By Julie Holt Lucia
Dear Former Customer,
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.
Our staff members too, look forward to this day with great anticipation. Finally, the hours and hours of work they put in, most of them behind the scenes, are recognized by an audience. As the studio owner and director, I’m always nervous and excited for everyone—dancers and teachers alike—and I always hope that we’ve done enough to satisfy you, the parents.
You believed the dancers were being taught by perfect teachers; we are not perfect. You thought perfection was our goal; it wasn’t.
We clearly failed you. But I am not sorry.
You expected to watch perfect dancers; we did not put perfect dancers on the stage. You wanted to see perfect technique; we did not show you that. You believed the dancers were being taught by perfect teachers; we are not perfect. You thought perfection was our goal; it wasn’t.
Somehow you missed the joy, the smiles, and the pure excitement of the dancers on that stage. Backstage too, there were countless high fives, hugs, and happy tears.
We have nurtured these dancers and instilled in them a sense of accomplishment. Whether they are naturally gifted—like your beautiful daughter—or struggling to keep up, we encourage them. We walk a line every day between how to correct and how to inspire. We take pride in teaching technique that is developmentally appropriate and will not injure young bodies. Choreography is planned and costumes are chosen with the intent of helping our dancers look their best.
Year after year, the dancers achieve new goals, on and off the stage. When a kindergartner finally masters shuffle hop step, we are beyond thrilled. When a shy dancer learns how to freestyle in hip-hop, we hug her and whisper, “Way to go!” When a high-schooler is accepted into a summer intensive or an arts magnet school, we are delighted beyond words.
And yes, all of those students are tickled pink to perform in the recital. For them, each in his or her own way, being a dancer is realizing a dream. For me, being a small part of that dream is incredibly rewarding and humbling.
And so the hateful, vile criticism you posted via social media about my studio, staff, and dancers? The comment that next year, your daughter can do “real” dancing somewhere else? It made me feel sick.
But only for about a minute. Because after that minute, I realized that you’re looking for all the wrong things in a dance school, and we are not the right fit for you. You and I have very different definitions of “real.” For me, what’s “real” are the dancers’ accomplishments, big and small, and the happiness they share when the curtain falls.
Hundreds of people were happy today. It’s a shame you weren’t one of them.
Proud Studio Owner
Community groups add spice and surprise to dance recitals
By Misty Lown
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.
Studio owners have three primary roles: quality control in the classroom (including overseeing teachers and curriculum), marketing, and developing strategic relationships in the community. Recitals are a golden opportunity to build those strategic relationships. With some creative planning, you can add production value to your show and share the best your studio has to offer with a wider audience.
The business of relationships
A strategic relationship is a mutually beneficial arrangement between two parties created for a specific objective. For example, on three occasions I have coordinated dance performances by my school, Misty’s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, Wisconsin, with the local symphony orchestra. The arrangement was strategically sound for both organizations. Why? Three reasons: the dancers’ presence elevated the production value of the concert and drove ticket sales for the symphony. We showcased our dancers in front of our target audience—families who value the arts. And the dancers got to perform to live music, which is a rarity. Talk about a “win-win-win” event.
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.
After several years of sending dancers to perform at other people’s events, I thought it would make sense to include some of these organizations in our big shows. Since that time, the annual spring recital has become my number-one opportunity to develop valuable strategic relationships with community organizations.
Over the years we have featured various community groups at our recitals. The first was a karate studio. I knew the school had a substantial client base and a target market similar to mine. I had seen these karate students perform demonstrations set to music at local events, so I asked the owner if his students would perform in our show. His students’ parents bought tickets, and the karate school owner was pleased with the exposure. And my school gained exposure within a wider community.
We have hosted a soloist from a local show choir, the mayor, a Hmong break-dance crew from a high school, a state-champion pianist, two local musicians (to accompany senior solos), daycare students performing routines we choreographed for them, and in our Christmas show, a performance by another dance studio.
Each guest appearance fulfilled a strategic objective. The singer added variety to our show while the mayor added prestige. The break-dancers introduced a new form of urban dance to our audience and later became renters at the studio. The pianist created a mutual endorsement opportunity between my school and the music studio (which has continued for seven years). The accompaniment of local musicians inspired more live music collaborations with the city concert band. The performance by the other dance studio built friendships and goodwill. And the performances by the daycare students brought in a lot of young families to see our program in action.
One of my favorite invitations, however, wasn’t issued with business growth as an objective; instead I was hoping to salvage a recital. A week before the recital, we were looking at sold-out shows with standing room only, in a stuffy theater. To lighten the mood, we invited a well-known local clown/entertainer to come through the audience before the show saying, “Does anybody have a seat? Anywhere, anywhere? Anybody!” It was exactly the icebreaker we needed to get the audience laughing so they could forget about the ticketing fiasco and enjoy the show.
Bringing in solo acts or small groups can add a pop of fun to your show. But for a bigger impact, consider one of the ideas Nancy Stone, of Art Stone/The Competitor, pulled off during her 40 years as a studio owner. From a dancing football team to a gospel choir to an entire marching band, Stone has wowed audiences at her recitals.
She says incorporating the local football players into the recital was the easiest and most fun of the three big production numbers mentioned. The show opened with a 1950s number; each teen girl was asked to recruit a football player to be her partner. The boys attended eight weeks of rehearsal with the girls to learn basic swing steps and a few lifts and turns.
The number was a huge hit. “The guys were eager to do it. In fact, the response was so great that we had alternates,” says Stone. To make sure costuming wasn’t a barrier, she had the football players wear jeans, a white T-shirt, and a leather jacket if they had one. The girls wore classic poodle skirts with shorts underneath (all from the Art Stone costume collection, of course). “All of my years dancing at Arthur Murray paid off! The number was sensational,” Stone says. “Some people thought the guys had been in dance all year.”
Another time Stone asked a family friend’s church choir to sing at the recital. The choir sang before the dancers performed a number to “Walk Him Up the Stairs” from the Broadway show Purlie. Stone, who made a small donation to the church in exchange for the choir’s participation, says, “Most of the people in the audience had never heard this choir, and all thoroughly enjoyed them.”
And then there was the band—a full-size high school marching band that paraded along four aisles through the audience. Stone sweetened the invitation by convincing the band director to give extra credit to the musicians.
When asked about the choice of a marching band, Stone laughs and says, “The band was known to be good and I didn’t think many of our people had a chance to hear them. I thought it would be a great surprise for everyone.”
While it is always wise to optimize opportunities to market your studio by broadening your audience base, not every invitation to the community needs to be part of a strategic objective. Some studio owners get involved with a community group because it is a good and right thing to do and because they want to teach their students the importance of service.
Shannon Putter, owner of Exhale Dance Studio in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, believes in getting the community involved in her shows. But instead of inviting groups to be in her shows, she takes her shows to the community. In only three years of business, Putter has made a habit of community involvement. Her young dancers produce mini-recitals at several nursing homes each year and every May the older students do a special recital at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, in support of the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba.
Before she opened her studio, Putter knew working with community groups would be an important part of the experience she wanted to provide to her students. “I performed at a nursing home as a child and always said if I was ever a studio owner I would do it as well,” Putter says. “I think my first dance teacher started a good thing, and I thank her not only for teaching me right from left, but also to give back whenever the opportunity arises.”
Making it happen
If you are ready to involve community groups in your next recital, it’s time to brainstorm. Here are some tips for getting started.
Plan ahead. The greater the feat, the more time will be needed to pull it off. I was able to invite a clown to show up with only a week’s notice, but it took Nancy Stone eight weeks to teach high school boys how to swing dance. If in doubt, err on the safe side and extend the invitation early.
Know what you are getting into. If you are not choreographing or creating the number, be sure to preview the group before putting it onstage. They call it “live” theater for a reason! Remember, there are no re-dos or edits if something reflects poorly on your studio.
Don’t overdo it. Even if you have the chance to showcase an incredible group at your show, the focus of your recital should be on your students. Any additional performers should add entertainment value to the show without distracting from the accomplishments of the students.
Aim for every other year. Stone says, “Even big surprises lose impact if you do them year after year. I did not try to make every show out of the norm, but every few years I liked giving the audience a little surprise.”
Give credit to your community partners. Make your guests feel at home by presenting them with a welcome basket, personally introducing their group, inviting their leader to say a few words at the performance, or putting a free ad in your recital program for them. Many of my school’s community partners have become long-term advertisers in our recital program book.
Take your show on the road. Have your dancers perform at community events as a way to build relationships with other organizations. It will expose your dancers to a wider audience and lay a positive foundation for inviting community groups to perform at your show as well.
Reach out, stand out
Whether you own a small studio in a big city as Putter does, or a big studio in a small town like Stone did, getting the community involved at recital time is sure to make you stand out. “My main focus with my studio, to separate us from the rest, is to instill strong community values into each student,” Putter says. “It is truly rewarding to teach students to reach out to the community at a young age. When the community is involved, everyone wins.”
Common mistakes teachers make and how to avoid them
By Megan Donahue
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.”
Dance students have all kinds of bodies. As a teacher, your choices of recital costumes can make your students feel good about themselves and excited about performing, or they can undermine their confidence. Helping dancers feel confident onstage and off requires thinking the process through, making smart choices, and speaking about bodies in a positive way.
It’s common knowledge that many teenage girls are unhappy with their bodies, and it’s not only those with “problematic” bodies who are tormented.
Although Mazzucco studied at a studio that did weekly public weigh-ins once kids hit middle school—a rarity nowadays—her costume nightmares are by no means unique. Stretchy fabrics allow the body to move but can also showcase every lump and bump. If you combine overly revealing outfits with the tenuous self-esteem of teenagers, you can create serious trouble.
It’s common knowledge that many teenage girls are unhappy with their bodies, and it’s not only those with “problematic” bodies who are tormented. It’s likely your students who have thin, lean “dancer bodies” are equally self-conscious. Consequently, it’s wise to be as careful in choosing costumes and talking about bodies with them as with those who are bigger, stockier, or curvier.
Teachers and other adults “have a lot of impact” on young people, and what they say to them matters, says Dr. Jane Shure, who co-founded and directed Inside/Outside Self-Discovery Program. She co-authored a curriculum that was published as Inside/Outside Self-Discovery for Teens: Strategies to Promote Resilience, Relationships, and Positive Body Image, with Helen Feinberg-Walker, PhD, and Sarah Barrett, LCSW. A psychotherapist with The Resilience Group in Philadelphia, Shure has significant experience counseling people with eating disorders, including as a founding board member of the A Chance to Heal Foundation.
Feeling consistently comfortable and attractive can promote a long-term positive body image, while even a few bad costume experiences can impart lasting damage. Consider the self-esteem, sensitivities, and body types of all your students equally. If you fall in love with a costume that works for 13 out of 15 dancers, you’re disregarding the feelings and needs of the two girls it doesn’t fit. In addition to feeling self-conscious, they may decide that not only is this costume not for them, dance is not for them.
Try reversing the process—instead of picking a costume and trying to make it work for all your dancers, look for costumes that will flatter those who are harder to fit. Such clothing will probably work well for the other body types you’re fitting.
As a school owner, Mazzucco lets her personal experience inform how she approaches costuming for her students. She’s not going to force anyone to wear a bikini. “Knowing how I felt, I would never want to make a child feel like that,” she says.
One solution that has worked well for Mazzucco is to choose four tops and bottoms in four colors and allow her students to mix and match them. Those who want to cover up more can do so without drawing attention to themselves. Although the result is a mix of outfits, they’re variations on a theme that present a unified look. “Everybody loves those costumes,” Mazzucco says.
Costumes that reveal what students would prefer to conceal can often be fixed with small alterations, but do so with care. If you insert a sheer fabric panel to make a two-piece costume into a one-piece, for example, alter all of the costumes to avoid singling out anyone. Being the only dancer with a tummy-masking panel isn’t much better than being the only dancer with her stomach sticking out.
No matter how carefully you choose costumes, it’s probably impossible to choose a single outfit for any group of people without encountering some fitting issues. In these instances, Shure says, the way teachers talk to children about their bodies is very important.
You can probably remember something someone said about your body that has stuck with you to this day. Dancers are more likely than most to amass a collection of these often inaccurate yet wounding statements since they hear more about their bodies in general. Such comments don’t have to be particularly vicious to make a lasting impact. Even seemingly innocuous remarks that you mean purely as statements of fact (“You need a bra,” or “You’re too tall to be on top of the pyramid”) can hurt. Shure cautions adults to start “paying attention to language and avoiding that which is shaming.”
For example, if a student needs to wear a bra with a costume, Shure suggests handling it privately. Calling public attention to the need may be perceived as shaming, even if that’s not your intent. Shure points out that people often receive only the “criticism” part of “constructive criticism,” which means even well-intended remarks can have a negative impact on a student’s self-esteem. She suggests involving parents in sensitive communication.
Consider making general announcements to avoid singling out anyone. For example, sending an email to the class asking anyone whose bra size is bigger than an A cup to wear support garments under costumes gives students privacy and doesn’t call attention to who does or doesn’t need to wear a bra.
When fitting problems arise, make them be about the costume, not the bodies. When Mazzucco’s student soloists push for a costume she thinks won’t do their bodies any favors, she avoids mentioning bodies at all. Instead, she speaks positively about other costumes. “I would love to see you in this,” she’ll say about another option. She may try to steer the students toward something more slimming, but the word “slimming” never passes her lips. “Dancers are super-critical,” she says. “You have to be careful.”
Shure says how we talk about bodies matters all the time, not just when we’re dealing with costumes. That includes our own bodies. When we say, “My two-piece days are over,” or “You girls can wear that; you’re skinny,” we send the message that something is wrong with our bodies. “No ‘fat talk,’ ” Shure says, even if it’s about yourself. However, she doesn’t advocate skirting the subject altogether. “I don’t think it’s good to not talk about bodies,” she says, “[but] I think we need to avoid references to size and shape and thin and fat and good and bad.”
Dance students may dance into adulthood or leave dancing for other pursuits. But they’ll have their bodies forever, so speak kindly and wisely about them. By making smart choices about costumes and being sensitive when talking about bodies, you can help your students enjoy and inhabit their bodies fully. And that positive attitude will look great on any recital stage.
Parents and students chime in on the recital experience
By Debbie Werbrouck
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 most families, the pleasures of recitals are simple: seeing joy on a child’s face, watching young dancers take more and more responsibility for themselves, and celebrating a performance with friends and family.
To gain access to this perspective, I interviewed several students, parents, and teachers from my own school as well as others from across the country.
Most students say the excitement begins early in the school year when they learn which music they will dance to and what their costumes will look like. They dream about being onstage in their beautiful costumes; often, young students are even more excited about the glamorous makeup they’ll be able to wear. Many parents report that their children model their costumes at home to give dads or grandparents a sneak peek.
Anticipation mounts as students move on to the challenge of learning their dance. And then, with the day of the recital getting closer, as they practice their dances and take photos of themselves in costume, dancers’ excitement increases even more. The week of the recital takes on a festive air, one that buzzes with nerves, enthusiasm, and camaraderie. Annaliese Wagner, 20, a student at Marilyn School of Dance in Tomah, Wisconsin, says that what she loves about performing is “the adrenaline rush!”
Parents too are recital participants—sometimes to an extent and in ways they didn’t anticipate. Their understanding of and follow-through with all the details of schedules and recital needs can be the make-or-break element that determines the students’ (and school owners’) experience.
Parents’ responsibilities at performance time most likely vary from school to school, but typically they include making sure their child’s costume is complete and unwrinkled, and that hair and makeup (if not done by school staff or backstage helpers) are done as specified. They need to be well informed about rehearsal and performance locations and times; procedures for check-in; how to purchase tickets, photos, and videos; and any pertinent school policies and related activities.
Parents who have dance experience have a general idea of what to expect. Others often have no idea what’s involved; for them, the recital process can be overwhelming. They need some handholding to ensure that they and their children have a good experience.
Donna Ziegler, owner and director of Willow Street Dance Theatre in Mokena, Illinois, illustrates how parents can misunderstand even simple things with a story about a parent at her school. This mom did a beautiful job putting her daughter’s hair in a bun for photo day. But no sooner did Ziegler compliment her than the mom started to remove the hairnet. When Ziegler told her not to, the mom said, “I thought that was just to keep the hair neat during transportation!”
Our method of helping new parents—and busy, sometimes overwhelmed, returning parents—remember all the details of the recital is to use repetition, repetition, repetition. We present the information in a school information packet given to all new students when they enroll. We verbally reinforce this information at the first-semester Parent Observation. We also offer reminders via paperwork, emails, and Facebook posts.
Prior to receiving costumes and tickets in the spring, parents are asked to attend a recital information session during which staff members explain all details and answer any questions. Parents are again given written recital information with specific, individual student information. General information is continually updated on Facebook.
Other “new” parents come with their own set of needs, such as those whose children previously attended other dance schools. Such parents may need help adjusting to your policies and practices surrounding recital, and comparisons are bound to be made. Every teacher has heard new clients say, “That’s not how we did it at our old school.” How we handle those comparisons is important.
At our studio, my staff and I invite families to talk about the transition from the other school to ours. In some cases, these discussions have taught us better ways to operate. Mostly, though, this kind of communication simply helps parents understand why we do things the way we do. When they do, they’re more likely to respond the way parent Loni Oehlwein did. She relocated to South Bend, Indiana, from Missouri, and when recital time came she invited family members from three states to attend. To me, that was a positive sign that Loni was pleased with our school and comfortable enough to invite relatives to see her child in her new environment.
Preparation won’t guarantee perfection
Students, parents, and teachers all have nightmares about possible disasters at recitals. Sometimes these nightmares come true. Whether it’s amusing, irritating, or panic-inducing, “stuff” happens.
Students Kate Parsons and Anna Waugh described a scary incident at their school, Columbia Dance Academy in Columbia, Tennessee, that later became a story to laugh about. During the recital, a smoke machine set off the theater’s alarm. As the junior high and high school dancers danced and smiled for the audience, each time they turned to face upstage they looked beseechingly at their teacher, Millie Landers, wondering what to do. Landers signaled that they should keep dancing, and the show never stopped.
Annaliese Wagner shared a story that demonstrates how everyone contributes to the success—or stress—of a performance. At one recital, each dancer was expected to have a chair ready in the wings to use for a particular dance. One dancer who forgot to preset hers grabbed the nearest chair—which happened to have wheels! It was a challenge not only for that dancer but for everyone; during the piece, they moved from chair to chair, which meant each dancer had to adapt her movements to keep the chair from rolling across the stage.
Cheryl Kaiser of Cheryl Kaiser School of Dance in Quincy, Illinois, described a harrowing “costume malfunction.” One class of teen dancers had to make a quick change into a harem pant–style costume, stepping into both the trunk/panty and the sheer pants simultaneously. As the dancers ran onstage with scarves held overhead, Kaiser saw the panic on one dancer’s face as she realized she’d missed the trunk/panty. The dancer exited into the opposite wing for a costume “do-over.”
Parents whose children have performance experience have an easier time than those who are new to recitals, but even veterans sometimes feel the pressure of their responsibilities. Many parents say the major factors that affect their recital experience are communication and organization. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it, and being offered some organizational assistance, helps them plan and keep their children comfortable and on track.
Many years ago at my school, we borrowed and expanded on an idea created by a super-organized parent: she put her daughter’s costume in a garment bag and ziplock plastic bag, labeled with her daughter’s name and the name of her dance. Since then we have provided garment bags for all students so they can keep all of their costumes, shoes, and props together. We label the bags with the student name, dance title, and a number indicating at which point in the show the dance occurs.
At the recital, each class is given laundry baskets to keep street shoes and personal belongings from straying. “Class Moms” are equipped with Sharpies so they can write names in shoes and personal items that aren’t already marked.
In addition to anxiety about logistics, other parental concerns include overly long performances and recital costs. Many parents purchase tickets for family and friends who attend, and some feel pressured to purchase all the extras such as photo packages, DVDs, and flowers. To keep show lengths comfortable for the audience and performers, the teachers I spoke with make sure their recitals run less than two hours, even if it means doing additional performances. They also try to keep costume and ticket costs reasonable and offer an à la carte menu of those extras.
Most parents find that their worries disappear when they see their children dancing their hearts out in beautifully choreographed numbers for an enthusiastic audience.
The backstage experience
Parents who volunteer backstage experience the performance on two fronts: as viewers and participants. Working backstage provides an understanding of what goes into a smooth-running production. After volunteering, Chris Doctor, whose daughter, Allison, has been dancing for six years, says she gained new appreciation for the amount of organization that’s needed. Such awareness can instill a heightened sense of responsibility in parents—Doctor recalls watching a show from the audience and worrying about whether everything was getting done backstage since she wasn’t there.
