The Valley of the Sun, a prosperous swath of south-central Arizona that includes the greater Phoenix area, cradles Dance Connection 2, in suburban Chandler. DC2, as it’s known locally, was spun off 28 years ago from Scottsdale’s Dance Connection studio by MaryAnna Gooch, now 72. Several years ago Gooch decided to dedicate the school’s Christmastime show to charity, choosing HopeKids Arizona, a nonprofit organization that serves children with life-threatening illnesses, as beneficiary.
Reality Check: Doing Away With Dress Rehearsal: Q: Do you have a dress rehearsal at the same theater where you have your recital? For the last four years I have, but this year I am wondering if we can pull off our recital without a dress rehearsal at the venue.
“Classroom Connection: Elevating Jumps”: How do we challenge our advanced dancers to improve their jumps? To work on strength and height, I drill my dancers in a progression of simple sautés, changements, and échappés without music. The silence allows students to be conscious of how they manage their weight and use their feet (toe, ball, heel) on the takeoff and landing. Without the constraint of a particular tempo, dancers can also investigate how high they can actually jump.
What’s up in the dance community.
Lessons and Legacy of West Side Story
Beloved Recital Costumes Dance Anew
Audience Participation and Creation
Protecting a Delicate Past
“Art Thieves”: Today we see cookie-cutter dances that borrow too heavily from music videos, TV dance shows, and other popular entertainment. And at Dance Studio Life, we hear from studio owners who complain that former employees or teachers at other schools stole their competition or recital choreography. I don’t mean the poachers borrowed a step, or the idea behind a step, or a story or theme that they then morphed into something of their own creation. I mean they stole the dance in its entirety and presented it as theirs. Judging by these school owners’ outrage—and my own experience in having my writing plagiarized—it’s obvious they didn’t feel flattered. They felt violated.
“Tough Times: Choosing the Team”: The lovefest that is recital is over and we meet in a dark corner of a café for the annual agony of choosing dancers for the team.
It’s more difficult than it seems. If it were only about technique it would be a snap. Perhaps we could pass out a test and set the cutoff at 77. Would parents be terribly upset if we put names in a hat? Would we?
When I vented my frustration to my non-dancer husband, he asked why we did it this way. Stunned, I stared at him and said, “But it’s always been done that way.” Wrong answer. Clearly everyone else’s old ways of doing “it” weren’t working. We needed to change “it.”
The first thing I did was eliminate the words but and always from my vocabulary. Then I began finding solutions.
1) Cardio Fit, Cardio Fun: Because cross-training helps dancers develop the stamina and strength they need, we implemented a dance-based program in our elementary-age, beginner-level jazz classes that involves different activities each week. 2) Dance Your Name: At the first rehearsal for my recital production number—which would bring together my lyrical classes for kids ages 9 to 10 and 11 to 12—I knew I had to find a way for the two groups to work together despite the differences in age and experience. When I tried out a “Dance Your Name” game I discovered my best icebreaker tool yet.
Shows can be more fun if the audience gets involved in the action. So how about holding a hip-hop battle at your next recital? The fun starts with a great emcee to keep the audience engaged and motivated. When there’s a break for a costume change, have the emcee ask for two volunteers from the audience to take part in a hip-hop dance contest onstage. The emcee should have one or two simple steps prepared to show the participants, such as the Dougie or the Nae Nae (see below); or simply have them freestyle.
Recital time: your studio has worked all year for this. Dancers, teachers, and parents have all thrown themselves into the whirlwind and want to come out glowing. What more important moment than the recital finale—the Big Finish to your studio year’s big finish? What’s the best way to craft your finale and bring down the house? The choreographic approach you choose will depend on the message you want to convey.
Like many dance school owners, Amy Pace, the owner of A Step Above School of Dance in Moore, Oklahoma, has come up with a lot of ideas for recital themes. So far she has planned 19 recitals; consequently she’s always on the lookout for something new. In 2013, she tried an idea she had never seen done before—a fine-arts–themed recital. Calling it “Art in Motion,” she named each dance after a work of visual art.
