. He’s right, you’re wrong. He’s a god, you’re a peon. He’s smart and you’re not. They exist throughout the world. Working with an egomaniac who is on the same hierarchy level as you isn’t difficult – they’re just annoying – ignore them or slap them down with an insult. Egomaniacs on a level above you? That’s a different story. Especially in the dictatorial atmosphere of the dance world where they have control over what you are doing physically and how long you are going to do it.
We were working with an Israeli choreographer and this man was aggressive. A constant barrage of insults rained down on the entire cast throughout the rehearsal process. His piece was an extreme demanding one – one of the most physically difficult pieces I have ever had to deal with. Difficult for two reasons: One – only one dancer in our group of nine had trained in the movement vocabulary that this guy was from – so a lot of his movement was foreign to most of the group and Two – the choreography had the dancers packed so tightly on top of each other that it was difficult to move safely. The week-long rehearsals seemed endless. Our bodies were taking a beating and each day seemed harder than the one before. Late one afternoon – almost at the end of the rehearsal day, the choreographer told us to take it from the top. The entire cast (men and women alike) broke down into tears. Everyone had reached their breaking point. There was a brief standoff. The choreographer glared at all of us. A few dancers slowly pulled themselves off the floor and trudged to their starting positions. Some of us looked to our Artistic Director to step in and end this madness. Everybody grumbled. John said “no”. No – he would not do it again. He had put in his maximum effort for four hours and now he was physically exhausted. Any more punishment to his muscles and he was inviting an injury. John said no – and he said it for all of us. John was thrown out of the piece.
John was the lucky one. I was having my own problems with the choreographer. He didn’t like the way I was dancing his piece. Every day – pushing my body to its limits – trying to find that elusive quality that he wanted so desperately. Every day – silently enduring escalating insults and put downs. “You’re intelligent – you should be able to do this”. Yeah – right. The non-stop schedule of physical brutality finally caught up with me – my back muscles started to freeze up. After many years in dance, you get to know your body’s aches and pains pretty well – everybody has some area of the body that gets cranky more often than other parts. And after so many years, you get to know what you have to do to fix the problem fast. With me – it was my back. When my back would give me a couple of warning signals, I knew that all I had to do was go easy on it for about two days and the problem would be solved. A minor glitch but no big problem. Recently I was talking to a couple of retired dancers about their physical issues. All of us had some part of our body that was in some form of constant of pain – but it didn’t bother any of us – it was just the backdrop to our lives as performers. At the same time – new aches and pains freaked everyone out. We hadn’t had to deal with those aches before and didn’t know what to do with them – or a better explanation is that we hadn’t yet discovered the parameters of the pain – existent pain versus dangerous pain. OK – back to the story.
I went to the Director and the choreographer and explained my situation. No – I wasn’t badly injured – I just needed to take it easy for a few days. Yes – I would be fine for the performances at the end of the week. Yes – I knew what I’m doing. They both seemed pretty cool about everything. The rehearsal started. In the middle of my solo, the choreographer jumped up and ran over to me. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he demanded that I dance my solo full out. I tried to remind him about my back problem – but that only seemed to anger him more. The screams and insults escalated. I broke down and started to cry. Damn. I hate showing emotion when dealing with jerks. Somehow I managed to get through the rest of the rehearsal. As I was leaving the studio, the Director came up to console me. You know – she really was a wonderful person to work for – very non-confrontational and very caring. That day – I lashed out at her. “A fat lot you care. If you cared so much, you would have stepped in and saved me from this jerk,” I said, pointing a finger at the astonished choreographer who was standing behind her. With that, I turned around and stomped out of the door. The next morning I had calmed down but I had not lost my anger. I walked into the studio and standing in the doorway was the Director and the choreographer. I faced the Director and took a deep breath. “I apologize for my outburst yesterday. It was my fault totally. I should have known better than to let this jerk get to me.” I turned to the choreographer and said, “One ballet does not a god make. I do not come in here every day and say – oh please – let me f*** up this man’s piece. You have a problem with the way that I’m dancing it – take me out it.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get taken out.
To this day – I still do not get these kinds of people. In what universe does negative reinforcement work? OK – I take that back – a lot of people use negative reinforcement – but they are just too dumb to know that they are wrong, wrong, wrong. If you beat a dog into submission – you have a fearful dog. Sure it behaves – but not because it wants to – because it is afraid of the consequences if it doesn’t. Same thing with kids – what’s the point of browbeating a child? Making them feel bad about themselves is going to make them better human beings? I love the “that’s the way I was raised and I turned out fine”. True – but look at all the crap we had to deal with to become compassionate and caring human beings. What would happen if we didn’t make the next generation jump that hurtle of self loathing? Mistakes happen – deal with them – face them – learn from them.