“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Whenever we stumble across the famous opening lines from ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’, studio owners within earshot grin knowingly.
“Sound like recital time”
And it’s true! There is no time of the year quite as stressful, as exhausting or as full of surprises as recital or concert time for dance studio owners and teachers. And not to forget the students – no matter how experienced or confident your dancers may be, we also need to remember that this is a time filled with huge feelings and expectations for them too.
The night before recital is a bit like Groundhog Day as each year rolls around. There is the fear that things aren’t going to be ready on time, the inevitable utterances of “This is the last one, I’m not doing this again” and the cold sweats when you wake at 3am thinking that you have given your sound technician the wrong playlist.
On the day of the recital you have children and parents in tears, teachers running late (or calling in sick) and an unshakable fear that despite your solid sign-in and sign-out systems, this may be the year a young child goes walkabout without anyone noticing.
The show begins, and as those house lights dim the weight on your shoulders starts to lift. You have no choice but to accept that some things are about to go wrong. One of the songs is going to skip, and one of your dancers has lost a sparkly glove. But no matter what goes awry behind the scenes, your recital is a masterpiece for every dancer and loving family member in the audience as they see their babies all grown up in the blink of an eye, smiling, dancing and doing what they love the most.
You see, a parent won’t care if their child is facing the wrong way or a count behind – you can save that worry for when your students are professionals and can handle it themselves. Parents won’t mind if an ankle sock is the wrong colour, and will find it adorable when a hat (no matter how many million bobby pins are used) falls off and distracts their little one momentarily.
The whole show you feel as though you are holding your breath, and as the final curtain comes down you are juuuust about ready to exhale before remembering you are about to get on stage for your speech.You’re sweaty, you know you’re about to forget to thank someone and you haven’t had a chance to check the microphone volume. Your voice is dry from not having time to drink all day long and suddenly you need to go on that bathroom break you had scheduled way back before the show started…
Nobody quite understands the demands, the highs and the lows of the dance recital and concert quite like the studio owner, and even if you tried to put it into words, few people would believe you.
While some of the adrenaline-fuelled aspects of your recital may never change, the good news is that are a handful of things you can implement in the lead-up to your big day to make sure that everything that CAN run smoothly WILL, and you will have more breathing space to deal with any unexpected events as they arise.
1/ Communicate clearly with your dance families
It’s so important that you have crystal clear communications with your dancers and their parents to set the expectations for the concert or recital, as well as any rehearsal days you may have. The simplest way to do this is to document every last teeny tiny detail (date, venue, times, costumes, what to bring, how to sign in, how to order tickets, what is or isn’t allowed….the list goes on) in a comprehensive handbook that can be emailed or distributed to your families. They likely won’t read it all in one go and take it all in, but when they are wondering whether or not they need to return or wash costumes you have given them a resource where they know they can find the information without clogging up your voicemail or email with the same queries over and over .
2/ Give yourself a long runway
You know that when you are planning a recital there are many pieces to the puzzle. Costumes. Tickets. Venue. Rehearsals. Lighting. Music. Photographers. Trophies. You are dealing with a lot of different vendors and a lot of different deadlines. When providing deadlines, you need to give yourself as much room to move as possible. If you’re having a costume fitting day, then ensure your costumes are in your hands at least 4 weeks prior. Booking a venue? Don’t be surprised when we advise that you sign your contract for the venue 12 months in advance. Also have lists of backup venue options up your sleeve. Set aside 20 or so concert tickets as ‘buffers’ in case a couple of families miss out on seats altogether, or there is a blunder with your sales and you need to accommodate someone who got an error when booking. If you can anticipate which problems may come up and think of ways to avoid them well before the date of the show, you will dramatically reduce your stress levels and the amount of things that can go wrong which will give you more room to breathe.
3/ Take a day off
You need the day after your recital to be a day of rest – so make it just that. If you can, avoid social or work plans and just chill out on the couch with your feet in a footspa. So many studio owners can attest to the fact they they always get sick after their concert or recital and it’s because you are simply run down. You’ve not had enough sleep, your stress levels are high and you’re likely not eating well. It’s a time of year when there is a lot going on and you feel like you are needed in every place at one. But guess what? You are no good to anyone if you’re laid up in hospital with exhaustion. Listen to your body and let yourself recover before kicking back into gear.
4/ Employ your helpers
Have you ever had to boss around a volunteer, bark an order at the under stress, or tell them that they are doing their job wrong when they have given up their own valuable time with friends, family or work to help you at your concert or recital? It’s an awful feeling! So many studio owners depend 100% on volunteers to help them with run the show, organize their dancers, sell tickets etc. Volunteers are a wonderful thing, so if a few things going wrong and people having split priorities (after all, their own children are likely in the show so will be looking for attention during the day) doesn’t bother you then by all means go for it! But if you are wanting to run a smooth, professional show, then you need to pay your team. It can be teachers or external help but if you are paying a wage, you can set the roles clearly and hold them to it with a lot more comfort and professionalism than if you aren’t
5/ Find ways to make life easier
Do you take DVD orders before the recital, with a clear cut-off date and payment accepted in your office? If yes, then you know the feeling when you open up your emails in the days and weeks after the show to people begging to place late orders, or asking if they have already ordered and paid (of course they have forgotten). You sort them out, and a couple of weeks later the questions start coming in “When are the DVDs arriving?” then “Mine isn’t working, can you order a replacement”? With each of these perfectly reasonable requests, you need to contact your videographer and change your order. Ten it’s time to distribute and there are more requests for late orders, discrepancies over who has/hasn’t paid….it’s painful! Think about a way to make this a smoother (and by smoother, we of course mean YOU are less involved) process. Can your videographer upload the footage to a closed website where purchasers can enter a code and download the content? If not, why not?
In this digital age, there are loads of ways that your suppliers (ticketing, video, photographers) can help you automate these extra revenue streams to make everyone’s life easier. Simply ask yourself “what is taking up too much of my time”? Spend some time in the lead u to your performances to brainstorm cost and time-effective options, and you’re halfway there – never assume that something you want from your contractor isn’t possible until you ask and work together on a solution.
If you are able to take one or more of these survival tips on board, we promise that when asked about your recital you’ll simply and honestly be able to reply “It was the best of times.”
Fore more resources on running your recital, your studio and everything in between join us in the Dance Studio Owners Association.