Originally published in Dance Studio Life magazine
“Your fall registration will only be as good as your last recital!” These words were often repeated by my mother, who believed that the quality of a recital had much to do with a school’s success. I think of those words every time the topic of recitals comes up at my seminars.
Think about it—when else in a dance season do you have all your students and their families and friends gathered in one place, at one time? The recital is the final impression your school makes on your current clients, and it’s the first impression it makes on an audience full of potential new ones. Since it comes right before summer, when many recreational students take time off from dancing and have a couple of months to decide whether they want to return in the fall, the recital is your chance to ensure that your students re-enroll. And if you do it right, a crop of new students will sign on because your show impressed them.
If you consider the recital as a marketing tool, more valuable than any ad, brochure, or awards, you’ll understand why it’s so important. Make it a priority in your school-year planning. Step one is what I like to refer to as extreme organization. Parents and students should walk into your school at the start of the season knowing all the rehearsal and performance dates and commitments related to the recital. Along with a calendar, give them a list of expenses and policies. Think of it as giving them more information than they need—too much is better than too little. Another great organizational tool is a recital handbook that you distribute to each family.
Start developing your production concepts at the start of the season. Whether or not you go for a themed recital, come up with a title, share it with your teachers and staff, and brainstorm about related ideas and music. Make notes on your brainstorming session and post them on the office bulletin board where everyone involved can add ideas as they come to mind. When it comes to music, variety is crucial; include selections that Nana or Grandpa will appreciate, tunes that teens will think are cool, and something for everyone in between. A recital that moves from hip-hop to Broadway to classical ballet to a funky tap number is the ultimate audience pleaser.
Costume planning should also begin early. Although you’ll base your final choices on several factors, give priority to being sure that every child who will wear the costumes will feel comfortable and confident. I believe many students drop out of dance because they feel inhibited about their appearance onstage.
Start collecting costume deposits in October. All costumes should be paid in full at the time you place your orders so that you do not have to allocate your personal funds to pay for them. Set up a payment plan for your clients to make it easy on them. For example, if a costume costs $65, consider requiring a $25 deposit on October 1, with a second payment of $25 due November 1 and the balance of $15 due on December 1.
As you put the music and the costuming together, estimate the length of your show, taking into account music, intermission, award presentations, or other activities. A good length is two hours or less. Recitals that last three hours or longer become uncomfortable for the audience; if you need that much time, consider adding a second show. If parents have to sit in an auditorium for three or four hours, they may get in the car afterwards and ask their children whether there’s another activity they would like to do next year!
In terms of choreography, you should regard every class as equal. Some teachers spend hours creating a masterpiece for their intensive dancers and then drag out some timeworn pieces for the recreational students. A good choreographer can create works that make even the less skilled dancers look and feel good. Make your audience struggle to determine which students are recreational and which are advanced by giving each class a fresh, tailor-made, age and skill-appropriate dance.
Finally, give your audiences more than they expect. It doesn’t matter if it’s scenery, backdrops, special lighting, or some sort of PowerPoint presentation—go the extra step to make your show special for your students and their families and friends. It’s the best way to make your recital work for you and the future of your school.