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Posts Tagged ‘Theresa Corbley Siller’

Humor & Heartstrings


Real-life stories from the lives of dance teachers

A lifesaving move
Tay Camille Lynne had two thoughts just before the car hit her. One, if her legs broke, she could not dance; two, a move from modern class she’d just learned the week before. Instinctively, she used the simple floor roll to move up the hood of the car and off the side. “It saved me from serious injury and quite possibly saved my life,” Tay says.

The hit-and-run happened as Tay was walking back to her college dorm from dance class at the Royal Academy of Ballet in Buffalo, New York. In a split second, one dance class changed her life. “I want to thank the Academy for teaching me,” Tay says. She was back in dance class within a few days.
Lauren Green
Royal Academy of Ballet
Buffalo, NY 

Never too big to tutu
We were trying on sample costumes for sizing in my class of 3-year-olds. I called on a little ballerina to try on her tutu. She tearfully declined, stating that she was a big girl now. I told her that big girl ballerinas love to wear tutus. She informed me that she did want a costume, but it could not be a tutu—it would have to be a four-four! Too precious!
Tiffany Edwards
Dance Techniques by Tiffany
Garland, TX

By your pupils you’ll be taught
In a ballet class of 10-year-olds, I have a needy pupil I’ll call Christalena. One day I was extra tired and sore, about to get a migraine. In a previous lesson I had mentioned that I was suffering from Achilles tendonitis and could only demonstrate once.

This day I reiterated my tendon woes. Christalena was her usual needy self. She practically sat on top of me during floor stretches and closely followed me around the room (ironically, like an Achilles heel). After I almost tripped over her, my exasperated brain was silently shouting, “Could you please just go over there? Anywhere but right here?”

 I will remember what happened next for the rest of my life. Christalena knelt down by my feet and asked, “Which one of your tendons hurts?” She began to massage it with her little hands, her big brown eyes gazing up at me with empathy and devotion, as if I were her hero. My frustration disappeared. I looked down at that caring little human being with awe, and with new eyes. Her kind, concerned gesture taught me so much that day.
Theresa Corbley Siller
Cuppett Performing Arts Center
Vienna, VA

Not that kind of dance teacher
One day I was shopping at a local mall when one of my 5-year-old students spotted me. She was with her mother, who was pushing a baby in a stroller. She yanked on her mother’s coat, saying, “Mom! Mom!” but her mother was in a hurry and didn’t respond. When the child pulled again on her coat, the mother stopped abruptly and said, “What?” The child responded, “There is Miss Jo-Anne with her clothes on!” I immediately ran into the nearest store.
Jo-Anne Galavotti
Jo-Anne’s School of Dance
Palmer, MA

Dancing with the fairies
Author Angela Dove took her family on a Sunday afternoon hike. The best moment of the hike, I am told, is when Nina, Angela’s 7-year-old budding ballerina, saw a small clearing off the path. She exclaimed with wonder that it looked like a secret dance floor—so, of course, they all took time from their hike to dance. A beautiful memory was made.
Shelia Sumpter
MusicWorks Studio of Performing Arts
Waynesville, NC

Imagination run amok
In my quest to make ballet technique interesting to young children, I play a fun game with rond de jambe. First, I have the students pretend to dip their feet, like paintbrushes, onto an imaginary paint palette on the floor. Then I let each child pick her colors for her painting and tell the class what picture they will paint. Of course the “paintbrush” legs have to stay straight, with feet pointed, because no one wants to work with a broken paintbrush.
When we finish the rond de jambe exercise, we pretend to pick up our large canvases and nail them up on the wall. Then we step back and admire our beautiful works.

