Land on a fresh theme for your annual show.

Picking out a fun theme for your spring recital can provide structure for your teaching staff as they choreograph numbers for the show, as well as giving the audience a sense of continuity from the moment they arrive at the theater to the final bow. DT asked three studio directors about their successful themes and what they did to create a cohesive performance.

Centreville Dance Academy’s students performed as tightrope walkers, circus animals and more.

Circus, Circus

Centreville Dance Academy

Centreville, Virginia

650 students

Last year’s “Journey Through Oz” theme had parents raving, so owner Kathy Taylor felt a certain pressure to live up to the standard she’d set. “This year, we were looking for something catchy that had a little more freedom,” she says.

“Circus, Circus” fit the bill, since it allowed for glitz and glamour but with a wider visual and musical narrative. Students of all ages and levels were divided evenly among five unique shows over two days (each no longer than one and a half hours). Competition dancers performed pieces in all of the shows, woven in among the other numbers. The only pieces that repeated were the opener and finale. A rented backdrop made it look like the dancers were under the big top.

To help the audience get into a festive, circus mood, Taylor set up a photo area in the theater lobby where they could pose in front of curtains and balloons printed with “2014.” A parent volunteered to make balloon animals for children.


Song: “A Wild, Wild Party,” The Wild Party cast recording

Level: all ages, musical theater, jazz and tap

This piece opened every show with 45 dancers (between the ages of 8 and 18) performing jazz, tap and musical theater. The choreography, designed to set an exciting mood for the rest of the show, relied on formations, varying between two and six lines of dancers, columns, triangles, U shapes and small groups. Dancers wore black-and-white costumes accented with black sequins.

Song: “Leo the Lion,” Kids, Critters & Country at Allie’s Place by Allie Jo Thomas; “Lion Tamer,” Jamie DeRoy & Friends by Kerry Butler

Level: 4-year-olds, tap/ballet combo class

This group of 12 little dancers wore gold leotards with ruffles on their wrists. They had fringed skirts for their tap number and then changed into a tutu for the ballet piece. When the lyrics describe Leo the Lion crying because no one wants to play with him, all of the little lions made a sad face and rubbed their eyes like they were crying, creating an adorable, awww-inducing moment.

Song: “Shake a Tail Feather,” The Cheetah Girls

Level: 5- and 6-year-olds, tap Ten tap-dancing “rainbow chickens” wore tutus made of hot pink and purple boa feathers and neon green leotards with sparkles. The chickens demonstrated toe taps, heel digs and knock patterns, as well as shuffle patterns and toe-heel/heel-toe traveling movements in two lines and in a circle.

Song: “Circus Fantasy,” Water for Elephants soundtrack

Level: Beginning pointe

What better way to showcase the pointe skills of seven beginner dancers than with a tightrope-walking routine? The delicate piece used parasols as props.

Song: “Join the Circus,” Barnum cast recording

Level: all ages, jazz and tap

This short, fun piece was every show’s finale, with 45 kids who wore their own costumes representing something from the circus and matching the color theme of blue, red, white and/or black. At the end of the dance, all of the teachers were introduced, and all of the performers came onstage for a final bow.

More Ideas… The studio gives students T-shirts with every dancer’s name on the back. Taylor sells remaining shirts for $5.

• Seniors perform solos within their specialties. The solos are not required to fit the theme.

Additional Numbers

• “Animal Crackers in My Soup,” Shirley Temple, 3- and 4-year-olds, ballet

• “Baby Elephant Walk,” Henry Mancini, 5- and 6-year-olds, tap

• “Ramalama (Bang Bang),” Róisín Murphy, 12- and 13-year-olds, contemporary

• “Topsy Turvy,” The Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack, 11-year-olds, jazz

• “Singing Ringmaster,” Linda Arnold, 3- and 4-year-olds, ballet

• “Put On a Happy Face,” Joanie Bartels, 4-year-olds, ballet


“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”

“Mr. Sandman”

“Tea for Two”


Dancing Through the Decades

The Dance Corner

Killingworth, Connecticut

250 students

Carrie Smith picked “Dancing Through the Decades” for The Dance Corner’s spring recital because she knew parents and grandparents would love hearing songs from their generations, even when their dancer wasn’t performing. “We could do this whole theme again with a new set of music, and it would still be awesome,” she says. Her dancers performed in front of a rented backdrop of giant music notes. The show order was based around the timing of dancers’ costume changes, rather than chronologically by decade.

Her competition team of 30 opened the show with a medley of songs with “dance” in the title: “Dancing in the Street,” “Dancing Queen,” “Rhythm Is a Dancer” and “Just Dance.”


