Ballet On Tour: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

 

Welcome to Grier Cooper! She’s writing about touring as a ballet dancer!

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Touring is often regarded as one of the best perks of being a professional dancer. Who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to an exotic location? That’s what I thought until they informed us that we were going to have to take malaria pills to prepare for our trip to Ecuador. As I gulped down the first pill I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

Just like any other travel experience, touring held the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: Nothing beats the excitement of your first tour and having your very own shiny, new tour case. There it is – your name – boldly emblazoned on its pristine surface… the dancer’s equivalent of having your name in lights (off-off Broadway, of course).

Per diem (a fancy Latin term meaning “an allowance for daily expenses”) is also pretty cool. Imagine it – they give you money. It’s yours to play with. It doesn’t go very far – I often found it wasn’t quite enough to cover daily meal expenses, but hey, it’s money. That’s given to you.

Performing schedules are often jam-packed but you can squeeze in a walk between breakfast and morning class or during breaks. Some companies set aside a day or two for planned activities. While on tour in Israel with Miami City Ballet, we rode camels, swam in the Dead Sea and visited Bethlehem.

The bad: The pre-travel pep talk they gave us before we left for Ecuador was full of warnings: don’t brush your teeth with tap water (use bottled), don’t eat any uncooked fruits or vegetables and for God’s sake keep your mouth closed when you take a shower. This was the first visit to a third world country for many of us and the company needed us to stay healthy. Still, even though we all did our best to be careful, many of the dancers ended up with digestive issues – and all those runs to the bathroom made performing logistically complicated.

Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, 10,000 feet above sea level (sea level being our normal living conditions in Miami) presented an entirely new challenge. The simple formula of higher altitude=less oxygen meant trouble – and we were performing Concerto Barocco, one of Balanchine’s most strenuous and aerobic ballets. Even though they told us not to worry, knowing that there were oxygen tanks waiting in the wings did little to reassure anyone. Nor was it ever explained how we were supposed to get oxygen if we really did need it.

Concerto Barocco:

The ugly: Some moments were unpleasant or downright terrifying. A few examples: we calmly ate breakfast and guzzled coffee in Jerusalem while bombs shook the windows and made friends with rifle-toting teen soldiers that accosted us on a morning walk. Plane trouble on the way to Israel forced us to spend more than 24 hours stuck in airports and jump into rehearsals hours after we arrived. I learned to power nap anywhere.

Travel often holds the unexpected; somehow you learn to roll with it. But when you’re traveling on someone else’s dime, it’s harder to feel justified about complaining. In the end, the spirit of shared adventure brings everyone that much closer.

Grier Cooper has been a dancer, teacher and performer for more than 30 years. She trained at the School of American Ballet before performing worldwide with Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Miami City Ballet. Visit her at http://www.griercooper.com.

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