Teaching Tips

Recital Magic: The Rock School

From The Rock School 2019 Showcase. Photo by Catherine Park, courtesy of The Rock School

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.


The Rock School

Stephanie and Bo Spassoff

Philadelphia, PA

For more than 30 years, Bo and Stephanie Spassoff have directed an institution that's grown to house two training facilities, 1,200 students and a $5.8 million budget.

Pro tip: "We don't allow the kids to go back and forth to their parents during the show. They would run wild if we did. So, for their safety, and to limit distractions for the audience, the younger dancers get to observe the older kids during rehearsal at the studio, and stay backstage during the performance."

On themes: "One of my favorite year-end showcases was Russian-themed—we even had all of our costumes made in Russia to match it. But what really brings our themes to life is the quality of our dancers. With performers like Beckanne Sisk, Christine Shevchenko or Derek Dunn with us, people who don't even have children dancing want to come. And no matter the theme, our performances move along quickly, because in this day and age, you have to work a bit to keep the audience's attention."

Venue: "We make sure everyone we bring to the theater is respectful and gracious. We have a big meeting before the performance in which we explain the do's and don'ts of the theater to parents and staff, so that the venue is happy to have us back each year."

Logistics: "We have a staff member taking care of each little detail. We have a residence program with dorms across the street full of 50 or 60 kids we have to transport and take care of. We have to be sure the parents of the younger dancers who live at home are kept well-informed about the plan for the week. We are a multilingual school, so we have to be sure we have properly communicated what is happening to the dancers who speak different languages. We have chaperones, who make sure students get to the correct guardian after the performance ends, and a crew of trusted mothers backstage making sure the dancers get to where they need to be when they need to be there. We also have to be sure someone cleans up the theater when the performance is over."

Costume strategy: "A mother of two former students has taken over our costume shop. She's studied to create many of our costumes, including period pieces for our Nutcracker. We do order from different suppliers as well, but even then she dresses those up so they are something really special. We pay some parents and students to help her. She begins preparing for a performance about five months in advance—sometimes earlier. You have to allow enough time for the costumes to be ready."

Music licensing: "We pay ASCAP an annual fee. That being said, most of the music for showcases is in the public domain. Getting the rights and paying royalty for music is not expensive, and it's worth it. You don't want to get a letter saying you've been sued."

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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