Making winter holidays a time for inclusiveness
By Jennifer Kaplan
Love them or dread them, the holidays arrive like clockwork each year. The day after Halloween, grocery stores and shopping malls dutifully change their displays from black and orange to red and green, and out come the trees, wreaths, Santas, and tinsel. But it’s never too early for dance studio owners to begin thinking about the winter holidays. How you approach them can set the tone for whether your students and their families feel welcomed or slighted in your studio.
Diversity means more than Christmas
While a 2010 Gallup Poll noted that 95 percent of Americans report celebrating Christmas, just 51 percent of that number describe the holiday as “strongly religious.” For a great many Americans, Christmas, like Thanksgiving, is a secular holiday when families and friends gather for meals, gifts, and camaraderie. But for a good 5 percent of Americans, Christmas observance isn’t a part of their calendars or their lifestyles. Studio owners, particularly those who cater to a diverse clientele, should be sensitive to that fact.
“A teacher has to be consistent and aware, especially during the holiday season, that there’s more than just celebrating Christmas,” says Debbie Lamontagne, owner of North Andover School of Dance, which serves 400 students in a suburb 25 miles north of Boston. Although she isn’t Jewish, Lamontagne has a significant number of students who are. So for the past 10 years or so, she’s incorporated a Chanukah piece into the studio’s annual winter concert, and along with some modest Christmas decorations, she also sets up a Chanukah menorah. “It’s important to the children in your class who are Jewish and celebrating that,” she says. “You need to keep a balance and be sure you have what’s appropriate for all your students, and that you’re doing a little bit for both holidays.”
In Walled Lake, Michigan, outside Detroit, Dori Matkowski tries to keep all the winter holiday observances in her studio, Dance Dynamics Performing Arts Center, low key. She estimates that about 15 percent of her 600 students are Jewish, and she’s sensitive to that. “We don’t do a tree or menorah,” she says. “We just decorate with pretty bows and use silver and white instead of red and green. We keep it simple. We don’t do anything that shows any denomination or holiday.” She’d rather have all her students feel at home than leave anyone out; thus she eschews holiday-specific decor like trees, Santas, and menorahs.
“I feel like [Christmas or holiday displays] are not necessary,” says Matkowski, who celebrates Christmas at home. “We are a business that services all types of people, and so there’s no need to decorate for a certain culture or religion. I think keeping it open is most appropriate for a business.”
Show themes and music
Many studios produce a holiday show, often with a Nutcracker theme, which in North America has come to symbolize Christmastime, although the original Tchaikovsky/Petipa/Ivanov Nutcracker was a year-round ballet when it was first performed by Russia’s Maryinsky Ballet in 1892. But other schools put on more modest productions. Lamontagne’s winter show is far less complex and expensive than her annual end-of-year extravaganza, yet her students look forward to it for two reasons. First, she uses the proceeds to support student travel, either to workshops or out-of-town performances and competitions. Second, a few years ago she choreographed Candles Long Ago, a Chanukah-themed lyrical dance that includes blue and white dresses and a custom-built menorah and uses music by children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois, & Bram. It’s become a “Nutcracker” equivalent: younger students look forward to advancing enough to dance in it.
Other teachers and studio owners change their music as December comes around. With the abundance of secular holiday tunes, from “White Christmas” to “Santa Baby” to “Jingle Bell Rock,” it’s easy to avoid overtly religious themes. In recent years, a growing number of Jewish musical artists have released Chanukah albums, enabling teachers to broaden their music choices. Elizabeth Parsons of Windermere, Florida, notes that the preschoolers at her Elizabeth Parsons School of Dance love to dance and spin to “I Have a Little Dreidel.” (Dreidel is a popular Chanukah game of chance that features a four-sided top.)