One day at the Chris Collins Dance Studio in Alexandria, Virginia, when we were choosing spots on the wall to hang our “paintings,” two students stayed in their line. “Don’t you want to hang up your gorgeous artwork so everyone can admire it?” I said. With knowing smiles, they answered, “Oh, we have robots to nail up our paintings for us!”
Theresa Corbley Siller
Cuppett Performing Arts Center
Vienna, VA


Toe-Tappin’ Tunes


Songs that make dance teachers want to bust a move

Every teacher knows the feeling—where to get fresh ideas for music for class or choreography? You’re used to choosing music that you hope will rev up your students or inspire them to new expressive heights, and you’ve got a stash of known successes. But the songs that get you going might prove irresistible to your students too. We asked some dance teachers to tell us what they love to dance to, in hopes that you might find a new favorite among them. Listen up!

Maureen Jansen, University of Wisconsin–Madison: I went through a phase about 20 years ago of playing side A of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy every day when I walked into the studio. The four tracks on that side were “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Rain Song,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and “The Crunge.” I always felt energized and inspired by the form, innovation, and emotion of those songs.

Heidi Landgraf, The Harker School, San Jose, CA, and independent teacher: I always have right now favorites, which are “I Got You” (Leona Lewis), “Imma Be” (Black Eyed Peas), “Tik Tok” (Ke$ha), “Evacuate the Dancefloor” (Cascada), “Love” (Matt Morris), and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” (Cage the Elephant). Of the classics:

anything by Stevie Wonder, “Word Up” (Cameo), “Freedom” (George Michael), “September” (Earth Wind & Fire), “Groove Is in the Heart” (Deee Lite), and Buena Vista Social Club (CD).

Julie Holt Lucia, Studio Dance Centre, Frisco, TX: I can think of about a million songs. These are definitely not all safe for the classroom, but I come back to them over and over: “Finally” (CeCe Peniston), “100% Pure Love” (Crystal Waters), “I Love Your Smile” (Shanice), “Push It” (Salt-N-Pepa), “Show Me Love” (Robin S.), “Sing It Back” (Moloko), “Renegade Master (Fatboy Slim Old Skool Mix)” (Fatboy Slim), “Shut Up and Let Me Go” (The Ting Tings), “Kids” (MGMT), “Uprising” (Muse), “Crown of Love” (Arcade Fire), “Breathe In Breathe Out” (Mat Kearney), “Nightswimming” (REM), “Enjoy the Ride” (Morcheeba, featuring Judy Tzuke), and the soundtracks to Moulin Rouge, Fame, and Chicago.

Hedy Perna, Perna Dance Center, Hazlet, NJ: My favorites are “everything is beautiful at the ballet”-type songs. Any song from Grease or Hairspray—they’re just fun to dance to. Also “Hippy Hippy Shake,” especially the Georgia Satellites’ version on the Cocktail soundtrack, and “The Name Game” by The Hit Crew. For the rocker in all of us, the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” For pure joy and innocence, The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” I love the Celine Dion version of “River Deep, Mountain High”—belt it out! Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” (supercool, superfunkalicious). Artists at their best: “Cabaret” (Liza Minnelli), “Vogue” (Madonna), “Beat It” (Michael Jackson). “Freeway of Love”—gotta love Aretha Franklin! And any Frank Sinatra song. The orchestration and phrasing of his songs make dancers challenge themselves and the Nelson Riddle orchestra has such a rich and complex sound. No wonder Twyla Tharp is doing Come Fly Away on Broadway.

Tom Ralabate, University at Buffalo, NY: My shoulders start to shimmy with RuPaul’s “Jealous of My Boogie” from his Champion CD. The classic “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)” by the Andrews Sisters is most infectious—it makes me want to tap or do a jitterbug. I guess I like music with the word “boogie” in it!

Interestingly, the term “boogie woogie” may come from the African Bantu mbuki-mvuki (mBOOkie-MVOOkie), meaning “to shuck off your clothes and dance.” Other interpretations include “to dance and have a party” and “beating a drum” (West African).

Kerry Ring, University at Buffalo, NY: “Everybody Dance Now (Gonna Make You Sweat)” by C+C Music Factory is a great song that brings me back to high school. Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music”—need I say more? As a Deadhead, I find that a song like “Sugar Magnolia” forces me to dance. Andy Monroe’s music is my choice for creating movement and warming up.

