Looking for a fresh recital idea? Creatively themed shows keep audiences entertained and give students a chance to have more fun with their performance. DT asked three studio directors to share details of their most successful shows—taking us from initial spark to fully staged, with music, costumes and movement for every age group and student ability level.

Celebrate technology through movement.

When Mitzi Roberts spotted “iDance” on a T-shirt, it made her think of all the electronic gadgets we rely on and how unique it would be to create a recital based on the theme of technology.

Nearly 450 students from Roberts’ Dance Express in Mankato, Minnesota, danced in five “iDance” shows last spring. The production paid homage to favorite TV shows and video games and featured a giant iPod as a backdrop, along with 8-foot-tall cutouts of dancers from the iPod commercials.

“For the finale, we mixed all the age groups together and they danced to ‘Technologic’ by Daft Punk and ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by The Buggles,” Roberts says. “The 3-year-olds were sitting on the side of the stage doing the Robot until it was their turn to dance.”

Song: Compilation of noises and beeps, including the classic Nokia ring tone and samples from DJ Salih and DJ Psycho
Level/genre: Intermediate tap

Dancers dressed all in black, each with a letter or symbol on the front and back of their shirts, spelled out text messages as they tap danced in the number “Text Me.” “It fit our theme,” Roberts says, “and even my mom, who is 70, knew what the messages meant after she had seen the piece a few times.”

Song: “Shop Around” by The Miracles and “Material Girl” by Madonna
Level/genre: Beginner tap and jazz (kindergarten)

Dressed in light pink dresses with black edging and matching gloves, the tappers pushed little shopping carts around the stage. During the jazz piece, the girls carried purses and pulled out sunglasses and cell phones and applied lip gloss.

Song: “The Twilight Zone” theme with a compilation of songs from horror movie soundtracks
Level/genre: Advanced jazz

“The Nightmare” featured a girl who dreams that zombies (dressed in black, ripped-up lyrical dresses, extreme gothic makeup and ratted hair) are trying to turn her into one of their own. She wakes up thinking it was a dream—or was it?

Consider This
Dance Express created a giant television screen where dancers inside came to life, jumped out and re-created television shows or video games. Young students, for example, became dancing Disney Channel stars, and the junior-high-aged students used the same concept, but with TV reruns. “There was ‘The Brady Bunch,’ ‘Scooby-Doo’—we even had a ‘Baywatch’ scene in slow motion,” owner Mitzi Roberts says.

Special Aside
“The Nightmare” was the last piece of the night for the zombie girls. “They went nuts ratting their hair,” Mitzi Roberts says. “They probably used a whole can of hairspray by the time they were done.”

More Digital Age Song Choices

  • “Electric Youth,” Debbie Gibson
  • “Satisfaction,” Benny Benassi
  • “Radio,” Beyoncé
  • “Music,” Madonna
  • “Online,” Brad Paisley
  • “Good People,” Jack Johnson
  • “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” a-ha
  • “On the Radio,” Donna Summer
  • “Where It’s At,” Beck
  • “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” Michael Jackson

A Slice of Americana
Dancing through U.S. history

Bringing America’s history to life through dance could be quite a challenge, but it’s what Center Stage Academy of the Performing Arts in Warrensburg and Sedalia, Missouri, did for its first musical theater–style dance recital this spring.

Nearly 400 students participated in three three-hour shows of “Let Freedom Ring,” which showcased specific periods of history and used recorded narrations. “We wanted to tell a story about the nation’s history and how we got to where we are,” Director Jennifer Renfrow says. “It wasn’t all just happy stuff. We hit on some of the hard times, too, that shaped us.”

Highlights included a hip-hop piece honoring Native Americans, a colonial ballet, a jazz piece danced to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a lyrical tribute to September 11 and a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” finale.

Song: “Irish Washerwoman,” Pa’s Fiddle Band
Genre/Level: Beginner jazz/musical theater (ages 6 to 7)

In “Pioneer Kids,” children wore homemade costumes inspired by “Little House on the Prairie.” “We tried to incorporate some movements that were indicative of the period,” Renfrow says. “There was a lot of skipping and partner work—kind of a hoe-down style.”

Song: “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” Jo Ann Castle; Jacques Offenbach’s “Can-Can”; and “Funny Saloon,” Giovanni Ferrio
Genre/Level: Beginning teens jazz

Students danced very stylized movements—including the can-can—in “Wild Wild West.” Costumes were “saloon-style” black dresses with a colorful, ruffled underskirt.