Cara O’Connor, a preschool teacher in Gaithersburg, Maryland, formerly taught and directed at the tap studio Feet First in Bethesda, Maryland, before opening her in-home studio. At her home studio she could use as much Chanukah music as she wanted—which, she notes, she couldn’t do in the commercial studio. O’Connor favors Paul Zim’s recording “Chanukah Is Tops” because it features longer cuts of music with steady tempos, allowing for locomotor exercises across the floor and longer combinations. One of the top Jewish singer/songwriters, the late Debbie Friedman, has some great cuts for the younger set, as does Rabbi Joe Black on his CD Aleph Bet Boogie.
Aside from generic secular Christmastime songs about snow, sleds, and Santa, plenty of Chanukah recordings are available that have dance-appropriate tracks. Along with Zim and Friedman, mainstream artists from Adam Sandler to Woody Guthrie to Peter, Paul, & Mary have recorded Chanukah music. Some teachers turn to Jewish friends and colleagues to ferret out appropriate selections. Others take to the web, where sites like Jewishmusic.com collect a variety of classic and contemporary recordings, while the JDub label features hip modern takes from artists like instrumental fusion group Balkan Beat Box, Spanish-infused DeLeon, and The Macaroons, more appropriate for younger children.
O’Connor enjoyed sharing Chanukah with her students in another way, by handing out little gifts ordered from catalogs like Oriental Trading Company. Students loved getting items like Chanukah stickers, dreidels, bracelets, and foil-wrapped chocolate coins called gelt, she says. “I always gave to everyone whether they were Jewish or not. If anyone asked why I did this, I always said that it was because I celebrated Chanukah in my house and I wanted to share the holiday with my students.”
No one ever felt offended or slighted receiving modest Chanukah tokens, O’Connor reports. In fact, many children, both Jewish and non-Jewish, looked forward to the surprises she brought because of the novelty of receiving something that wasn’t typically associated with Christmas, like a ubiquitous candy cane.
As Lamontagne says, being sensitive to all her students’ holiday traditions makes for a more comfortable and inclusive atmosphere for everyone who walks in her doors, no matter the time of year. But especially in December. “I don’t want it to be all about the Christmas holiday season because there are Jewish kids who don’t celebrate the holiday,” she says. “You need to include each child. That’s very important to me.”
Holiday Hints for Teachers
- Get a calendar that includes secular, Christian, and Jewish holidays (or check online). The Jewish calendar is based on the moon; therefore Chanukah, like all Jewish holidays, begins on a different day each year. Sometimes it falls as early as the end of November; other times it coincides with Christmas.
- While Chanukah is not a major holiday and in no way is equivalent to Christmas, it has gained wide recognition and observance in North America because of its proximity to Christmas.
- If you decorate your studio, take care not to mix Jewish and Christian decorations. For example, don’t place a Jewish star or menorah—an eight-branched candelabra used to observe the holiday—on or under a Christmas tree or a wreath. Making the two holidays seem equivalent could be deemed offensive to both Jews and Christians. Instead, find a separate place to display a Chanukah menorah.
- If you wish to display a menorah (many varieties are available at Jewish gift shops and online Jewish stores), be sure to keep count of the candles (or light bulbs, if electric) and add one each evening through the eighth night. Remember that all Jewish holidays begin at sundown.
- If you have a large number of Jewish students, the most important holidays (when many students might be absent) take place in the fall at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (September or October) and in the spring at Passover (March or April). Don’t plan performances, open houses, or master classes on those days (observances begin at sundown the night before), since your Jewish students won’t be able to participate.
- If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask Jewish parents. Most likely they will be happy to share their practices and thoughts about how to make their children comfortable during the winter holiday season—or any time of the year. —JK
Ideas and tips to help make the season bright—with dance
The holiday season is full of warmth, cheer—and the stress of too much to do. Why, then, would any sane school owner choose to put on a performance in December? The creative school owners and teachers in this article have come up with imaginative concepts, good causes to support, and smart ways to lighten—or simply accept—the season’s workload. And some of them just can’t miss any opportunity to let their students perform. Read on for a wide array of ideas that will get your creative juices flowing. You just might find yourself putting your students onstage for the holidays.
Summertime Jump on the Holidays
Ericka Osswald, owner, Center Stage Dance Studio, New Bedford, MA
What better incentive to encourage students to participate in summer camp than a performance opportunity? That’s how my assistant, D’Lanor Tetschner, and I came up with the idea of a winter holiday show. It was also a way to minimize rehearsal time during the fall semester so that we didn’t have to take time away from classes or jump right into weekend or night rehearsals as soon as school started. In addition, it gave the younger recreational dancers a chance to dance with the older members of the competition team. All choreography for the show was taught over four weeks (two nights per week) in August. We then rehearsed several times in the fall.
Forty students participated in our 2005 Nutty Nutcracker Camp. All of the senior team dancers were given character roles (solos or featured parts in group routines) as well as group numbers, and the younger students performed in group dances. We put a spin on the Nutcracker story by starting out with a large-ensemble hip-hop routine to “Let’s Get It Started,” which is the party scene on Christmas Eve. Christmas carolers then entertain the party guests with “Jingle Bell Rock.” As Clara falls asleep, the Nutcracker Prince appears with his group of tap-dancing sailors. They battle with the Pirate Queen and her pirates (jazz students), using swords and mops as weapons and dancing to the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. As the Prince takes Clara away, the lyrical students dance to “Song for a Winter’s Night.”
The second act features the usual Russian, Spanish (Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud” with dancers on pointe), Chinese (tap), and Arabian (lyrical) divertissements, but we added Irish Creme (a Riverdance-style tap number), French CANCANdy (jazz/acro) from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, Dew Drop (a lyrical duet to “These Dreams”), Peppermint (jazz to “Peppermint Twist”), Jelly Beans (young students), and Mother Ginger and The Ginger Snaps (doing a jazz routine to “Snap Your Fingers”). A Candy Hearts jazz trio, also featuring the Prince and Clara, performs to “Do You Wanna Dance?” before a traditional ballet finale.
For costumes, the students used old recital or competition costumes or borrowed or purchased others. It was a great way to reuse costumes that would otherwise collect dust. The parents loved the fact that there was no costume fee, and they didn’t mind purchasing some inexpensive clothing that their children could use later.
We performed the show for the public at a local school auditorium and made a small profit. To save the expense of an extra day’s rental fee for the facility, we held the blocking/dress rehearsal on the day of the performance.
The team parents had a bake sale to raise money for nationals, and that did very well. Most important, the kids had a blast and the dance camp and fall rehearsals (for which we charged a fee) generated extra income. The school also sold T-shirts that featured all the dancers’ names on the back—a great way to advertise the studio and summer camp and generate a profit at the same time.
Our first dance camp/holiday show went over so well that we decided to do it again. I thought it would be a great idea to put a spin on A Christmas Carol, and we combined that story with a “Winter Festival” first act. This time 36 students signed up. Again, all of the costumes were made, purchased, or reused or borrowed from previous recitals or competitions. The performance, again at a school auditorium, pulled in a small profit.
For the “Winter Festival” the students danced to songs such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Little Saint Nick,” and “The Man With the Bag” (a tap dance with a boy as Santa and girls holding gift boxes and wearing recital finale costumes with added Santa hats). We also featured a 7-year-old student who sang a Hanukkah song, as well as other group routines.