Choreography, music, lighting, sets—there are myriad details to consider when planning a recital, but one of the most important ways to make dancers look good is to costume them well. Although “a costume should never be the focus of the audience,” says Betty Smith, costume director at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet since 2007, “it should enhance what the dancer is doing and make the movement come alive.”
It’s recital time, and you’ve set up your venue’s lobby with the essentials: flowers, a DVD orders and sales table, T-shirts, programs. You’ve brought out some nice tablecloths and balloons and manned the tables with happy staff members and volunteers. It’s a satisfactory setup, sure. But that’s it: satisfactory and not much else. As you look around, you think, “This place needs more. More oomph. More excitement.”
Sixteen framed recital program books line the hallway at my studio, one for each year my business has been in operation. I lovingly categorize them as follows.
School is in. Another crop of fine movers ripens in your studio, and the need to showcase them begins to tickle your brain. How can you stage dances that display your young artists to the best advantage in recital season? And how can you stage pieces to convey ideas, themes, and emotions in a way that recital audiences will truly “get”?
Today was such a special day. Our annual recital, like most, is so much more than a performance—it’s a chance for all of our students to dance their hearts out in front of their families and friends. From the tiniest preschooler to the teenager with nine dances to remember, they all look forward to their moment onstage where they can share their love for dance.
The beauty of a dance recital is that it’s all about the kids. The downside of a dance recital is that it’s all about the kids. Say what? Consider this: if your recital is focused solely on the people you already interact with on a weekly basis, you may be missing out on an opportunity to engage with your community at large.
Carrie Mazzucco still remembers the bikini she had to wear as a teenager in a recital dance. “That was rough,” says the owner of Infinity Dance & Performing Arts in Boardman, Ohio. “I was not a skinny dancer.”
As dance educators, we all know what goes into making a recital happen—months of work and organizational effort—ours, as well as that of our staff and volunteers. When showtime comes, we see the magic happen from our vantage point in the wings. But what about the view from the “outside”: from the parents who shuttle kids to and from rehearsals, the young dancer who tries on her first dab of lipstick? What do students and parents think about the recital experience?
For many dance teachers, the greatest reward at recital time is seeing the infectious grins of their students as they show off a year’s worth of hard work. But the fact that the performers are enjoying themselves does not mean that audience members are equally delighted. Even the most enthusiastic dancers and dynamic choreography lose their charm when viewers spend too much time in their seats. What should be an entertaining, high-energy event can become a disjointed, four-hour affair with parents questioning the tuition they pay and relatives constantly glancing at their watches.
The annual recital is unquestionably one of the most important events on a dance school’s calendar. It’s a rite of passage for dancers and a choreography showcase for teachers—and it is one of the biggest and best ways for studio owners to market their schools.
No two recitals are crafted using exactly the same mold. However, a survey of a geographic cross-section of studios reveals some similarities in recital content, participation, and venue. There are vast differences too, and what works for some schools doesn’t always work for others. Most studio owners, though, say that the recital process becomes more streamlined with experience.
When something goes wrong with your recital venue, it doesn’t just seem like a problem; it seems like a nightmare. In addition to the usual recital stress, you may find yourself with no access to the wings, no lights, or locked dressing rooms. Sometimes, because of scheduling snafus or disasters like floods, fires, or auto accidents, your venue suddenly isn’t available at all. Still, the show must go on.
Bundling is hot. The idea of lumping unrelated items together and selling the whole shebang for one price has always had its appeal. In times past, it was called a grab bag or a package deal. To today’s generation, it’s a bundle.
Every spring since I opened my school, Shannon O’Brien School of Dance, 20 years ago in Seekonk, Massachusetts, I am asked the same question: “Are you getting ready for your annual recital?” The answer is no, because our recital was held months before, in October.
