With all the buzz surrounding the release of Disney’s High School Musical 3 next month, it’s a great time to create your own high school–themed production.

While copyright laws make it difficult to adapt HSM for a dance recital, you can still capture the spirit of the series—Diana Gebhardt, owner of Step By Step in Millstone Township, New Jersey, did. Her show, titled “Our High School Musical,” had 42 numbers that all related to school and learning. She also put notes in the program to explain how each piece fit the theme. “I love High School Musical, and the kids love it,” says Gebhardt. “I wanted something to draw more people into the studio—the marketing perspective made me choose the theme.” Don’t miss the bus on this one! Read on to get ideas for developing your own school-themed show.

In the Hallways

Song: “School Days” by Chuck Berry

Genre: jazz

Start the show with a dance that takes place in the hallways. This upbeat tune lends itself to battements, jumps and swing dancing. Choreograph stereotypical high school dynamics into the dance—the star of the football team and cheerleader flirtatiously dancing together, the goth art student pining for the bad-boy loner and the gym teacher urging students to behave decorously. During the chorus have everyone dance in unison, and save the verses for dancers to break off into their own tableaux.

Math

Song: “The Song of the Count” from “Sesame Street”

Genre: tap

Dressed as Count Draculas with capes and vampire teeth, have your little ones lie inside cardboard coffins placed upstage. Play up the counting theme by having one dancer pop out of a coffin at a time. Once they’re all out and moving, repeat a movement theme during the chorus—as the song speeds up, challenge dancers to keep up. (Check out “The Song of the Count” on YouTube for a better idea.)

Drama

Song: “Romeo and Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev

Genre: ballet

Dress a few students as drama geeks in full Elizabethan regalia—jerkins (tight-fitting sleeveless jackets), breeches, tights and caps with feathers for the boys, and Juliet-style dresses for girls. Raise the houselights and set the scene for a mock rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Have dancers stroll down the aisles, carrying backpacks and textbooks while chatting (Omigod, I totally failed that chem test!). As they find their way to the stage to casually stretch and warm up, a dancer cast as a teacher wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard walks onstage to announce, “Boys and girls, let’s make Shakespeare proud! Places, everyone!” Dim the houselights and continue with a performance of the Montague ball from Act I of Romeo and Juliet.

Physics

Songs: “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles

Genre: lyrical

For physics class, costume your lyrical dancers in bright red or orange costumes to represent the sun or Mars. As the group moves around the stage like planets in orbit (rotating, in elliptical patterns), have two dancers “gravitate” toward one another until they finally collide and partner. Project a solar system gobo onto the backdrop and use red lighting.

Chemistry

Song: “Chemistry” from the musical One Night to Live: Prom Night—The Musical

Genre: musical theater dance

For a number about attraction in chemistry class, outfit dancers in white lab coats and goggles, with props such as Bunsen burners, beakers and test tubes. Project the periodic table onto a scrim, and play up the idea of experiments gone awry with a fog machine and strobe lights. Movements can be small and introverted while the scientists are hard at work, and then large and explosive when something’s gone wrong.Anatomy

Song: “Those Bones”

by The Backyardigans

Genre: creative movement

Outfit your tiniest tots in skeleton costumes for an anatomy-inspired number. Look for a skeleton backdrop or gobo and ask a local high school to lend you life-size skeleton models to decorate the back of the stage. As the dancers demonstrate basic movements like passé, chassé, pas de bourrée and chaînés, they can point to the corresponding bone mentioned in the lyrics.

Lunch

Song: “Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys

Genre: production

End the first act with a high-energy lunch dance. See if you can talk a dancer’s dad into donning lipstick and a wig to act as the lunch lady. Dress him in a white shirt and pants, cat-eye glasses and hairnet, and have him hold a giant ladle. Place tables onstage that students can (carefully!) tap on. At the beginning, the lunch lady dishes “slop” onto trays. As the song picks up, she and students dance together. For props, use Velcro to attach milk cartons, apples and other faux food items onto trays. Students should incorporate the chairs as well: Have them sit and kick their legs in sync or toss props back and forth for added visual interest.

Halftime Show

Song: “The Buckeye Battlecry” by Ohio State University Marching Band

Genres: jazz, tap

Look for a football game backdrop for a spectacle dance comprising the marching band, baton team and flag or ribbon-waving color guard. Intersperse five cheerleaders executing kicks, side jumps, partnering stunts, flips, aerials and basket tosses—if space permits. Brownie points for enlisting a local marching band to play the song live! Create drama by having the captain of the cheerleading squad secretly pine for a band nerd when her friends aren’t looking.

Gym

Song: “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story

Genre: boys’ jazz

Use a locker-room backdrop for a dance about gym class. Dressed in different-colored jerseys, have two groups battle back and forth over who can do the most push-ups, pirouettes or other technical feats. The star jock’s team should always win. Place an actual locker onstage and have a student dressed as a nerdy math whiz make a cameo: He can pop out, only to be stuffed back in by the boys.

Prom

Song medley: “Teach Me Tonight” by Chaka Khan, “School Spirit” by Kanye West, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes from Dirty Dancing

Genres: lyrical, hip hop, jazz

End your show with the quintessential end to a school year: prom! This medley can incorporate as many dancers as possible. Decorate the stage with balloons and set pieces from a prom supply company. Students can even wear their real prom dresses. Dim the lights, project a starry night gobo and cast your faculty as teachers and chaperones. If your advanced dancers have worked on partnering and lifts, incorporate them as much as possible.  DT

Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.

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