It’s coming to the close of summer. I’ve enjoyed spending time with my son: days by the pool, movies on rainy days, and trips to visit extended family. If you’re anything like me, recitals are the last thing you want to be thinking about. My May was a recital marathon that included a traditional studio recital (2 weeks of prep and 3 performances) as well as 14 on-site recitals. Recital season is one of the most exciting and stressful times of the year for a dance instructor. The only real comparison is Christmas time. And every year, when it’s finally over, I just want to collapse. I’m very thankful for summer break. It is so nice and necessary to have this rest period. But as I’m collapsing onto the couch, and slowly realizing that I don’t have anything to stress about tomorrow, I pause and ask myself “What did this recital season teach me?” It is so important to take time, once rested, to begin to think of the next year. And when I think of the next year, I always think of recitals first.
By thinking of the end goal, I can create a plan going into the new season, and eliminate a lot of stress that occurred in the previous season. It’s only by really looking at what happened before, and acknowledging what I do and do not have control of, that I can affect any outcome in the future. So I replay each recital or dance in my mind and ask myself these questions about each of my classes:
- What worked?
- Why did it work?
- How can I make sure it will work again next season?
- What didn’t work?
- Why didn’t it work?
- Is that something I can control?
- What can I put in place to combat this issue in the future?
Here are two examples of the process that I go through when thinking of the year ahead. One example is from in-studio, and one is from on-site.
I choreograph for the company dancers at my home studio. This includes about 50 dancers between the ages of 10-18.
The dancers knew the choreography. They felt prepared for recital, and I didn’t have to call a lot of extra rehearsals.
Why did this work?
This worked because I started working on the choreography with them immediately in January. Because I was able to bring them together for combined rehearsals during regular class time, it wasn’t a big rush getting everything together right before recital.
How can I make sure that it will work again next season?
I will continue with the pattern that I began. I will start choreography early in the semester, and I will continue to have combined rehearsals throughout the semester. The dancers will be prepared early and not feel so much stress.
What didn’t work?
The dancers were not warming themselves up for rehearsal and were dancing cold which is dangerous, particularly before long rehearsals.
Why didn’t this work?
The dancers don’t actually know how to warm themselves up. This is something that I was taking for granted. I thought that it was knowledge that they should have just “picked up” by now. But upon reflection, I remember being young myself and not really knowing what to do when someone told me to “warm-up.”
Is this something I can control?
Yes. I can give the dancers this knowledge so that they know exactly what is expected of them when they are told to “warm-up.”
What can I put in place to combat this issue in the future?
I will focus the first 6 weeks of class this fall on teaching the dancers a specific warm-up sequence. I will play games with them to make sure they have memorized it. Then they will all use it for the beginning of class, on their own, once choreography begins. I will be able to watch them to make sure they are completing each exercise. I will talk with them so that they understand the importance of each exercise as well as the importance of warming up in general. If they understand why they are doing it, they are more likely to do it and take it with them through their lives.
This on-site class in a church preschool. It is a ballet class of six 3-5 year-olds.
The dancers knew the flow of the recital. They knew the structure and were able to follow me.
Why did it work?
I used specific colored tape, so the dancers knew where to go even though we were in a different space. I used consistent vocabulary to make sure the dancers knew exactly what move I wanted them to do. I had many conversations with them so that they knew what to expect on recital day.
How can I make sure that it will work again?
I will continue my system from last year. But this year, I will start incorporating the specifically colored tape and vocabulary earlier in the season. I will trickle it in more slowly, so that the dancers, and I, will not get overwhelmed. I will also start talking about recital a little earlier in the season.
What didn’t work?
The space was smaller than expected. I hadn’t been on the stage before and didn’t realize how shallow it would be. The students had a hard time seeing me because their lines were so shallow. One dancer got scared and wouldn’t go on stage.
Why didn’t this work?
It did not work for me to go into a space blind. If I had at least seen the space beforehand, I would have put the dancers in one line instead of two. I would have warned them about where I would be standing.
Is this something that I can control?
I can’t control that the dancer got scared, but I can warn the dancers about what to expect. I can’t control where we have class in the school, but I can control how familiar I am with the space.
How can I combat this issue in the future?
I will begin talking with the dancers about what to expect earlier in the season. I will try to find a story book I can read to them about being scared to go on stage. I will also talk to the director and see if it is possible to practice in the space the months leading up to the recital next year. If that is not possible, I will at least ask to go into the space myself a few times early in the year, so that I am more familiar with it.
This is the system that I use to make sure each season gets better and better. It is so helpful to have a plan before even stepping foot in the classroom. Some things we can’t control, and there will always be hiccups. But, each season is an opportunity to learn from what happened before and better our craft. By looking at the past, and thinking of the future before it gets here, we are able to become better teachers and serve our students better. This leads to less stress and more enjoyment. And most importantly, we’re cultivating a love of dance!