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Practice – The first Step in Preparing for your Child’s Dance or Ballet recital

By Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

When you first think about getting prepared and ready for a dance recital you might start thinking about organizing costumes, buying tickets for your family to attend, or about how you are going to get your dancer’s hair to stay in place on the day.

But before you even start thinking about those things, it is really important to do some practice beforehand and I am not just talking about dance practice for your child.

Practice before a dance recital can include at-home practice and rehearsal of routines being performed, the practice of hair and makeup at home, practicing quick costume changes, practicing in costume to get used to a skirt or similar, and practicing things like calming anxiety and having healthy eating and sleeping habits!

This article is part of a 5 part series about the four-step process you can take to successfully prepare for your dancer’s ballet or dance concert. Practice is the first step, followed by Prepare, Perform and Pack. To find out more information head to the Ultimate Guide here or click on any of the steps above to be taken to them directly!

The Ultimate Guide

Click on any of the images to get to any of the other articles in the Ultimate Guide to getting ready for a dance Recital here!

Practice Tips and Habits to Start before your Dance or Ballet Recital

The following is a list of practices and habits you can think about focusing on in the weeks before your dancer’s recital or concert. They are food for thought and not all of them may be right for you, but they are a starting point and good to think about before getting into recital season!

Dance Practice At Home

Of course, as any dancer knows, the most important thing to do before a recital is to practice your routines.

When my daughter was three last year she went onstage and was adorably cute as all the preschool dancers are, but I realized that in my fear of trying not to be a pushy dance Mom, I had actually not helped her to adequately prepare to go on stage.

Our dance teacher would send us videos of the dances she had to perform on an app our studio subscribed to. So the next year I took the time to airplay it from my phone to the tv to help her run through her routines.

Being four and only doing the lesson once a week she had retained a little of the dance but basically had no idea what she was doing.

On the day of her mid-season recital, I was so glad I took the time to run through her dances because even though she was still a little lost being on that big stage with an audience she seemed confident and in most parts kept to the steps she was meant to be doing.

In hindsight, I realized that she loved watching the video of her lesson and practicing her dance at home and that I wasn’t being too pushy rehearsing at home, as long as it was fun for her.

Now my daughters are now 7 and 12 we always rehearse their routines at home and it has become a habit and practice coming up to their recital!

Tips for Home Dance Practice

  • Make sure you are signed up to any apps or social groups your studio has so you have access to any recordings that are made of rehearsals.
  • Ask your teacher to provide recordings if they do not already. (Be understanding if your studios is unable to do so if a parent has asked for their child to not be recorded.)
  • A good way to make sure your child has their performance down solid is to record them dancing so they can review it.
  • Reviewing the video will make it easier for them to see the mistakes they are making instead of relying on you to tell them which sometimes can become irritating, cause fights between you and make it no longer fun!
  • Playing back a video of themselves dancing will help them see what the audience sees, and to see where they need improvement.
  • Make sure to remind your child to smile if the song calls for it, or to show appropriate expression with their face. Dancing on stage means you perform with your whole body including your face!
  • Note that even if you can find the song online it may not be the same version your teacher is using so you may need to ask for a copy.
  • Get your child to listen to the music and visualise the movement.
  • Gather an audience – get your family to come and sit and watch your child at home so they get used to dancing infront of an audience!

For even more tips on practicing dance at home and improving check out all our articles here!

Practice with Props and Costumes

Practicing at home in costume may seem like overkill, but the more your dancer gets used to all the things that are going to be different up on stage compared to in their dance class the better.

Practicing in costume can be really important if the costume behaves as a prop or has a long skirt or cape for example. It may even have feathers that tickle your dancer, or a headpiece that you dancer just isn’t used to!

I was recently at a recital where it was clear no prior practice had been completed in costume when all the dancer’s capes proceeded to consistently swing around their necks and over their heads – and this was during an acro dance item which impeded on many of the dancers being able to competently and safely do their acrobatic tricks!

If only they had rehearsed with even just the cape during practice they would have realized it posed some serious issues. The thing is sometimes your teacher will say they want to keep an item like this on the costume and expect the dancers to work out a way to dance with them – which is why you need to practice at home.

