Your students’ summer recital routines are a distant memory and it’s time to confront that sugary sweet fairy-tale ballet that dominates the stage every holiday season. That’s right, it’s Nutcracker season!

If you’re not sure you can stand another three months humming Tchaikovsky’s famous score, then put a twist on the tradition and create your own holiday show. DT talked to artistic directors at both professional companies and dance studios to see how they breathe new life into the holiday classic.

Solution #1: Take inspiration from your community to create a Nutcracker alternative.

For years, dance companies around the world have put a spin on the holiday classic by using their immediate environs as a backdrop. One of the most well-known adaptations is Donald Byrd’s The Harlem Nutcracker. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s 1960s jazz arrangement set the tone for this politically charged narrative about the Civil Rights movement.

Whether your Nutcracker’s theme is political or comedic, your school can put on a production that is unique to your community. Philadelphia-based ContempraDance Theatre’s Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up uses the city’s people, places and foods to create a campy holiday spoof. Based on an original rap by company dancer and assistant director Michelle Jones Wurtz, the show incorporates comedy, jazz, hip hop, modern and ballet. “It’s a conglomeration of talents,” Artistic Director Gail Vartanian says of her production. “I like mixing the genres of dance.”

With a cast of outrageous characters, such as “The Rappin’ SugarPlum Fairy,” the hip-hoppin’ “Captain Philadelphia” and a parade of other recognizable “Philadelphians,” the production has continued to evolve over the past three years. The focal point of the show is Wurtz’s rap, supplemented by music ranging from Tchaikovsky to Fatboy Slim. ContempraDance company members dance most of the show, but Vartanian also casts young students from her studio.

To get your own production going, look for inspiration around you and choose complementary dance forms and music. Utilizing performers with acting, comedic, musical or writing skills can add pizzazz to your production. A creative, well-executed show may even draw unexpected audience members. “The traditional Nutcracker usually attracts more mothers and daughters,” says Vartanian. “But a lot of boys and adult men like to come see our show.”

Solution #2: Use another fairy-tale or story with holiday/winter themes.

There are many other non-Christmas stories that are just as touching and entertaining as E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker. Leaf through a stack of children’s books to jog your memory of some of your favorite childhood tales.
“Find a book that means something to you,” says Brenda Way, artistic director of San Francisco’s ODC/Dance. “All kids love storytelling.” The San Francisco–based contemporary company created a production of The Velveteen Rabbit, based on an idea that was born when co-artistic director K.T. Nelson read the story to her son and began thinking about how it could be turned into movement. The story’s themes of loyalty and giving led Nelson to think it would make a lovable production for young people.

The company performs The Velveteen Rabbit as part of its dance education outreach, and aims to get children involved in the production. Included in the program is a booklet that shows children how to create their own choreography, as well as fun character mask cutouts. “This type of show generates creativity and imagination,” says Way. “It’s very focused on heart, and it’s simple and childlike.”

Frances Smith Cohen of modern dance troupe Center Dance Ensemble also created a holiday production based on a beloved story. Her Phoenix, Arizona–based company has been performing a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen for more than a decade. Cohen advises teachers to find a story that you “make up as you go along.” Besides being danceable, it needs to be flexible so a production can be edited. It took Cohen almost 16 years to fully develop Snow Queen as a full-fledged performance.

You can utilize imaginative, comfortable modern movement, accompanied by voice-over narrative, to tell a simple, child-friendly story. Keep in mind that gestures and facial expressions are essential when performing a tale that the audience may be unfamiliar with. This will also provide an  introduction for your students to the art of storytelling in dance.

Music choice is also central when drawing a new audience to a different type of holiday show. Cohen believes that people enjoy The Nutcracker because of the music. When creating Snow Queen, she listened to a great deal of music before deciding on a rare Sergei Prokofiev score. Her other secrets to success? “Give them the glitter,” she says. “Give them a virtual delight by spending the bulk of the production money on lights and costumes.”

Solution #3: Create your own holiday “variety” show.

Would you rather avoid story ballets altogether? If so, a variety show may be more your style. It allows you to showcase your students’ talents and versatility in a fun, free-form fashion. And, rather than performing the same ballets over and over, variety shows can be different every year. In this case, the challenge is to keep the production from becoming another studio recital by limiting the number of pieces. Focusing on a simple but creative holiday theme may help.

San Francisco–based Smuin Ballet has been performing its “classic/cool” production of The Christmas Ballet for more than 13 years. While the dance numbers and choreography may change slightly from year to year, the ballet’s concept has stayed the same. The Christmas Ballet’s elegant “classic” act features classical music and ballet technique, while the “cool” act is structured more like a Broadway show, complete with tap and jazz numbers, hula dancing and quirky costumes. “The Nutcracker has the same music and choreography every year,” says Artistic Director Celia Fushille. “This production has its staples, but we also create pieces based on our talent for the year, while giving choreographers opportunities to create new works.”

With music ranging from Mozart to Eartha Kitt, a show like this is perfect for a studio that offers many different types of dance. It’s also a good learning tool to help students develop music appreciation and movement versatility.

“Our type of production can definitely be tailored to students,” says Fushille. “Choosing classical music educates them about technique. Then, bringing in music they might be more familiar with shows them that they can dance to anything.” DT

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox