It's Showtime!

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

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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