Gregg Russell, Los Angeles: “Don’t Stop the Music (Live From the Oak Room)” (Jamie Cullum, The Pursuit), “CrazyFunkyStyle” (The Partysquad, Hollertronix #10 EP), “I Can See It in Your Face” (Pretty Lights, pre-release single), “Used to Be” (Beach House, Teen Dream), “Run” (Vampire Weekend, Contra), “How You Like Me Now” (The Heavy, The House That Dirt Built), “With a Girl Like You” (The Troggs, Pirate Radio soundtrack), “Paper Romance” (Groove Armada, Paper Romance EP), “I Just Wanna Dance” (Space Capone, Vol. 1: Transformation), “Heart Skipped a Beat” (The xx, xx, bonus version).

Theresa Corbley Siller, Cuppett Performing Arts Center, Vienna, Virginia: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” inspires me to no end! We used to crank it up at the studio all the time! When I was younger we had a wonderful guy at our studio, Evan How, who used to goof around and partner us to that song, and we would act all dramatic. It was so much fun.

Debbie Werbrouck, Debbie Werbrouck’s School of Dance, South Bend, IN: Anything from the original cast recordings of Swing! and Wicked, the motion picture soundtrack of Happy Feet, Louis Prima Collectors Series, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland or Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, “Hallelujah” by k.d. lang, anything by Michael Bublé, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, or Take 6. And (don’t laugh) any of Joanie Bartels’ music. It’s just fun with the younger students and gives you an excuse to be silly.


Ballet Scene | Class à la Cecchetti


BalletSceneAn exam-based syllabus for teachers and students yields high-level ballet dancers

By Theresa Corbley Siller

“All right, first and second arabesque.” The students at Cuppett Performing Arts Center in Vienna, Virginia, all in level seven (out of eight) in the Cecchetti method of ballet training, have finished stretching and are getting ready for center work. It’s time to steel themselves for an exercise requiring focus and determination.

(Photo by Theresa Corbley Siller)
(Photo by Theresa Corbley Siller)

Cecchetti training is respected all over the world. George Balanchine would occasionally ask his dancers at New York City Ballet—during a Wednesday class, for example—“What were Cecchetti’s Wednesday steps? Let’s do them today!” Even Merce Cunningham—once a student of Margaret Craske, who studied under Cecchetti—wove Cecchetti patterns into his modern-dance choreography, says Pamela Moore, director of the National Ballet School and Company in Crofton, Maryland.

Where it all began
Italian-born Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928) trained with Giovanni Lepri, Cesare Coppini, and Filippo Taglioni (all students of the great master Carlo Blasis) and made his debut at La Scala in Milan. As a ballet student, Cecchetti frequently corrected his peers, earning him the affectionate title “Maestro.” His natural gift propelled him into teaching, and his classes had a huge following. As a ballet master at the Imperial Theatre (Kirov) and teacher at the Imperial School, he raised the technical level of the Russian dancers dramatically. In 1909 he became the official instructor for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris and later opened a school in London. Among his students were Anna Pavlova, Léonide Massine, Adolph Bohm, Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova, Serge Lifar, and Anton Dolin. He danced until 1926; two of his most famous roles were the Blue Bird in The Sleeping Beauty and the Charlatan in Petrouchka.

Recognizing the importance of his work, Margaret Craske and F. Derra de Moroda, two of his longtime students, along with Cyril Beaumont, a dance writer and publisher, recorded Cecchetti’s daily classes on paper. When their work was finished, they had compiled a manual that included adages and allegros for each day of the week. Cecchetti collaborated with Beaumont and Stanislas Idzikowski on A Manual of the Theory and Practice of Classical Theatrical Dancing: Cecchetti Method, published in London in 1922. After Cecchetti’s death Craske, Derra de Moroda, and Beaumont revised the original manual and later worked on other manuals. Craske and Beaumont collaborated on The Theory and Practice of Allegro in Classical Ballet (Cecchetti Method); Craske and Derra de Moroda on Practice of Advanced Allegro in Classical Ballet (Cecchetti Method).

