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

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