May-June 2017 | 2 Music Tips for Dance Teachers | Hints for Recital and Exam Music

Photo courtesy Nina Pinzarrone

Hints for Recital and Exam Music

by Nina Pinzarrone

Tip 1
With year-end recitals and Royal Academy of Dance and Cecchetti exams around the corner, in my final column, I’d like to share tips for choosing music that will help your students remember the steps, keep count, and look their best.

    • Choose music with an obvious melody and well-defined rhythm; a standard time signature, such as 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8; and musical phrases of consistent lengths.
    • Use ritardandos, accelerandos, and pauses sparingly. (They complicate unison, counting, and transitioning from recorded to live music.)
    • Music from well-known ballets (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, etc.) will make your audience think of famous choreography. Stick to lesser-known classics, for example Leo Delibes’ Sylvia and La Source and Alexander Glazunov’s The Seasons.
    • For boys’ solos, try hornpipes, marches, polkas, and rigaudons, for example John Barrett’s St. Catherine Rigaudon (1:01). These easy-to-count traditional dances are perfect for jumps.

Tip 2

Here are some examples of good pieces for recitals and exams. Johann Strauss II’s Acceleration Waltz, op. 234 (8:35) is perfect for balancés and grands jetés. It has a dramatic intro; many sections, with transitions in between, for showcasing groups and/or levels; and a mix of tempos, from moderato to allegro.

Ragtime melodies can be fun. Scott Joplin’s March Majestic (2:52) and Rosebud March (3:09), both in 6/8 with multiple sections, are wonderful for skips, gallops, spring points, and chassés. Augustan Club Waltz (4:45) is good for waltz steps, triplets, runs, and allegro movements; a minor-key section adds tonal variety. Euday Bowman’s 12th Street Rag (2:40) works well with tendus, degagés, échappés, elementary jumps, glissades, struts, marches, and pirouettes.

The “Pizzicato Polka” (3:21) from Sylvia is perfect for a solo or group dance on pointe; the contrasting lyrical middle section works well with assemblés, cabrioles, and other medium jumps. The “Pas des Fleurs/Grande Valse” (3:43) from La Source is a beautiful waltz, good for advanced students and pas de deux.


Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded nine CDs for ballet class.