Cecchetti’s students learned his set patterns so well that they did not have to think about what came next. With consecutive movements deep in their muscle memory, they were free to concentrate on quality, artistry, and musicality. This system of unique and demanding exercises has produced dancers of extreme competence since 1922, when the Cecchetti Society was formed in London.

With consecutive movements deep in their muscle memory, Cecchetti’s students were free to concentrate on quality, artistry, and musicality.

With a standardized vision for teaching young dancers through adulthood, the Cecchetti Council of America (CCA) was born in 1939. Its president, Sandra Glenn, describes its mission: “The organization uses Cecchetti’s teaching and writings in a sequence of grades, carefully measured as to degree of difficulty and physical development, and provides a system of accredited examinations to test the students’ proficiency within those grades.”

In the classroom
In the real world of teaching this ambitious syllabus to youngsters and teens, teachers must also inject fun into it. In well-run Cecchetti classes, good-natured ribbing shares class time with more serious probings: “What’s the goal of adage?” The students are proud that they can answer: “Slow, controlled movement. Coordination of arms, legs, and head with the music. Fluidity.” Terminology is part of the learning in each Cecchetti level.

Jennifer Meyer, a Cecchetti teacher at Cuppett and at Chris Collins Dance Studio in Alexandria, Virginia, has dedicated her life to ensuring that students learn correct technique and a beautiful style. Meyer, an exam registrar and former chairman of the CCA’s East Coast Committee, has completed six student grades of Cecchetti and seven teacher grades. (There are eight grades for both students and teachers.) Her students consistently get high grades on their Cecchetti exams. “Students of Cecchetti who go on to study ballet at college retain their knowledge of terminology and technique and have never failed to impress their professors,” Meyer says. “They are ahead of their dance peers who never had the opportunity to train in the Cecchetti method.”

Along with the Vaganova and Royal Academy of Dance systems of training, the Cecchetti technique has goals of balanced exercises, mastery, and accountability. For some parents, like Nancy Doyle Groves of Jeffersonton, Virginia, a syllabus is important. “When I was looking at studios for my daughter, Lauren, I wouldn’t even consider one without a specific method of ballet training. Otherwise, how do you know your child is progressively learning everything she needs?”

Teaching ballet with a syllabus is an insurance policy that no skills will be missed in the students’ training. A syllabus avoids overstressing certain concepts in class to the neglect of others; a balanced barre prepares students for center work; progressive exercises warm up students adequately, to avoid injuries. And set daily patterns ensure a balanced week that allows students to build strength. Grades I–IV of the Cecchetti method lay the foundation of placement, strength, and equilibrium that allows students to later tackle the professional work in Grades V–VII and Diploma.

Benefits to students
Lisa Adamson Grau, Cecchetti director at Cuppett, says she sees the benefits in students. “Because the students have a specific syllabus that they are trying to perfect in preparation for an exam, out of that exam experience one can see improvement and beauty in their performance quality onstage,” she says.

Pirkko Sirén Lawlor, a Cecchetti examiner and director of The Ballet Conservatory Dance Centre in Winter Haven, Florida, compares Cecchetti training to learning a language. “[It’s] like studying the language with vocabulary and grammar. With this method, the dancer achieves classical line with sound technique, which is pleasing to look at. Just like a well-spoken language, which is a pleasure to listen to.”

Mastery cannot be achieved in any endeavor without drill. Proper practice supervised by an attentive teacher ensures correct muscle memory, line, and technical proficiency. Pamela Moore of the National Ballet Company and School, a Cecchetti examiner of 30 years, says, “The work in Cecchetti is wonderful if properly taught and in the hands of people who know what they’re doing. Teachers must adapt the work for each individual body they are teaching; students are not all the same!”

At the end of each dance year, teachers decide who among their students is eligible to be presented for a Cecchetti exam that will qualify them to advance to the next level. At Cuppett, letters are sent to students’ homes each September so that students and parents know that taking the exam after only one year isn’t an automatic step. Typically only three or four students are deemed ineligible each year, and they are notified about six weeks before the exams are administered. If they choose to repeat their level, sometimes they are made “leaders” of their class, helping other students master the terminology and the step order in the patterns.

