Special Section: Best Recital Practices

Your end-of-year recital. It’s what you’ve worked toward for nine months—you’ve pored over costume catalogs, edited music tracks, chased down delinquent recital fees and cajoled dads to construct elaborate props. How, then, can you make sure the evening goes off without a hitch? The answer is simple: preparation. Here, six shrewd studio owners—with more than 100 years recital experience among them—share advice and ideas on topics well-tread (ticketing, makeup trends) and rarely discussed (how to wrangle 50-something 2-year-olds backstage). Let 2016 be your best show ever!

“Your show is your signature. All of the complaining, the money you’ve asked for, the things you’ve said no to—you have to show the parents at the end of the year: ‘This is why I’ve done this.’ They need to walk out going, ‘Wow.’” Robin Dawn Ryan

Ticketing Trials 

Reserved seating After dealing with crowd control issues, Kathy Simpson switched to reserved seating for her two-level auditorium. Each family gets six complimentary tickets with assigned seats to fill up the lower half of the auditorium. Upper-level seats go for $3 apiece, also reserved seating. 

Online ticketing Still issuing tickets manually? Before he made the switch to online ticketing, Joe Naftal says people would camp outside the day before tickets went on sale to get first dibs on seats. Now, he controls price, sale date, seating charts and more—from his computer chair. “I just sit there and watch the sales come in,” he says.

Beyond Ticket Sales

3 ways to earn a little extra cash

Stargrams Parents can write a note wishing their dancer good luck and pair it with balloons, flowers or stuffed animals. Recommended pricing: $15–$50. Robin Dawn Dance Academy brings in about $1,500 each year—not big money, but it’s a big hit with the kids. “I did a lot of theater when I was younger, and we’d get telegrams backstage,” she says. “It’s about getting it backstage before you go on. Nobody wants their kids to be left out.”

2 Opening number Last year, Ryan celebrated her 40th anniversary in a big way—by offering students the chance to perform in a splashy opening number. Dancers paid $125 to learn the routine over six rehearsals and perform it as the opener to all four recital shows. “Parents loved it,” Ryan says. “Their kids get to open up the whole show!” She spent $50 per costume, plus another $1,500 for a guest choreographer. With 25 dancers, she covered her costs and plans to increase participation to 50 kids next year to generate a small profit.

3 A new take on bake sales Parents at Tippy Toes School of Dance sell cookie dough by the tub to offset their child’s recital fees. About half the proceeds of each sale ($14–$17 per tub) benefit the studio. The average family raises enough to knock $50 off their recital costume fee. (clubschoicefundraising.com)


  • Don’t put the year or recital theme on your Stargram balloons, so you can use the surplus in future years.
  • “One year, we bought stuffed animals at 75 percent off from a company going out of business,” says Ryan. “That was four years ago, and we’re still using them. Just put them in vacuum packs.”

TIP: Use individual, customized makeup kits to create matching looks, without the risk of infection from sharing products among students.

Managing Backstage Drama

On deck Robin Dawn Ryan runs a live feed of her recital so dancers can watch from backstage. She stages entrances by using three separate on-deck spots: a bench directly offstage for the group that goes on next; outside that offstage area’s door, a group waits in the hallway; and then outside the next door, a third group waits. Teachers lead students from one on-deck spot to the next and dress any kids who have quick costume changes. (Parents are not allowed backstage.) “If my kids aren’t there, my number goes on,” says Ryan, “whether they’re onstage or not.”

Princess room “It’s a little party setup,” explains Donna Aravena. “We buy coloring sheets and princess decorations, and there are movies and refreshments—animal crackers, pretzels, water.” The 2- to 6-year-olds are thus occupied until five numbers before they go onstage. Parent volunteers (who are also responsible for costume changes) then shepherd them to a waiting area right outside the princess room, and, ultimately, bring them directly offstage.

Babysitters Kim Massay assigns a group mom for every class when she holds her annual visitor’s day in November. The group mom is responsible for hiring two babysitters to be in charge backstage for each class at the recital. The parents split the tab: up to $35 apiece pays for babysitters, flowers, drinks and snacks. The babysitters are present at dress rehearsal and recital.

Choreographing the Exit

To avoid a stampede when releasing students at the end of the show, try this.

Act I and II At intermission, Becca Moore and Dani Rosenberg release all the kids from the first act. They hold preschoolers onstage, assigning a station to each class. “Stage left, we’ll have two teachers and an entire class waiting,” explains Rosenberg. “Parents come right up to the stage and grab their kids.”

10 parents at a time At the end of Donna Aravena’s recital, children 7 and older are released to their dressing room. Parents wait outside as the children are let out, one by one. Younger students are held onstage with faculty, and parents line up at the end of the stage. Aravena lets 10 parents onstage at a time to pick up their children. After, they walk down the stage’s front steps and out the front door. “This way,” she says, “we know that every child is accounted for.”

Name checklist Because every student is in the finale, Kim Massay’s parents pick up their kids from the group babysitters (see “Managing Backstage Drama,” above). “She has a page of names that she checks off,” says Massay. “It takes a lot of responsibility off us.”

Recital Timeline

Planning is key for any recital—but even more so when, like Rhythm Dance Center, you have 1,100 dancers and six shows. Take a note from Becca Moore and Dani Rosenberg’s meticulous timeline—including a faculty retreat early in the studio year.


Decide on a theme or title for your recital.


Hold a retreat for your faculty and staff. “We take all of the costume books and rent a cabin in the mountains,” says Moore. “We buy food and beverages and lock ourselves in for four days.” If that year’s recital theme is based on a movie, the staff will watch the film and take notes. “We talk about key concepts that we need to have in the show.” The co-directors use this time to decide which classes will be in which shows. (RDC holds six shows, with six casts of each piece, over four days.) Everyone at the retreat gets a job: Choose and edit music; decide on and order props; create schedules for dress rehearsal, picture day and tech week. Bonus: “It’s a good bonding trip for our staff,” says Moore. “Nobody misses it.”


Send out the first recital packet to parents, with information on casting, costume fees and payment deadlines.


Measure kids for costumes. Costume fees are due December 1.

Winter break

Order costumes. (RDC’s office manager does all of the ordering.)




Complete any costume alterations, if necessary.


Send out the second recital packet; hold meetings with parents to discuss. “This one has every detail any person would need to know,” says Moore. “Ticket info, photo info, a reminder of what show they’re in, when dress rehearsal is, what tights they need, recital T-shirt cost. We host three to four recital meetings with parents and strongly encourage them to come—especially if they’re new to the studio.”


Two weeks out, hold a tech week in the studio, marking the stage’s measurements on the studio floor. “I call the shows,” explains Moore, “so it gives me an idea of what I need to be prepared for. And it leaves us a week to fix things.” RDC also takes studio photos over two days. “We set up one of our studios with the photographer’s equipment and give students a basic time frame to show up.”

Week of show

Hold two dress rehearsals in the theater. “We don’t do our dress rehearsals as a full run of the show—our comp kids don’t need another run,” she says. “But we will do all six of the preschool classes.” Class photos happen at dress rehearsal, too. “We have a big backstage area,” says Moore. “So we set up the backdrop, and as soon as they exit the stage, we take them to the picture area and pose them.”


Watch your hard work pay off! RDC’s six shows—Thursday through Sunday—clock in at around three hours each.







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Donna Aravena Seven Star School of Performing Arts

Brewster, New York

500 students

Kim Massay

Kim Massay Dance Productions

Edmond, Oklahoma

370 students

Becca Moore and Dani Rosenberg

Rhythm Dance Center Marietta, Georgia

1,100 students

Joe and Mary Naftal

Dance Connection

Islip, New York

550 students

Robin Dawn Ryan

Robin Dawn Dance Academy

Cape Coral, Florida

350 students

Kathy Simpson

Tippy Toes School of Dance

Indianapolis, Indiana

900 students

Photos: courtesy of BA Star; Thinkstock

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Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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