Virginia Berger, whose daughter Shelby is in my school’s advanced classes, has volunteered for 11 recitals. She describes her role as “a parent, helper, costume repairer, makeup artist, skilled tutu fluffer, hair repairer (with some overuse of hairspray), last-minute seamstress, fun maker, nerve soother, hugger, rule reminder, parent/child matchmaker, photo-pose provider, smile giver, praise provider, backstage herder, tear wiper, lipstick assistant, tattletale recipient, tights puller-upper, tap-shoe taper, and entertainment committee.” Her “duties” began when Shelby, then an “incredibly shy” 6-year-old, begged her to help.
Berger compared being a backstage volunteer to being in the military: “It’s not a job; it’s an adventure!” She started volunteering so she could peek into Shelby’s favorite activity without pushing, to see what made her daughter’s heart soar three days a week. In doing so, Berger says she learned that having caring people behind the scenes was important not only to her daughter but to all the performers.
For most families, the pleasures of recitals are simple: seeing joy on a child’s face, watching young dancers take more and more responsibility for themselves, and celebrating a performance with friends and family.
Eight-year-old Tyler Sorenson of Granger, Indiana, a first-year tap dancer, had firsthand knowledge of what goes on behind the curtain at the recitals presented by his great-aunt. After seeing a cousin perform, he decided to try tap. As his own recital approached, his excitement became contagious. His mother, Michelle, says the entire family eagerly anticipated the show.
Helene Shafer of Granger, Indiana, says her daughter Hanya, age 7, couldn’t wait to wear her costume and blush for her second recital. Shafer basks in her daughter’s excitement and the courage she displays when she is onstage.
Chris Doctor appreciates and has always relied heavily on the studio’s handouts, information sessions, and web postings when her daughter began dancing. But now, as her daughter has gotten older, Doctor has given her more responsibility in preparing for the show; for example, Allison uses a checklist and organizes her things in bags labeled for each separate dance to keep items from getting mixed up. She also brings emergency supplies like safety pins, needle and thread, and Band-Aids.
Allison’s recital performance is a major family event. Relatives travel from around the Midwest to attend the performance and celebrate afterward.
Cindy Sudlow’s daughter Anna has danced in eight recitals. Year after year, Sudlow says, Anna looks forward to the performances because she wants to show how much she has mastered in a year. The whole family, including Anna’s grandparents, attends; the family tradition includes a post-performance dinner in Anna’s honor.
Although most people attend recitals to see dancers they know, in general, audiences are delighted to see all the students perform. They are smitten by the unpredictability and sheer cuteness of the youngest students, and admire the advanced dancers’ high level of performance. Sudlow and Doctor both say they enjoy seeing how the dancers progress from year to year, along with seeing the variety of choreography produced by all the teachers.
All for one and one for all
Next time you think parents don’t appreciate all the work you do on your recital, think about the ups and downs, twists and turns, and sometimes utter confusion they experience. Above all, remember that most of them want the same outcome you do: a well-organized performance that makes everyone happy and proud.
Planning and running a tight show
By Ryan P. Casey
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.
A two-hour recital is perfect. Three hours is the maximum that any human can take. —Michele Ribble
A recital is a complicated and stressful undertaking, no matter how many years you’ve been in business. Yet it is a significant event and achievement. Your students and their families and friends deserve to be treated to a high-quality production, one that demonstrates the professionalism and integrity with which you run your studio, and leaves your customers and audience wanting more. Many dance studio owners have developed strategies to ensure such memorable, seamless performances.
Tell a story
When planning your recital, “having a theme or storyline to follow makes the experience more engaging for the audience,” says Carol Zee, 42, artistic director of The Gabriella Foundation. Since 2005, this nonprofit organization has operated dance-themed Gabriella Charter School in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. These students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, have an hour of dance every day and perform in their own year-end recital.
For 14 years, the Foundation has also delivered high-quality dance education to underserved Los Angeles youth through a separate, afterschool program, everybody dance!, in several locations throughout the city. Last season, the program’s annual performance, based on The Wizard of Oz, included more than 500 dancers.
“The audience enjoys watching a story unfold, and the students like knowing they are playing a specific part in the show,” Zee says.
“It’s important that the audience is familiar with the story, which contributes to their enjoyment and keeps their attention,” says Cheryl Cusick, 47, the owner and artistic director of Narragansett Performing Arts Center in Narragansett, Rhode Island, for 22 years. Integrating students from both recreational and career-oriented programs, she develops her recitals around a well-known tale such as Peter Pan, The Lion King, or Cinderella.
“The first half of our show is a rendition of that story,” Cusick says. “Our older company dancers are cast as the main characters. They often work with our youngest dancers during their classes and perform as a part of their routine. These lead roles tie each scene together as the story progresses. The second half is based on the theme, but not in a story format, allowing teachers to come up with eclectic and contemporary pieces to a variety of song selections.”
Cusick says having young dancers perform early in the show is ideal. “They can arrive and leave early, which makes it easier for them and their parents,” she says. “If I do have a younger age group in the second half of the show, they are always within a few numbers of intermission, so it remains an early night for them.”
Zee, who incorporates more than 400 Gabriella students into annual recitals, also accommodates young dancers by putting them in fewer performances.
“Our pre-ballet and level-one students dance in only one performance, while the other students dance in all four shows,” she says. “This gives our more advanced kids additional performance experience and keeps the baby/beginner dances to a minimum. They’re cute, but the audience doesn’t need to see 10 ‘baby’ routines over the course of a night.”
Brandon Rios, artistic director of Old Dominion Performance Arts Studio in Waynesboro, Virginia, notes that interspersing various disciplines is as important as alternating age groups and levels. Old Dominion is in its 14th season; it offers dance and martial arts instruction to about 150 students.
“Keep the show as varied, dynamic, and entertaining as possible,” says Rios, 29. “Jazz, lyrical, hip-hop, contemporary, tap, babies, competition—switch it up. This also helps with quick changes. The studio director and I often make a spreadsheet of who is in what dance, cut it into strips, and lay them out to ensure that there are enough dances to accommodate costume changes. These rosters allow us to see who is in each dance and make sure they have minimal back-to-back pieces.”
Jennifer Prete, 43, who has run Jennifer Prete School of Dance in Charlestown, Rhode Island, for 13 years, also considers costuming and undergarments when determining the order of her show. “I make sure tights can be layered on the dancers,” she says. “Pink tights for ballet are on top and light suntan tights for jazz are underneath, for instance, which makes it easier for the people who help them change.”
“We always have big opening and closing numbers for the shows,” says 39-year-old Nancy Stanford, the owner, director, and sole instructor at Nancy Stanford School of Dance. Located in Clarenville, Newfoundland, Canada, the school has offered recreational classes since 1999. “This gives the show a true ‘performance’ feel and anchors everything,” Stanford says.
Vital to presenting a polished, professional-looking show is securing adequate backstage assistance. Staff and volunteers can help with quick changes, organize groups, supervise dressing rooms, and do other tasks to keep the show moving along.
“I have a runner who gets my groups lined up in the hallway four or five groups ahead,” says Prete. “Stage managers have lists with children’s names, or each child is designated a number so they can get in order. Younger students hold hands while they’re waiting so they stay in line.”
“Have specific backstage jobs for your staff: stage manager, on-deck supervisor, quick-change supervisor, stage left headset, stage right headset, dressing room monitors,” Zee says. “Make sure you have enough headsets for all key people so everyone can stay in communication throughout the show.”
“Your helpers backstage and in the dressing rooms should not be related to the performers,” says Michele Ribble, 56, artistic and executive director of Red Hook, New York’s Rhinebeck Dance Centre. “Students can act up in front of their parents, and parents can fuss excessively over their children and worry about watching them onstage rather than helping them get ready. An outsider who doesn’t have a personal relationship with the dancers can keep them focused on what they need to do.”
“Having a lot of experienced backstage volunteers is critical,” says Prete, 43. “They should get memos and checklists ahead of time so they know the groups they are in charge of and what the costumes look like, where accessories go, and what color tights are to be worn.”
“Our students have 90 seconds between classes to change their shoes and be ready for the next class,” says Rios. “If they can get in the habit of changing quickly at the studio, they will be able to do it come performance day.”
“Take time to teach your students, especially younger ones, how to preset their props, complete quick changes, and behave backstage,” Zee says. “They should know to stay focused on what’s happening onstage, to stay clear of the wings and out of the way of dancers who are exiting, and to be mindful of the space around them, because it’s dark.”
Keeping everything flowing onstage is as important as a smooth-running backstage operation. Too many pauses or speeches between numbers or long breaks for set changes impede the momentum of the show and make audiences restless.
“As one group is exiting, the next is entering,” Zee says. “I require all dances to enter from stage right and exit stage left. The curtain doesn’t open or close once the show starts. You have to keep it moving.”
“I suggest blackouts between numbers,” Cusick says. “I only use curtains prior to a large ballet piece or a routine requiring a set of any kind.”
“I run smaller group routines in front of the curtain while my stage manager presets the next act, a larger group, behind it,” Prete says.
“Our teachers often have their routines enter during the last eight counts of the previous song, either walking on or doing choreography,” Rios says. “The dancers who just finished exit to the beginning of the next tune, which minimizes the need for blackouts.”
When there are many students and routines to include, maintaining smooth transitions from one number to the next helps to minimize the show’s length. “Have a time limit for each dance,” Zee says. “For beginner or younger students, no more than two or two and a half minutes. For older and more advanced dancers, three to three and a half minutes maximum.”
“I don’t allow all my team pieces in the show, although I will allow one piece that represents each company or ensemble,” Ribble says. “A two-hour recital is perfect. Three hours is the maximum that any human can take.”
Experience pays off
These dance studio directors agree that experience, and the sometimes difficult lessons learned by trial and error, have been their best teachers.
“We’ve changed venues over the years,” says Cusick. “We’ve attempted to put on a production at local high schools, but found that although it was more convenient travel-wise, we gave up some of the professional quality we pride ourselves on. We’ve opted to stay at our college theater, 40 minutes away—and it’s air-conditioned! There is nothing worse than melting through a show for two or three hours; people can’t wait to leave.”
“We got a very positive response when we shifted our productions into storytelling mode,” Zee says. “The audience has more enjoyment if they’re watching a story unfold.”
“Often, I will invite a guest group or other local artists to perform in my show,” says Ribble. “The dads in the audience especially appreciate a different twist, such as fencers or karate students, and it’s great entertainment. We once invited the West Point Academy Cadets to do a drill, and a belly dancer once brought snakes!”
“Although I think it’s important to change with the times, it’s just as important to acknowledge when something works,” Cusick adds. “Consistency works well; people appreciate knowing what to expect from year to year. A professional performance is your best marketing tool.”
Banish the recital blues by saying goodbye to the tried-and-true
By Julie Holt Lucia
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.
Most of us school owners, I would venture to guess, know our recital planning like the backs of our hands; not much changes from year to year. We rely on what’s routine and comfortable, which is understandable when we’re dealing with a large production. But wouldn’t it be fun to jazz things up? Here are some ideas to stretch your creativity beyond mere dance steps. Think of them as a booster shot for your business!
Do you have a group of super-creative students who love making up dances? Consider letting them create choreography that they’ll perform in the recital (subject to your approval, of course). This could be accomplished with a dedicated dance composition class that teaches the basics of choreography, or it could be more informal, like a side project outside of classes.
Multimedia effects can present your dancers with a performance challenge and offer your audience a new perspective on how dance can be viewed.
The dancers can work together to create movement, or each one can be responsible for choreographing one section of music. Another possibility is to have these students set choreography on a group of younger students, either a class (chosen by you) or a group of volunteer dancers who are willing to commit to extra rehearsal time.
Give the student choreographers parameters to work within, such as a dance genre or pre-selected music, and have an instructor supervise and guide them to ensure the results comply with your expectations. Keeping the costuming and lighting simple will let the students focus on making movement.
Multimedia in the mix
Multimedia effects can present your dancers with a performance challenge and offer your audience a new perspective on how dance can be viewed. Multimedia in dance typically involves projecting something—video footage, photos, or text—onto a screen behind or alongside the dancers. The dancers can react to or interact with the images or text, or the projections can serve as part of the setting. Some venues include projectors in the rental package; if yours doesn’t, consider purchasing a projector if you plan to use multimedia effects often.
Ideas abound for using multimedia. A class or small group could dance alongside video footage of themselves from class or performance, performing complementary choreography. Or you could project images or photos that inspired the movement, illustrate it, or expand on an idea. Try depicting a history of dance using images of famous choreographers, or project a poem that a narrator reads aloud while the dancers perform to the rhythm of the words. With so many possibilities, you could incorporate something new with multimedia each year.
If you have a small school and want to approach your recital from a less traditional angle, holding it in an unconventional venue can add a spark. Art and science museums, park amphitheaters, sculpture gardens, and arboretums offer unique performance spaces. Choose a recital theme that fits the site, such as “Visual Art + Dance” or “The Elements of Life,” and let the surrounding space inspire your choreography. Visit the site well in advance to take note of assets or limitations or photograph the environment, and make sure to relay that information to your staff. It may be possible to hold one or more rehearsals in the space.
With site-specific performances, make sure the logistics are well planned and communicated to staff and customers ahead of time, including details about parking, tickets, programs, and volunteers. If you go with an outdoor space, arrange for an alternative site in case of bad weather.
If your school’s large enrollment makes a site-specific performance difficult, another option is to host a variety of small site-specific performances throughout the year. Make videos of those performances and integrate them into the full-scale recital, either as accompaniment to other dances (perhaps using some of the same choreography) or as pre- and post-show entertainment in the lobby.
Live music for a dance performance doesn’t have to mean hiring an orchestra, or even using an orchestra pit. A solo musician or ensemble playing onstage or in another part of the theater can add an exciting element to any performance. Ask a college music department or local music school if some of their students would be interested in playing for a dance performance (and are willing to commit to the rehearsal and performance schedule). Determine how many dance routines they’ll accompany, and discuss appropriate music selections. If you’re able to plan well in advance, consider asking if anyone would like to compose original music for the recital. (Be sure to get samples of their work, and interview any likely candidates to determine whether they can write to your specifications regarding length, tempo, tone, and style.)
Even if you face limitations (maybe your only option for live music is percussion, or the only available dancers are beginners), play to the musicians’ and dancers’ strengths as best you can, and get creative. Don’t be afraid to shake things up. For example, instead of setting a traditional ballet suite to piano or strings, choreograph a classical-music–based modern dance instead. Or try contemporary ballet or a traditional jazz routine accompanied by drums. Don’t forget to credit the musicians and/or music school in the recital program and include them in curtain calls.
Dance and theater go hand in hand, so why not invite a local children’s theater troupe to share performance space (and expenses) with your school during recital time? With a broad theme like “That’s Entertainment!” or “Once Upon a Time,” you could easily incorporate a variety of short monologues, scenes, or songs by the young actors—perhaps a theater segment after every four or five dance routines. (This would also give your busiest dancers more time to change costumes.)
You could also take the idea a step further with a theme called “On Broadway,” keeping the acting, singing, and dancing within the boundaries of kid-friendly Broadway musicals. If you already have a rapport with the theater director, collaborate with the troupe on a big opening or closing number as well.
Set similar time limits for theater scenes and dance numbers (three to five minutes), and use simple sets to avoid lag time between routines. If you think a collaborative show might be too long, consider breaking up the recital into two or three shorter shows instead.
Regardless of how many shows you present, plan enough time for tech and dress rehearsals so the dancers and actors know exactly what to expect regarding cues for everyone’s entrances, exits, lights, and sound.
Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? At critical junctures, the reader could decide which angle of the story to pursue. Your recital audiences might like to have the same option, even in a small way. This requires good planning but could result in a surprise showstopper.
To start, have a group (or more than one) of intermediate to advanced dancers prepared to perform two very different routines. With the tickets or programs, include a voting card listing the two options. Ask audience members to turn in their votes during intermission, during which time a designated stagehand or volunteer tallies them. A quick method is to have the tickets pre-printed with, for example, A and B on a perforated end, and they could tear off their choice. And voilà! By the end of intermission the dancers will know which routine they are performing, and the audience will be eagerly waiting to see if their choice won the vote. (Use the other routine elsewhere in the show or for a future community performance or competition.)
Another way to engage the audience is to extend the reach of the recital theme to include them. Call the show “Summer Fun” and ask the audience to wear their luau best, or call it “Inspiration” and ask them to bring clothing or food donations for a local shelter. Instead of doing a traditional finale, keep the theme going by inviting the audience to participate in a student-led dance jam. Bring most of the dancers onstage and send a handful of them into the aisles to get the audience dancing.
Take a leap!
If none of these ideas excites you, try exploring stage technology for inspiration—even small changes to lights and sound or music can make a difference—or brainstorm ideas with your staff. When you find something that feels right, take a leap! A fresh approach does more than entertain—it keeps your clients and audiences wondering what you’ll do next and eager to go along for the ride.
A look at who does what for recitals across the U.S.
By Maureen Janson
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.
Organized by dance style, the offerings include one show for competition teams and dance company performers in early May and three shows on one day in late May or early June.
Venues and performance formats vary and depend on such factors as studio location, number of participants, and size of the potential audience. While some studios have moved their recitals to larger theaters due to growth, others find the same venue suitable for dozens of years. A production might showcase a range of dances and styles, progress from beginners through advanced, or take the form of a full-length dance. No matter the format, once your show is running smoothly from year to year, remember to relax a little and enjoy what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Two years ago, in a warehouse district on Staten Island, New York, AIM Studio hosted its inaugural dance recital, featuring 32 students on a basketball court. For the second year’s recital, owner Andrea Wachholtz upgraded to a black-box theater at Rutgers University. With her ballet-focused offerings, Wachholtz finds a narrative dance a natural way to bring dancers ages 3 through 16 together in performance. Her 2013 creation, Gingerbread Dreams, was adapted from the tale “Hansel and Gretel.”
Wachholtz makes sure that “all children are cast appropriately and understand that all parts, big or small, are important to make the entire performance come together; it’s not about who is better than someone else,” she says. Sometimes availability determines casting; when rehearsals are held outside of regularly scheduled classes, Wachholtz says, some children are unable to attend.
Those who cannot participate in rehearsals are encouraged to work backstage on performance day. The show is performed only once in the 220-seat Loree Dance Theater, in early April. Unlike many schools, whose recital marks the end of the year, AIM Studio’s regular classes continue for several weeks after the show, giving the students a chance to reflect on their performance and return to technique classes before a summer break.
Drouin Dance Center
In Westbrook, Maine, just outside of Portland, Drouin Dance Center divides 400 students among three discrete performances in mid-June. Owner Danielle Drouin chooses the date to avoid conflicts with a popular local festival, Westbrook Together Days. Over the span of eight years, her recital format has grown and changed.
“My first year we had 89 students and one show in a high school auditorium with 800 seats,” Drouin says. “We sold 720 seats, and I was in shock.” The next year she added a second performance, and in 2012, a third. Three years ago, to accommodate a growing audience, she shifted from the high school to the Westbrook Middle School’s brand-new 1,000-seat Westbrook Performing Arts Center. The new venue is closer to the studio, with enough backstage area to safely accommodate a large number of dancers and volunteer helpers.
Previously presenting all three shows on a Saturday, in 2013 Drouin modified the schedule to accommodate a local high school graduation. “We ended up with two shows on Saturday, and one on Sunday. The Saturday morning show was mainly younger children mixed in with a few adult classes and our dance company numbers; the Saturday afternoon show was 5- to 12-year-olds, with some adult and dance company numbers mixed in,” Drouin says. “We held the third show on a Sunday at 11am, featuring intermediate and advanced classes, adult classes, and all company routines.”
Drouin structures each show as a variety of dances to highlight the range of her studio offerings. A year in advance, she consults with her teaching staff about a theme that can incorporate dances from ballet to creative movement, and Irish step dance to acrobatics. These broad themes have ranged from “Dancing Through the Seasons” to “Earth and Its Elements.”
New England School of Dance
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Manchester, New Hampshire, Susan L. Smith, like Wachholtz, works with a narrative story to create a spring production at her school, New England School of Dance. She shies away from labeling it a recital.
