Teaching Tips

Recital Magic: Vona Dance Studio

"The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Brenda Rueb, courtesy of Vona Dance

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.


Vona Dance Studio

Elizabeth McCullough

Vona, CO

In 2017, Elizabeth McCullough opened the first dance school the small town (population 100) had ever had. The nearest dance studio is located in Kansas, so many students come from neighboring communities. When McCullough and her 98 students produced their year-end recital, they brought in an audience of 500—five times the town's population.

Pro tip: "For me, the recital is all about putting on a show. I don't want people to feel like they are in Vona, Colorado, when they come. I want them to feel like they are going to be entertained by a big-city performance. My dad always made the sets for my recitals growing up, and he would get pretty elaborate. So when he and my mom moved out here to be near us, I asked him to make the sets for my shows again. Last year he made it look like a circus tent and built a sign that said 'The Greatest Show On Earth.' We sold popcorn and made it feel like you were coming into a circus."

On themes: "This year I let the students pick the theme. I think picking something your dancers are passionate about makes a big difference in the success of the performance."

Venue: "I do our recital in the same building where I teach. It's actually an old school that was halfway torn down. They left the gym, the auditorium and part of the building up. It was purchased by the church in town, and I rent from them. I turned the old preschool room into a studio where I teach, and we perform in the auditorium with the stage."

Logistics: "It's just me here. Some moms have helped me in the office when I need it, and I have an assistant acrobatics teacher, but other than that I do it all. It's hard to find dance teachers in a culture that's never had any dance."

Costume strategy: "I let the kids pick their own costumes. I set all of the books in a pile in the middle of the room and let them sift through. Once we make a decision, we then find a song to fit it. They love feeling like they had a part in the creative process."

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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