Special Section: Best Recital Practices
April 1, 2016

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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