For the past 27 years the school has presented “a production like a full-length ballet, except we choose a story—for example, Wizard of Oz in 2013—to which we can tastefully add jazz, tap, and modern dance,” Smith says. She has the younger students dance at the beginning of the program and features more experienced dancers at the end. “The students love it because they feel that they are all an important part of the story. We use this opportunity to educate the students about theater etiquette, and we try to involve parents, students, and anyone who is interested in helping with the props, sets, and costumes.”
Smith has used the same auditorium for many years—the Dana Center, a 660-seat theater at Saint Anselm College. Other dance schools in the Manchester area also use the venue, so early June dates are always pending availability. But the venue size suits Smith’s school well.
Spring Into Motion School of Dance
Carissa Dixon, of Spring Into Motion School of Dance, presents two recitals each year. The first, in January, is what she calls “a casual winter recital. It’s more like a fancy parent viewing week,” she says. “We use costumes from years past and allow solos and duets. We don’t show our competitive dances at this recital so that we can showcase our recreational dancers.”
Dixon rents a small, 210-seat theater in rural Spring Green, Wisconsin, where the studio is located. But for a larger all-studio spring production, held on a weekend in May, she moves to River Arts Center, which accommodates 492 viewers.
A lack of venues in the region has proved challenging for Dixon, who joined the 15-year-old studio five years ago as a co-owner along with April Hovelson. Since Hovelson is living in New York City, Dixon has taken full responsibility for recital planning. Originally, recitals were held in Richland Center, about 24 miles from the studio, then in Reedsburg, 28 miles north. Disappointed with the theater staff in Reedsburg, Dixon moved the recital to the current Sauk Prairie venue, 22 miles east of her school, and she plans to stay there for a while.
Dixon presents a showcase format featuring 100 students and a range of dance styles. She varies the styles of dances in the show order, considering what might make it appealing and entertaining, and hopes that by maintaining high production values and marketing it as a local dance concert event, the recital will appeal to a general public beyond the dancers’ family members. The show is performed twice and follows a loose theme like “Gimme a Beat” or “Legends.” What sets her recitals apart from others, Dixon believes, are the original character-influenced and sometimes pedestrian-looking costume designs she creates for most dances.
Gotta Dance Studio, Inc. in Lexington, Kentucky, has a 21-year history of presenting springtime recitals. Owner Dawn Freeman takes advantage of being near the Transylvania University campus by using its 1,050-seat Haggin Auditorium. Her recitals—three or four different shows on one weekend—generally fall on the first weekend of June, after the campus commencement ceremony is over.
With more than 300 dancers to showcase, Freeman presents Friday and Saturday evening shows and a Saturday matinee. If enrollment is high in a given year, she adds a fourth show on Thursday evening. The competition teams perform in all shows; otherwise each recital is different.
“I always have the 2-years-olds perform within the first five numbers and put anyone under the age of 5 in the first act,” Freeman says. But she keeps a range of ages on each program “so there is a variety throughout the recital.” She emphasizes fun throughout the process.
Freeman chooses broad themes such as “Celebrate Life . . . Celebrate Dance” or “Anything Goes” to tie the dances together. She usually thinks of the next year’s theme during recital time, “and the planning begins then,” she says.
After the recital weekend, Freeman follows up with parents, teachers, dancers, and theater staff. “I make a list of what worked well and what didn’t, and this becomes my start-up list for the next year,” she says. “I keep what is good and learn from my mistakes. There is always room for improvement.”
A Step Above School of Dance
For seven years, in suburban Moore, Oklahoma, A Step Above School of Dance presented a short recital in the community center where classes were held. After the school relocated in 2010, and to meet the demands of a growing audience, owner Amy Pace shifted her mid-May show to a large auditorium at Southmoore High School. “It borders on an informal atmosphere, but our audience is always very respectful,” she says.
Pace’s recitals showcase a mixture of ballet, tap, jazz, musical-theater, and special-needs classes; the youngest dancers perform first. She schedules a lengthy intermission during which time the young dancers and their families can leave; the older dancers take the stage for act two.
The teaching staff comes up with theme ideas, and Pace has stockpiled 10 to 15 ideas for future recitals. For 2013, the theme was “Art in Motion.”
Pace says she has learned what not to do by watching other recitals over the years. “I have gone to recitals where it’s just dances back to back with no theme, and I personally didn’t find that very entertaining.” Her recitals “follow closely what the studio I grew up with did, which I’ve found works,” she says.
The Pointe Academy
What works for The Pointe Academy, south of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the town of Highland, is to separate more than 700 students into four shows each spring. Organized by dance style, the offerings include one show for competition teams and dance company performers in early May and three shows on one day in late May or early June: an all-ballet showcase in the early afternoon, a jazz, tap, hip-hop, and break-dance show in the late afternoon, and a brief early evening showcase featuring the 3- to 5-year-olds.
“Each show is just enough to keep the audience involved and not tired, and the day offers nice breaks between shows,” says co-owner Darcey Wilde. For the past five of their six years in business, Wilde and co-owner Janene Schiffman have used Timberline Middle School’s auditorium, which seats 840. Wilde says this show structure “keeps the audience a manageable size.”
Using no themes, the teaching staff chooses the music and creates choreography suited to their students’ age and ability. Only the ballet showcase is structured around a narrative, often following the story of a traditional ballet such as Coppélia.
Their recitals are “based on what has worked best for our staff, dancers, and families,” says Wilde. “We are sensitive to the feedback we are given each year.”
Molly Kaleikilo runs Innovative Dance in Wilsonville, a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Her studio has grown over 15 years, and her recital now features more than 220 dancers performing a range of styles from ballet to hip-hop. A late June date allows her to hold a full week of classes prior to the show without school conflicts.
Kaleikilo presents one show that half-fills the 1,500-seat Rolling Hills Community Church venue, which she describes as a rather formal “real” theater. “We used to use a high school but had scheduling issues with them,” she says. “It was a blessing, because we ended up at our current venue, which is beyond amazing.”
Placing young dancers on the program first, Kalelkilo then allows them to sit in the audience after intermission to watch the older dancers. The show’s format stays the same from year to year, following a narrow theme such as “Broadway” or the broader “Thanks for the Memories.”
“Every class has a dance, so we do whatever it takes to fit them in,” says Kaleikilo. She invites everyone in town to be a part of the recital, either by helping out or watching. “I want all of Wilsonville to believe in me and my program,” she says. “The show is my opportunity to bring family, friends, and community into our world.”
“Dance recital season is in full swing, and the amount of tulle and glitter floating in the ether is enough to suffocate dancers, teachers, and parents alike to the point of frenzy,” writes dance artist Nora Younkin in a column about the unseen benefits of dance education in the Huffington Post.
“So while dance moms (and dads!) from every corner of the country are excited to see their dancer don a sparkling costume, apply their stage makeup, and perform under those bright stage lights, it is important to remember that a recital is the icing on the cake of dance education. Photos and videos of recitals are archived as mementos of childhood, but the skills and values acquired in dance class are carried into every aspect of their lives.
“Dance is a wonderful practice to bring into a child’s life. Whether it is at a local studio, in a pre-professional program, or the freedom to move to music within the household, dance offers unique benefits to the developing child. Children are wired to dance and every child should be given the opportunity to benefit from the experience of dance class. The arts should not be considered extracurricular, they need to be recognized as a component of every child’s development.”
To read the full column, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nora-younkin/dance-recitals-icing-on-t_b_3438982.html
The editing of a song can make or break a competition routine, recital number, or concert piece, and finding a user-friendly editing service is a top priority of many dance teachers and studio owners today.
The editors at Dance Studio Life magazine are wondering if anyone has used either of these professional music editing services: Dancers Delight (http://www.dancersdelightedits.com/Welcome_To_Our_Studio.html) and Marquette Productions (http://www.marquetteproductions.com/).
If not, who or what do you use? If you would like to share your findings with other DSL readers, please send your comments to Lisa at Lisa@RheeGold.com. And, as always, thanks for your input!
Revolution Dancewear today announced that it has begun distribution of its dancewear and recital costume lines in Europe just three months after it acquired Dance Direct, the largest online retailer of dance apparel in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.
The Niles, Illinois company sells dancewear and footwear direct to dance studios in the U.S. and Canada, and now, direct to dance studios and consumers in Europe. The Revolution Dancewear collection catalog featuring more than 400 designs is being distributed to prospective U.K. dance market customers. Revolution Dancewear’s products are now available on the Dance Direct U.K. website and the German in-language website supporting customers in that country, with product lines rolling out this week in France, Spain, and Italy.
Unlike the U.S. dance market, most costumes in Europe are still largely hand sewn by seamstresses. Within days of the European launch, one UK dance studio owner expressed her appreciation for ready-to-wear costumes as she was set to sew 2,000 costumes on her own.
For more information, visit www.revolutiondance.com.
By Megan Donahue
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.
A change of plan
Camille Parsons had booked the Cotton Auditorium in Fort Bragg, California, for Second Story Studios’ June 2002 dance concert the previous fall, just as she had for years. Everything progressed as usual until the auditorium was damaged when a car crashed into it in March. When a resulting inspection found significant dry rot, the building was closed for repairs. Parsons had to find somewhere else to have her recital.
“After majorly freaking out—all the costumes were already ordered and we were in rehearsals—I managed to get all my ducks in a row to hold it in the only other building here large enough to hold an audience and a stage: the local high school gymnasium,” says Parsons.
With the help of a local “theater wizard” with whom she’d worked on many shows, Parsons ended up constructing an entire stage inside the gymnasium, complete with a dance floor and proscenium. The gymnasium had to be rewired to accommodate the lighting system (something the school agreed to do since it owns the Cotton Auditorium and Parsons had proven she was trustworthy) and the audience sat on bleachers. The cafeteria served as a backstage area.
Because the repairs and remodeling of the Cotton Auditorium took four years, Second Story Studios held four recitals in the gymnasium space before returning to its original venue. In the interim, the auditorium was completely redone and now has up-to-date sound and lighting systems—a welcome change for Parsons, after having to build a stage four years in a row.
Nobody ran a car into Sarah Beth Byrum’s usual recital venue. She had a much more common problem—a school district booking issue that bumped her studio from its spot. Byrum, the artistic director of All That! Dance Company of Eugene, Oregon, found herself getting closer and closer to her recital date without a venue lined up. “I was stressed, panicked, nauseated. I desperately contacted every venue in town with no success,” she says.
So she started to think creatively. “On a whim, I connected with a local high school cheer coach and asked her if she had any pull at the school to get us a spot,” she says. “This particular high school did not have a facility manager and was not typically used for outside concerts.” Staffing changes at the school confused the process, and Byrum wasn’t positive she could use the space until the week of her recital.
Nobody ran a car into Sarah Beth Byrum’s usual recital venue. She had a much more common problem—a school district booking issue that bumped her studio from its spot.
Finally she got the go-ahead. “We were able to partner the event as a fund-raiser with the school’s cheer squad. The cheerleaders ran concessions, played with the young dancers backstage, helped the dancers do hair and makeup, and kept everything running smoothly,” Byrum says. The school’s staff was also supportive. “The drama/choir teacher volunteered to open the auditorium for us, let us use the choir room for quick changes, and connected us with a student tech.”
Byrum’s brother hung and focused the lights, most of which weren’t even directed at the stage. “[He] was up on what they call ‘the ladder of death’ until an hour before the show,” says Byrum.
While some high school auditoriums have state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, others leave a lot to be desired.
Deborah Mason of Deborah Mason School of Dance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has plenty of experience with inadequately equipped spaces. Over the years she’s held recitals in high school auditoriums and small theaters, a necessity after rising costs at her usual large, well-equipped theater space became prohibitive.
The first alternate venue she tried was a local high school, which did not have much in the way of sound or lighting. Mason rented equipment and hired technicians to operate it. In addition, for the first year “the school wasn’t really on board,” she says. The use of the space was strictly limited and did not include the dressing rooms. “The older kids changed backstage in the dark,” says Mason. Still, from the audience’s perspective, “that show went off without a hitch,” she says.
In following years, Mason held recitals in theaters with little to no wing space. To solve the backstage overcrowding problem, she split her recital into two one-hour shows.
Mason recommends using trusted technicians to operate rented equipment. “It’s good to make friends in the [theater and dance] community,” she says, noting that you’ll know who to call when you need that kind of help.
Linda Deitrich Wong of South Jersey DanceWorks in Pitman, New Jersey, has held her recital in the same high school auditorium for 20 years, and the experience hasn’t been without its challenges. Lighting is one of the big ones. For several years she has rented lights to supplement the equipment at the venue, not all of which is in service.
In 2011 a circuit blew during the first half of the recital. In order to have the ability to use dimmers, she had rented a lighting control board. When the circuit blew, “we went searching for the [theater] manager to tell him, only to find out that he did not know where the breaker box was,” says Wong. With the problem unresolved, none of the rented equipment could be used, and the second half of the show was performed in the sparse light of the auditorium.
This year no circuits were blown, but Wong had a new problem—the lighting technician left before the show was over. Wong’s niece was running sound, and she was left on her own for the recital’s last four numbers. Fortunately she had six years of experience and a take-charge attitude, because “she had to run lights and sound,” says Wong. Having a trusted person in the booth saved the show.
Wong ran into a completely different set of problems with her venue the following year. When she arrived at the high school auditorium on recital day, things were already not quite going according to plan. Due to a local ordinance about using the auditorium on Sundays, there were new time constraints that prevented the dance school from getting into the building until noon—and the recital was at 1pm, an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate some students who had a church function later in the day. Wong had learned about the change only two weeks before the recital. Usually she arrives three hours early; this time there was no time for that.
Wong was prepared to rush around for the one hour she had to get everything ready, but the only person there when she arrived was a substitute custodian. The auditorium manager was nowhere in sight. So not only was no one in charge, no one knew where things were, such as tables for the lobby vendors. The custodian found a single table, which the concession team and florist had to share.
Then, 20 minutes before curtain, Wong’s son, Jacob, informed her that he couldn’t get into his dressing room. All of his costumes were inside. Though the door had been unlocked when they arrived, it had locked automatically when shut. Without the auditorium manager there, only the custodian could help her get that door open, and he was nowhere to be found. She was trying to figure out how to outfit her son from pieces of other costumes when a parent managed to pick the lock, just in time. “We made it through,” Wong says.
Dance programs that reside in schools or parks and recreation facilities or studios on very tight budgets may not use traditional venues at all. Non-traditional performance spaces take all the potential problems of traditional spaces to the next level: no lighting, no backstage, and no clear lines between the audience and performers.
Design Dance is a community-based Chicago dance program that offers on-site arts partnerships with local schools and parks. Before 2012, the annual showcase was always held in the gym at a local park. The gymnasium is a giant space, especially compared to the tiny preschool dancers who comprise the majority of Design Dance’s students.
To define the space, executive director Debra Giunta used a freestanding rectangular frame provided by the park, covered in black, as an upstage “wall.” She clipped lights to the frame, and taped out a “stage” on the gym floor. It was a little rough-and-tumble, but Giunta sees a benefit to the stripped-down space: “The focus is on just the dancers,” she says.
This year, when she used an elementary school auditorium for the showcase, the fact that the wings were tiny and completely inaccessible on stage right didn’t seem like such a big problem. At least there were wings—and an actual stage.
Liane Fisher of Fisher Academy of Ballet and Dance in Westwood, Massachusetts, planned to present her first recital in the gym of a local sports facility. She was skeptical about using the gym at first since the show included a theatrical production of Peter Pan, which required wings and a crossover. But then she noticed several folded-up Ping-Pong tables. About five feet high, “they made great wings,” she says. She covered them with matching curtains, pinned up a backdrop to make a crossover space, borrowed a couple of hot lights from her photographer fiancé, and used shop lights as footlights—and voilà! A theater space was created.
When it comes to presenting live theater, even the best-laid plans can go awry. But as Parsons says, “Anytime you put up a show you have to be adaptable, because things happen.”
By Karen White
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.
Some dance studios are jumping on this marketing bandwagon by bundling costs for their annual recital, competition team, or even the entire school year. These “grand totals” are then paid by parents in evenly divided monthly installments, spreading out the cost and eliminating multiple bills for costumes, recital T-shirts, show DVDs, and other paraphernalia.
It’s an idea that intrigued Amy Simkins, owner/director of Expressions Dance in Bountiful, Utah, when she heard another studio owner chat about its merits at a DanceLife Teacher Conference. “I hadn’t ever thought of doing it, but it was a really nice idea and refreshing to know that someone had done it and had success with it,” says Simkins, who designed a bundle last year for her recital, which she calls a concert. “We had complaints, but they were few compared to the many compliments and happy customers we had with the bundle. Parents thought it was better all around for them and felt they were getting so much more.”
Her concert bundle included costume(s), tights, accessories, concert DVD, class picture, concert T-shirt and shorts, participation trophy, five tickets, and security/chaperone fees.
Bundling fees means simplicity and convenience, all in one package.
Bundle payments for her 250 dancers started in February and ran through June. For those five months, each student owed tuition plus the bundle fee—for example, a student with a $40 monthly tuition charge plus a $29 bundle owed $69. Depending on how many costumes a child needed (and with the studio able to offer costume rentals to some classes for a lesser fee), total bundle fees ranged from about $125 to $175, she says.
The system saved time and minimized paperwork—for both parents and the studio. Parents weren’t stressed about hunting down certain colors or brands of tights. There were no individual DVD or T-shirt order forms to hand out and collect, or costume payments to keep track of. Simkins, who handles all videography and photography in-house, made a larger profit because she sold pictures and DVDs to her full student body.
Simkins’ bundles included a little extra to pay her teachers for their work during the concert and dress rehearsal and to hire a junior high school cheerleading squad as backstage chaperones, which allowed her usual parent volunteers to relax and watch the show.
To add excitement and value to the bundle, Simkins designed a pre-concert kickoff performance. She rented a local park with an amphitheater stage for $100 for one night early in her concert week. Family and friends were invited to bring lawn chairs and picnic baskets and watch as the students performed their concert numbers. Dancers, who wore the recital T-shirts and shorts that they received as part of the bundle, were able to work out their concert jitters in an informal, fun performance.
A first-time event for Expressions Dance, the performance was a huge hit, Simkins says. “This way we could say, ‘We know you paid us all this money, but look at how much you are getting in return. Because of this bundle, your child is going to get a bigger and better experience.’ ”
It was also a good marketing opportunity. “We had our banners out, and people playing on the playground watched. It was a fun community event and something fun for our families to do together,” Simkins says, adding that she would not have been able to provide this extra to her clients if she hadn’t implemented fee bundling.
Customers at Studio 56 Dance Center in Murray, Utah, received a different benefit. When studio owner Amy Moore decided to implement a bundle last year, she immediately called her videographer and photographer to negotiate better deals for her clients. Under the traditional system, she had no way of knowing how many concert DVDs or class pictures would sell. But with every student receiving both through the bundle, she was able to guarantee a sales figure based on her enrollment.
Not only did both vendors settle on a price of $20 each instead of $25, which saved her clients $10 ($5 each off the DVD and photo), but her videographer agreed to mail all the DVDs directly to the clients’ homes. (Photos are still handed out at dress rehearsal.) As always, Moore received a commission on any additional pictures that were sold.
“I was able to tell my parents, ‘I’m saving you money by doing this bundle,’ and I was still able to make money in the process,” Moore says.
Her concert bundle payments ran March through June, which allowed her to keep enrollment open through the end of February. For an average cost of $45 a month, recreational students received costume(s), a picture, a DVD, dress rehearsal snack, six tickets, and a concert T-shirt—plus, similar to Dance Expressions’ family event, a pre-concert kickoff movie night held in an outdoor park.
The concept of bundling wasn’t completely new to Moore, who had created a similar system for her competition team about five years ago. (As a mom, she was constantly being bombarded with bills for her own kids’ activities, and thought there must be a better way.) Team students pay eight installments on a bundle that covers their competition and convention fees, costumes, guest teacher days, choreography fees, shoes, and tights—which runs about $136 to $195 a month.
As soon as a student makes the team, Moore presents the monthly cost and an itemized breakdown of all charges to the parent. “I think my parents really appreciate the thought and the honesty, and that they’re never surprised with things,” she says. Bundling also forces her to plan the team’s year and then stay within the budget she created.
“One reason I hadn’t done it for recital was that I was afraid it would scare the rec parents,” says Moore, who changed her mind after hearing success stories at last summer’s DanceLife Teacher Conference. “I did an online survey, and the biggest question for me was how they liked the bundle. They liked being able to pay over time and not have to come up with all this money at the end. We got a lot of positive feedback, so I think we’ll stick with it.”
