There is no way around it… no matter how much you prepare or how many years you have under your belt, recitals are STRESSFUL. For a new family to dance, especially with younger students, a recital can be a truly overwhelming experience. In fact, for some, it could be a deterrent for re-enrolling in dance classes again.
Long before the pandemic era of smaller, less extravagant recitals that we were forced to produce, I was on a mission. I wanted to introduce my little ones to their first performance experience without the stresses of the typical recital. My years in the dance studio as a teacher revealed a side of recitals that wasn’t vibing with my objective to meet and celebrate the young developing child where they were. When I began directing a studio and producing my own end of the year recitals, I went back to my roots and goals as a teaching artist. Rather than have my little ones perform on the big stage at the end of the year with the entire studio, I wanted a smaller, more intimate performance experience. This unique approach not only prepares my little ones for their future recitals, but it offers opportunities that are oftentimes impossible to create in the hustle and bustle of the recital environment.
What began as a simple in-house "informance" (informal performance) twice a year, transformed into a Showcase Experience. As our early childhood program grew too large for our studio to host, we set out to find a larger performance space. We keep the lights up for the entire showcase, so lighting capabilities are not an issue. This is another way we eliminate stress, no lighting cues or dress rehearsals needed! We have found banquet ballrooms, community cultural centers, park districts, and elementary school auditoriums to be spacious yet affordable compared to our theater rentals for our larger recitals. From there, we created a family event where the focus was on celebrating the developing child in an intimate (and as stress free as possible) setting, but bonus… we were able to charge for the event and create an additional stream of revenue. That was something we were missing by not having our youngest dancers perform in our annual summer recital.
We hold two showcases per regular dance season, a winter showcase mid-season and a summer showcase at the end of the season. If our 2-5 year olds would like to participate, they have the option to perform in one or both showcases. We combine smaller classes for the performance and hold two events on one day to accommodate all of our families, if needed.
To streamline the costume process and keep it stress-free for both our staff and dance families, we choose to have two costume options. Option 1 is a skirted leotard or dress that reflects the same size as their class leotard. Therefore, no measuring for costumes is needed. Option 2 is black or white performance bottoms (shorts or pants) and a matching shirt to compliment option 1. All students wear the same costume for both showcases.
Each themed event is an hour-long. We begin with a short student performance of about 6-8 dances. A shorter performance creates a positive audience experience for our new dance families. And, because there are no costume changes and the performance is kept short, our little ones get a glimpse of backstage life without the stress of being held captive for hours. With books, coloring activities, and our awesome volunteers, backstage is a breeze!
After the performance, we open the themed event stations where families create a themed craft together, enjoy a cookie and juice reception, and meet a character based around the theme. We’ve had Moana for our Christmas Vacation showcase, Anna for Arctic Blast, Ariel for Under the Sea, and even Santa for our Santa’s Workshop theme to name a few. We have hired both professional princess party actresses, husbands of staff members, and teens and all have worked beautifully.
One of the things that really helps this be a successful event are our older performance company dancers. They open and close the student performance and volunteer during the event. It’s part of their company requirement. It is also a part of our company requirement to have parents volunteer for at least one studio event throughout the season and the showcase is included in those options. Families love to see our older dancers perform and the younger students love having the older students sit with them backstage and encourage them during the event. It shows everyone what is yet to come if they continue their dance education with us. By having our most dedicated families present both volunteering and performing, we are building community between the two groups.
If your early childhood dance program is growing and you have been thinking about having a separate performance opportunity for them, consider this your sign. I hope you have found some inspiration here. I would love to connect and share more details with you. Leave a comment below and let’s keep this conversation going!
Andrea Trench is dedicated to helping dance teachers create and deliver content that is research-based and developmentally appropriate for children under the age of 6. Her primary focus is classroom management, conceptual teaching, and foundational movement skill development in early childhood dance education. In addition, Andrea uses her 12 years of experience as a partner in a dance studio to inspire, equip, and empower educators.