Song: “Rosie the Riveter” by The Four Vagabonds; “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” from the musical Swing; and “Sing Sing Sing” from Swing Kids
Genre/level: Advanced tap

“Rosie the Riveter” involved high school–aged dancers dressed in coveralls and red scarves to look like Rosie. The girls then tore away the coveralls to reveal fancy dresses, and started swing- dancing with sailors.

Get Even More Inspired
Here are some additional dances that Center Stage Academy of the Performing Arts used:

  • For the Revolutionary period, dancers held rifles as a prop and tap danced to a drum cadence.
  • Students learned the Charleston for the Roaring Twenties.
  • A lyrical piece was performed to the recorded memories of a local woman who reminisced about World War II and what it was like to see her fiancé return home.
  • Music from The Andrews Sisters helped show how pastimes such as radio and baseball drew the country together after WWII.
  • To honor current military families, dancers participated in a military-type drill.

More historical Song Choices

  • “Simple Gifts,” Aaron Copland
  • “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” Harry McClintock
  • “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie
  • “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” Aretha Franklin
  • “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” George M. Cohan
  • “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • “Clementine,” Riders in the Sky
  • “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Roy Rogers
  • “You Are My Sunshine,” Norman Blake
  • “Born in the U.S.A.,” Bruce Springsteen

Ships Ahoy!
Warm memories of summer vacation

Four hundred students took part in “Ships Ahoy” this spring, but a group of fathers wearing sailor outfits and grass skirts with coconut bikini tops stole the show with a three-song routine.

Let’s Dance Studio in Glassboro, New Jersey, celebrated summer memories of trips to the East and West Coasts and Hawaii during three performances of “Ships Ahoy.” “Several people from the audience commented that the theme put them right in the mood for summer vacation and trips to the Jersey Shore,” says Kathy Woodside, who owns the studio with Kimberly Bartolomeo.

Students danced to songs about sun, sunscreen, beaches and the ocean, all with a large ship as a backdrop. And for the finale, performers threw confetti and had blowers and poppers with streamers while “Bon Voyage” from Anything Goes played in the background.

Song: “Yellow Submarine,” The Beatles and “Let the Sun Shine In,” Frente
Genre/level: Beginner (age 3) tap and ballet

The dancers wore yellow tutus (the boy had a yellow necktie) and performed movements related to the lyrics. They moved their arms like ocean waves in the tap piece and held their arms in high fifth when the word “sun” was used in the ballet number.

Song: “A Drop in the Ocean,” Ron Pope
Genre/level: Intermediate lyrical

Dancers filled the stage with big movements and graceful sequence work while wearing blue dresses. “There was a lot of flowy up-and-down movement, including some drops to the floor, which went with the title of the song,” Woodside says.

Song: “In the Navy,” Village People
Genre/level: Advanced tap

Students completed intricate formations, such as Vs and circles, and performed several turns and toe stands. Costumes were blue-and-white sailor outfits with white sailor hats.

What did the dads dance to?
The guys shook their stuff to “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Hula Song” from The Lion King, and “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson.
“Everyone loves the fathers’ dance,” owner Kathy Woodside says. “It’s the comedy part of the show.”

School’s Out!
Let’s Dance Studio, which is preparing to move to a new facility next fall, is currently housed in a former Catholic school. That inspired the opening jazz piece, based on “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper. “I was a nun,” owner Kathy Woodside says, “and all of our instructors were an unruly class, doing what they could to be naughty. It got a lot of laughs and was fun to do.”

More Summery Song Choices

  • “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” Baz Luhrmann
  • “It’s a Small World,” from Disney, Robert and Richard Sherman
  • “Come Fly with Me,” Frank Sinatra
  • “Hot, Hot, Hot,” Buster Poindexter
  • “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” The Beach Boys
  • “Wipe Out,” The Surfaris
  • “Soak Up the Sun,” Sheryl Crow
  • “By the Sea,” Sweeney Todd
  • “Heat Wave,” Martha and the Vandellas
  • “Under the Boardwalk,” The Drifters

Hannah Maria Hayes is an MA candidate in dance education, American Ballet Theatre pedagogy, at New York University.

Photo by Sport PiX, courtesy of Dance Express

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox