Studio traditions give students and parents events to remember
by Kim Black
Dyeing Easter eggs, delivering Christmas or Hanukkah gifts to shut-ins, taking a walk to work off that Thanksgiving meal—over the years, activities like these become cherished family traditions. Why not create some fun holiday and special observation-day traditions for your dance studio family?
Traditions give dancers and their parents things to look forward to, and in many cases can create opportunities for students to practice their performing skills. Here are some favorite traditions that I share with my students ages 2 and a half to 8.
Some of my former dancers—who are now parents themselves—still recall participating in this tradition.
First day. I always make a big deal about the first day of dance. I enter the lobby to gather my “friends,” stand at the door with the students who have already arrived, and watch for more “friends” to arrive for class. When all of our “friends” are there, the students hold hands and we all walk to our dance room together. This creates excitement for class, and eases the transition away from mom or dad. This ritual of “new friends” provides a wonderful image for parents to treasure for years to come.
Halloween. My dancers dress up for their dance class closest to Halloween—and I do as well, usually as Minnie Mouse or a Disney princess. We take a group photo in our Halloween finery, and do Halloween-themed activities. For example, my dancers “trick or treat” through an obstacle course of hula hoops and rolled-up yoga mats, ending on vinyl dots (which stand in for candy). My dancers often talk about the Halloween class for weeks afterward.
Miss Kim’s Nutcracker. In November classes, I read a synopsis of The Nutcracker ballet that I call “Miss Kim’s Nutcracker.” I describe the ballet’s characters and music, and we work on a variation—simplified for the students’ ages. My studio’s company presents a full-length Nutcracker at a local theater, and in class the week before, my students perform “Miss Kim’s Nutcracker” in-studio for parents and friends. Company members portraying roles such as Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Mouse King, and Nutcracker make an appearance and help bring the story to life in our classroom. This exposes my youngest dancers to classical ballet and gets them excited about going to see the company’s Nutcracker on the big stage.
Community. For another seasonal activity, my students and I share our love of dance with residents of a local memory care (Alzheimer’s) facility in honor of my grandmother. We perform fun, upbeat jazz routines or beautiful ballet numbers to carols such as “Away in a Manger.” I pick songs that will be familiar to the residents, and they often sing along. The visit puts everyone—dancers, parents, residents, and the facility’s staff—in the Christmas spirit.
Happy New Year. A magical surprise greets my students when they return from holiday break. When we sit on the floor to stretch during class, I ask my dancers to touch the floor. Before class I sprinkled a little glitter on the floor, and now when the students see the glitter on their hands, I say, “Our fairy friends had a New Year’s party in our ballet room! Fairy dust is all over the floor!” After our stretches, I play music from Les Sylphides and we pretend we are fairy friends.
Peter Rabbit. One of the hardest times of the year for my young dancers is when we are working on our spring concert dances. In March I start reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and the week before spring break we act out the story during our lesson. I put on overalls and a hat to portray Mr. McGregor. To the music of Vivaldi’s “Spring,” my dancers giggle and laugh as they hop through the garden picking up carrots (orange paper cut-outs) or crawl through the rabbits’ tunnel (a pop-up See-Me Tunnel). Some of my former dancers—who are now parents themselves—still recall participating in this tradition.
Costume day. I invite parents to join us for the lesson when we try on our costumes. (I give parents a heads-up the previous week.) I tell my dancers that something special came in the mail. We talk about our special costumes and how, after trying them on in class, we will take them home and put them in the closet until our spring concert. I call each dancer up individually to receive her costume—a nice photo opportunity for the parents. Once all costumes are on, we take a group picture, and then we go on a costume parade through all the other classrooms in the studio. There, the older dances clap and sometimes join in our parade, which gives my young dancers a boost of confidence.
Mother’s Day. This is my favorite week of dance—I love to watch my youngest dancers on this special day. This class is “observation day” for parents. Each mom takes a turn standing in a corner of the room. To Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s “Mom’s Song” or Martina McBride’s “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” each dancer (with a flower hidden behind his or her back) skips to the corner, turns, and curtsies (sons, of course, bow). There is not a dry eye in the room as the students present their mothers with the flowers. This class generally falls directly before our spring concert, and is a wonderful way to end our dance year with happiness and pride on the part of both parents and dancers.
Kim Black, a dance educator for 31 years, is children’s ballet director at Burlington [NC] Dance Center and teaches creative movement at The Burlington School.