Amy Hlavaty Belcher, artistic director of Arabesque Academy of Dancing in Moscow, Pennsylvania, has taken the idea of bundling to a whole new level. She bundles all costs for the entire year—tuition, recital costume and tights, leotard and tights (for class), studio T-shirt, dance bag, and DVDs of the Christmas and spring shows—which are paid on a nine-month schedule. Show tickets are not included, because, Belcher says, “I haven’t figured out a good way that’s fair for everyone.”
Switching from a traditional system to bundling—which she did in 2008, three years after her business was founded—was “scary,” Belcher says. But because of landlord issues and some rookie financial mistakes, she had to declare bankruptcy and wanted to make some real changes in the way she ran her business. “It’s hard to step out of your comfort zone and say ‘Yeah, I know everyone’s been doing it this way for 30 years, but I’m not going to do it like that anymore.’ It was a real leap of faith.”
When new customers inquire about price, she has to explain why another studio charges $30 a month while her cost for the same type of class is $55. “People have gotten comfortable with all-inclusive vacations,” she says. “Once they understand that this is all-inclusive and there isn’t going to be another bill, it makes them more comfortable.”
With the bundle, all 150 students are in the right tights for the recital. Greeting each child at the beginning of the dance year with a dance bag stuffed with a new leotard and tights sets a positive tone, and later, there’s no excuse for students not wearing the proper clothing to class. The hours Belcher used to spend handing out and collecting DVD order forms and chasing down payments have been eliminated.
The downside is that she could probably make a bit more profit by selling items such as costumes and T-shirts individually, but she’s adamant about keeping the monthly cost around twice what her competitors charge for tuition alone. (She does increase the bundle price each year.)
Belcher believes bundling makes her studio seem professional and organized, an image that has helped it to grow. The system also attracts clients who are willing to pay a little bit extra each month for their child’s dance education and are less likely to be complainers.
Realizing that going from à la carte to bundling is a huge change for a studio’s clientele, all three studio owners took great pains to announce and explain the new system. Simkins and Moore put the information into a handbook given to students each August, explained it in detail to new students, and featured it in newsletters.
Simkins was quick to squash any doubts. For parents who balked at having to buy a recital T-shirt and shorts, for example, she explained that the clothing would get plenty of use—not only in the concert finale and kickoff performance, but also for studio appearances in the Fourth of July and Pioneer Days parades. Other common complaints disappeared. She’d always heard gripes about her policy of requiring each student to buy a certain number of concert tickets. This year, with the ticket cost absorbed by the bundle, there were none.
“Just make sure you are upfront when making a big change and really communicate with parents so they know how the change is better for them. People don’t like change and they will get ornery if they think you’re just trying to make another buck off them,” Simkins says.
Moore’s clients signed a concert consent form stating that they understood the bundling procedure and approved of the payment amount. Some parents suggested she change the system to allow some bundle items, such as the DVD or T-shirt, to be optional. “That kind of defeats the purpose,” she says. “I think I’d rather leave it alone.” For Belcher and Simkins, as well, the bundle is an all-or-nothing deal.
Belcher believes bundles work just like the concept of a fast-food value meal—you can charge more, but only if you offer more.
“Honestly, we’ve never had anyone say, ‘How much is the tuition? How much is the T-shirt?’ ” she says. “The more value you add to the package, the more willing the customer will be to accept it. You want to put as much into it as you can reasonably afford.”
By Shannon O’Brien Marshall
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.
The outside world assumes that because I own a dance school, I must present a big annual performance in late spring like all the other schools. People are always surprised by my answer, although non-dance people seem to understand my reasoning: “May and June are just too hectic, so we have always had our shows in October.” And my local studio friends know how my season works and understand its benefits, although they are hesitant to embark on a complete overhaul of their season.
It is my colleagues from afar who are most intrigued by my school’s odd season. They need details; they have questions. Some teachers I have met in my travels remember me specifically as “the teacher who has her show in the fall.” Sometimes I forget that what has always been the norm for my school, staff, and dancers and their families is unfamiliar to others in the business. Even schools in other countries have their shows in the spring. Some people think a fall show is brilliant and some think it’s crazy, but either way it works for us.
An unconventional schedule
My decision to have a fall recital came long before I opened my school. The dance school I grew up in always had its recitals in June in a theater without air conditioning. I don’t recall the exact year, but I do remember vowing during one particularly hot weekend, as I desperately tried to pull up my sweaty tights, that I would never have my school’s shows in the hot, sticky weather. I have vivid memories of dancing my heart out while the audience used their recital programs as fans. I had not completely processed how I would manage a diversion from the normal dance school season, but I was determined not to have my shows in May or June.
The outside world assumes that because I own a dance school, I must present a big annual performance in late spring like all the other schools.
So at my school, the season opens the first week of November and classes run through June. The recreational dancers (the majority of the students) start learning new choreography in the spring.
How the season works
We begin recital routines for our recreational (non-competitive) dancers in May. Our teachers’ goal is to finish recreational routines by the end of June. The routines at this point are what we call “Sloppy Copies.” Every dance instructor knows that unrehearsed students will not retain new choreography over the summer months. So to be sure that all is not lost over the summer, we have what we call “Mandatory Weeks,” classes in which we rehearse and review routines for the recital.
Mandatory weeks are just that. Dancers who are not on vacation are expected to come to two full weeks of their regular dance classes, one in July and one in August, to review recital routines. The dates are given out in the beginning of the season, and often families will plan their vacations around them.
The studio closes for the first two weeks of July and then reopens for six weeks, starting with the July mandatory week. Then comes a four-week summer program of regular classes (no rehearsals, which is why new students can start then), followed by the August mandatory week. The school is then closed for one or two weeks depending on when Labor Day falls.
Classes resume in September after Labor Day. During September and October, we refine, revise, clean, and make those “Sloppy Copies” shine, and the season concludes with the show in mid-October.
The school is closed for the last two weeks in October and the new season begins in November with new and returning dancers.
I found that in our school’s early years the mandatory weeks paid the bills for the summer. Dancers pay 25 percent of their monthly tuition for each mandatory week.
The competitive dancers
Our Dance Company (competitive team) learns new choreography over the four- to six-week summer session.
All of the choreography (both recreational and competitive) is brand-new for the October performances. In addition to sparking choreographers’ creative fires and challenging the performers, it’s been my experience that the company dancers’ families sell more tickets to our show because no one has seen any of this new work. The dancers then perform those new pieces through to Nationals, which are usually held in early July. Senior dancers who are going to college “retire” from our school after Nationals.
The fall show gives the competition-team dancers some advantages. First, they’ve already performed their routines at the recitals, so competition performances are cleaner than they would have been if the first time they’d done their pieces onstage had been at a competition. And second, the dancers can devote more time to classes and rehearsals during the summer because they don’t have schoolwork.
Accommodating new students
We accept new students during the summer and have a big enrollment in the fall. New students often start with our four-week summer program (not the mandatory weeks)—a great introduction before they start their regular season classes in November. Experienced students usually take ballet classes in September and October (recital rehearsals are never held during those classes) and start their other classes in November.
Many parents like the idea that their kids have a chance to get into the school routine in September and October without having an added extracurricular activity. We also offer tickets to the show at a discounted rate and encourage all new students to come and see what they have to look forward to. Because they have already registered and are waiting to start, many of them are eager to come to the show.
Here are the reasons why doing a fall show is a win–win choice for everyone. Our staff counts on two full weeks of pay during the summer because of the mandatory weeks; they also get paid for the four-week program, although the schedule is not as busy.
• October is a much less hectic month than May or June in the lives of our dancers and their families.
• Dancers do not miss class or rehearsals due to end-of-the-school-year events such as band concerts, school trips, proms, and graduations.
• There tend to be fewer family conflicts such as weddings, confirmations, and first communions.
• We do not have to fight for theater space.
• Costume companies are more patient with us because it is their slow time. And although they don’t promise that we will get our costumes quicker than at other times, we often get them within a week or two.
• We are less likely to lose students over the summer because they are looking forward to their upcoming performance.
• We sell more tickets to the recital because October is a less busy time of year for our audiences as well as our clients.
• Since the dancers are not busy with so many family and school events, they are more focused on their performance.
• We are able to accept new students well into the spring because we start our choreography late in the season.
The only downside to this schedule is that it can be confusing for new parents.
Although my original reason for having a fall show is no longer valid (we have our shows in an air-conditioned theater), I wouldn’t change a thing. Every so often in June, when the waiting room is at its fullest and parents are looking especially worn, I say, “Imagine having our recital this weekend!” Parents invariably respond with relief and gratitude, thankful that they don’t need to add one more thing to their already full calendars.
Setting up a performance company can pay off—but do your homework first
By Melissa Hoffman
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.
Forming a performance team or troupe is not a step to be taken lightly. Be prepared to face a flurry of decisions: what kind of team, how many students to include and which ages, and where they will perform. And then there’s the extra work: selecting music and costumes, choreographing and rehearsing, booking performance venues, filling out competition entry forms, and making travel arrangements.
Still, if handled properly, starting a company offers many rewards (not necessarily awards!), not only for yourself and your business but also for your students, teachers, and dance families.
Step one is assessing your own motivation. Is the chance to perform more often something you really want to offer your students, or are you reacting to something happening at the studio down the street? I started with two companies—a younger and an older group—and over the past 18 years, that number has grown to where I now have enough interested students for eight competition and performing companies.
Recently, I was shocked to discover that they use about 70 percent of my studio space, yet bring in only about 45 percent of my monthly income, an inequity I plan to address by combining groups for technique classes. (I also want to make sure my recreational students don’t feel they are being shortchanged because company dancers are hogging the studio space.)
But you can’t gauge the importance of companies by looking at numbers alone. A studio can benefit from the good press and good feelings generated for its performance at a community fund-raiser, for example. If your performing companies are exciting and fun, both students and parents will want to be a part of them, helping you not only retain students who might otherwise leave but bring in new students as well. Those sorts of intangible benefits might add more to your bottom line than a look at the month’s receipts would suggest.
Once you’ve decided to go ahead, you should settle several key questions first:
- How will the company be chosen?
- What will the class and rehearsal requirements be?
- Should the company consist of one or more groups? Should they be split by age, dance level, or dance genre?
- What expenses will participating dancers face?
- What are the guidelines and rules for company members?
- What kinds of performance or competition opportunities will you offer?
Fielding the company
You can select company members by audition or invite students to sign up. Signups are effective if your company will include dancers of mixed ability or will be split based on ability, and perhaps if your focus is on performing rather than competing. This is a wonderful way to give recreational dancers additional opportunities to perform.
If you hold auditions, decide who will serve as judges—yourself, your staff, or outside teachers? Jennifer Rienert of New Hampshire School of Ballet in Hooksett brings in dance experts from outside her studio to judge her dancers based on a numerical score. This score also determines who will receive solos or be featured in other choreography.
You can always create your own performance opportunities. Get out in the community; plan a benefit. Doing so is a great way for your dancers to perform plus help their community at the same time.
Rienert’s process offers the advantage of objectivity; however, be aware that it might exclude dancers who are strong but have a bad audition, or include dancers who have behavior issues or a poor work ethic.
There is a third method: teacher recommendation. At our studio, teachers can recommend that dancers in our youngest ballet classes (ages 6 to 9) attend an “Intro to Company” four-week summer course. During the course, we note how quickly the dancers pick up choreography and consider their technique, performance quality, and overall attitude. Dancers who excel may be invited to join a similar session in the fall. Eventually, new competition and performance members are selected from students who have gone through this process and received a positive recommendation. I only hold auditions for our dance ensemble, a team of older dancers (13 and up) focusing on dance as a career.
It is essential that dancers and their parents understand what is expected of company members. Holding a meeting prior to the beginning of the dance year will help everyone get off on the right foot (though you will still encounter some who don’t quite grasp your expectations). Topics to cover include the following.
- Required classes for each group.
- Dress code.
- Expected classroom behavior.
- Rules of behavior for parents. Yes, you read that correctly. More and more, I have found that adults need to be reminded that they are not at a sporting event when attending a performance or competition.
- Financial commitment. This is big. Include any anticipated costs beyond tuition such as costumes, choreography, entry fees if competing, and any team apparel. Be very clear about payment policies. For company members, I charge an annual assessment fee of $50 per family to defray costs related to performances, such as teacher compensation and the time I spend filling out entry forms.
- Anticipated travel and travel expenses.
It is a good idea to list all rules in a handbook. Go through the policies during the meeting and send a handbook home with each family, so that when questions arise you can refer them to it. Insist that parents and students consider all expectations before choosing to participate.
Fielding a company means that the dancers, the studio owner, and the staff all make a commitment to the additional time and effort needed to make this new endeavor a success.
For our team members, our technique requirements ask that younger dancers spend six to eight hours a week in class, with older dancers studying about eight hours a week. In addition, dancers must attend three two-hour rehearsals to learn choreography. Because so much class time gives the dancers strong technique, the choreography can be taught quickly—which helps prepare dancers for auditions or professional careers—and less cleaning time is necessary. After that, rehearsals are held once or twice a month, generally on a Friday night or Saturday.
This can be a lot, especially for older dancers preparing for college, so our company class requirements provide some flexibility. Dancers who want to compete only in tap or hip-hop, for example, can take fewer technique classes, and we encourage all company members to limit their weekly schedule to required classes only. I also make sure older teens have at least one or two days a week when they do not have to be at the studio, to allow time for school activities and studies.
While I do much of the planning and organization for both the competition and performance teams, my teachers run rehearsals and handle choreography. They are compensated through “choreography fees” charged to team members.
Filling out competition entry forms is another time-consuming job. In the past, an office person did the work and then I double-checked it. But since not all competitions have the same requirements for levels and dance styles, I have decided that it’s more efficient for a teacher (paid at the office rate) to handle the entry forms.
My school’s company dancers attend competitions and dance in a minimum of three benefit performances each year. We also hold an annual benefit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which the recreational dancers may participate in. Any recreational dancers who sign up are required to attend three rehearsals and the show. Including non-company dancers helps with ticket sales and allows students who love to dance (or are passionate about helping others) an additional chance to do so.
Every four years my students perform at Walt Disney World—a favorite of even dancers who have extensive performing experience. While it’s an additional expense, families have told me how amazing it was to see their children perform at Disney, or how much they enjoyed the family vacation aspect. (While it’s not mandatory, generally about 95 percent of company members attend.) Planning for a trip of this scope should be done well in advance.
Many prestigious performance opportunities exist, such as participating in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or dancing in halftime shows at college football bowl games. Look around. You may find other performing opportunities closer to home, such as at local amusement parks or during events of area Triple-A baseball teams or professional basketball teams. Companies have sprung up that arrange performing tours of Europe. In any case, do your homework. Some events require an audition process or ask you to sell a certain amount of tickets in exchange.
If all that seems too extreme, you can always create your own performance opportunities. Get out in the community; plan a benefit. Doing so is a great way for your dancers to perform plus help their community at the same time.
It’s also a good idea to be selective when choosing competitions. Viewing an event in advance (by yourself or with your dancers) is always a good idea, as is asking fellow dance teachers for recommendations.
Be clear with parents about cost and time before committing. Explain that since competitions don’t always provide schedule details in advance (such as when solos will run), they will have to set aside the entire weekend until the information arrives (generally less than one week prior to the event). Compile a schedule for the coming year, including a schedule of payments due (costumes, rehearsal time, entry fees) for parents.
Until you start, you may not realize how much of a time commitment it is to field a competition or performance company. Though the extra work can be taxing at times, I couldn’t put a price on the enjoyment I derive from watching my dancers onstage and the satisfaction of knowing that I give them many opportunities to learn and grow as performing artists.
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.”
When we arrived for dress rehearsal, the facility was filthy: stage unswept, bathrooms nasty, dressing rooms filled with costumes, props, and equipment. The lobby smelled foul, and we found spoiled food and garbage in the concession area. During the dress rehearsal, the custodian showed up to clean; obviously she didn’t know the theater was being used.
There was no air-conditioning, and temperatures were in the mid-90s. The AC can only be turned on in a central location, which the theater techs couldn’t access. I was supposed to have two technicians, but I had only one, and the one I had for the recital was not the one who had been at dress rehearsal, so he didn’t know the show.
The ladies’ toilet overflowed and the bathroom had to be closed. We had to allow people to use the single bathroom in the dressing room or escort them down a long hallway (unlit for the same reason the AC wasn’t on).
I always pay for two off-duty policemen to act as security. This is required by the school district. They were not there.
It has now been almost two weeks since this disaster, and I have yet to hear from them. What sort of payment (if any) should I make for this? If I wanted to be ugly, I could say there was no contract, but I will probably want to use this venue in the future, so I don’t want to burn bridges. But I don’t intend to pay the regular rental rate since I didn’t receive the services I should have. Also, I’m wondering if I should refund part of the students’ recital fee, although no one has complained.
Your perspective would be greatly appreciated. I appreciate your wisdom, compassion, and common sense. —Sandra
This school district failed tremendously in not providing you and your clientele with a professional venue. There is no question that they should discount the rental fees. In fact, if they want your business in the future they should not charge you at all.
I would not feel obligated to refund any monies to your clientele because this situation was not your fault. However, if a parent requests a refund, then the school district should be responsible for that too.
I understand that you don’t want to burn any bridges with the district. However, if you can find another suitable facility, I suggest moving the show there next year. That would relieve any concerns that your clients may have about their experience this season.
If you must return to this location, check on the condition of the facility a couple of days prior to your rental period. If you are not satisfied, demand that any issues be resolved prior to your load-in.
Most of your clients are probably aware that the school district’s lack of professionalism is not your fault. But if they have a similar experience next year, they will start to put some of the blame on you, so be sure that you have done everything possible to avoid having this kind of experience again. Also, make your next performance the best that it can be so that these problems become a distant memory to your clientele. Good luck! —Rhee
My wife and I have loved running a mid-sized dance studio for 17 years. We’re looking at hiring and rehiring teachers. What is a fair wage for independent contractors? I’m sure it varies with experience and credentials. We might be a bit low (only one of our teachers has a degree in the arts/dance), but our range is $18 to $30 per hour.
Also, how do you suggest handling classes for teachers’ children? We offer free classes to our teachers, and we have offered free classes for their children, but now I’m considering giving them a raise instead because the policy is not really fair to the teachers without children. Another option might be to reduce the tuition to half-price for their children. Thanks for your time and wisdom. —Dan
The average national hourly wage for teachers is $20 to $40. But some schools pay teachers $60 or more per class.
I am in favor of offering free lessons to the children of faculty members. It does not cost money to have those kids in the classes, and the gesture generates a sense of goodwill among the teachers. Also, I have discovered that teachers whose children dance at the school tend to be more loyal. Often they go above and beyond what is expected of them because their own children are involved.
That said, only the lessons should be free. The teachers should pay for all costumes and outside activities. A good policy is to tell your employees that if the school has to pay for something for their children, then it becomes their expense.
In all the years my family’s school has been in business, no teacher without children has asked for extra compensation because another employee’s child receives free lessons. Bringing that into the equation could set a precedent that requires you to pay faculty who do not have children (or whose children don’t dance at the school) more than those whose children do train there.
If it is time to offer a raise to your employees, then go for it with no strings attached; I don’t recommend taking away a major benefit that could have more value than the raise. It might be a win/win situation for you, but it doesn’t benefit your employees. You might create resentment and you won’t score any loyalty points. Good teachers can be very hard to find, so it is better to do all that you can to build employee loyalty than try to save a few dollars. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I have owned a small dance studio (about 250 students) for 19 years. Due to the bad economy I had to let one of my secretaries go last June. She was angry and told the Department of Labor that all my employees are 1099 workers but take direction from me. I was fined $10,000 for unemployment benefits for the past four years and was forced to put my workers on salary.
As a result, I have paid close to $7,000 in taxes since September, leaving no money for me to draw a salary. The bad economy and the fact that no one pays their tuition on time put me in even more hot water. I am so afraid that I will not make it to my 20th anniversary. I have been teaching for 42 years and absolutely love my job; I would be devastated if I had to close my school. —Darlene
I am sorry that you have had to deal with this issue, but this is not the first time that I have heard of it. It is important for all school owners to understand that the IRS has standards that determine whether a worker is a contractor or an employee. I am not an expert, but essentially a contractor is someone who does not have a set schedule at your business. A teacher who offers a one-time master class would be a contractor, but a secretary or teacher who works the same hours week after week would be considered an employee. [See “What’s in a Title?” in the July 2009 Dance Studio Life]
Although the penalties and taxes may seem extreme to you now, if your employees had been paid correctly over the years you would not be feeling this crunch on your pocketbook. I recommend that you and all school owners pursue advice on this subject from an accountant or another professional to avoid problems like the one you have described.
