Growing up, my favorite weekend of the year was recital weekend.
Since I lived in a small town, my recital was 45 minutes away. My family would pack up the car and stay the weekend in a hotel. Those are such fond memories that I will never forget.
Until recently I never dreamed that I could give the same experience to my students here in New York City. This city is so big, how could I ever pull something like this together? This year I was determined to create a community that was excited about dance. I would call it a “celebration.”
When I told a colleague about this showcase a few days ago she said:
“The way you get your program to grow is to let it be seen. The way you let it be seen is to showcase it in a way that everyone can understand.”
The celebration was a few years in the making and I was prepared for it to fail miserably, but it overcame my expectations and was successful! Almost a month later I still don’t know how I did it. After reviewing and analyzing what I think made it turn out so well for my young dancers, I thought I would share the formula with you. If you are a creative movement teacher like me and are looking to showcase your students but aren’t quite sure how to do it, try this!
1) Forget the costumes, the backstage, and the ticket charge: I wanted the vibe to be casual. First, I am not that fond of everyone looking the same. I don’t know why, well, actually I do know why. Everyone is not the same! I had them wear what they normally wear to class. That was anything from a tee shirt to a tutu. It looked just fine, I actually really loved it!
Second, I am in charge of my entire program, it’s me and me alone. I like it that way, but using the back stage was not an option. Instead, I put mats on the stage for about 60 kids. My students sat by class on the mats. When it was their turn to dance, they did their showcase and then returned to the mat.
Third, I didn’t charge for seats. I know this might sound OUTRAGEOUS but I believe to build community some things just ought to be free. Like watching your child, grandchild, or niece dance for the first time on stage.
2) Be visible: At the start of the show I was greeting everyone as they arrived. Some of my students only come to class with their caregiver so I have never met their parents! It was nice to be out and visible to make my students feel comfortable and say hello to families.
3) Spread out the age groups: I had 130 students this year. I put together two days of shows only 1 hour each. I divided the age groups into both days so my youngest dancers (and their grown-ups) at 18 months could see what my 4 and 5 year olds are working on. It’s the best way to show the progression.
4) Create space for the inevitable: I had 3 students that cried on those days. I had some of them cry and then pull it together and went on stage. (I had no idea what they were going to do, but if I have learned nothing else from teaching young dancers, it’s that they will always surprise you.) I forgot my notebook with the line-ups in it at my apartment. The music person didn’t show up. You know, those types of things will happen. Don’t loose your cool, just create space for them and know they will happen. If you expect things to go wrong, you won’t be disappointed when they do.
5) Educate the Audience: You had the whole year with your students and have educated them, but now it’s time to educate the audience! Instead of making a program, I announced each age group as they went to perform. Then I gave the audience a brief idea of what they would see.
“My 5 year olds are doing a partner dance. While creating this dance we worked on teamwork, giving our partner space, and counting.”
This way the audience will know what to look for, and you are sneaking in that dance education. How sneaky!
Where I teach this program, I have access to an auditorium. If you don’t have access to a stage, don’t worry! You can do something like this anywhere. Anywhere! How about outside? Or in a gymnasium? Or in the studio? Or even a church or synagogue? Use your imagination to showcase your program, you, and your students in the best way possible. Then watch your program grow.. and grow.. and grow.
I had the time of my life, can you tell?
Have you pulled together a “celebration” for your young students? Was it successful? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Check out these related posts previously featured on DA!
Give The Gift Of Dance In Your Community
The Costume “Blackout”Keeps Choreography Center Stage
A passionate advocate for early childhood dance education, Maria Hanley Blakemore specializes in teaching ages 0 months to 6 years. She left NYC, where she designed and implemented programs at Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center, Dancewave Center and The Mark Morris Dance Group, to teach dancers in the greater Cleveland area. Maria holds a Master’s degree in dance education from New York University (2007) and a Bachelor’s degree in dance performance from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania (2005). Maria authors the blog Maria’s Movers (www.mariasmovers.com) where she shares creative ideas and strategies for teaching young dancers. Maria served on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee for 2 years and presented at the 2012 Dance USA Conference. She also presents at the Dance Teacher Summit in New York City. Read Maria’s posts.