For the students chosen for Cecchetti’s practical and verbal exams, two examiners—who may be flown in if the local examiners have taught the test candidates—administer up to four days of testing. (The exams get longer as the level of the material advances, starting with 45 minutes for the Grade I exam.)

Students enter the studio in a ballet walk and line up. Each has a number pinned to his or her clothing. Girls wear black leotards and pink tights, with their hair in a neat bun. Boys are in black, fitted pants, white T-shirts, white socks, and black ballet shoes. They then perform the material they have practiced all year and answer questions on dance terminology and theory.

The possible grades are: Retake, Pass Conditional, Pass, Pass Plus, Pass Commended, and Pass Highly Commended. A Retake grade means the student must study the material at her level for another year and try the exam again. Pass Conditional allows the student to begin the next level but requires a two-year wait, not the usual one year, to take the exam for that level. Almost every student tested at Cuppett in the last two years has passed.

The teacher’s role
Accountability is an enormous part of teaching an established method of ballet. Teachers have been trained in the Cecchetti method and have passed the teacher exams; they understand what they must produce in their ballet students. Teacher exams include answering technical questions as well as executing the physical material.

Teachers must be able to convey correct technique and artistry to their students, passing down the knowledge they gained from their teacher training. Teachers whose students do not pass an exam (which rarely happens, because students are closely evaluated before being presented for examination) learn what those students need to accomplish to pass the next time. Detailed comments and corrections are given to each student in writing after their exam.

Meyer insists on quality from her students and she challenges them to correct each other. She demands precision, and so do all teachers and examiners who are members of CCA and Cecchetti USA. CCA, with about 650 members, is the larger and older of the two organizations, though both are dedicated to helping teachers be the best they can be, through continuing education and exams in the teacher’s grade levels, membership meetings, and twice-yearly workshops. At the summertime Special Diploma Intensive and CCA Teachers Seminar at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, examiners, teachers, and students converge from all over the world.

Getting started
Studio owners who want to start a Cecchetti program must first find a certified Cecchetti coach who will instruct them in the Grade I teacher’s syllabus. (The necessary materials—books and CDs—can be bought through CCA.)

Coaches are paid $50 per hour, but sometimes two or three prospective teachers take a coach’s lessons together and split the expense. For Grade I teaching certification, a teacher might take a two-hour coaching session twice a month, with more coaching time required as the exam draws near and as the teacher advances to more demanding levels.

After a year or more of work with the coach, teachers are ready to become candidates for exam. Candidates must have been teaching for three years and have a sponsor as well. Once they have passed, they become members of CCA and are permitted to present students for a Grade I exam. Teachers with strong ballet backgrounds sometimes complete Grades I and II in a single year. They could then teach a Grade III class under the supervision of a Cecchetti-certified teacher and take the Grade III teacher exam at the end of the school year, repeating that process with higher grades as they continue their training.

 The teacher-level exam fee varies from $75 for Grade I to $400 for the top Diploma level, with the proceeds covering the travel and lodging costs of CCA’s traveling examiners.

Many teachers don’t advance to the top tier of Cecchetti training; one whose studies had stopped with the fifth level would be equipped to handle anything but the most demanding pre-professional class. Reaching that level could take seven to nine years.

Being a CCA member in good standing requires participation in at least two Cecchetti workshops per year or one Teachers Seminar (in Michigan) per year. Attendance at meetings and continued study are mandatory.

Teachers who have become Cecchetti converts rave about the method’s results. “The Cecchetti program has improved our students 1,000 percent, not only in ballet, but in their other dance disciplines as well,” says Chris Collins, owner of Chris Collins Dance Studio. “It’s done nothing but help them.”


Smooth Sailing at Showtime


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.

(Photo by Richard Calmes)

(Photo by Richard Calmes)

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.

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