The second act was our Christmas Carol with a twist. The opening scene features a female Scrooge with Bob Cratchit and an assistant in a hip-hop number to “Work It.” On Scrooge’s way home she meets Isabelle, a poor woman she ignores. Her nephew, Fred, invites her to a party on Christmas Eve and they dance together. The townspeople all dance a jazz number to “Dancing in the Streets,” but Scrooge wants no part of it. At Scrooge’s house, the ghost of Marley appears and they dance to Jaci Velasquez’s “Show You Love.” Then the Ghost of Christmas Past appears and we see Young Scrooge being bullied by some children and then his own mother (to an eerie lyrical song, “Fire and Ice” by Enya). The Ghost of Christmas Present then appears and shows Scrooge the Cratchit family gathering for dinner and gifts. They dance a cute family routine to a Céline Dion song (“Christmas Eve”). Then Scrooge is shown the party at Fred’s, where Isabelle has arrived (a hip-hop routine to “It’s a Party,” a fun song from the movie Honey). The Ghost of the Future and Scrooge do a modern dance to “Incognito” by Enigma, and then Scrooge realizes she must change her ways. She wakes up on Christmas morning ready to shop for the Cratchit family. For the finale, the entire cast dances to “Jingle Bells.”
We began working on ideas for our latest dance camp in February, so that we could advertise it to our students in May. We give everyone who calls the school looking for information details about the summer camp. It’s a great way for new students to try out our studio, and most of them do enroll in the fall. What started as a dance camp has now grown to a second performance opportunity for the students. They love it because the pressures of competitions and the recital are not there. This show is all about performing for the love and fun of it.
Elvis Tribute Fund-Raiser
Beverly Smithey, owner, Stage I Dance Academy, Greenwood, IN
For the last six years the focus of my studio’s holiday show has been a benefit for spinal cord research. It began when I heard about Emily Hunt, a local girl who at age 4 was left paralyzed from the waist down after an accident. I learned through a TV interview that she had wanted to be a ballerina when she grows up. I contacted her parents and suggested that we include Emily in a show from which all the proceeds would go toward spinal cord research. The offer to be in our performance led to her taking dance classes at our studio, which she has done now for six years. Now 14, she is a member of our performing company and graces the stage from her wheelchair.
The show’s theme varies from year to year; for 2006, it was called If I Can Dream and included all Elvis Presley music. The show featured Donny Edwards, an Elvis Presley tribute artist from Las Vegas. The dancers performed upstage or interacted with him while he sang. Emily’s performance in this show was set to the song “If I Can Dream.” Along with Emily’s solo, five young dancers depicted her as a child while one of the school’s teachers portrayed her as an adult dancer.
Fifty dancers ages 7 to 18 performed routines ranging from “Blue Suede Shoes” to the closing production number, “Viva Las Vegas,” in which all of the dancers wore red, white, and blue costumes. Other songs used in the show included “Rock-a-Hula-Baby,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Burnin’ Love,” “Teddy Bear,” “All Shook Up,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
We do our show on the weekend before Thanksgiving to avoid the rush of activities as the holidays approach; however, because we usually do not start the preparations until September it is quite a push. This year’s evening performance was accompanied by a silent auction, a dessert buffet, and dancing in a ballroom after the show.
Advertising was done through posters, websites, flyers, and mailers to those who had purchased tickets in the past. Tickets are usually $50 and this year we offered a discounted price of $25 to students and seniors. This worked very well and helped bring in more grandparents. We also get corporate sponsors to contribute, which helps pay for the expenses. (We do not charge students a participation fee.) The show usually turns a profit of $20,000 or more, all of which goes to spinal cord research.
The benefit show is the highlight of the year for our performing company. The students love being a part of a professionally produced show that raises money for such a worthy cause. Also, Emily has become a very important member of their group. Our dancers now realize not only how fortunate they are to be able to dance with a complete body, but also what a person with limitations can do with enough determination.
Babes in Toyland
Carla Wilson, owner, Northwest Missouri Academy of Dance, Cameron, MO
We do a holiday show because it keeps our students interested and gives them something to work toward before we start rehearsals for our spring recital. We had done Cathy Roe’s Nutcracker All Jazzed Up for a few years, then a Magic of Christmas recital, and I wanted to do something new. The idea of doing a musical where the students could act out the parts seemed like fun.
After giving it some thought, I hit on Babes in Toyland. I watched several versions of the video and then combined parts from the different shows to create our own version, which has both comic and serious parts. I started working on the concept right after our spring recital. It worked well for our little students since we were able to include several nursery rhymes for their dances. The older students acted the parts and mimed the lines along with the soundtrack we made, using the songs from the movies and adding others.
