• The “Merde” Thing, or Why Dancers are Full of S***

    This question has come up 3-4 times in the past 24 hours or less, so I figure it needs its own post.  [Warning: contains a Rude Word!]

    Dancers–specifically those who come out of a performing tradition such as ballet, jazz, tap, etc.–are a subset of theatre people.  And theatre people are very superstitious, right up there with sports people.  Here are some things that theatre and dance people do not do because they are bad luck:

    • speak the name of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth while in the theatre–they call it “the Scottish play”
    • whistle onstage or backstage
    • leave a stage completely dark (a single “ghost light” is always left on to appease or prevent ghosts)
    • wish each other “good luck”–this is the important one for our purposes.

    It’s well known that instead of “good luck,” actors say “break a leg.”  But for obvious reasons, you don’t say “break a leg” to a dancer.  Dancers say “Merde,” which is the French word for “shit.”  I’ve always assumed that the choice of “Merde” is just another reflection of the “it’s bad luck to say ‘good luck'” superstition.  What could be farther from good luck?  If you want a good story, though, Wikipedia explains that “Merde” goes back to the days when people arrived at the theatre in horse-drawn carriages.  Lots of merde de cheval (horse shit) in front of the theatre indicated big crowds and thus a successful show; ergo, merde is good luck!

    Regardless of its origins, I love this tradition.  Partially because it makes me feel like a Theatre Person and/or Real Dancer, and partly because it is fun to have a license to use bad language in public.  At our recital today, as at all of our studio’s recitals and performances, we had a “Merde Circle” in which all the dancers, even the tiny 4-year-olds, join hands and say “Merde!” to each other.  Ms. Madison tells them that it’s not a very nice word to say but that it’s okay to say in dance because it means “good luck.”  It probably takes them years to find out what it really means–last year, one of the high school girls didn’t know till I told her.

    Now you know what to say to a dancer for good luck.  I think we should make it our business to spread this tradition among ballroom dancers.

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