Performing—it’s what dancers do. And if your students need more than an annual recital and maybe a holiday show, it’s time to think about starting a performance or competition company. The benefits are numerous, from providing your dancers with more opportunities for artistic growth (and fun) to your own joy and pride as you watch your students show off their technical skill and love of dance.
We have held our recital at a local high school for years. Three years ago the school district built a new facility, but the staff is the same. Usually I receive a rental contract prior to the event, but this year there was no contract, although I repeatedly tried to contact the theater manager. I finally spoke to her three days before recital and she said, “Oh, we know you’re a good customer; don’t worry about it.”
Before every recital, the pressure builds: Will it go smoothly? You know your dancers are well rehearsed, and the more experienced ones will pull out all the stops, giving a great performance. But logistical problems, unfortunate incidents that result from poor planning or communication, can sabotage what should have been an evening to celebrate.
With recital production costs increasing, many studio owners are looking for ways to cut back—ideally, without sacrificing the quality of the show. Fortunately, technology is making it easier to produce recitals of the quality your customers expect while saving you a great deal of money and, in some cases, reducing the time needed for tech rehearsals at the theater. One such technological advance is the vast amount of lighting software available for theatrical productions.
For many teachers, the thought of choreographing for preschoolers—whom I define as children ages 2 to 5—is frightening. After all, how much can you expect them to do? The truth is that if you approach them in the right manner, preschoolers can do more than you might think. Recital is a special day for young dancers, and showing them at their best should always be your goal.
It’s time for our annual recital issue, and I think you’ll love this one—it’s packed with great information and new ideas. And though I’m sure that’s what you’re expecting me to write about this month, I’ve got something even more important than recitals on my mind right now.
When my dance teacher friends come to my annual production, they always comment on my crew of backstage helpers, staff, and recital aides. Many of those helpers who make my show run so smoothly and professionally are one of a dance school’s most valuable resources: volunteers. If my friends only knew the number of volunteers that I enlist year round at the studio—at last count it was more than 100!
Recital season comes with what most school owners consider to be one big headache: costumes. If the mere mention of the word makes you want to hide in the nearest closet, it’s time to revamp your approach to purchasing and distributing costumes. With some forethought and organization, outfitting your students for your school’s annual show can be a pleasure and not a pain.
For Vicki Michelle Bull, her studio’s annual recital isn’t just a dance showcase; it’s a learning experience—about anything from Cole Porter to the Civil War. “We are educators,” she says, “so we think everything we do should have an educational focus.”
“Suzy, I love you!” a dad in the balcony yelled to his child, over and over, at my recital last May. I was dumbfounded. Suzy is a 3-year-old—yes, a 3-year-old—who, because of his calls to her, spent her time onstage looking all over for her dad. My first reaction was fear, as my mind raced to the possibility that with the stage lights on she could not see the lip of the stage and if she kept creeping forward to find her dad she could fall. Luckily I got her attention from the wings, and she got back into doing her dance.
No two people are alike, so it follows that no two businesses are alike either. There might be a dozen dance studios in the country with identical names, all of which offer jazz, tap, and lyrical, but if you look beyond the surface, each is distinct. What makes them so? You, the school owners, that’s who. You are unique and your one-of-a-kind personality infuses your business. If there’s one idea I came away with after spending four days with roughly 500 dance teachers at the DanceLife Teacher Conference last summer, it’s that each dance studio is different.
Car washes. Bake sales. Bottle drives. If that’s what comes to mind when you consider fund-raising projects, you need to start thinking outside the box! While those traditional revenue-generating sources deserve consideration, at Amber Perkins School of the Arts in Norwich, NY, we’ve looked beyond those standbys to develop some innovative and successful projects.
If you’re not already well on your way to planning next spring’s recital, these three recital theme starter kits may be just the thing to help you jumpstart your creativity. Along with ideas for the theme you’ll find creative production notes, suggestions for music selections, and ideas for choreography that will make your show special for your students as well as the audience.