Teaching Tips

The Overlooked Art of Entering and Exiting the Stage

Photo by Cherish Voyticky, courtesy of Monat

As Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, ballerina Margot Fonteyn entered the stage with the excitement and abandon of a teenage girl on her birthday. "The way she ran out and down the stairs, I thought she was 16 years old!" says Sophie Monat, dance faculty member at California State University, Long Beach, and teacher at Westside School of Ballet. "But Fonteyn was actually 60 at the time. Her entrance was such an electrifying moment because of the way she embodied her character."

How dancers enter and exit the stage can leave a lasting impression. A great entrance sets the mood and captures the audience's attention, while a sloppy run into the wings breaks the magical atmosphere the dancer just worked so hard to create. Practicing entrances and exits in the studio—in context, and as often as possible—will help your dancers understand just how important these seemingly minor moments are to any piece.


Establish the space

To make a good entrance, dancers must have a good understanding of the space and where they need to be. It helps to mark stage dimensions in the studio, using tape to define wings and marks such as eighth, quarter and center. "If students see where the wings start, they can practice getting ready and staying hidden from the audience's sightline," says Jamie Roberts, director of Huntingdon Dance Academy in Pennsylvania. Reinforce the theater golden rule: If dancers can see the audience, the audience can see them.

Set the mood

Once students understand their path, they can practice entering the space with an appropriate presence. A good way to establish a rapport with an audience is to develop a presence that makes sense for the performance, in terms of a dancer's outward expression and embodied feeling. Remind students not to look down to find their mark, because it breaks character and conveys a lack of confidence. If you see them entering with their focus down, encourage them to go back, lift their gaze and try again. "When you have a conversation with someone, you don't look at the floor," says Natasha Brooksher, co-artistic director of Brooksher Ballet in Arizona.

If dancers are entering in a group, have them organize themselves in the wings by getting into line or formation. Encourage them to also establish their carriage, even though they can't yet be seen. "What they do in the wings is critical for what they will do onstage," says Roberts.

Practice timing

Considering the pace of entrances and exits will help dancers reflect the character or style of the piece. "They should exude the right quality," says Monat. A bright and breezy variation might require a quick run, for example, and a legato solo might call for a slow, elegant walk. "But it can be a fine line," she says. "Take too long, and the audience thinks the dancer is milking it. If they rush, dancers look like they're apologizing."

When coordinating a group entrance, encourage dancers to be aware of the rhythm or musicality. "If they all walk in with their eyes in the same direction and on the same count of the music, it can be quite stunning," says Monat. "Focus and musicality can make a huge difference, especially with dancers who are not as accomplished technically."

Exit fully

When exiting the stage, dancers must make sure they're all the way off before they break character. "They should carry themselves with grace and poise until they're past the leg," says Brooksher. "The audience doesn't want to see them tromping off like pedestrians." For instance, a jeté exit doesn't stop at the curtain—the jump's momentum continues far into the wings. The exit for a contemporary piece requires the same style as the dance itself, with deliberate and unwavering energy. Monat makes sure to set bows at the beginning of the rehearsal process, too, as part of the choreography.

"Think of the entrance and exit as part of the dance," says Monat. "A classical variation, for example, not only has a beginning, middle and an end, but a preface and an epilogue." The dance starts before it can be seen onstage and continues long after the dancers exit, leaving a lasting impression with the audience.

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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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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."

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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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