Once Upon a Time in New York City

Bring the Big Apple to your hometown with an NYC-themed recital.

From Yankee Stadium to the Statue of Liberty, New York City is brimming with inspiration. Dance Teacher has compiled ideas for music, costumes and choreography for your dancers to take their audience on a tour of the city that never sleeps.

 

Big City, Big Business

The Big Apple is bursting with New Yorkers hard at work. Capture the bustling Financial District, including looming skyscrapers and the hectic nature of Wall Street. Students can dance their way through the NYC workweek with these fun suggestions:

Start off Monday morning by tumbling out of bed, stumbling to the kitchen and pouring yourself a cup of ambition with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” for your tap students. The audience will be clapping and singing along right from the beginning.

Time to head to the office—change scenery with a dance about the crowded morning commute. Set up chairs to look like an NYC subway car and have a teen class dance among them, imitating activities you might see on the train—reading the paper, listening to music or flirting with a stranger! Use scenes like this multiple times as you transition between city locations in your show. Songs like “Subway,” from “Sesame Street,” is great for younger dancers, or use “Take the A Train” for a more jazzy take. Try other transportation ideas with “Bus Song,” by The Kooks, or “Taxi Cab,” by the Naked Brothers Band.

Nothing says Wall Street quite like lots of money! Have little musical theater students greedily snatch moneybags from each other to “Money Makes the World Go Round,” from Cabaret. And your tiniest tappers in suits and briefcases can keep the stock market above ground by incorporating hand signals from the trading floor to “Wall Street Shuffle,” by 10cc.

Also, check out the instrumental soundtrack of the 2010 movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps or the Mad Men theme song (“A Beautiful Mine,” by RJD2) for lyrical or ballet numbers. Dresses and pearls, inspired by the 1950s, will get your ballerinas into character.

When we think big-city skyscrapers, we think King Kong. Have a class with one boy? He can be the gigantic ape while the girls dance around him. If you’re feeling really creative, use cardboard cutouts of buildings in the NYC skyline as props. “King Kong Song” by ABBA will make it fun and upbeat!

Celebrate the end of a busy workweek with a humorous hip-hop number to *NSYNC’s “Just Got Paid.”

 

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

New York is home to nine major sports teams, each with diehard fans. But don’t forget to think outside the big arenas: the New York City Marathon’s course twists through all five boroughs, and the US Open takes place in Queens. And recreational sports like street hockey and wall ball are fixtures on neighborhood blocks. Here are a few ideas to bring the heat to your recital stage.

Kick off the scene with the theme from ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Dads will love it and the clear “da, da, da—da, da, da” synthesized melody will make it easy for even your youngest dancers to find the beat. Set up a desk downstage, and have two sports anchors introduce the upcoming numbers to provide entertainment during set changes.

Mets or Yankees? Queens or the Bronx? Create your own Subway Series and have your tap students battle it out to original team theme songs: “Meet the Mets,” by Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz, and “Here Come the Yankees,” by Bob Bundin and Lou Stallman. End the battle by bringing out a tapper in Red Sox garb—everyone can agree to gang up on Boston!

Sure, Fosse’s Damn Yankees is actually about the Washington Senators, but if your musical theater dancers really sell it in “Heart,” does it matter? Use Tyce Diorio’s choreography to “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” on “So You Think You Can Dance” as inspiration.

Is that Spike Lee in the front row watching your Knicks routine? Dress your dancers in blue and orange and create a funky dance-team-esque routine in homage to the Knicks City Dancers. Use red-white-and-blue–starred basketballs, and practice cool tricks à la the Harlem Globetrotters. Try 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This,” from ESPN Presents: Jock Jams, Volume 1, or Quad City DJ’s “Space Jam” to get the crowd riled up.

Whether you cheer for the Rangers or Islanders, no hockey game is complete without Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Stock up on black-tooth makeup to complete your players’ toothless grins, and don’t forget about those standard hockey-player black eyes. Include your audience: Pass out giant foam fingers and let them go nuts during the applause!

 

A Central Park Outing

With expansive grasses, a glistening lake and enough paths to run a marathon, no other city has a place quite like Central Park—an oasis in the center of a roaring metropolis. Travel to this beautiful NYC locale with these uptown suggestions.

Introduce your audience to the wonders of the park with “Central Park New York” by The Wiggles. Have ballet students plan a picnic in the grass to The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” And don’t forget the Central Park Zoo! Use “At the Zoo,” by Simon & Garfunkel, for younger dancers who can dress up as their favorite animals.

Capture the sophisticated air of Upper East Siders shopping along the perimeter of the park or having tea at The Plaza Hotel. Girls in party dresses can dance to “Uptown Girl,” by Billy Joel, while holding shopping bags. Or use “NYC Girls,” by Joey McIntyre, for a jazz routine. Accessorize with stuffed dogs poking their heads out of pink purses!

Central Park is the perfect place to exercise. A jazz class in roller skating gear can mime skating through the park to “Rolling in the Deep,” by Adele (or if you’re feeling daring, experiment with them doing part of the dance on actual roller skates). And fill the running paths with joggers in gym shorts and sweatbands. Use “Running,” by No Doubt, or go the hip-hop route with “Let’s Get It Started,” by the Black Eyed Peas.

Capture the holiday season in NYC with a number about ice-skating in the Central Park rink—bundle your dancers in hats, gloves and skating skirts and have them glide across the stage into a graceful tour jeté. This is the perfect option for a partnering number. Use the snow scene music from The Nutcracker or “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, or try a musical theater routine to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

 

Bright Broadway Lights

The sky’s the limit with this act; nothing says “Big Apple” better than sequined Broadway. Bring your audience to the Great White Way with legendary songs, iconic images and routines about the life of a Broadway gypsy.

Demonstrate the struggles of triple-threat training and auditioning with “Let Me Entertain You,” from Gypsy; or “Fame,” sung by Irene Cara for the movie. Have siblings in your cast? Have the pair one-up each other in “Anything You Can Do,” from Annie Get Your Gun. Or try the same number with boys versus girls.

Kander and Ebb’s music in Chicago sets the stage for showbiz. Using songs like “All that Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle” can give some bite to your older dancers’ jazz routines. And let your younger classes perfect their Charlestons to the lyric-less “Hot Honey Rag.” Minimal costumes—tights, heels and leotards—are enough for Fosse’s simple look.

No one has more staying power on Broadway than Andrew Lloyd Weber. Create a medley of your favorite tunes: Have your youngest jazz students wear kitten ears and tails for Cats; get your ballerinas waltzing to music from The Phantom of the Opera; and create a spicy tango routine with music from Evita.

Visit the streets of Times Square with a funky jazz piece to “On Broadway,” by George Benson; or try two tap routines: “Lullaby of Broadway” and “42nd Street,” both from the iconic 42nd Street.

Pay homage to 1930s Broadway with precise lines of leggy chorus girls clad in sequined dresses and heels, à la the Radio City Rockettes. Finish this scene off with the finale to A Chorus Line, “One,” complete with top hats, gloves, canes and, of course, more sequins.

The whole studio can perform in a classic jazz piece to “Give My Regards to Broadway,” by George M. Cohan. Use the version with Judy Garland—it’s upbeat, patriotic and perfect for a finale with large group formations. It’s not too fast, letting your novice dancers and more advanced students dance together. DT

 

Photo: Costume Gallery: “Undercover,” style 12660

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.

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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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