The Dance Enthusiast Asks: Why do dancers say 'MERDE' before Performances?

The Dance Enthusiast Asks:  Why do dancers say 'MERDE' before Performances?

Published on January 31, 2010

Everice Monique Lindesay
Dance Enthusiast/Dancer

“I once was told that back in the early days of ballet, companies used animals on stage. And, every time an animal **** on stage, someone from the audience would yell,"Merde!" to warn the dancers. It was used so often, that the term stuck to wish you good luck. Unless you're a rockette in the Christmas Spectacular, you probably don't have to worry about that anymore. Lol”

Jeffrey E. Salzberg
Jeffrey Salzeberg is a lighting designer for theatre, dance, opera, and puppetry

“More or less the same as telling actors to "break a leg". If wishing people good fortune is tempting fate, then, logically, wishing them ill is likely to also bring about the contrarian result. Since telling dancers to "break a leg" is, well, kind of creepy, we say, "Merde".
Note: as with most other backstage traditions ("Why is the lounge called the 'green room'?," for example) there are many, often contradictory, explanations and many people will ardently insist that theirs is the correct one...based, usually, on the scientific fact that it happens to be the first one they ever heard.”

Annmaria Mazzini
Paul Taylor Dance Company

“I thought that it came from Paris when the dancers were crossing the street to the theater, they'd tell each other to be careful not to step in the merde from the horses.”

Jennifer Mabus
Dancer/Teacher/Dance Enthusiast

“I was recently told something similar about how it started in Paris. If the performance had a good audience, there would be much merde outside from all the carriages... Hence the wish....”

Eva Dean Dance

“Ditto to Annmaria and Jennifer's comment about ‘merde’!

John Stone
Composer/Music Director, The Paper Bag Players

“I also read that since there were animals on stage in many opera ballets, the dancers would say "merde" to help avoid their droppings. I find that dubious.
Here's another one I heard: the phrase was first uttered by a constipated prima ballerina in Paris. When she would yell "merde!" to the house manager, it meant she had finished her business and was finally ready to start the show.”

(editors note: John is a highly imaginative creator of myth...he acknowledges his last answer to the question of why we say 'merde' is made up)

Dawn Marie Stoppiello
Troika Ranch Dance Theater

“Well, shit. I just don’t know.”

Ruping Wang
WC Dance –Artistic Director/Performer

“ In Taiwan, we usually say: Jia-Yo. Literally, it means add oil. It is an encouragement in hope of getting extra energy or inspirations for a performance. Sometimes we say: Yan-Chu-Chen-Gong. It means having a successful performance.”

Anabella Lenzu

“EN BOCA AL LUPPO and you reply to them CREPI IL LUPPO: in Italian it means call the wolf and you reply died the wolf! This is the good luck expression in the opera and ballet world in Argentina.”

Nichelle Strzepek

“I had a dance instructor in college that used toi toi toi all the time before performances. Was never really sure where it came from but I was under the impression it had more to do with repelling bad luck than wishing good luck.”

Coco Loupe

I stopped saying "Merde" years ago. i don't exactly remember when or why but it just lost its relevancy at some point. so......i've been using the following for years now and it always takes folks a moment to get it....then they either laugh, gasp or walk towards the stage looking rather confused.....

Other Dancers to me:
Merde, CoCo! Merde! Good show, CoCo! Merde!

Me to other dancers:
Thanks so much! and remember.....Don't suck!”

Robert L. Friedman
Dance Enthusiast/Fencer

“According to my French teacher (who was a ballet dancer), in days gone by, when members of high society went to see an event in their horse drawn carriages, the horse crap would pile up in front of the theater. The more successful the show, the bigger the pile -- hence the expression ‘merde’as an expression of ‘good luck’”

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