All you can do is learn from this experience. Many school owners should take your dilemma as a warning sign that they need to be on top of this issue. The dollars saved by paying all employees as contractors could end up being minuscule compared to the penalties encountered down the road. I hope you survive this learning experience and I thank you for bringing up an issue that many of our readers need to know about. —Rhee
Get a behind-the-scenes look at how recital costumes are manufactured, from the design process to the cutting and manufacturing of the product and right through the shipping process. Tour the Dansco manufacturing plant in Attleboro, Massachusetts, as you find out what it takes to produce thousands of costumes annually.
Want a no-stress recital? Start planning in summer for a springtime show that’s a breeze.
By Theresa Corbley Siller
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.
Take the case of little Jenna, who’s sobbing in the wings because her parents didn’t get the memo about the correct color of tights. Her mother has to risk a speeding ticket, running home to get her the right pair in time. Jenna feels rushed and pressured. Feeling the magic of being onstage will be hard for her tonight.
But there are ways to avoid Jenna’s sad scenario and see nothing but happy dancers and parents from dress rehearsal to the final performance. Good preparation plus communication equals little Jenna beaming, confident, and ready to step out into the lights. At Cuppett Performing Arts Center in Vienna, Virginia, 47 years of producing recitals have turned the process into a science. Here’s how the 10 months prior to each year’s recital play out.
Each August the school’s director, Amy Cuppett Stiverson, distributes the primary information for the dance year. Her first order of business for the dance year is nailing down the recital date in the last week of August. It’s smart to have the recital around the same time every year. Cuppett’s is usually around June 20, when families haven’t begun their vacations yet.
Stiverson announces the dates and times of the following June’s recital performances at the teachers’ meeting in August and then posts the information on the school’s website and in the thrice-yearly print newsletter, which is sent to students’ homes and posted in the front lobby. Families can then fill in their calendars immediately.
With a large school of 20 teachers and 750 students, multiple shows are needed. Cuppett does four performances: a Friday evening show for the intermediate/advanced dancers, an early Saturday matinee for students ages 3 to 6, a later Saturday matinee for the beginning/intermediate dancers (ages 7 to teens), and a Saturday evening show for the most advanced dancers (teenagers and adults). The dance company performs in all the shows.
Anyone with questions can contact the studio’s administrators, who are both organized and patient. It is amazing how many people miss important information, no matter how hard the entire staff—director, administrators, and teachers— tries to dispense it. For that reason, distributing information in a triple-threat fashion is important. If someone misses it in one delivery, they may catch it in another. It’s cross-checking at its finest.
In September, Stiverson emails the teachers to ask for suggestions for a recital theme and title. Everyone weighs in with ideas and then Stiverson makes the final decision.
Having the theme helps the teachers begin to think about music for their dances. It’s first come, first served, so the teachers who plan early reap the reward of getting their first choice.
Teachers’ first and second music choices must be submitted by November 30; these are compiled into a list so that any duplication can be avoided. Stiverson notifies the teachers immediately if there are any problems with their choices.
Costume choices must be made by December 30 so that ordering can begin after winter break, in January. Teachers choose the costumes for their classes, and to guarantee that each selection is correct, they must initial the final list. Stiverson approves the choices, which must be reasonably priced. Once the list is complete, she double-checks everything, which prevents many potential slipups or downright catastrophes.
Measuring for costumes is done during classes in November, and a quarter of an inch is added to accommodate for the students’ growth by June.
Getting through the costuming process requires an army. Stiverson is lucky, because she has one. Her three costume coordinators order more than 1,500 costumes every year and make sure that no one ends up in something that doesn’t fit right. Measuring for costumes is done during classes in November, and a quarter of an inch is added to accommodate for the students’ growth by June.
All choreography for recital dances begins in January. (At this point, prospective new students must wait until summer classes begin in July, since costumes have already been ordered and dances are in progress.) At the teacher meeting in August, Stiverson stresses that teachers should never spend an entire class on the recital dance. Fifteen minutes is the maximum, so that the students get their warm-up and technique. Then, as showtime draws near, up to a half-hour of class time can be used for rehearsals if needed.
With an extended rehearsal period, recital pieces are deep in the students’ muscle memory by June, so that they are free to enjoy themselves and shine in front of the audience.
The costumes begin arriving in March and continue to trickle in until the end of May. The costume coordinators check them in, put each student’s name on each bag and box, and place them in the correct studio for each class. All costumes are labeled with the dancers’ names, usually with a Sharpie on the tag, which avoids panic and confusion if one gets left behind at dress rehearsal. Teachers let the students do their dances in costume to check for any problems with fit. Any needed alterations are made immediately and the costumes are returned to the students within two weeks.
Late April/early May
Stiverson edits all the music and places it in the studios by late April. The teachers test the music, and if they approve it, they initial the CD jacket. They report any problems immediately and Stiverson re-cuts it within one week. Final CDs of all recital music are kept in all studios, and backup copies are placed in the lighting and sound room at the theater.
In late April, the spring newsletter is sent home with students and posted on the website and in the lobby. It includes detailed information about all rehearsals, both those at the studio and at the stage, plus parking maps, dressing room assignments, and show times. At this point, there’s no reason why families shouldn’t be well aware of all dates and times that involve their children. Still, the office administrators field hundreds of questions.
Tickets are printed and go on sale. Early ticket sales are discounted, and tickets remain available for purchase until the day of the show.
Work on the recital program booklet begins in late April. The director and administrators puzzle together the show order so that harried backstage costume changes are minimized. The program is posted in all studios, and teachers and students check all name spellings for correctness. After checking, teachers initial each class list. Once the program is completed, a feeling of anticipation fills the studio.
Teachers send flyers home to parents detailing hair and makeup requirements.
Around May 20 the 3- to 6-year-old dancers have a studio rehearsal. This gives them a chance to get used to the stage setup and the order of their dances in the show, preparing them for the onstage dress rehearsals. While they are waiting for their dance, they learn to sit quietly. Company dancers help with the little ones and the matinee performances.
During the four weeks before the recital, once a week, in the last 10 minutes of class time, all of the students perform their dances for the other students and teachers. Everyone enjoys watching each other’s dances, and it builds camaraderie.
The week before the show is devoted to onstage dress rehearsals. Since the dance year has ended, there are no more classes at the studio, which avoids confusion about where to report. The rehearsals are arranged by show order, so the first show’s dress rehearsal is the first one, the second one is second, and so on. The youngest dancers rehearse early and get to go home. Later rehearsals are reserved for the oldest and most advanced students.
Students must arrive at the theater an hour and a half before performance time. Parent volunteers check everyone in, and the students are assigned to dressing rooms. We provide videotapes and games to keep the children occupied when they’re not onstage. Parents have the option to take young students home after their dances rather than staying for the entire performance.
One staff member organizes a group of parent volunteers, who chaperone the 3- to 10-year-old dancers. For their efforts, these generous mothers get complimentary tickets and an acknowledgement in the recital program.
At performance time, teacher Mozelle Karnette Stanton, who has been at Cuppett for 30 years, supervises the makeup for every show. She is the authority on powder, blush, eyes, and lips. She places her eight assistants at specific task stations, an efficient arrangement that optimizes the flow of children through the makeup process.
In the dressing rooms, all the students give each other a helping hand. It’s so touching to see this. The generosity and spirit of sharing are uplifting. Anyone who forgets something will be quickly accommodated, and we keep small essentials like hairpins, safety pins, and hairnets on hand for anyone who needs them. Tights are available for purchase at the ticket table.
By early morning on the day of the show, with coffee in hand, dedicated parents begin the task of readying the stage. It must be wet-mopped with a solution of water and rosin, with time to dry before the dancers get on it. The school’s three administrators staff the ticket table, while some male volunteers raise the scenery.
Meanwhile, our director consults her last-minute list of graduating seniors (who receive trophies), students who passed their Cecchetti exams, those with perfect attendance, and scholarship recipients. She organizes the trophies and certificates, which will be presented at the end of the show.
When it’s finally showtime, lining up is a snap. Students know to be in line three dances ahead of time. Teachers are posted in the dressing room, in the hallway by the stage door, and in the wings. The show order is posted on the walls for easy reference on both sides of the stage and in the dressing rooms and hallways. Other than the frequent shushing of ecstatic dancers, this infrastructure is well oiled.
After the students have received their post-recital awards and flowers, the staff and volunteers clean up and load out the scenery and props. Forgotten costumes are sent back to the studio to be claimed later. Staff, parents, and students meet at a restaurant later to celebrate their achievements, bask in a feeling of accomplishment, and relax. With a smooth-running recital, happy faces are everywhere.
Software sets the scene and saves money
By Jim Hollborn
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.
Purchasing lighting software became a necessity for me while organizing this year’s recital for my wife’s dance school, Performer’s Edge Dance Center in Davenport, Florida. In past years we were able to rent the theater for our technical/move-in day at a discounted rate, which allowed us to set up the sound and lighting prior to dress rehearsal. However, this year the theater was going to charge us the full rental rate, putting a tech day out of our budget.
This left me with a problem: The only chance I’d have to light the show would be during the dress rehearsal, which would be impossible. Since I was already running the sound, I decided this was the perfect time to take the plunge into lighting control software. With the software, you control the lights with your computer instead of a traditional light board, and much of the work can be done without setting foot in the theater.
I wanted to find a product that would allow me to control the lighting in sequence with the music and provide a 3-D view so that I could set the lighting prior to dress rehearsal. Also, it needed to be cost effective and easy to use. With that in mind I came across a program from Chauvet lighting, called ShowXpress, that fit the bill.
Since I tend to purchase my sound equipment from online vendors that sell lighting equipment for DJs and bands, the logical first step was to look at software that was created by the same companies. I narrowed down the field first by price, then eliminated those without a timeline feature (which plays the lighting scenes in sync with the audio) or that seemed difficult to use.
The most important feature for me was the ease of use of the timeline feature, and ShowXpress stood out in that respect. Also, I wanted a system that could run with and without a computer. I always like to have a backup plan in case of computer problems.
Chauvet permits you to download a full version of the software to try, although to actually control the lighting you must purchase a USB-to-DMX interface, which can be a cable or a device, depending on the model. All work with the same software, which is free to download or comes on a CD when you purchase the interface.
After testing the software for several weeks and reading all the reviews available, I felt confident enough last March to purchase one of the three USB-to-DMX interfaces: the Xpress 100 ($300), X-Factor ($500), and Xpress Plus ($950). I chose the Plus interface, which has the most features, enabling you to control up to 512 channels, along with the ability to store lighting scenes for standalone playback in the event of a computer crash. (Check current prices on planetdj.com and look for deals on used equipment on eBay or other sites.)
With the software, you control the lights with your computer instead of a traditional light board, and much of the work can be done without setting foot in the theater.
Make sure to read the fine print about computer system requirements before you make a purchase. And don’t forget to consider customer service. I had a question on where to store the audio files so the timeline feature could access them, so I contacted Chauvet via email and someone quickly responded. Also, their site has a discussion board that covers a wide range of topics.
There are a few basic steps to using this software: assigning DMX channels to the light fixtures, building light scenes, creating timelines, and adding timelines to the Live screen. But before you begin you must obtain your theater’s lighting plot, which tells you the types and locations of the lighting fixtures as well as each one’s DMX address (if already assigned).
Assigning the channels
Using the software’s fixture screen, match the DMX channels to the theater’s lighting fixtures as shown on the light plot. If you plan to rent lights to install in the theater, this would be the time to set an address for those fixtures.
I found one limitation with this software while setting the channels. Since the software uses a one-to-one patch (meaning channel 1 controls circuit 1 in the theater), it is difficult to make circuit/channel changes. Keep this in mind when talking to the theater’s technical manager and discussing the light plot. The theater personnel should know what you expect when you walk into the theater and connect your computer to their lighting system.
Setting the scenes
With the fixtures assigned, I created a 3-D replica of the stage at the theater, even down to the backdrops. This function is one of the better features of the software; it allows you to go into the classroom months before dress rehearsal and begin creating lighting scenes. In each lighting scene, a specific group of lights is controlled for a specific time; for example, having the side fills illuminated at 50 percent for 2 minutes. You then name and save each light scene. Use the name of the dance or any other name that’s easy for you to remember; these will be recalled in the timeline portion of the program.
You create a light scene by using the Builder screen, controlling each lighting channel individually; your adjustments are displayed immediately in the 3-D stage view. The number of light scenes you can create (for each dance and for the entire recital) is unlimited.
Using the Timeline feature, you can drag and drop media files (such as the music for each class as well as the saved lighting scenes) into a timeline. If there are multiple lighting scenes, they can be added at specific points in the timeline, wherever you want them to occur in the dance and corresponding to the music.
A digital counter at the top of the Timeline screen helps you sync the lighting scenes with the music. Again, you can test your lighting using the 3-D view. If the lighting scene does not occur when you want it to, simply go back to the timeline and shift the scene to the left or right. At this point, it is useful to sit in the classroom and watch the students dance; as the timeline plays back in 3-D view, you can ensure that the lighting cues match the movement.
Configuring the Live screen
Once you have created timelines for all the dances, you can play them back by using the software’s Live screen. You create a button for each dance by recalling the timelines and organizing them in the order of the show, which is very easy and takes only about 10 minutes. If the show order changes, simply move the buttons to correspond to the new show order. No more wasting time by re-burning CDs every time the show order changes.
Keep in mind that both the Timeline and Live screens must be open in order to recall each saved timeline during the show. The Live function is the easiest and most rewarding part of using this kind of software to run your show. It acts as a CD player during the show. With the Live and Timeline screens open, you press the button in the Live screen that corresponds to the dance you want to run, which calls up the timeline that corresponds to the button you pressed. This function makes running the show very easy.
At the theater
With the pre-production work done, you will need to take care of a few things during the move-in and before the dress rehearsal. The USB-to-DMX interface must properly be connected to the theater’s lighting system. The sound output from your computer should also be connected to the house sound board. Then you can focus the lighting fixtures and begin testing the scenes and timelines.
If scene adjustments are needed, you can make and save the changes using the Builder screen. Most likely you will need to modify the channel levels for the lights; typically the stage will be darker than the 3-D view on your computer. Once you have saved any adjustments, use the Live screen to recall your timelines—simply press the button that corresponds to each dance and you have perfectly timed lighting.
Preparation and payoff
There is quite a bit of preparation, but it is worth it in the end. I spent about two weeks watching the dances and taking notes. I then worked on the preliminary lighting at home for about a week, for roughly an hour a day, and made adjustments during in-studio rehearsals (three nights, for approximately four hours each night). Then, during move-in prior to the start of dress rehearsal, I fine-tuned it all, which took about three hours, and made adjustments during the breaks.
Even having had little experience with stage lighting, I found that using this software made the recital weekend less stressful. The software gives you precise control over the show, in turn creating a shorter, more visually pleasing production—and for less than $1,000. It saved me more than $4,000 in rental and personnel fees this year. You don’t need special computer expertise to use the program, and once it’s set up, anyone can run it. I say it is an investment well made.
Tips for First-Time Lighting Designers
- Talk to the technicians at the theater. Most are helpful and can answer any questions.
- Be prepared. When adjusting the lighting, have a cue sheet for each dance handy. You might want to create a “Magic Sheet”—a cheat sheet that lists each channel and the lighting fixture it controls. Usually you would group the channels by color, area of the stage, or function.
- If you rent additional lighting fixtures, make sure you know the electrical capacity of the theater as well as of the fixtures. Ask the theater’s technical manager before you rent!
- Keep it simple. The software allows you to control “intelligent” lighting as well as many LED fixtures. You might be tempted to fill every DMX channel with these types of fixtures, which will not only complicate your job but also increase the amount of time needed to set the lighting.
How to let little dancers shine at your recital
By Melissa Hoffman
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.
As in choreographing for any age or level, it is important that dances for preschoolers not include anything that’s new to them. Whatever steps or combinations you put into their choreography should be ones they have seen and practiced during class. Therefore, you need to think ahead. If you want a 4-year-old group to change lines during their dance, changing lines should be a part of their class.
Creating order and consistency
The best thing I ever did at my school to help produce a clean recital (as well as an organized classroom) was to put permanent numbers on the floors. I laid out three rows of numbers from 0 to 16, with 8 at the center. These same three rows are also on the stage when the dancers arrive for dress rehearsal.
After a circle warm-up, the dancers find a number; depending on class size, it might be only the front row. In this way the children get used to working in and maintaining a straight line, and the numbers can be used with any staging. For recital routines, the children are assigned a number that is “theirs”; they stand on it to begin the routine and sometimes to end it as well.
For consistency, we choreograph all of our dances with entrances from stage right and exits on stage left. Because of that, we generally start across-the-floor movements in class from stage right.
Calming little nerves
Stages and audiences can be intimidating sights for preschoolers, and nervous tears are normal, especially at dress rehearsal. (It’s a good idea to reassure parents that though they might see some tears at dress rehearsal, it doesn’t mean they will see them at the show.)
So how best to help calm these little dancers? Preparation is so important. First, walk the children onto the stage, with the lights on, before they begin dancing. Let them look at the lights and backdrops and then show them their numbers on the stage. Have them mark through the entire dance before playing the music.
Second, make the dancers feel comfortable by showing them they’re not alone. At our recitals, what helps boost the little ones’ confidence the most is having the instructors stand in the front where they can see them. Surprisingly, it does not distract the audience. At our last recital I asked the people seated in the first five rows of the audience what they thought of the practice. It turns out that no one noticed the teachers because they were focused on their children. (Some teachers prefer to stand in the wings, but the problem with that is that the dancers’ focus is to the side and not to the audience.)
For another confidence booster, I put two young assistants onstage with the 2-year-olds as well as any classes of 3-year-olds that need a helping hand. The assistants are like bookends at either end of the line of children. They stand about six inches forward so that the dancers can see them. Again, I asked parents if the assistants’ presence concerned or distracted them, and they said no, and that their children loved them.
Since taking these steps 10 years ago, I can count on one hand the number of preschool-age dancers who have cried during a performance.
Because my school has many preschool dancers (about 120 children) and because their abilities are limited, the biggest challenge has been figuring out how to make the dances different enough that the show is varied and entertaining. We sometimes have as many as eight preschool dances in a show, so over the years I have come up with a “recipe” of movements for each age level.
Parent/tot classes (2-year-olds)
Parents are part of this class until December; as of January we try to remove them. How long this process takes determines whether the class will be in the recital. Generally, each year we have at least one class in this age group that’s ready for the challenge.
- Choose a song that involves some singing for this level. Remember, lyrics need to be straightforward and easy to understand. My longtime favorite is “Beautiful Doll.”
- Children at this level typically will remain in a straight line for most of their dance (no longer than 2 minutes).
- Incorporate steps like plié and échappé. (Our 2-year-olds know échappé as “jump open, jump closed.”)
- Include partner steps. Holding hands with a partner, the children chassé upstage to the next row of numbers, stop, and return to their numbers.
- With the assistants leading the way, the children do a “happy hand gallop circle.” They gallop one time around in a big circle with the assistants leading the way, and then return to their number or form a “train” at a gym mat, where they do a forward roll, blow a kiss to the audience, and chassé offstage.
With this age group, anything can happen, so be sure to record your music a couple of times through. That way you can be sure that if something goes wrong, the music won’t stop while the children are still dancing.
Preschool I (3-year-olds)
In my school, the 3-year-olds, who are introduced to tap midyear, do a “ballet based” recital routine. Because there is always more than one group, we vary the music. For example, at our last recital one class danced to “Welcome to the World,” which is a slow song, and the other did “Rubber Ducky” (singing the first part).
Preparation is so important. First, walk the children onto the stage, with the lights on, before they begin dancing. Let them look at the lights and backdrops and then show them their numbers on the stage.
Another way to vary the show is in how these young dancers appear onstage. Some ideas include using flowerpots (either cutouts big enough for kids to hide behind, or actual pots) and having an assistant water each “flower” so that the dancers pop up and run to their numbers to begin their dance. Or consider having a large nest onstage that the “baby chicks” come out of. A large shoe, à la “Old Lady in the Shoe,” is another thought. You could have several classes enter through the shoe.
- With 3-year-olds we are still limited, but along with plié and échappé we can add passé, tendu, heel step, and side together plié, doing both sides.
- Start to teach music counting skills with movements like hitting the knees 2 times, clapping 2 times, rolling hands 2 counts, and pushing hands straight forward (stop) 2 counts.
