Performance Planner: On the Radio


Open with a number set to Van Morrison’s “Hey Mr. DJ.” Cast eight dancers as disc jockeys—each representing a station—and costume them in a way that embodies their respective styles of music. For example, the classical station DJ can wear a tuxedo, while the country station’s host dons boots and a cowboy hat.

In one corner of the stage, set up a booth with several record players and a microphone to represent a sound studio. Paint the back wall of the booth as though it’s covered floor to ceiling with records. (Enlist local art students to help.) After each number, the DJ for the next one can step into the booth and mime choosing which song to play. During these bits, play pre-recorded introductions. For instance, prior to the “Top 40” number, the DJ can say, “And now—he’s no stranger to the music charts—here is Chris Brown, with ‘With You’!”

Top 40

Genre: Intermediate lyrical

Tweens will love dancing to hit singer-dancer Chris Brown’s love song “With You.” Cast a boy and a girl as the lead couple, with a class of lyrical dancers as the corps. The costumes should be light and breezy, but colorful to match the vibe of the song. The lyrics describe spending time with a significant other, so make the movements sweet and charming. One idea is to have the lead couple constantly in some sort of physical contact, whether it’s a lift or just holding hands while doing footwork. The beat is slow enough for intermediate-level dancers to show off multiple pirouettes and complicated fouetté sequences, but not too slow for extensions. For other Top 40 song ideas, peruse the charts at


Genre: Advanced lyrical

In a number to Joss Stone’s “Music,” create a gritty lyrical piece about a love affair with music. Challenge yourself to create movement that always originates from the heart and then extends into the rest of the body, as if the music itself lives in and pours out from the dancer’s heart. Go all out with Joss Stone–inspired face paint. Think hippie peace signs, hearts and flowers (try sweat-proof stage makeup and body paint) and deep-red hair extensions.

Classic Rock

Genres: Intermediate and advanced jazz, creative movement

For this dance, choose a three-song classic-rock medley. Begin with a jazz piece to Journey’s monster ballad “Open Arms.” The sweeping chorus lends itself to dramatic head-tossing, layouts, level changes and switch leaps. Outfit the class in ’80s-style wigs (think big, feathered bangs). Each dancer can wear a different colored headband, a high-legged leotard and multiple pairs of neon ankle warmers.

Follow up with a hate-to-love number to “Cryin’” by Aerosmith for advanced jazz dancers. Check out the music video starring Alicia Silverstone and lead singer Steven Tyler’s daughter, Liv Tyler, on YouTube for choreography ideas. One option is to use a corps of boys with one girl as the lead love-object. This dancer should portray a fun-loving heartbreaker, outfitted in a flashy costume that stands out against the others—try loud prints, sequins and fringe. Choreograph a series of lifts in which the lead dancer’s feet never touch the ground.

Finish the medley with “Mr. Roboto” by Styx for beginning jazz dancers. Go for a robot look with silver unitards, combat boots and gloves, and choreograph jerky, angular, robotic dance moves. Work with students on keeping their torsos rigid and their arms stiff. Pay homage to the music video by using strobe lights at the end of the piece (but not throughout, as it may be too much for young ones to stay oriented onstage).


Genre: All levels of ballet

For a classical music station, choreograph to Bach’s “Suite for Solo Cello No. 2.” (Yo-Yo Ma’s 1998 recording is particularly lovely.) Showcase a different level for each of the suite’s six movements, the Courante being ideal for beginning ballet since it’s less than two minutes long. Reserve the Menuett for a pas de deux, the Gigue for pointe and the Allemande for a solo. Use the other two pieces for larger corps work. Costume the entire suite with variations on the same theme. For instance, the dancers in each movement can all wear the same style bodice but different skirts, including romantic tutus, platter tutus and wrap skirts.

Talk Radio

Genres: Modern, contemporary, dance-theater

Create a dance-theater piece that incorporates spoken word. The dialogue should imitate an NPR-style talk radio interview. (Check out NPR’s free podcasts on iTunes.) The theme of the interview, which the dancers speak aloud, should inform the movement. Write an interview with a local artist or community activist, or search the news for intriguing stories. Find inspiration, say, in the Genographic Project (, a worldwide study in which participants volunteer their DNA, helping researchers track human migratory patterns. The concepts of human journey and exploration offer interesting movement ideas. For instance, if you have a large class, orchestrate complicated geographic patterns and shapes that mimic migration paths, then translate those shapes into a single movement for each dancer. Dress the students in simple, pale-colored unitards. If you go with a news item regarding the environment, use earth tones. Or use black, white and gray shades to mimic newspaper print. You can also have dancers research their own ancestry and use their findings to shape your choreography.


Genre: Beginning tap

Score audience laughs with a number for your baby tappers set to “Firecracker” by Josh Turner. Dress them in cowboy and cowgirl outfits with fringed plaid shirts, leather vests and cowboy hats. Attach taps to the bottom of cowboy boots, and send your little ones electric-sliding,
shuffle-stepping and line-dancing across the stage.

To add to the rodeo theme, you might also have dancers gallop around the stage on hobby horses or recruit two older students to don a two-person horse costume.


Genre: Tap

Following the seriousness of talk radio, lighten up the mood with a number to “Be Bop a Lula” by Gene Vincent, set in a 1950s diner. The girls can wear big skirts with blouses tied at the navel, cat-eye glasses like these, from, and deep red lipstick, while the boys sport black jeans, white T-shirts and slicked-back hair. Cast two dancers as waitresses (extra points if you put them on roller skates!) and one as the burger flipper. Set the scene with a bar, malt glasses, a jukebox and shiny red barstools. Try to incorporate swing movements and partnering to tie into the theme.

Weather & Traffic

Genres: Tap, jazz, creative movement

To incorporate “weather and traffic,” ask a student to record a “heavy rain” forecast and use this as an introduction to a morning commute–themed number to “Taking Care of Business” by Randy Bachman, “5:15” by The Who or “9–5” by Dolly Parton. Dress a group of tap dancers as suit-and-tie-clad professionals driving to work. The movement should create a freeway effect, with each dancer moving in columns as though driving in lanes. A few dancers can be obnoxious “weavers,” who move faster in and out among the others. Have arm movement be gestural; for instance, an arm that arcs over the head can represent windshield wipers. Others can incorporate various elements of the morning weekday routine, such as getting coffee, walking the dog, packing a briefcase and reading the newspaper. Some dancers can act as construction workers, baristas and dog walkers. You can even ask hip-hop dancers to portray street performers. Creative movement students can be dressed as schoolchildren walking in a line to school. The overall effect of the stage should be one of organized chaos. Use a cityscape backdrop.


Bring back your DJs and a few dancers from each number for an upbeat finale to “Radio” by Smash Mouth. The quirky music lends itself to a variety of genres, including pointe, tap and jazz. DT

Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.

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