Song: “Tea for Two,” medley, 101 Strings and Doris Day

Level: Beginning ballet

This 1920s-inspired dance was perfectly suited for the eight young ballerinas—ages 7 to 9—who wore lacy, white chiffon dresses, each with a rose in her hair while showing off glissades, chaînés, soutenus and piqué passés. The girls held white plastic teacups, which were perfect props “because we didn’t have to worry about the kids breaking them,” Smith says.

Song: “Rockit,” Herbie Hancock

Level: Beginning acrobatics

Eight first-year acrobatics students moved “like little spiders walking around in a bridge position,” Smith says. “It was kooky and fun, especially with their costumes.” In homage to ’80s color-block styles, one side of each costume was a black unitard shorty and the other was a lime green unitard with a stirrup foot.

More ideas… Smith creates a magazine-quality souvenir program. The student who sells the most ads gets to be on the cover. Each student gets one “yearbook” as a gift and additional copies sell for $6. • The Dance Corner produces the recital twice, with most of the older students dancing in both shows. Two- to 4-year-olds are featured in a special 30-minute show, the “Shining Stars Showcase.”

Song: “Kashmir,” Led Zeppelin—instrumental version by Bond

Level: Advanced pointe class

The eight dancers wore black-and-gold tutus and bodices while dancing to a classical rendition of the ’70s hit. “The song is very intense and builds as it goes along, which adds to the drama,” Smith says, noting that she enjoyed setting ballet to unexpected music.

Additional Numbers

• “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” The Andrews Sisters ( ’40s), intermediate tap

• “Mr. Sandman,” The Chordettes (’50s), advanced competition team tap

• “Eleanor Rigby,” The Beatles and The Vitamin String Quartet (’60s), advanced competition team contemporary

• “ABC,” The Jackson 5 (’70s), advanced beginner jazz

• “Motownphilly,” Boyz II Men (’90s), novice hip hop


The cast of Paquita

Dancers watching Frozen backstage

Frozen’s Queen Elsa handing out medals

A Royal Affaire

Arizona Dance Artistry

Phoenix, Arizona

230 students

To highlight the launch of her new early childhood dance program—Princess Pirouette and Sir Dancealot Fairytale Ballet—Samantha Gobeille chose “A Royal Affaire” recital theme.

Dancers performed in one of three shows over the course of the day. Princess Pirouette students (nearly half of the studio’s enrollment) kicked things off with “The Mini Royal Affaire” at 11 am. Regal trumpet music played as the audience members found their seats and Queen Elsa of Frozen fame made an appearance to hand out medals. At 2:30 pm, “The Grand Royal Affaire” opened with a 31-minute performance of excerpts from the ballet Paquita. The rest of the show’s pieces did not feature royalty in an obvious sense, but portrayed the spirit of the theme through pieces that showcased the dancers’ strength and confidence. Then, the 6 pm show featured the school’s competition dancers.


Song: “Diamonds,” Kidz Bop 23

Level: Pre-ballet

Ten of the littlest dancers channeled Cinderella, dressing in blue with tiaras and long gloves while performing basic ballet steps. “It was so sweet and age-appropriate, very princess and very cute,” Gobeille says.

Work: Paquita, Ludwig Minkus

Level: Intermediate–advanced ballet

All 65 dancers wore the same costume: white tutus, black lace bodices, black arm ruffles, white hairpieces and either ballet slippers or pointe shoes. The ballet culminated in grand fashion, with everyone onstage for the finale.

Song: Beyoncé medley

Level: Intermediate hip hop

All hail Queen Bey! This piece was called “Diversify Your Style,” and 17 dancers wore black pants and created their own cheetah print look for the upper body. “The costuming tied them together but they still looked like individuals,” Gobeille says.

More ideas… Gobeille arranged for all of her youngest dancers (ages 2 to 4) to be in the first act of the Mini Royal Affaire. During the 20-minute intermission, parents picked up their child. The second act showcased students ages 4 to 6 who could handle being backstage for a longer period of time.

• Always have backups! A music glitch left Gobeille without an edited piece of music. At the last minute, she downloaded the full song on her phone and asked her duo of 10-year-old lyrical dancers to improvise during the 30 seconds she had originally cut. “I’ve never been more proud as a teacher,” she says, adding that she will now always have multiple backups on hand.

Additional Numbers

• “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” The Lion King soundtrack, beginner ballet, all little boys, who were called “Sir Dancealot’s Friends”

• “Every Girl Can Be a Princess,” Tami Damiano, beginner ballet, all little girls, who were called “Princess Pirouette’s Friends”

• “Say Hey (I Love You),” Michael Franti & Spearhead, beginner creative movement

• “Tessellate,” Alt-J, intermediate jazz/lyrical

• “Ever Ever After,” Enchanted soundtrack, baby ballerinas

Hannah Maria Hayes is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher and has an MA in Dance Education from NYU.


Photos courtesy of Centreville Dance Academy; by Lisa Holloran, courtesy of The Dance Corner; courtesy of Arizona Dance Artistry

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