- Incorporate some levels by pairing off the children and having one partner kneel while the other marches around and then back to his or her number; then reverse roles and repeat. Or have the children lie on their bellies and do flutter kicks. “Flashbacks” are another way to vary levels: Reach up, sit down, slide both legs out, pull the legs in, and jump up.
- During a partner chassé, add a “merry-go-round” step: The dancers hold hands and tiptoe around in a circle or hold hands and do arabesque before they chassé back to their numbers.
- Do a gallop circle that ends in a “train” in which they slide into straddle splits. Then each child pops up and blows a kiss (their moment in the limelight). Or they could bourrée and curtsy.
Listen to your music and take chances. Try things, and if they don’t work, don’t do them. The key is to try them early enough in the classroom so that you are not stressing about completing a dance, nor are you starting the dance in November.
Preschool II (4-year-olds) and Kindercombo (5-year-olds)
I refer to 4- and 5-year-olds as “sponges.” Their gross motor skills are developing like crazy, as is their ability to learn more quickly. Both of these classes at my school perform tap. In choosing the music, make sure it has an easily countable, consistent rhythm.
Typically, these classes are large enough that they will form two lines. Right away we start to work on line changes by having them march forward or back to change lines between exercises. We name the lines “apples” and “oranges”; telling the apples to change places with the oranges makes the idea stick in their minds.
As tap warm-ups progress throughout the year, the teachers start grouping together steps that are part of the warm-up routine and will end up in their dance.
The best part about this age is the ability to have them move around the stage. Aside from line changes, they can do several other formations.
- March to a large circle, then hold hands. Chassé in one direction for 8 counts, then the other for 8 counts. One dancer releases one hand and chassés to one side so that the group forms one straight line, still holding hands. They could do a step still holding hands, then drop hands to march forward to their original lines and numbers.
- Try having them form two circles, one stage right and one stage left, and circle toward the outside. Choose one child from each circle to lead the children into two straight vertical lines in the center; again, use the numbers so they know where to end. (Sometimes this is too much for 4-year-olds, but some can do it.)
- “Boats and Bridges”: Working in two lines, have each front-line child partner with a back-line child so that you have a horizontal line of partners holding hands. (The front dancers will have their backs to the audience.) The children on stage right raise their arms to form the bridges. The stage left children are the boats, with their arms extended to second position. The boats chassé sideways to pass under the bridges, then go back the other way. Then they change roles, so that everyone gets to be a bridge and a boat. This is fun to do across the floor during class.
- In partner work you can vary the staging and levels by having one child be up and one be down.
- At times we have been able to get these age groups into a clump formation and back to their numbers with ease.
- Incorporate a useable prop into the 5-year-olds’ dance; for example, shopping carts (for “Shopping A-Z”) or baby dolls (for “Baby Love”). Using props is a great way to make the routine interesting and fun.
No matter what these young dancers do, they are always the hit of my school’s shows. By giving them a shot at doing their best, you’ll guarantee fun for everyone.
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.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the news, you’ve been inundated with stories that the economy is faltering and that America could be falling into an era as catastrophic as the Great Depression. That kind of economic outlook makes me—and probably millions of other Americans—very worried about what the future holds for our businesses, the customers we serve, and our loved ones.
In a recent online survey done by my company that reached more than 500 teachers, I learned that 44 percent of them have experienced an increase in enrollment while 26 percent report having the same number of students as last season. That leaves 30 percent of the respondents experiencing a decrease in their enrollment numbers. Though it’s tough on that 30 percent, I’m encouraged—it sounds like dance teachers in general are faring well in this economic crisis. It’s an indicator that parents will tend to provide for their children, even when it means tightening the belt in other areas.
However, our focus on this situation shouldn’t be limited to worries about how the dance industry will fare. What’s more important is how you and I can have an impact on the future in a positive way. When I ask my dance friends who they’re going to vote for in the presidential election, many respond that they are not even registered, let alone knowledgeable about what’s happening on the national stage. Some tell me that they don’t believe that their vote will make a difference. Frankly, I’m saddened by the response.
Yes, I know that dance teachers are dedicated to building strong dancers, maintaining enrollment numbers, having a bit of a personal life, and simply making it from day to day, but being ignorant of or ambivalent about the world isn’t going to make the future better. We have to become involved, and so does every citizen who values the American life we all cherish.
Do you know which candidate supports the arts? Who wants to end our addiction to oil? How about the one who will support a stronger and more efficient education system for our children? Which candidate will help to improve the tax issues that face small business owners? If you have no idea how to answer any of these questions, then how can we make our country better?
Let your hands dance you through the media to find the answers to these questions and others that will certainly have an impact on your future. Take action to do your part in getting everyone in this country to dance to the same beat. Imagine the changes that we could witness if we all took part in the public debate and gained more knowledge about the things that have a major effect on our everyday lives.
It’s time for dance people to stand up for what we know is right for our country and its future and urge everyone we know to join us. It’s too late to ask those of you who aren’t registered to vote to reconsider. But I’m asking all you registered voters who think your vote doesn’t count to set those feelings aside and put the welfare of this country and its young people first. Chassé your way to the polls on November 4, even if it means getting someone to cover a class or a rehearsal for you. Just do it—we can’t afford not to!
How to choose—and keep—unpaid helpers for your studio
By Hedy Perna
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!
When I first opened my dance studio, I didn’t like to depend on anyone except my family. In fact, sometimes I felt like I shouldn’t expect to depend on anyone at all. After all, it was my business and I was sure I was capable of doing it all. And it worked that way for the first few years. But quickly the studio grew larger and larger and the workload got larger and larger. I hired more office staff and teachers, but there was always work that didn’t get done for one reason or another. I realized quickly that if I hired someone to take care of every job that needed to be done, I would have an exorbitant payroll each month. And, as every businessperson knows, that cost would have to be passed on to my clientele, which would make dancing school unaffordable for many families.
Enter the volunteers. As any parent knows, most academic schools rely heavily on the good nature of parents to volunteer at book fairs, on class trips, as lunch aides, and so on. Dance studios are no different. Whether my staff offers to put in extra time or I enlist the help of parents, the activities and events in which my studio participates require the help of many volunteers.
Now, there is one big difference between what I do and how the public school system handles its volunteers: I choose mine. Unlike a public program in which everyone has an opinion, wants to be in charge, or picks what they want to do, my school is a business, owned and operated by me. I have the first and final say in everything that affects my studio, which ultimately benefits both my students and my business.
Each volunteer position has specific criteria, and just like an employment agency, I take the placement of volunteers seriously. It’s not personal; not all volunteers can do all tasks. So before I approach anyone for help, I consider who would be the perfect candidate with the right skills and personality for the task.
For example, if I need a volunteer to work backstage with the children, I usually choose someone who is patient but can work quickly. Or perhaps we need workers for our annual Ticket Day—I’ll seek out a person who is organized, stays focused, and can “take the heat.” If we’re going on a studio trip and are using multiple buses, I pick parents who have strong personalities and are dependable enough to keep the kids safe while they’re on the bus.
Sometimes parents will tell me that they are interested in helping out but I feel that they might not be suited for a volunteer position or they still need to learn about how we do things at my school. I thank them for their generous offer and tell them I’ll call them when a suitable position becomes available. Occasionally I’ll pair new volunteers with experienced ones, allowing them to learn what is needed to do a certain task adequately on their own. I don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings because my goal is to do what is best for my students and my business.
Volunteering at my studio is serious business. I am careful and quite deliberate in choosing my helpers. I am very clear about what is expected of them and I emphasize that there will be no special privileges for their child or personal expectations based on their volunteer work. Their child will not be moved to a higher level; they will not get an earlier time slot for their recital tickets; their child will still have to follow all studio guidelines. There are no exceptions to studio policy just because a student’s mom or dad helps out at the studio.
At recital time, after we determine which classes will perform in which of our four shows, I seek a class mom for each one. Class moms are the final line of defense; they are the unsung heroes of studio protocol and guidelines. No matter how much we communicate to our parents through flyers, notices, and signs, somehow there are always a few who don’t know what is going on.
There is one big difference between what I do and how the public school system handles its volunteers: I choose mine.
For example, before picture day every student receives a schedule that highlights their picture time, along with guidelines on how to wear the costume, hair and shoe requirements, and packets for purchasing photos. It’s all self-explanatory—but who reads it? So our class moms make friendly reminder phone calls to the families of each student in the class, reminding them what time to be there, what to wear, and what to bring. They ask if the parents have any questions, and you’d be surprised at how many do. Perhaps they were embarrassed to ask the receptionist a question in person; perhaps they don’t come into the studio very often—whatever the reason, they hadn’t asked it before. But thank goodness they had a chance to ask it before picture day, when most likely it would be too late to do anything about it. Class moms—our studio heroes!
At my school, we value our many volunteers and always take the time to let them know we appreciate them and their help. We make them feel special and valued. Whenever possible, we give them something to wear to indicate that they are special. Sometimes it’s a “Production Team” T-shirt or lanyard—anything that’s recognizable at a glance when they’re on the job.
After every event in which we use volunteers, we send thank-you cards to them. We usually include a small token of appreciation, such as a Dunkin Donuts card that says something like “Thanks for the help with the show—now go enjoy a cup of joe.” Sometimes, as an initiative to get backstage volunteers for our annual show, we offer all volunteers two complimentary tickets to their child’s show. That ensures that they will work backstage—but not at their child’s show, so there is no conflict of interest.
As grateful as school owners typically are for the work their volunteers do, it’s important to remember that we are in charge and must be effective leaders. Ultimately, if you run a private business, there is one person in charge: you. Make sure that your volunteers completely understand that they are helping the studio for the sake of all the children, not just their own, and not you personally.
There are two keys to making the volunteer experience a win–win situation. One is to treat all volunteers fairly and honestly—always. At my school, everyone knows exactly what is expected and where I stand. There are no surprises. Who has time for pettiness and games? The other is to make sure that every volunteer feels valued. I recognize and appreciate how much these helpers have enhanced my studio’s success and made my life just a little easier.
Guidelines for Working With Volunteers
Be selective and specific. I am very discreet in my selection procedure and do not broadcast my need for volunteers. Ask your staff for their recommendations. Usually parents who are busy with other activities make great volunteers. They “get it.”
Consider your graduates. They know what is expected and usually stay in touch with the studio for many years after graduation. Our recital “Land of Littles” coordinator, a former student who has long graduated from college, returns each year for our annual production to take charge of the young combo classes. Because I value her contribution to the success of our show, I give her a monetary gift after the show. But you can choose your own method of saying thank you. How about a barter of their time in exchange for dance classes?
Keep the number of volunteers to a bare minimum. It’s easier to manage a small group and it’s best to keep them constantly busy. Remember, you do not have to accept the help of everyone who offers.
Take time to personally give verbal directions. After that, most volunteers will be left on their own, so writing down the procedures for the specific task or what is expected from the volunteer helps keep everyone on track. We issue a “Class Mother Packet” with detailed instructions and checklists. Be very clear and precise so that no major decisions need to be made by the volunteers.
Make sure that volunteers are easily identifiable to other staff members and the students. Issue special lanyards, badges, T-shirts, or wristbands. I also make sure that the students know who the volunteers are, that they are to be respected, and that they are working on my behalf.
Try to use the same people year after year, but continually train new volunteers with the more experienced ones. If you plan carefully, you will have a new crop trained and ready to go when needed.
Whenever possible, do not put volunteers in charge of their own child’s class or group. Sometimes this is unavoidable; if so, be extra clear about what is expected and that every child will require the volunteer’s attention.
Don’t assume that after a student graduates the volunteer parent no longer is interested in helping out. Many times parents of grads miss the studio events and are happy to come back for special events. They are the ideal volunteers—they know what to do and have no children at the studio, so there is no personal conflict. Just ask—you’d be surprised at how flattered they’ll be to know that you think so highly of them.
Don’t feel guilty about not asking a volunteer to return if he or she doesn’t work out. Either find something else for them to do or thank them for their service and indicate that you’ll be going a different way next year. No regrets.
Make your volunteers feel special. Show your appreciation in a professional, not personal, manner. Send a sincere thank-you note, and consider going a step further by holding a volunteer appreciation picnic at your studio or paying for their lunch or pizza between shows. Each gesture makes them feel valued.
Try not to sweat it. Not everyone will do things exactly the way you would do them yourself, but if a task gets done correctly it doesn’t matter how it came about. As a control freak myself, I find that it is difficult to delegate—but I’m getting better at it!
How to make costumes a no-stress part of your recital
By Rhee Gold
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.
At this point in the dance season you’ve received your costume catalogs, but have you taken the time to do a pre-screening? Before you make your final decisions and place the orders, go through all the catalogs to see which costumes fit your performance’s theme or concept and budget. Mark each possibility with a sticky note, placing it on the page like a notebook divider and writing on it the class or level that you have in mind and the cost; that way your choices will be marked in an “at a glance” format. This procedure will save you time when it comes to making final decisions.
It’s a good idea to involve your faculty in the decision-making process. They will feel like their input is valued and have the costume that they believe best fits their choreography and students. It is a win–win approach for you and them. Schedule a meeting and call it a “recital planning party.” Spend the day going through the choices that you have already narrowed down for them. Two or three choices per class are enough. If you think you have found the perfect costume for a particular class, all you’ll need to do is run the choice by the teacher. If she doesn’t like it, then go back to some of the other options you’ve marked to find a compromise.
Once you’re ready to place your orders, call the costume companies to ask for a personal representative. Get a name and an extension number so that you can communicate with one person during the entire process. This important step will minimize any costume stress if there are any problems with your order. Having a personal representative also makes it easy to check on any back-ordered items.
Place orders early to ensure adequate delivery; the end of November or the first of December is best. Most costume companies will send you a confirmation listing all the items and sizes ordered. Open it immediately to verify that what they have in your order and what you have on file match. Many school owners simply assume that everything is right and never open their costume order confirmations, and they often find themselves in “recital-stress mode” when they don’t have to be. By simply checking your order for accuracy, you will eliminate the need for last-minute exchanges that make getting the costumes you need more time-consuming than necessary.
If you order your costumes in November or December, your deliveries could start arriving in late February or early March (or even earlier). Don’t let those boxes sit unopened until you’re ready to distribute the costumes; open them immediately to take an inventory and match them to your original order. If any sizes are missing or the wrong costume has been delivered, you have plenty of time to fix the errors.
Presentation and distribution
When you receive the costumes, pull them out of those small plastic bags they come in, shake them out, and place each one on a hanger inside a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag. If you include tights or other accessories with the costumes, put them in a small plastic bag and place them on the hanger with the costume.
Why go to all that trouble? Let’s say that you charge $65 for a costume. It doesn’t look like it is worth $65 in that small plastic bag it was shipped in. How would you feel if you picked out an expensive blouse at Macy’s and it was handed to you all rolled up and wrinkled in its small plastic shipping bag? You’d probably wonder if it was really worth what you paid for it.
Dry-cleaning bags and hangers can be purchased wholesale at www.ctsusa.com or www.nashvillewraps.com, or check with your local dry-cleaners to see if they can get you the products you need. One dance teacher I know received complimentary bags and hangers from her neighborhood cleaners, who put their logo on the bags. They felt that the advertising for their business was worth the cost of the bags and hangers.
For easy distribution, place a sticker on each costume bag and write the child’s name and costume size on it. You also might want to include the parent’s contact information, in case the costume is not picked up. This step will make distribution much easier.
Make it a policy not to distribute costumes until all costume balances have been paid in full. In some cases you might want to hold the costumes until all payments for the season, including tuition, have been paid (unless you have a picture day early in the year and the children need their costumes for their photos). Having a policy that all accounts due must be paid before the costumes are distributed means that your clients will be motivated to pay up and get those costumes for their eager children.
Some school owners might think that this method of preparing costumes for distribution sounds time consuming, but handling them in an organized, efficient manner is a professional business move that your clients will appreciate. In the pursuit of professionalism in your business, you’ll want to impress your clients, and this process will do just that—and there’s nothing better for your business!
Covering Your Bases With Costumes, Accessories, and Props
When you arrive at dress rehearsal, be prepared for anything. This short list of smart ideas will make problem-solving for costumes, accessories, and props a breeze.
- Have two extras of every prop or accessory (like hats) used in the performance, and if you’re using delicate props like parasols, make it three.
- Don’t allow students to take the props home and bring them to the show. Have a designated backstage person who is in charge of all props, knows the counts of each, and hands them out to the students. This decreases the chance of damage or loss.
- Tights will run, no question! Have a large inventory of all the colors, styles, and sizes that are needed for the show.
- Station a parent or seamstress backstage or in the dressing room, with a sewing machine. Then you don’t have to worry about last-minute seam rips or broken straps.
- Keep plenty of elastic for hats and shoes on hand.
- If shoes were supposed to be dyed by the students or parents, keep an inventory of shoe dye on hand to do quick touch-ups or dye shoes that are the wrong color.
Sample Information Letter
Each costume should be accompanied by a letter that informs the parents of your policies on costume care. The following sample can be adapted for your studio’s use—just change the details as needed.
We are very excited that your child will be participating in the ABC School of Dance’s annual recital! The following are our policies regarding costume maintenance. Compliance with them will ensure that your child has the best recital experience possible.
- To assure a quality fit, we have already had your child try on the costume, so there is no need for him or her to wear it again until the dress rehearsal. Please do not allow your child to wear the costume until then.
- Be sure that your hands and your child’s hands are clean when handling the costumes.
- Your child should never be in costume while consuming food or drink.
- The tights and other accessories are for dress rehearsal and performance only. They should not be worn until that time, nor should any of the items be washed. It is important that all tights match onstage.
- Although your costumes came in a plastic bag, it’s a good idea to place them in a high-quality garment bag when traveling to and from the show. This will help prevent the accessories or costume parts from getting lost or soiled. If the costume has a hat, please place it in a hatbox so that it will not get crushed.
- When storing the costumes at your home, place them in a closet for protection from young siblings or pets who might damage them.
- To remove wrinkles, please do not use an iron—it could change the color or burn the costume. Steaming is safer. Hanging the costume in the bathroom during a hot shower (far away from the water) works well to eliminate wrinkles.
- Each item—costume, hats, shoes, gloves, etc.—must have your child’s name on it. Many costumes and accessories look alike. Be sure to identify everything so that there is no confusion about what belongs to your child.
- Create a checklist of every item for every costume. Refer to the list before you leave home for the dress rehearsal, after the dress rehearsal, and again for all performances.
- No child should wear his or her costume while traveling to dress rehearsal or performances. Costumes must be protected from stains. There will be adequate time and dressing rooms for your child to put on the costume and make sure that it is perfect for the performance.
- Apply makeup and do hair before putting on the costume to help keep it clean.
- After the performances, if you want to clean the costume, check with your dry cleaner for the best process. Some cleaning methods can ruin certain fabrics and trim.
Entertainment and education go hand in hand in history-themed recitals
By Anne L. Silveri
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.”
Bull feels strongly that there’s a movement afoot in dance education to better understand the origins of dance. “There’s a lot of interest right now among dance teachers to know the roots of what we teach to our kids,” says Bull, who is sharpening her own tap education to fill in the gaps. “I want our students to know they are a part of a very long tradition. As dance teachers we are in the perfect place to connect dance to history.”
Bull, 38, has been operating her recreational studio, called Vicki Michelle, in Spring, TX, for 14 years and offers a full range of classes including ballet, jazz, tap, musical theater, acting, twirl, and cheer. She runs a small competition team as well but never wants her focus to veer from her recital. “The recital is the most important part of a dance school,” she says. “It’s the report card the parents receive at the end of the year, so why not make it the best experience possible?”
Themed recitals have always worked well for Bull’s students. She decided to step up the learning two years ago with a “Classic Hollywood” show that focused on films from the 1940s and earlier, including those with Shirley Temple, the music of Cole Porter, Show Boat, 42nd Street, and silent movies.
The 3- to 5-year-old children entered the world of Shirley Temple. Bull did her homework, searching for Temple’s films and obtaining music at www.shirleytemple.com. The teachers chose their classes’ songs from among 40 that Bull selected and were required to do a little research themselves. “I expect my teachers to be able to answer questions that come up,” says Bull. Recital work for the youngest dancers started with a short talk to introduce them to Shirley Temple. “We didn’t want kids just dressing up like Shirley Temple; [we wanted them] to really know who she was,” says the school owner.
