Why expecting the unexpected pays off at recital time

So much of teaching dance is about preparation—training and rehearsing your students to do their best, particularly at recital time. “The recital is the culmination of all the kids have done during the year,” says Bonnie Schuetz, a 31-year veteran of owning and operating studios. Yet despite the best preparation—effective training, well-thought-out policies and clear communication—recital mishaps are bound to happen, often at the last minute.

Here’s how three studio owners coped with five unexpected recital issues gracefully and effectively. After all, the show must go on!

RECITAL MISHAP A student loses a costume just before the recital.

SOLUTION Cultivate good relationships with your costume suppliers, because the speed with which you can replace a costume may depend on it.

Get to know your customer-service or sales representatives—let them know you are a loyal customer. Schuetz has operated Boni’s Dance & Performing Arts Studio for 31 years, and while her Spring, Texas, business encompasses three locations and 1,700 students, she orders around $100,000 worth of costumes each year from just two companies. “You don’t have to place consistently large orders to cultivate loyalty,” she says. “But you do want a relationship. Suppliers will be more likely to accommodate you, to find you a costume or make one on short notice.”

Lorrie Sparks, owner and choreographer for Lorrie’s Roxy Dolls in Bernie, Missouri, emphasizes to her dancers and their parents that costumes are very difficult to replace. One tip she offers parents: Hang the child’s costume and its accessories in your closet until dress rehearsal.

FAST FIX See if another student will lend a same-size costume. “Because we do the same show two nights with two different sets of kids,” says Schuetz, “we may have duplicates of the same costume.” Lonnetta Grant, owner of Dynasty Arts & Movement in Temple Hills, Maryland, stocks up on costume accessories. “I always order a half-dozen extra,” she says.

RECITAL MISHAP You arrive at the recital venue and discover the floor is dangerously slippery.

SOLUTION Visit the venue long before the performance. “As soon as we secure the location, I go to see it,” says Grant. Assess the floor’s condition and learn the venue’s policies for laying a temporary floor.

Consider investing in your own performance top floor. “I always bring my marley,” says Schuetz. Whether you rent or own transportable performance flooring, however, it will need to flatten overnight. Schuetz recommends laying your floor the evening before the recital.

FAST FIX Sparks uses an industrial-strength floor cleaner with a slip-resistant formula recommended by her floor supplier to ensure a nonslip surface. In a pinch, she uses Coca-Cola in a spray bottle to keep the stage slightly tacky.

RECITAL MISHAP There’s no one to manage the kids backstage.

SOLUTION Overstaff. Don’t count on parent volunteers, who may not be able to honor their commitment on recital day. Employ older students and staff to wrangle dancers backstage.

Schuetz puts senior dancers or teachers in charge of set groups and uses headsets to communicate from backstage to the hallway or auditorium. To ease confusion about the recital sequence, display posters of the show’s order throughout the venue: stage right, stage left, at the entrance to backstage and in the dressing rooms.

For a small recital cast, Sparks seats some students in the front two rows. “They can watch the other dances, and my helpers exit them quietly when they are ready for the wings,” she says. That way, backstage doesn’t get overcrowded.

FAST FIX Rotate helpers. “Once work in the lobby is over, you can reassign people to help backstage,” says Grant.

RECITAL MISHAP A parent contacts you days before the recital to say her child must drop out.

SOLUTION Be flexible. It’s impossible to force a parent to make her child dance, and certain emergencies, like illness or a death in the family, need to be respected.

Concentrate instead on preserving the other students’ experience. “I turned a trio into a solo hours before the recital and reblocked a few dances,” says Sparks. “It was stressful, but my students stepped up and made it work.” Young dancers may not be so flexible. “Sometimes kids get confused, which isn’t fair to them, so then we just leave things as is,” says Schuetz. “It’s about these kids, even though you want to do a nice show.”

Good communication can head off a lot. “Everyone receives a handbook at the beginning of the year, and they sign to acknowledge they read it,” says Grant, who has an assistant send e-mail reminders closer to recital time. “We also announce the important dates at every class,” she says.

FAST FIX If your studio produces two shows, consider allowing the absentee child to participate in another recital performance—but only if it’s easy for you orchestrate.

RECITAL MISHAP Parents take forbidden photos or video during a recital.

SOLUTION Assign staff to the aisles and train them carefully, explaining that they must be quiet, respectful and brief as they tell parents why they must stop recording or taking photos: Flash photography and videography can distract and potentially injure dancers, and the rest of the audience deserves to enjoy the performance without disruption. “I talk about the safety behind these restrictions and that filming doesn’t allow parents to focus on the entire production,” says Grant.

FAST FIX Tell parents ahead of time that during dress rehearsal, they can take whatever photos and videos they want—allowing them to sit back later and just enjoy the show.

Schuetz actually lets parents take video—but with strict caveats. “I allow videography as long as there’s no flash, no tripod, and they don’t block anyone’s view,” she says. “In the end, they mostly purchase the video anyway.” DT

Charlotte Barnard is an NYC writer who also contributes to Dance Retailer News.

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