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Interview with Edward Stegge, Principal Dancer, Diablo Ballet

Michael W. Phelan

April 29, 2010

In October of last year, Diablo Ballet Principal Dancer Ed Stegge was viciously beaten in his Concord neighborhood. Ed was left with his skull fractured and no memory of the assault. His three assailants were apprehended by police and are facing charges. After much physical therapy, Ed returned to performing with Diablo in February. checked in with Ed Stegge to see how he is doing and how he manages to dance despite his injuries. How has this experience affected your performance, your dance?

Ed Stegge: I had a real hard time for awhile because I was so out of shape. All the muscles were kind of...I had not danced in months. Coming back was kind of challenging and sometimes a little disappointing that I was not able to get back to it as quickly as I wanted to. It was pretty quick, but of course I wanted everything to go back and have everything the way it was. But it took me a little while to get back to where like my legs actually fit together. And the coordination of learning, like petit allegro, I think it was about two weeks ago I finally got the combination. That was the one place in class that I couldn't get the steps into my body. I'd get the combintion in my head, but, you know, when it's fast jumps and you're changing directions a lot, I had a real, you know...I would never get really frustrated with myself because I didn't want to get in the way of my recovery because a negative focus is never helpful. I just tried to like forgive myself. Now I'm at a point where I'm getting close enough to where I should be, that I'm just a little harder on myself. If I don't get something, I take it up a notch, not because don't want to be kind to myelf, but because I don't want to settle. The whole episode, I don't remember it, so it doesn't affect me, but what I went through, I got a lot more good out of the experience than negative. Like, it made me realize that, you know, a lot of people really do care. Even people who don't know you, they're like, "That's terrible!" and plus I got a lot closer to my family. Because when you endure something like that, at one point they didn't know if he was going to live. You're in a very vulnerable state and so is everybody else. I felt lucky that it was me that it happened to, not one of my loved ones or family members 'cause I had it the easiest. What they were going through a couple of days before I came to, it's so painful, whenever I know that somebody has a serious condition, it's so stressful on all your loved ones. I've gotten more good out of it than bad.

BD: Have to had to learn any special techniques or tricks? I interviewed a deaf dancer once who told about how she would time the music and how her partners would cue her.

ES: Pretty much by the time I have rehearsed a piece, it's fine. I don't learn as quickly as I did before, but repeating it over and over it becomes muscle memory. The performance is not so much a problem, it's just the daily routine that sometimes presents a challenge. I mean I shouldn't even say that it's much different. Combinations are always challenging to pick up, or usually. I'm exercising my brain a lot more, I feel I'm working hard mentally. But as far as technique, it's a daily life thing, just writing things down, and they told me, they always say, "Hear it, see it, say it". If you have it in more than one sense, then you would have a better chance of remembering it.

BD: With what sort of things do you do try that: heat it, see it, say it?

ED: Just mostly basic things, like with a deadline, when I have something I'm supposed to do that's related to the next day, then I'll write it down. Then if it's something that's really important to someone else, I'll ask "Could you send me a text?" That way even if I wrote it down, it will encourage me to remember it. That I'm just doing to cover my ass (laughs) basically, 'cause I'm pretty sure I'll remember it, even if I write something down I don't have to look at it, I just want to cover any chance of messing up. And that also gives that person a chance to help me not forget. So they have more say in what I'm doing or what I'm bringing.

BD: So you're talking about day-to-day tasks, not just dance?

ES: Kind of. I've been just, the last couple of productions I put together the master CD, taking all the files from individual CDs and putting them all on one disc. Also the show order, I write that down, and also when the thing needs to be in. And one time somebody wanted me to bring a pair of pants, recently, and I said "Write that down." It's not something that seems really important, but I said, "Send me a text" so I'll be sure to remember. So it's kind of both things related to work and personal.

BD: You mentioned that combinations are difficult.

ES: Well, at barre it's all fine, it's just when I get to petit allegro, little jumps, because it's so fast, and because it's a new combination, whatever, it's not a whole lot of weight changes. But when you're jumping in different directions really fast, and adding beats and stuff, that's where...And also getting the coordination, it's hard. I noticed that when I turn to the left side, which is not my good side anyway, I'm actually having to rethink, like my heel's popping up before I start to turn, but that's not good. You should start from your heel down and then go up to relevé. But my heel's going up before I'm in relevé, and that's just the order of things, the order that you're supposed to do certain things.

BD: So your tendency now is to do it out of order?

ES: Not everything. Just some things require a lot of, like a turn, it's something you might do by instinct, but my turns aren't by natural instinct, they're always something I've worked on a lot and gone through the steps, just the order of procedure, what comes first. Like if your arms are not in sync with your body, then you're gonna not turn well. And there's also just getting more in shape.

BD: Are there any other particular movements that are more difficult than before?

ED: Basically, just complicated little jumps, and then only in class. When something's in a piece I'm fine because we've been rehearsing it every day.

BD: So by the time you get to the performance, you've got it down.

ES: I did my first performance back in February. When I did my first performance I actually forgot that anything had happened. It actually felt normal to me. It didn't feel extra challenging or difficult, it just felt normal. And I'm glad that I wasn't freaked out by it because I didn't know what might happen. But I felt fine.

BD: What do you see going forward? Besides practicing, is there anything you need to work on or challenges?

ES: You know, I don't even know. Maybe I should ask Lauren, my boss. I'm at a point where I feel like I'm fine, not 100% fine, but close enough. But I also know that maybe my judgment might not be telling me that right story. I think I am probably at the point where Lauren would be the right person to ask.

BD: I guess it's always a good idea to get advice from the boss on anybody's work performance.

ES: I think also asking coworkers. There is really no one in the company that I don't trust. They wouldn't feed me a line of bs or whatever. I mean they wouldn't be too blunt, they wouldn't read me the riot act...Actually, I think everyone would tell me the truth.

BD: It sounds like you're moving along absolutely beautifully.

ES: Lauren has actually been very supportive all throughtout this whole thing. She visited me in the hospital every single day after long days of rhearsals. Even after she'd leave the office after rehearsal she'd come by every day. And she always looks on the positive, not the negative. So that way, it's all good...The only thing that has been on my mind is the preliminary hearing for the trial started on Tuesday. I was subpoened to appear, but the DA and a detective called me and said I didn't need to be there. The detective would testify on my behalf because I don't remember anything. They just called me this evening with the results of the preliminary hearing. They said it could be another six months if they have to do a trial. They caught them on video at a gas station ten minutes later. They were selling full tanks of gas for twenty bucks.

BD: I understand you had just gotten health insurance two weeks before the attack?

ES: I got my health insurance two weeks before the attack. That seemed almost like maybe it was cosmic, like that needed to happen. We had health insurance two years ago but the Company had to drop it due to budget, and reinstated it a few months ago. I wasn't sure the premiums were justified because I wasn't sure I'd ever need it. Now I see it as more than luck that I got it with $100,000 hospital bills to pay. I think I was given a chance to learn something I was supposed to learn, not to take life for granted. People really are important. I underestimated peoples' value for each other. Just appreciate life. Live while you have the chance.


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Background photo © 1999 Michael W. Phelan

Michael W. Phelan,