All of our students (roughly 130) participated, and we charged a $10 recital fee. We started rehearsals in October. At first we used only a small part of our class time, but later it turned into the whole class. We also had a “lock-in” from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. All of the students ages 10 or older brought food to share and a sleeping bag. Those who weren’t rehearsing could lie down and rest. This gave different classes a chance to work together and allowed us to put together the main part of the show. A week later we had a rehearsal that also included the younger students.
One of my daughters designed most of the costumes, which my son and other four daughters helped to make, and we purchased others. For the sets, which were very inexpensive, my husband made 10 triangular frames, to which we attached hardboard and set on a raised platform. They cover a 40-foot stage. We painted scenery on all three sides; to change the scene, we simply turn the triangles. We also had a few freestanding set pieces, such as a moon and a Toyland door.
We advertised the show by appearing on a local radio talk show. (To arrange this, all I had to do was call the station and they scheduled us.) Some of the students talked about their parts, and it was great publicity. I ran an ad in the local paper along with a press release and students handed out flyers during the city’s Christmas parade, which happened to fall before our show. We gave one performance, at the local high school. Mostly we take a loss, but I like to think that we break even!
The show has been a great experience. We do not offer acting classes at our studio, and this chance to touch on acting has helped the students to be more expressive in their dancing. It also helped them learn to work together on a big project with students other than those in their class. The studio gained a lot of exposure and we picked up a record number of new students the following January. We had the whole town talking! It was our biggest hit ever for a recital or production. People told me that even the dads and grandpas stayed awake. I’m not quite sure how we found the time to do it, but it has been a lot of fun!
“The students used old recital or competition costumes or borrowed or purchased others. It was a great way to reuse costumes that would otherwise collect dust.” — Ericka Osswald, Center Stage Dance Studio
Deborah Lamontagne, director, North Andover School of Dance, North Andover, MA
The holiday season is such a busy time of the year, but it’s also a wonderful time to create a dance show or concert. So about 15 years ago, when I wanted to offer an additional performance opportunity to our competitive and recreational dancers, making it a holiday show was an easy decision. The recreational dancers were especially excited by this chance to perform because it showed them that they are special and that their hard work would be rewarded.
Because I wanted the holiday show to be different than our annual spring recital, I decided that it shouldn’t cost parents a lot of money for tickets or costumes and that it should be a fund-raiser, with the proceeds going back to the dancers. The competitive dancers would receive a portion to help with competition fees, and the recreational dancers would receive funds to help with recital costume expenses.
The teachers used to start working on the choreography at the end of October. They outlined the show and decided on music, costumes, and choreography. But quickly we found that the dancers were missing out on technique classes each week because of rehearsals. That’s when we came up with a solution that has been the basis for our holiday show ever since: We handed the whole thing over to the students.
We asked the competitive dancers to choose groups of students, select the music, create the choreography, and design the costumes. There were 56 to 60 dancers, whom we divided into 7 or 8 groups. We gave them guidelines for what was needed, including a timetable that showed when they had to have the music approved and when the choreography and costume choices needed to be completed. They had to do everything on their own time, while maintaining their attendance in class. Of course we helped them along the way, by editing music and offering suggestions. Since the younger dancers aren’t included in the student choreography, the teachers taught them a creative routine that they could learn quickly.
There is no theme to the show; we use general titles like Winter Wonderland, Holiday 2006, or Holiday Extravaganza. As the years passed, two performances became necessary, both to accommodate all the dancers who wanted to participate (I chose to limit the show to one hour) and because the audience demand was there. The seniors perform solos that they learned during the summer in this show, not the recital, and also use these routines for competitions.
