The Show Must Go on: 4 Pros on How They Managed Their Most Embarrassing Onstage Moments

Nathalia Arja in George Balanchine's "Emeralds." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet

Whether it's a wardrobe malfunction or a spectacular, opera-house–sized fail, onstage mistakes happen to everybody. See how these four professionals survived their worst mishaps—and what they took away from them.

Nathalia Arja 

Arja in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet

While still a corps member at Miami City Ballet, principal soloist Nathalia Arja learned that tried-and-true advice can sometimes lead you astray. During a Giselle performance, she was the second Wili in line during the Act II pas de deux. The dancer in front of her settled into B-plus on the wrong foot right before the pas began. "I knew she was wrong, but I was like, 'I have to follow the girl in front of me.' That's what being a good corps member is." At the very last second, the leader switched feet—leaving Arja as the only Wili in her line on the wrong leg. As a result, she was looking in towards the stage instead of out towards the wings.

It was too late to switch legs, which Arja thought the long, white tutu would help mask, but she knew that her head position was more noticeable. "I thought, I cannot allow this." As imperceptibly as possible, in utter slow motion, Arja began turning her chin to look towards the wings like everyone else.

"The girl behind me was giggling. She said, 'Nathalia, oh my gosh, stop, stop!' " Luckily, the spotlight was on Giselle. Other than the dancers in the wings and those behind her, no one seemed to notice the "drunk Wili" onstage, Arja jokes.

The Lesson: The corps is the most revealing place to make a mistake, and all you can do is try not to make it worse. "In Swan Lake, La Bayadère, all those lines when you stand there forever framing the principals," Arja says, "you have to look at the whole picture." Correct a mistake if you can, but it's best to blend in as much as possible and not draw too much attention to yourself.

The Conversation
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When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

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Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty on social media?

The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. At the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media, explains Gordon Wright, Harid's executive vice president and director.

At the Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada, the handbook states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Owner Jami Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.

Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, FL, also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."

Ryan tends to keep her social-media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.

Dancer Health
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When ballet star David Hallberg sought out the medical team at The Australian Ballet to help him recover from his ankle surgeries, one of the things rehabilitation specialist Megan Connelly had him learn was to jump from his hips. By doing so, he learned to put less stress on his lower legs and feet and access the powerhouse group of muscles surrounding the hips, most commonly referred to as the glutes. While many parts of his rehab were particular to him, understanding how to properly engage the glutes is something many professional and pre-professional dancers can stand to gain from.

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Studio Owners
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Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."

So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.

Find Your #2

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Meagan Ziebarth and Colleen Rubio
Millennium Dance Center
Carol Stream, Illinois
Enrollment: 180
In business 2008–16

When Meagan Ziebarth had her first child, she had a secret weapon: her sister, Colleen Rubio. When Ziebarth went on maternity leave, Rubio—who'd been teaching off and on at Ziebarth's studio for a few years—officially stepped in and took over her classes for four months. Ziebarth was able to repay the favor, too: Upon her return, Rubio—who was also pregnant—took her own maternity leave as a staff member.

  • Know who's your #2. "A lot of studio owners are one-woman shows," says Rubio. "When you first find out you're pregnant, find your number two—someone who can step in and, at the bare minimum, open and close the studio, find subs last-minute and be at the studio physically." When you've figured out who that will be, Rubio recommends writing down every task you do at the studio: answering phones, responding to e-mails, ordering costumes. "Then it's easy to see what the essential operation tasks are," says Rubio, "and pass that list on to someone else."
  • Arrange childcare for administrative time, too. "I arranged childcare for the hours when I started teaching again," says Ziebarth, "but I completely underestimated all the administrative tasks that come with being a business owner. I just assumed I'd be fine. I thought, 'I'll do it when the baby naps.' I ended up feeling like I was falling behind."
  • Build a financial cushion."We couldn't pay ourselves during maternity leave, and that's why I had to get back to teaching earlier than I would've liked—we had bills to pay," says Rubio. "It would've helped to build a cushion financially, even if that meant just adding in a new revenue stream that was set aside to bring in money for maternity leave—a parents' night out, for example."
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In our not-so-humble opinion, dancers and dogs should rule the world. So, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear that we are positively obsessed with all things that are dog and dance at the same time. Namely, puppies dressed up in tutus. OMG—so cute!

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When it comes to Broadway, Becca Petersen does it all. Not only is she a swing learning multiple roles for Mean Girls on Broadway as well as understudy for the principal roles of Cady Heron and Regina George, but she also plays an administrative role as the assistant dance captain. When she's not onstage dancing one of the 10 different tracks she covers, or acting out two of Broadway's most notorious mean ladies, she's in the audience, taking notes in order to clean choreography in the next rehearsal. "Once the show opens and the creative team leaves, the dance captains, stage managers and associates keep things running," Petersen says. "I help teach choreography to newcomers when there is turnover and make sure the dancing looks good from day to day."

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