Bull asked her students’ parents to rent Temple’s videos and even purchased several that parents could borrow. She wasn’t surprised that the films were new to some of the young mothers as well as to their children. “With our preschool moms, I realized we were exposing the parents and the children to a whole new world,” Bull says. “Our parents were delighted by the task, and some reported that their little ones danced around the house with newfound energy.”
Although Temple’s routines were too difficult for the littlest students, Bull did ask the teachers to use elements from the child star’s dances. To bring the recital audience in on the learning, Bull opened that part of the performance with a short biographical statement on Temple, followed by some film footage. Costuming was easy; almost every costume company offered several choices. The Shirley Temple exploration was so successful that Bull plans to repeat it every few years.
For the school-age students, Bull found inspiration in Show Boat. Among the black-and-white films at the local video store Bull spied a copy of the 1936 film, based on the 1927 musical of the same name. “The music from the actual show was way too operatic for us, but the idea of the showboat worked well with the ‘Classic Hollywood’ idea and was perfect for our school-age children,” says Bull. “We wanted the kids to understand the whole traveling entertainment showboat concept, which basically preceded the cruise business.” The students, ages 5 to 15, performed before a backdrop of an enormous showboat, dancing to classic music from the 1940s.
The musical theater class, with students ranging in age from 6 to 15, did a piece based on silent films, complete with a black-cloaked villain and a damsel in distress. To prepare the students, Bull asked parents to dig through their favorite video store’s offerings for silent films. “Many of our children did not even know there was such a thing as a silent movie,” says Bull. “The overexaggerated movement really developed their acting skills.”
For the ballet classes, Bull used all Cole Porter music. “It’s so elegant and just perfect for ballet,” she says. “You just can’t go wrong with Cole Porter, and [his music is] everywhere in movies from the 1930s and 1940s.” When she proposed the idea, her teachers and the parents had only a vague idea of who Porter was—that is, until she put the music on and they recognized the familiar tunes.
Bull sees recitals as an opportunity to expose her students to a part of culture that they might not ordinarily experience.
For the jazz classes, Bull chose Charleston steps and the music of the Roaring ’20s. “We try to provide context whenever we can, so if we are teaching Charleston moves, we explain where and when this historic dance began.”
The show, costumed entirely in black and white to go with the old-films concept, ended with tap numbers inspired by the 1933 Broadway hit 42nd Street. A glimmer curtain added Hollywood sparkle. “The continuity [in the show] made for a wonderful stage experience,” Bull says.
Bull sees recitals as an opportunity to expose her students to a part of culture that they might not ordinarily experience. “Kids are immersed in the music of today,” she says. “Why not expose them to something different? I see that as part of my job.” The response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. “They really get engaged in the process and seem to appreciate the extra work we do in preparing for the recital,” Bull says. “The dads even did a cute Charlie Chaplin number. We even had a grandfather who remembered Chaplin.” The response from her faculty of six has also been extremely positive, according to Bull, who says that they found the extra investment of time and effort to be enriching.
The school’s most recent recital explored the ’50s with a theme called “Class of 1959.” Set in a school gym and using only music from that decade, the recital followed the structure of a school year. Bull tried to keep it as historically accurate as possible. “I wanted my kids to know what life was like in the 1950s, from the fashions to the dance styles,” she says. “They had a blast learning the jive.”
Bull likes to integrate the acting classes into the recital process since they are an important part of her studio. The acting students provided a seamless thread of continuity, introducing each number with witty remarks that were in keeping with the vernacular of the day. Bull feels that her approach gives these students a key role in her recitals by providing context for her theme.
Once an idea is in motion, Bull researches everything about the period, from how people wore their hair to how they spoke. No detail is unimportant. Once she has collected the information, she gives it to her teachers to make it easy for them to answer students’ questions.
Bull’s eyes light up as she talks about next May’s recital, “Sweet Liberty,” with an American history theme. With Caroline Batson, her top teacher, she starts planning for each
recital more than a year out. For Batson, who majored in dance at the University of Nevada, Bull’s approach makes perfect sense. “When I was in school and we were learning Graham technique, we couldn’t do that without learning who she was and where she came from,” says Batson, 52. “This approach really adds depth to their dancing. The children have something to draw from; they can use the dance as a springboard to a deeper emotional connection. Dance is uniquely able to connect us to our history and our environment.”
The two women meet once a week for a two-hour lunch, when they go over ideas. “We have such synergy together,” Bull says. “Sometimes we come up with the exact same idea simultaneously. It’s such a creative process for us.” They make tentative plans for each number and gradually fill in the details as the year progresses. With the American history theme in mind, Batson is working on a “Rosie the Riveter” piece, based on the woman who became a symbol of American women’s entry into the industrial work force in large numbers during World War II. Excited to be sharing this information with her students, Batson welcomes the opportunity to learn more about this amazing woman herself.
For their part in next year’s recital, the acting students are preparing a scene from the 1969 Broadway musical 1776. Ballet classes will be set in the Civil War period, to music from Gone With the Wind. Bull expects to do a lot of explaining about the Civil War if students haven’t gotten that far in their history classes. The twirl and cheer students will perform to music by John Philip Sousa. “We don’t just put on the music,” she says. “We want them to know who Sousa was in his time, and he was the king of march music.”
Bull readily admits that her students, teachers, and parents are not the only learners in the bunch—she’s acquiring new knowledge along with them. And she says that she wants other teachers to know that though it may sound like extra work, it’s well worth the time. “I found it was a bit more effort in the beginning, but then everything fell into place,” she says. “I also want teachers to know that just because a show is educational doesn’t mean it has to be boring. We entertain as well as educate.” This year Bull plans to institute a movie night for families, when she’ll show films that contain classic dance sequences or relate to the recital theme.
Bull hopes that the excitement of learning will spill over into her students’ school experience. “Sure, there must be easier ways to put on a recital, but this way works for me and my families. Dance is such a fun way to learn about anything,” she says. “I hope I am inspiring my young dancers to be lifelong learners.”
How to keep ‘on the sidelines’ behavior in the ballpark and out of the theater
By Melissa Hoffman
“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.
But this parent’s intrusive yelling quickly spiraled into more of the same, with several others joining in to call out their own children’s names. I had done a good job of preparing my young dancers to expect to hear the audience laugh and clap while they were dancing, but I did not prepare them to hear their names being yelled. I never imagined that I would need to be so diligent about educating parents on audience etiquette at a performing arts event.
I had seen this type of behavior in previous years, mostly with our recreational hip-hop dancers. I know it’s typical of crowds watching break dancers on the street, but I hated it when the families at our recitals would go into what I call “ballpark mode,” screaming and yelling throughout the kids’ routine. The first time this happened I paused the show and spoke briefly about the fact that yelling during a routine could be distracting for the dancers and that I’d appreciate it if they would refrain from that behavior.
The following year I decided to nip the behavior in the bud. I went to each hip-hop class for students ages 12 and older and spoke to the dancers directly, asking them to instruct the people who were going to attend the performance to refrain from yelling and screaming. The kids were happy to do so because they found that kind of behavior embarrassing.
Since I started the practice of talking to the older kids about appropriate behavior, I haven’t seen this kind of disruption happen while they are onstage. But apparently, as the incident with the 3-year-old shows, the sporting-event mentality knows no age limits. And it is important to keep in mind that once one person starts yelling, there is a snowball effect and people think that is the thing to do. So coming up with an across-the-board plan to forestall the stadium mentality is important. It is up to school owners to educate audiences who might be attending their first performing arts event about what constitutes appropriate behavior in the theater.
Of course, not everyone agrees on what’s appropriate. Charlotte Klein, of Charlotte Klein Dance Centers in Worcester and Westboro, MA, discovered that it was more effective to change her expectations than her clients’ behavior. “After many years of analyzing recital audiences, I began to view a recital as a family experience, with all the excitement that goes with it,” Klein told me via email. “Once I changed my expectations I enjoyed seeing families have a wonderful experience instead of fathers dreading attending a recital. This has worked for me, and when fall registration time comes I hear wonderful compliments about the recitals from my parents.”
That kind of family atmosphere is great as long as audiences don’t get out of hand. But for those who want to set some ground rules for a concert-like experience for their recital audiences and students, some heavy-duty instruction is in order.
To be most effective, the process of educating audiences should start long before they arrive at the theater. If you do not already have an “all you need to know about dress rehearsal and recital” handout, perhaps this should be the year you produce one. This handout should include your check-in and pickup policy, your procedure for getting the dancers to and from the stage, photography and video policies—and an audience etiquette section. In the introductory letter that talks about the show, I make a statement that dance is an art form and not a sport. Therefore, viewing a performance should be done with respect for the art.
Remember, just because you wrote the handout doesn’t mean that people will read it—and in fact you need to assume it has not been read. So you need to have a plan to get the word out about all your recital policies that will reach your clients directly. I have found that the best way to do this is to sit with the parents of the 12-and-under dancers as their costumes are distributed. I use this one-on-one time to go over costume pieces, hairstyles, and, most important, rehearsal and recital procedures. After my experience at my last recital, I will also take the time to talk about being an audience member.
To be most effective, the process of educating audiences should start long before they arrive at the theater.
The process of talking with each group of parents is time consuming. I set aside a whole week for these chats, during which I have subs teach my classes, because I believe the message has more impact when it comes from the school owner rather than a teacher or office manager.
What to say
Be careful with your wording; you never want your clients to feel that you are talking down to them. It is important to explain that screaming and yelling can be distracting to the dancers and thus cause a well-rehearsed routine to go amok. But of even more concern, as I saw with that 3-year-old, is the possibility that the situation can become dangerous.
To take the explanation one step further, you can explain that disruptive behavior can also detract from the art of the piece being performed, not to mention that it’s distracting and irritating to the audience members around them. I tell them that clapping for a job well done is great and that we encourage having fun at the performance. But we do not tolerate chaos.
At the theater
It’s important to get the message out about proper behavior to all audience members, not only families. It’s impossible to predict what might happen when a large number of people are together in an emotionally charged atmosphere. For example, during my school’s first show (this was before we implemented reserved seating), a man and woman had a fight over saved seats. Fortunately we had a police officer on the premises and he dealt with the issue. There are now 10 security officials who work for our facility. They always deal with these types of issues, as well as people with cameras and video cameras—and now we will add shushing the noisemakers to their list of duties.
For future recitals I plan to incorporate into my opening welcome (which includes a request that audiences turn off their cell phones and pagers) a new statement that discourages them from yelling. I will preface it by saying I’m asking that of them for the same reason that we do not allow pictures and videos: for the safety of the dancers and the comfort of those around them.
Revisit and repeat
If your school has a competitive team, audience behavior is a concern more than once a year, at recital time. Be prepared to revisit the topic frequently during the season. Audiences are often out of control at competitive events, with people pumping their fists in the air, shouting, “Ooh, ooh!” or whistling, banging on cowbells, and screaming things like “You go, girl!” and “Do it!” The atmosphere, instead of being suited to the experience of observing an art form, quickly deteriorates into rowdiness.
Again, the only way to avoid this is by educating the dancers and their parents. At our competitive team meeting at the beginning of the year we go over the competition process, expectations, and rules, both for the events we attend as well as those we produce. You must make it clear that although other schools may behave inappropriately, you expect to see no such conduct among the people affiliated with your school. That idea can be reinforced repeatedly since competition team dancers perform frequently—just make sure to remind them of the rules before each event.
What happens when a team member violates your rules? One option is to suspend the privilege of being on the team. After such an incident at a competition, I made a note on the dancer’s registration form not to invite her back on the team until we had had a conversation about her behavior. The parent and I spoke, and I received an apology and a promise that the behavior would never happen again. And in the four years since then, it has not.
Set an example
Unfortunately, inappropriate behavior sometimes comes directly from studio owners and teachers, either by tolerating it or engaging in it themselves. This is primarily a concern at competitions, where the sporting-event mentality of winning (and the gloating that can go with it) is too often apparent. If studio owners and teachers cannot count on their peers to maintain standards of behavior, those of us who would like to see dance treated as an art form need to make our feelings known. The intervention could start with a comment to the competition producers regarding the noise level. The next step would be to ask that the disruptive schools’ teachers be instructed to control their students and attendees. If neither of these approaches works, there should be some type of penalty, such as a loss of points or disqualification.
Personally, I would want to know if my students’ parents were out of control so that I could address it. There is nothing more discouraging than not being able to hear one of your dancers being introduced due to the screaming for the previous number or to be onstage and hear the chants of the people in the wings who are waiting to go on. This behavior should simply be unacceptable.
It is our responsibility as dance educators to teach our students not only how to dance but also how to attend or perform in a performing arts event. By teaching our clients to appreciate what they are seeing, we elevate the performance to the art it is. Ultimately, spending the time to educate the dancers and their parents will make for a safe and smooth performing arts event and give the dancers the respect they deserve.
Defining your studio’s unique identity
By Nancy Wozny
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.
There’s an idea going around that A-list studios have a certain look. They’re big, with several dance rooms, huge enrollments, dozens of faculty members, and snazzy competition teams. This is simply not true. Teachers aspire to their own definition of success. Here are just a few of the ways teachers I’ve spoken to describe what they do:
- “I am a one-person dance studio.”
- “I don’t do competitions.”
- “We are all about performing for our local community.”
- “I specialize in adults.”
- “We do alternative recitals.”
- “I want to grow my enrollment to 100.”
- “I am hoping to reach 700 students this fall.”
- “I work out of a community center.”
- “I have a dance studio and a company under one roof.”
Honestly, if each school owner you ever met described her studio to you, I doubt you would hear two stories that were the same. For each of these descriptions, there are parents out there looking for exactly what those schools do.
But sometimes you hear otherwise. Books, articles, and workshops abound for dance studio owners, all telling you how best to run and market your business. Have a dress code, keep parents at a distance, emphasize classes for ages 3 to 13, get a flashy website, charge this or that fee. Dance teachers are inundated with well-meaning advice. What if you looked at these ideas as suggestions and not a set of operating instructions? How can those suggestions be adapted to fit you? You know your school and yourself better than anyone else, so pick and choose according to what best fits your unique niche in the dance world.
Most dance studio owners have a mission statement. Usually it says something about aspiring to the highest standards of dance education and providing a nurturing environment for learning. All of that is fine, and important—but it’s too generic. Your business has more flavor than that. What if you took it a step further and truly defined your studio’s personality? If you took over an existing studio when you opened your business, then it’s especially important to do this work.
What’s the vibe at your studio? What feeling does the school evoke? How is it different from other studios? If a stranger walked in the door and had to describe the environment in just one sentence, what would she say? How do people talk about your studio? How do you talk about your studio?
Find a few friends who are not in the dance studio business and ask them to listen to you talk about your school for 30 seconds. In the sales world, this is known as an “elevator speech.” Afterward, have the listeners write down three ideas that popped into their minds. How well do these ideas match with your concept of your school? Try the exercise a few times and select three sound ideas that describe you perfectly. Add them to your mission statement.
Why define myself?
Your goal is to have clarity in all that you do and portray, from the person who answers the phone to the sign on the building. When you define yourself you attract the students who could benefit most from your unique service. Sometimes studio owners think that they need to be everything to everybody. Students sometimes leave and they wonder why. There are many reasons why students leave (see “Wish They’d Stay, Wish They’d Go,” DSL, October 2008), but one is that your service was not a match for that particular student or family. And students who leave open up spaces in class for someone who is a good match. It’s an entirely different way to look at losing business: as an opportunity. The good news is that there are enough dance students out there for everyone.
OK, I have defined myself. Now what?
Ideally people discover whether there is a match between student and teacher in an actual dance class, but a lot happens before that relationship begins. Opinions are formed long before anybody steps in the door. That’s why it’s best to make sure that your entire environment, both physical and virtual, as well as your print materials, reflect your special message. Think of your entire marketing package as having a cumulative effect. It’s impossible to import your entire personality into your website or your lobby. But if you take a good look at what’s already in place, chances are you will be delighted to find that you are naturally doing this all by yourself. Now how can you do it more consciously and consistently through your entire business?
Website and print media
A website is often a potential customer’s first stop in considering your school. Take a good look at yours and rate it from 1 to 10 on how well it conveys your message. How could you get that number up? Do the photos send an accurate visual message? Do they look like the kids that you actually see at your studio? Lovely photos are wonderful, but if they send the wrong message they will attract the wrong students, and if those students are not a good fit they might eventually leave. Even a simple font change can make a difference in the online image of your school. However, a website doesn’t have to do it all, so try not to stress out about having the perfect site.
When it comes to print media the same principles apply. Images, fonts, and overall design lend specific messages about what goes on at your studio. Take out some old ads, postcards, or brochures. Are they generic? Could they fit just about any dance studio? If so, it’s time for an update. If you are working with a professional graphic designer, describe what’s unique about your business so that he or she can transfer that information into a visual image. That’s the designer’s job, not yours.
Putting more you in your studio environment
Start with your front door and signage. What does it say about you? If someone were to walk by and peek in the door, would what he saw be an accurate reflection of what you stand for? What can you change easily without spending a bundle? Signs are expensive, and you might have been limited in your choices, especially if you are located in a strip mall. Ask yourself what is changeable in a way that would be more suited to you—color, size, overall design? Or perhaps adding lights to an existing sign is an option.
Find a few friends who are not in the dance studio business and ask them to listen to you talk about your school for 30 seconds. In the sales world, this is known as an ‘elevator speech.’
Next move to your lobby. How is your personality present in your interior choices, color scheme, furniture, photos on the wall? All of it counts. Now take a tour to the nucleus of your business, the actual dance rooms. Are the walls blank and white? If that feels perfect for you, great; you are there. If they feel a little pale, it’s time to jazz them up with your style. Or perhaps they are still painted that ’80s mauve from two owners ago. If so, it’s time for a trip to the paint store. And maybe add some photos on the wall or update a window treatment. Never underestimate the power of small changes; think of them as putting a touch of you in your dance rooms.
You at the front desk
Many people claim that word of mouth is their best selling tool. That’s great, but what about the mouth that is doing the talking for you? Do the people answering the phone at your school reflect your values? What’s on your answering machine? Consider recording the message or writing the script yourself. The front desk staff should be familiar with your mission statement and able to convey a consistent message. From time to time it’s good to have a meeting with your faculty and staff to go through this important information.
You in your recital
Recitals are widely considered to be good selling tools, so why not have yours also connect to your mission? There are so many options for recitals these days; in fact, it’s possible to buy an entire recital in a box. Backdrops and themes, complete with music, can be ordered from a catalog, making it easier for you to put on a big show. But is it your studio’s show? Take a look at the DVD of last year’s recital. What could you change easily? It could be the venue, length, presentation style, program, costumes, choice of music, or style of dance. Here’s a good indicator of how well your recital matches you: When you sit in the audience, are you having the time of your life?
Don’t break the bank
Defining your business is an ongoing process and does not need to be done in one day or even a year. In fact, small changes work best. Start with what needs the most work. Take your time. Say you change the art in your studio. How does it feel? Was it a good move? If you are on a tight budget, hold off on buying that snazzy new couch for your lobby and do something simpler, like adding new photos to your website or changing an old ad. Think of this as a fun and creative project. Talk to your faculty about your ideas and ask them for theirs. Get feedback from friends, and notice how parents and students respond to any changes you make.
Which advice to use?
By all means, keep reading articles and attending workshops on business and marketing strategies. We can’t come up with ideas all by ourselves, and it makes sense to listen to experts. It’s what you do with the information that counts. When you reach for the pen at the bottom of your very large dance bag because you can’t wait to write down an idea and try it, that’s a good indication that it’s a good fit. When your first impression is “I would never do that,” that’s a good indication that it’s not for you—or at least not yet. Always ask yourself how an idea can be modified to fit your goals.
Defined for success
A well-defined business acts as a lighthouse, shining your bright light in the direction of just the kind of students you will love teaching. You have created a beacon of your strengths and individuality. Dance is a huge world, large enough for myriad dance studios, all offering quality dance education. There is no one perfect model for an ideal dance studio and there will never be. Celebrate your diversity and give yourself permission to teach dance to your own beat.
The pros and cons of fund-raising
By Hedy Perna and Brian Renfrow
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.
Fund-raising at our studio is headed by our Booster Club, which is composed of interested volunteers, mostly parents of current or past students. It was conceived about eight years ago to assist competition students with travel and related expenses. Some of our successful fund-raising projects have included the following.