This production is not as elaborate as our spring show. I rent an auditorium that has adequate lighting and sound systems and sometimes have the dress rehearsal on the same day as the show to keep costs down. In the early years we used costumes from previous years; later we used some of the show’s profits to buy costumes that we could use year after year. There are no backdrops or sets. Staff members volunteer their time, and parent volunteers help with all the production aspects.
Approximately 200 students participate in these shows, so we have no worries about ticket sales. Every performance sells out. We do a small amount of advertising, usually one ad in the local newspaper. Everyone at the studio wants to attend, but I also use the show as a tool for prospective students to see our work. Though I don’t know how many students have enrolled because they saw the show, we do get inquiries about our school because of it.
When we first thought of this idea, we didn’t realize what a learning experience it would create for these high-school students. We’ve been impressed with the results and give out awards—Creative, Entertaining, and Overall Excellence. The winners are invited to take the choreography to competition in the student choreography division. But it also has brought the dancers together, allowed them to be creative, and taught them all the aspects of choreographing, plus how to work together and manage their time. They feel honored to be asked to choreograph and look forward to it each season. Armed with this experience, many of my former students have choreographed for their college dance teams, and some now dance professionally.
Our holiday show is an easy task to accomplish, and it puts everyone at the studio in the holiday mood. Is there a better way to do that than with dancing?
Family-Affair Talent Show
Jennifer Shiplet, owner, Dance Arts Center, Albuquerque, NM
December is a busy and exciting time of year for everyone, but at Dance Arts Center we get especially excited about our annual Holiday Talent Showcase, which we started seven years ago. Performed in our studio, it consists primarily of student-choreographed dances along with a mix of students playing musical instruments, singing, performing skits, and a few studio numbers. We use our largest room, cover and decorate the mirrors, and tape off the stage perimeter.
The idea for the showcase came from a young home-schooled student who wanted a venue to present a musical play that she and her sister had written, as well as a place for other students to perform. They also wanted to raise money for charity. As studio director, I took the showcase over after several years. It has really blossomed in the last few years due to our summer choreography workshops. The students in these workshops are so excited about creating their own work. They have learned to direct other dancers, work with various kinds of music, create their own costumes, and present the whole package to an audience.
The show truly is a dance family affair: The dancers’ siblings run the music and parents borrow and set up chairs and act as photographers. Costumes are simple—we use the previous year’s recital or company costumes or new ones provided by talented parents and students.
Preparations start with a sign-up sheet in the lobby in late September. Interested students prepare works in progress for an audition that is held about a month before the performance. We may offer a few suggestions, but usually we accept all of the numbers. The dress rehearsal is held the night before, with two performances on the same day. The only problem we deal with each year is not having enough studio space for the students to rehearse; many family homes have become rehearsal spaces.
Our showcase makes money because it costs so little to produce. We keep ticket prices low, usually $3, to allow more young students to attend. Profits go to either a charity or the studio’s performing company. Sometimes parents hold raffles or collect food or clothing for the homeless as an adjunct to the show. Advertising is only needed at the studio since we outsell our audience space, packing in about 75 viewers. By keeping this showcase in the studio we avoid the stresses of a larger production. Outside venues are usually expensive and require costly marketing and more selective auditions. Also, audiences for a larger production would be limited due to the many holiday performances in Albuquerque.
One of my main goals as a studio owner is to promote the joy of dance, and I see that happening at this holiday showcase. Students learn to create, perform, and entertain an audience. The show must be successful because the students begin working on the next year’s numbers soon after the showcase. They love creating and performing, and audiences love watching them.
Dancing for a Cause—and a Cure
By Susan Mendoza Friedman, director, Dance Designs, Hyannis, MA
In the fall of 2006 my best friend and three of my dancers’ mothers were battling cancer. That’s how our school’s holiday show, Dancing for a Cure, began—as a fund-raiser to benefit ovarian and breast cancer research. Most of our past fund-raising projects had benefited our competition team, but given the time of year it made perfect sense to include the entire studio community. The money goes to the Friends of the Dana-Farber Institute, a leading organization for cancer research.
