The cancellations of end-of-year recitals and competitions have been disappointing to teachers, studio owners, students and parents alike.
But for high school seniors, who are likely missing their final opportunity to dance with their studio family—and dealing with the cancellations of other milestone events like graduations and proms—it's a particularly heartbreaking time.
As studios throughout the country deal with the uncertainty of gradual reopenings, many are finding safe, creative ways to give their seniors the recognition they deserve.
COVID-19 has forced many dance classes and performances onto social media—so it makes sense that Instagram and Facebook were the first stops for studio owners looking to recognize their seniors.
Stacy Young, owner of Variations Dance Studio in Auburn, Alabama, started by interviewing each of her graduates, and creating sleek social-media posts with quotes and photos. Having separate posts for each student allowed them to receive individualized congratulations from members of the studio community—which Young helped facilitate by encouraging comments on each post. "It gives everyone an opportunity to commend these dancers and what they've accomplished," says Young. "And it's a platform for the younger students to give them a virtual hug."
Using social media as an interactive tool was key to Kimberly Rishi's idea, too. For her Ashburn, Virginia–based Studio Bleu Dance Center seniors, she set up quizzes on Instagram Stories where followers had to guess which senior was featured, based on baby pictures and fun facts. The correct answer was then announced on Facebook and Instagram the following day.
Rishi also continued the tradition of having her graduates give "senior reflections," this year through individual Facebook posts. By giving the seniors a chance to express in their own words what their dance studio means to them, Rishi demonstrated to her entire studio community the value of seeing a dance education through.
A variation on the "Don't Rush" TikTok challenge made by the Studio Bleu seniors as a surprise—featuring swag from the colleges they'll be attending—positioned them as role models for younger students.
Socially Distanced Celebrations
Off-screen celebrations are giving studios the safe, in-person interactions they're craving—and bringing them community-wide attention.
Both Studio Bleu and Variations Dance Studio made congratulatory yard signs for their seniors, which can double as free marketing for everyone who drives by.
Variations held a drive-by senior send-off, where graduates stood (six feet apart!) in front of the studio as parents and dancers drove by with signs, balloons, gifts and congratulations. That event also gave the Variations seniors a chance to safely continue a tradition that usually happens on the last day of classes—rolling up the marley and signing the floor underneath.
The Variations Dance Studio seniors at their send-off.
Photo courtesy of Stacy Young
The grand finale of Young's senior celebration was a drive-in movie-style event, where a slideshow of senior memories was projected onto the side of the Variations studio. The presentation featured congratulations and words of encouragement from fellow students, and two special surprise guests: Alabama native Desmond Nunn, who was recently in the Hamilton national tour, gave a musical performance, and American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane gave the keynote speech.
For Needham Dance Theatre owner Grace Noyes, canceling her recital didn't just mean the loss of a performance opportunity for her students, but also that of a meaningful tradition: Individually recognizing her seniors in front of the audience of each show with a tribute and a gift.
"It's such a rite of passage," Noyes says. "Everyone knows that when you're a senior you get that chance to walk out onstage."
Noyes, who owns both Needham Dance Theatre in Needham, Massachusetts, and Millis Dance Theatre in nearby Millis, quickly formulated an alternate plan—one that allows the seniors to take what they've learned throughout their training and create a final performance that is truly their own. The seniors are currently choreographing a dance via FaceTime and Zoom to a song of their choosing, which they will eventually perform—one by one—in a local park, where a videographer will capture them from a distance. The videographer will then edit the solos together into one cohesive performance.
"I said, This is your goodbye to your dance studio," says Noyes. "They sprung right into action. They're so resilient. It's a labor of love and it's a distraction for them. I know what they come up with is going to be very healing."
For many dancers, returning to their home studio throughout college and beyond is as much a rite of passage as the final recital.
Even though the senior experience has looked different this year, going off to college or to work doesn't mean the end of a dancer's relationship with their studio.
Rishi is making extra efforts to welcome the 2020 class back to Studio Bleu once they're gone. All members of this year's senior class can come back for free classes and master classes, and for those 2020 alums who still want one last competition experience, she intends to try to make a spot for them.
"It's important to have a footprint showing others in your organization how to be inspirational and how to be a good role model," says Rishi. "They are the future, and younger kids look up to them."