Although it is not our most profitable activity, the gala is our most popular. Now in its fourth year, this event generated a profit (about $700) for the first time this year. Held each spring in a local hotel ballroom (decorated by the studio owner and volunteers), the gala is an elegant event that our students and parents look forward to. We keep expenses minimal by hiring a popular local DJ at a discounted rate and serving hors d’oeuvres rather than full meals. Admission this year was $25 for adults and $15 for ages 16 and under. The attendees are primarily students and their friends and families. We have tried, with mixed success, inviting prominent local citizens. However, given the event’s focus as an awards presentation for the students, outside interest has been limited.
Held as part of this year’s gala, this “pick a prize” raffle of donated goods and services was the event’s largest revenue producer, netting about $500. Tickets were sold during the gala for $1 each or “arm’s length”—about 15 tickets—for $10. Donations included restaurant and salon gift certificates, gift baskets, newspaper subscriptions, and tuition for studio classes.
One of our studio parents is an accomplished amateur photographer, with high-end equipment. He volunteered to take photos during all three dress rehearsals for the school’s recital. Then, during performances, we set up a continuous loop display of the photographs on a monitor in the lobby and had proof sheets available for customers to peruse. We offered prints, high-resolution DVDs, or low-resolution CDs for purchase. This event proved very popular. Overhead costs were minimal; the only expenses were blank media. The photographer donated printing costs. Some DVDs and CDs were produced in advance for immediate sale, and more were made on demand. This year’s recital brought in approximately $600 in CD/DVD sales and $175 in print sales.
Held each spring in a local hotel ballroom, the gala is an elegant event that our students and parents look forward to. [Renfrow]
This event generated about $1,100, the highest net profit of any fund-raising activity the school has ever done. A local catering business offers an on-site whole-chicken barbeque at a fixed per-person cost. Their staff comes to the site, provides all the equipment, and does the cooking. The cost is low enough that we can add a reasonable markup and still offer the chickens at an attractive price. Student and parent volunteers sell the chickens, both in advance and on site. For maximum sales volume, try to find space on or near a busy highway or street.
We normally do candy sales for two four-week periods, one in the fall and one in the spring. Order forms and booklets are distributed to each student, and extra order forms are kept at the studio desk. This fund-raising staple has proved very popular with our students and families, typically landing in the top two or three revenue generators. It’s vital to have high-quality, name-brand candy. In addition, we recommend using a vendor that allows payment after the candy is sold, to avoid purchasing candy which ultimately does not sell. Contact the vendors and determine which one offers the best terms and returns the highest percentage of gross sales to your organization.
One of our oldest fund-raising events, selling refreshments at recitals typically generates modest profits, usually $400 to $500. To keep expenses low, we offer only water and candy—no soda, hot drinks, or baked goods. We buy candy by the box at a discount club store. A student’s parents obtain bottled water for us at low cost, but you can purchase it by the case at discount stores. We sell the items during the recital for 50 cents or $1.
This year we attempted to boost water sales by having custom labels for the bottles made at low cost. The labels, which include the studio logo and recital artwork, make the bottles into attractive collector’s items. Water sales were up about $75 from the last few years, but it’s hard to say how much of that increase is attributable to the labels and how much to the fact that it was a hot weekend.
Although we have done this only once and income was modest, it has potential. To make it viable, you need to negotiate a discount fee from the golf club and attract plenty of participants. Weather variables can make this hit-or-miss. Combining a golf tournament with a value-added event such as a bake sale, lunch or dinner, or raffle makes even more sense.
A few other fund-raising events that have proved successful for us include clothing sales, a “dunk-a-dancer” event at a local festival, and the traditional car washes, bake sales, and bottle drives.
Car washes are proving difficult, due both to lack of volunteers and liability concerns that preclude the use of our preferred location. For us, these one-day car washes are not high-profit events, typically yielding less than $200. However, since they involve low or no overhead, they may merit consideration.
Our organization is not immune to the concerns that all fund-raising groups face. The most significant issue is apathy on the part of both students and parents. In past years it was not uncommon to see 10 to 20 attendees at monthly Booster Club meetings. More recently, at least one meeting took place with only the officers present. We try to minimize inconvenience by scheduling meetings on the same day every month, holding them at the studio (where many parents are present already, to pick up or drop off students), and limiting meetings to an hour or less.
Student participation has historically been limited to a core group with an active interest in fund-raising. We have watched the number decline over the years. In the past we did not tie the distribution of profits to competition students to their participation in fund-raising activities, which led to frustration from those who did participate and apathy from those who didn’t. We changed that policy last year, so it remains to be seen how tying rewards to participation affects the students’ willingness to take part.
Fund-raising at our studio has traditionally benefited competition students in the form of cash distribution, which the students’ families could apply to travel, hotel, competition fees, or other expenses. We have had many spirited discussions regarding this policy, but we always come to the same conclusion: This is where our resources are most effectively utilized. Despite early fears that younger students who don’t yet enter competitions would have no incentive to participate in fund-raising, we did not find that to be an issue; they understand that they will benefit in the future.
The keys to successful fund-raising are to do everything you can to encourage students, their parents, and the community to participate, and to be willing to try new or unconventional ideas. Parents and students who are new to a school may have innovative, exciting ideas that could lead to a big jump forward in the success of your fund-raising program. —BR
Fund-raising is a fact of life at many studios, which use the proceeds they raise to pay for competition fees and travel expenses, among other things. At my studio, Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, NJ, we invite our students to perform in dance events and participate in studio trips throughout the year, and we usually have a large response. But we haven’t done any significant fund-raising in years. I’ve had some bad experiences with the process in the past and since then it’s been strictly “pay as you go.”
The one fund-raiser I still do at my studio is candy sales. We sell candy at the front desk for most of the year and the profits go into a general fund for whatever is needed for upcoming events: tips for bus drivers, goody bags for long trips, and so on. These sales are easy to manage, require little record keeping, and involve no disputes about who gets what. And every little bit helps with those unexpected extras associated with trips and events.
What turned me off from fund-raising? When my studio used to go to competitions, I scheduled my fair share of fund-raising activities: car washes, spaghetti dinners, raffles, candy sales, shaking a can—you name it, we did it. But in the long run, I found that fund-raising was exhausting, sometimes not profitable enough, and brought more problems to the studio than it was worth.
One of the biggest problems was that a small group of people ended up doing all the work. We relied on parent volunteers to donate their time to the fund-raising activities, and it seemed like the same ones showed up at event after event. We started a parent association, but in a short time it was evident that some parents were workers and others were not. Eventually the workers got tired of doing all the work, and you know where the buck stops—right here! So I ended up doing the work.
Problems arose among the dancers as well. They started out enthusiastically, then fund-raising fatigue would set in. Some students started to slack off and soon fingers were pointed. And since we split the profits among those who participated, when a large group turned out the net per person was minimal. Making a $1,000 profit on a fund-raiser sounds great until you divide it by 50 dancers. Their yield for lots of work and time would be only $20 each.
I always found that simply asking for donations by shaking a can was the most profitable and fastest way to raise money. But securing time slots at local shopping malls became a full-time job. It seems that every Little League team, cheer squad, and Girl Scout group wants to do fund-raising at the same time! When we did get time slots, parents needed to put in shifts to supervise the kids, and the kids needed to commit to their time slots. But there was always a complication or complaint: “Mary Jane is sick and Brittany is covering her shift, but she’ll be late,” or “I did a double shift so I should get a double share of the profits.” The profits were good, but keeping accurate track of who did what, when, and for how long was very time-consuming.
Headaches and nightmares
A few years ago a studio owner friend of mine told me about a fund-raising nightmare he was having at his studio. A trip was planned, and everyone had agreed to help raise money for it. Then one student dropped out or was removed from the group, but she wanted all the money she had raised to be given to her for her personal use, even though the people who had given money did so with the expectation that they were helping her to go on this trip. Now she wasn’t going, and the student and her mother insisted that because she had raised the money, it was hers. What a headache.
Another studio owner I know planned a trip and volunteer parents organized a fund-raiser for it. Since she left the responsibility to the parents and didn’t directly oversee it, the school owner wasn’t aware that they had raised more money than was needed for the trip. With the extra funds, the parents decided to purchase warm-up suits for the students—without the input, knowledge, or participation of the studio owner. It was bad enough that the owner didn’t have any say in the look of her own studio’s warm-up suit; but since not all the students signed up to raise the money, only those who did got the warm-up suits. What a nightmare.
Now, due to the high cost of gas and the possibility of fuel surcharges on group trips, I’m reconsidering my ban on fund-raisers. But I plan to watch out for the pitfalls (and there are plenty). Since I don’t have the time or energy to commit to another task at the studio, I’m planning to give the record-keeping responsibility to my studio office manager. If needed, a portion of the fund-raising profits will be earmarked to pay her for this task. Also, the fund-raising policies will be clearly stated and all participants must sign off that they agree to all fund-raising guidelines, and everything will be put in writing. The following guidelines will be included in my fund-raising plan.
- Fundraising is optional and strictly voluntary.
- If a student wants to participate in fund-raising activities, one parent must volunteer.
- Only those who participate in the fund-raising event will share in the profits.
- The studio director will choose the fund-raising events.
- The studio director will determine how and where the profits will be used.
- The studio director will set a firm monetary goal and specify whether it is for the entire event or a portion of it.
- The studio director will set dates and deadlines for the fund-raiser.
- Students who volunteer to raise funds will be accountable for their time, and their share of the profits will be directly related to the time and effort they put into each event. No show, no dough!
- The office manager will issue a monthly update of every student’s account.
- Five percent of all monies raised will be used for administrative fees for the office manager (if needed) or go into the general fund account.
- If a student is removed or chooses not to participate in the trip or event after the fact, all monies collected will be equally divided among the remaining participants or be added to the general fund.
- General fund monies will be used, at the director’s discretion, for unexpected or extra expenses associated with any other event or trip planned by the studio in the same school year.
- The studio owner and the students will advertise and promote the fund-raising events and work in an enthusiastic and harmonious way to make them successful. Hallelujah!
Themes, music, and staging ideas to jumpstart your imagination
By Rhee Gold
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.
Choose one of the themes we’ve come up with—“Let It Shine,” “Hometown Memories,” and “When I Grow Up”—and take the starter kit into a brainstorming session with your faculty and staff. Pick it apart and keep what you like—maybe come up with your own twist on the concept—then add everyone’s creative input and you’ve got the recipe for a successful show! Don’t be afraid to take chances or try something totally different than what you think your audiences expect. In some cases you may learn what not to do, but I’ve always found that most of the chances we take end up being what audiences remember most!
After you browse through the starter kits, turn to page 90 to find tips on how to make your next recital experience a smooth process from start to finish. But first, read on to learn the basics about downloading music from the Internet. Once you have familiarized yourself with music download sites, you’ll discover that an entire universe of music is right at your fingertips. Whether you purchase music from these sites or just use them for research, they are a valuable tool that today’s school owner can’t live without.
Recital Music Made Simple
Do you ever wish you could find all the recital music you’ll ever need? Here’s how!
Once you’ve decided on a theme or concept for your recital, visit any music download site, like iTunes. Don’t know what to do once you’re there? Let’s use the recital starter kit for the “Let It Shine” theme on page 84 as an example. Start with the keyword “shine”—you’ll find a couple of hundred options, and you can listen to 30-second snippets of each song. You can narrow your search by utilizing the “genre” search option on the site. I use the following breakdown as a guide for finding a song to suit a particular style of dance:
- ballet—classical, New Age
- tap—soundtracks, electronic, jazz
- modern or contemporary—alternative, New Age, spoken word
- jazz—blues, dance, pop, rock
- lyrical—Christian, gospel, easy listening, pop, vocal
- preschool or 10-and-under groups—children’s music (a huge selection!)
Next, cut and paste all the information for each tune that you’ve selected onto a spreadsheet; that way you can revisit all your options later, before narrowing the list down to your final choices.
After you’ve searched all the “shine” tunes, investigate further by using additional keywords that are related to that word, like “sun,” “moon,” “light,” “money,” “jewels,” and so on. Before you know it you’ll have more music options than you could ever use.
Now narrow down your list by listening to the complete song and all the lyrics. Sure, you’ve got to like the melody or the beat, but if the lyrics are x-rated you need to know that up front. If you can’t understand some of the words, plug the song title and the word “lyrics” into your browser, and chances are you’ll find the complete lyrics. If you love the song but not the words, you may choose to edit it or find an instrumental version; if not, drop it from your list. Go overboard with double the amount of music you think you will need, just in case you change your mind or want to offer your faculty several options. (If they are happy with their music they are more likely to produce a great piece.)
Finally, download your music selections or purchase the CDs. You’re ready to start choreographing!
Let It Shine
Here’s an opportunity to make your students shine! Music titles containing the word “shine” (or variations on it) number in the hundreds, making this feel-good theme open to endless possibilities. Don’t forget about gospel titles—an exciting, upbeat gospel number makes a great opener or closer and is always an audience pleaser. Set an upbeat yet mellow tone from the start by using “Let the Sunshine In” as an overture. Have the curtain rise slowly to reveal a painted backdrop of the sun, or project a photograph of a sunrise on a white traveler or scrim in front of the main curtain. The dancers could sing the song as they file through the auditorium from the back of the house, eventually landing onstage for the opening number.
Other ideas for music for this theme include songs about coins, jewelry, the sun, the moon, candles, Broadway, and Las Vegas. Simply take a look around you to explore what shines and include it in the show!
For Shine It On: Flashlights would make a cool prop for this opening number.
For “Planets and Stars”: Pull out the old disco ball to set an “out of this world” atmosphere onstage and throughout the auditorium.
For “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”: Not what the audience is expecting! This title’s mature contemporary style takes it to a new place.
For “Glow Worm Cha-Cha-Cha”: Florescent costumes, used with a black light, will enhance this routine. Or consider glow sticks as handheld props.
For “A Shine on Your Shoes”: Props could include shoeshine kits with rags.
For “Silver and Gold”: Dancers could decorate a Christmas tree with silver and gold garlands.
For “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”: This hip‐hop version of the song is age appropriate.
|Music||ARTIST||ALBUM||AGE LEVEL/STYLE OR TYPE|
|“Shine It On”||Liza Minnelli||The Act||Tap Production|
|“Planets & Stars”||Stephanie Bennett||Bardina’s Forest||10-and-Under Ballet|
|“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”||Elizabeth Mitchell & Lisa Loeb||Catch the Moon||13+ Modern/Contemporary|
|“Glow Worm Cha-Cha-Cha”||Jackie Davis||Ultra-Lounge: Leopard Skin Sampler||All Ages Tap or Novelty|
|“Let Ya Light Shine Down”||H.O.O.D.||John P. Kee Presents: New Artist Showcase||13+ Christian Hip-Hop|
|“A Shine on Your Shoes”||Mel Torme||My Kind of Music||12-and-Under Tap/Adult Tap|
|“Silver and Gold”||Burl Ives||20th-Century Masters: The Best of Burl Ives—The Christmas Collection||Preschool|
|“Rise and Shine”||Rhonda Vincent||New Dreams and Sunshine||All Ages Tap/Clogging|
|“This Little Light of Mine”||Raffi||Rise and Shine||7 and Under (various)|
|“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Silver 3D Mix)||Marilyn Monroe vs. The Millennium||Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend(remixes)||13+ Hip-Hop/Funky Tap|
Take your audience on a nostalgic journey back in time, stirring up fond memories of their childhoods in their hometowns with this recital theme.
In addition to the music ideas included here, you can customize this theme by including landmarks or businesses from your school’s town. That could get your community involved in the production, which is always good for business and can be a lot of fun! If you go this route, consider using a photo of the downtown area on your program cover or projected on a screen as a backdrop. You could even choreograph a football or baseball number and include some of the home teams’ members. It’s a fun way to get some “celebrity” guys in your show, and it’s great for community goodwill—and ticket sales!
|For Home On the Range This version of an American classic is unique and makes a perfect accompaniment for a modern or contemporary piece for older dancers.|
|For Saturday in the Park Set the atmosphere with the dancers seated on park benches as the curtain opens. The benches add tons of choreographic possibilities as well as visual interest.|
|For Candy Shop At the end of this routine, the dancers could leave the stage and walk through the auditorium with baskets of candy to toss into the audience as they exit at the back of the house.|
|For Shop Around Shopping bags make fun props and may give you some imaginative ideas for choreography.|
|For The Telephone Hour Disguise a ladder as a telephone pole in the center of the stage. Attach toy telephones to it with elastic to create a visually interesting concept. The kids will have a blast!|
|For Ice Cream Shop Set this routine in an ice cream shop, complete with chairs and tables. For a unique and fun approach, put the tables on rollers. The dancers could tap while sitting and then get up and move the tables around as they dance.|
|PROGRAM SECTION TITLE||MUSIC||ARTIST||ALBUM||AGE LEVEL/STYLE OR TYPE|
|“My Hometown Rocks”||“Rock This Town”||The Brian Setzer Orchestra||The Dirty Boogie||All Ages Production|
|“Neighborhood Gossip”||“The Telephone Hour”||Original Broadway cast recording||Bye Bye Birdie||Ages 7–9 Musical Theater|
|“Candy Shop”||“Candyman”||Melody Sweeting||Sweet Nothings||12-and-Under Ballet|
|“By the River”||“Let the River Run”||Carly Simon||Carly Simon: Clouds in My Coffee 1965–1995||13+ Jazz/Lyrical/Contemporary|
|“The Mall”||“Shop Around”||Girl Authority||Girl Authority||Ages 7–9 Jazz/Tap|
|“My Home Town”||“My Home Town” (instrumental)||Mae Robertson and Don Jackson||All Through the Night||Preschool Ballet|
|“Ice Cream Shop”||“The Ice Cream Song”||The Sunshine Road||Rockin’ On Down the Road||Ages 7–9 Jazz/Tap|
|“High School”||“Rock ’n’ Roll High School”||The Ramones||Weird Tales of the Ramones||All Ages Jazz|
|“Fun in the Park”||“Saturday in the Park” (remastered version)||Chicago||The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning||10+ Jazz|
|“Home on the Range”||“Home on the Range” (Cherokee Edition)||Tori Amos||God (EP)||13+ Modern/Contemporary|
When I Grow Up, I’m Gonna Be . . .
All children dream about what they want to be when they grow up, and their parents share those dreams. Let your dance recital help them act out those dreams!
It isn’t very often that a show can open with the preschoolers, but a production number featuring them performing to “When I Grow Up” would make a really cool opener. Music options for this title are endless; for inspiration, just ask your students what they want to be when they grow up. Use their answers as key words in searching for music.
Add a little sentimentality to your recital with a special number for the graduating seniors. The choreography could be set to their spoken words (maybe a poem) about their dreams for the future.
|For Hero During this piece, project images of your dancers’ heroes (or local people who are serving in the military) on a scrim.|
|For On Broadway Add a cool touch to this piece by hanging head shots of the dancers, set in stars, from a fly rod.|
|For Please, Mr. Postman Enhance this concept by using mailboxes as props or set pieces for this number. Use metal mailboxes and hide a drumstick in each one. The kids can drum rhythms on them.|
|For Choo Choo Cha Boogie Take a theatrical approach with this piece by painting wooden boxes to look like suitcases. The dancers can use them as props and tap dance on them.|
|For Old MacDonald Had a Farm Turn this into a children’s production number with one class as the farmers and others being as the farm animals.|
|Program Section Title||Music||Artist||Album||Age Level/Style or Type|
|“When I Grow Up”||“When I Grow Up”||Shirley Temple||America’s Sweetheart, Vol. 1||Preschool Production|
|“A Broadway Star”||“On Broadway”||1995 original Broadway cast recording||Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller||All Ages Jazz Production|
|“A Postman”||“Please Mr. Postman”||The Marvelettes||20th Century Masters, The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Marvelettes||12-and-Under Tap or Jazz|
|“The President”||“We Wanna Be the President”||Eddie Coker||Hmmm . . .||10-and-Under Jazz|
|“A Ballerina”||“Ballerina”||Brian Slawson||Boomer||Preschool|
|“A Hero”||“Hero”||Mariah Carey||#1’s||13+ Lyrical|
|“Rich”||“Rich Girl”||Gwen Stefani and Eve||Love. Angel. Music. Baby.||13+ Hip-Hop or Jazz|
|“A Mom”||“This Woman’s Work”||Kate Bush||The Sensual World||13+ Modern/Contemporary|
|“A Policeman”||“Mr. Policeman”||Kidsongs Kids||My Favorite Kidsongs Collection||7-and-Under Novelty|
|“A Magician”||“Make It Shine/Now That I Can Fly” (Magical DoReMi theme)||4Kids TV||Magical DoReMi Music, Vol. 1 (Single)||10-and-Under Jazz/Tap|