Our students have always enjoyed learning variations from The Nutcracker in their classes each November and December, but they had never performed the ballet. I saw this performance as a perfect opportunity to give them this experience while feeling that they were contributing to a worthy cause.
With the help of parents from our studio, my staff and I formed several committees to take charge of the event. The parents in turn enlisted the help of countless others to make plans for refreshments, setup, publicity, costumes, program design, and decorating. To keep costs down, most of the costumes were recycled from previous recitals, which we then altered or embellished to fit each of the Nutcracker variations; others were made especially for this event by volunteers.
Our dance faculty of three took responsibility for all the choreography, including six Nutcracker variations, which were danced by a different cast in each of the three performances. The Nutcracker pieces were rehearsed mostly during class time in the six-week period before the performance, with a few extra rehearsals on the weekends. We fleshed out the program with other holiday dance pieces that featured tap, ballet, or lyrical dance, which were rehearsed on weekends or during company rehearsal time. We also invited musicians and singers from the community to perform in the show. All of the songs were in the holiday spirit or had inspirational themes. Also included in the program were what we called “Dance Designs Storybook” readings, in which dancers ages 8 and up, whose mothers were battling cancer, read poems and shared personal stories. The musical pieces and readings were woven throughout the program to make it a varied and delightful show for all. After the final bow we played the song “Everybody Dance Now,” and the entire audience and cast danced together.
The show was held in the studio, which was a major undertaking. The 25-by-50-foot space was transformed into a seating house for 150 people and a small stage area. Additional lights and a sound system were brought in, and the space was transformed with creative holiday decorations.
As part of the fund-raiser, refreshments donated or baked by parents were served during intermission and a giant gift basket, filled with incredible items donated by local businesses, was raffled off at the end of each show. More than $5,200 was raised, and with that donation we created what is now an established fund at the Friends of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Dancing for a Cure was a magical and spiritual experience for all involved. All of us at Dance Designs are committed to making this an annual event.
Katrina Wallace, owner, Kennett School of Performing Arts, Kennett, MO
This year will be the first time that my school puts on a holiday performance. When I was a child, my parents were always involved in huge Christmas productions with our church, so I learned at a young age that putting aside your personal needs during the holiday season is another way to give. Because my studio is in a very small town, where many arts programs have been pushed aside for other activities, I decided to do a holiday show to help children experience the arts and bring our community together.
Another reason for doing this show, Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, is that my small number of students will get to experience some of The Nutcracker without my having to produce a full-length ballet. At least 20 students will be involved, and I plan to include as many as possible.
Nuncrackers is a musical in a series by Dan Goggin called Nunsense. When I was in college the drama department put on Nunsense II, and I had the pleasure of being one of the five nuns. For this production, the college cast members will play the nuns and my students will be added to the musical numbers and the Nutcracker pieces. It’s a neat way for the original cast to come together. Three of the five original cast members’ children are students at my studio; since they will be dancing in it, the show is kind of a full-circle experience.
The musical is set in the basement of Mt. Saint Helens School, where the nuns have created a public access TV studio in order to perform The Nutcracker on television. Here we meet the Little Sisters of Hoboken, NJ, and their students, who indulge the audience in songs featuring ballet, tap, and jazz. (I will choreograph the children into all of the numbers to shift the focus more toward them.) Their production of The Nutcracker (which I plan to expand) begins as the children take their places onstage. During the telecast, the nuns discover that all of their Christmas presents are missing. Chaos ensues until one of the nuns wins the lottery and the sisters give the winnings to a poor family. The story is filled with touching moments, Christmas cheer, great music, and dance.
I have a budget of $500 for sets and props. My brother, James Dumas, is in charge of set design. This one, mostly consisting of painted flats, will be larger than anything we have used in the past. We recycle our sets; it’s quite easy to repaint and revamp them if you plan carefully. I plan to borrow some furniture from a local antique store, in exchange for which I will offer free advertising in our program and mentions in the local press releases. And several of my theater friends have offered to donate time and materials.
The students will purchase their own basic costumes from the studio as they do for our spring recital. Although the official website for Nunsense offers habits (as well as sets and props) to purchase or rent, we will have the nuns’ costumes made by a local seamstress for about $50 each.
Rehearsals will start in early October. We will perform 10 shows over 2 weekends in 2 towns. We have chosen small theaters to keep the licensing fees ($300 per weekend) down and create an intimate setting.
For advertising, I plan to send a press release to the newspaper and do a radio morning show. Many of our local radio stations welcome guests to speak about their upcoming performances on their morning shows. All it requires is a phone call or an email to the DJ. Also, our local news station has an arts spot on which they often do brief interviews with local people about upcoming productions and events. I also plan to give tickets away to a local nursing home, children’s home, and women’s shelter.
Given the popularity of the cast (one member is a public official), I am sure we will break even, if not turn a small profit. And I believe that we will gain new students in the fall; a performance opportunity in addition to our recital might encourage parents to enroll their children. The studio will gain exposure from the papers and radio and TV stations; ideally, even if people don’t come to see the show, they will remember our name.
I believe the holiday season is a time for traditions. I look forward to the day when our annual Christmas show becomes a holiday tradition in our community.
‘Dance With Santa Day’
Tonya Kraner, teacher, TNT Dance Team and Susan’s Tap-n-Toe Dance Studio, Lancaster, OH
In 2000, my school was looking for an interesting and fun fund-raiser that would benefit the community and raise awareness of dance. Since our community has rare opportunities to enjoy dance, we wanted to expose people to forms of dance other than ballet. Because the holidays were coming up, I came up with the idea for a “Dance With Santa Day.” Our dance team then brainstormed activities we could host throughout the day. We included photos and a chance to dance with Santa, mini classes, face painting, and holiday card and craft making for the attendees; hip-hop, tap, lyrical, jazz, and tumbling performances by our students; and visits from Santa’s elves and The Nutcracker’s Clara and Sugar Plum Fairy. The concept gave us the perfect chance to “share the love!”
Our theme, “Dance With Santa,” stays the same from year to year, but we change what we perform, as well as the informal classes we offer, every year to keep them fresh for the kids who return. In addition to the Santa and Nutcracker costumes, we also utilize some recital costumes. The setting is in the studio, so it’s informal—chairs set up around a performance space for the kids, along with Santa’s chair, a Christmas tree with gifts piled underneath it, and seasonal decorations. Our entire dance team of 25 to 30 students participates in the day’s events. The performances and classes run throughout the day as new children arrive.
Parents and staff (and Santa, of course!) also help make the day a success. The staff teaches the classes and dances with the team; parents make refreshments, supply the art materials, keep the children organized with the activities, and take pictures of each child with Santa.
We advertise with posters at the studio and in the community, newsletters in the schools (as allowed), flyers handed out by our students during the community’s holiday parade, newspaper ads, and word of mouth.
During the first few years the show just about broke even, mainly because the parents donated the supplies. Since then we have made a small profit, but nothing that justifies all the work we put in—it’s just fun!
The experience benefits our students in several ways: It teaches them how to maintain a character for a more sustained period than the length of a routine (and not only on the dance floor); how to deal with the general public (including upset kids); and how to pace themselves to get through a full day and still have the energy required to keep kids involved. And because they are a part of everything that goes into making the day happen, they also learn organizational and problem-solving skills.
The benefits go beyond the students, too. This event has brought in new students and increased current parents’ positive feelings about the studio. They love having something safe, fun, and inexpensive to which they can bring their children. It also builds rapport among the competition team, and their parents, as they work together for something other than dance. The community is more aware of dance and what our studio can offer their children. As a participant in National Dance Week, I appreciate the increased awareness of dancing and the realization that ballet is not the only form of dance (as most people around here seem to think). It’s especially nice when the guys join in and other boys see them and realize that boys can dance, too!