Long flowing skirts are another item which your dancer should practice in if they are wearing one as a costume. If the first two times you dance in them are the dress rehearsal and then concert, you will find that unexpected things like stepping on the skirt when standing from a kneeled position will happen, which in some cases I have seen, have ripped the skirts!

Even wearing tights they are not used to such as fishnets should be practiced in! I myself made a huge hole in a pair of black fishnet tights after the first four counts of the music whilst onstage at a competition as the buckle of my shoe got caught and ripped them. If I had practiced in the tights before I would have hopefully realized on that step to not run my foot along my leg or to put tape across my buckles!

Tips for Practicing at Home in Costume

  • Make sure your dancers hands and face is clean and the area they will be practicing in is clean before putting on and dancing in a costume at home.
  • Supervise your dancer when they are wearing the costume. As much as you tell your child to be careful, it is always the moment you are not in the room that disaster strikes!
  • If you are unable to wear the actual costume (for example it is common for your teacher to store tand get them ready for recital or your teacher may have a rule that costumes are not be worn at home) , find a substitute for the parts you think they will have the most issues with – a top hat, a long skirt or flowing arms for example.
  • If you find something that needs to be fixed with a costume that others are also wearing – never make any changes or adjustments without discussing it with your teacher.
  • Ask your teacher for tips and tricks if you find your dancer continually steps on their skirt or is not able to control the flowing neck scarf draped around their costume.

Home Makeup and Hair Rehearsal

I highly recommend taking the time to do a make-up and hair rehearsal with your child if you have never put make-up on them before or if your studio is asking you to do something you have never done before.

The main reasons for this are:

  1. Kids don’t love having makeup put on their eyes, (or cheeks, or noses or lips etc….)
  2. You might realise a product you have or bought is not right for your dancers skin.
  3. You might realise you don’t have a product you need.
  4. Any problems you run into during your home rehearsal you can find solutions to such as finding the eyelash glue is all dried up.

My daughter was so excited for me to put on her makeup the first time, but it was more the idea of it that she liked rather than the actual process! Sitting still and having all these weird sensations and products all over her face was not a great combination! I wrote about how putting eyeliner on her daughter during our first practice was a disaster in the Ultimate Recital Guide here, but another thing we should have practiced as well was curling her hair.

As we had a photo day before the concert I decided to chance it and try curling it on the day.

It was almost a disaster…

Her hair was tied in a ponytail and so I used hot bendy rollers which worked great, but I wet her hair before I rolled them up and half of them didn’t dry before we had to leave. Luckily she has thick hair and so I quickly wrapped all the straight strands around the ponytail elastic, fixing them with a bobby pin, she had just enough curls to make it work.

But from this experience, I knew better and so for recital day I simply sprayed each handful of hair with hairspray before rolling them in the hot rollers.

Tips for Home Makeup and Hair Rehearsal

  • If your child is young practice fun face paint with them first so they get the feel of having make up applied to their face. For more tips on how to do make up on a young dancer check out our article here!
  • Practice on yourself first! Then you will be able to replicate the look on your dancer.
  • If your dancer only needs to wear makeup once a year – go through your own supplies first before buying a whole new set which will sit there until it is needed the following year when you may find it has caked or dried up.
  • Make sure your eyeliner and lip liner pencils glide easily on the skin, by applying them to the back of your hand first. Buy new ones if they don’t as they will scratch your dancers skin.
  • If using a wet liner or when doing mascara, ask your dancer to keep their eyes closed until it is dry!
  • When a professional makeup artist did my makeup for a wedding, after putting on primer she did my eyes first, then put the concealer, foundation and other products on. I thought this was odd, but realized it meant that if any product from my eyes went onto the rest of my face it meant that she didn’t have to clean up and reapply the foundation and concealer she meticulously would apply later – see if this works for you?
  • Practice putting false eyelashes on your dancer if they are required to wear them.

Practice Healthy Habits – Eat and Sleep Well

One of the best things that you can do for yourself and more importantly for your child before a dance recital is to make sure they are sleeping and eating well in the days leading up to the performance.

Many dance recitals occur in the evening and if your child is young it might be hard for them to stay up late especially if they are used to an early bedtime. Making sure they are well rested can mean that for this one evening they are able to make it through till the end.

Most of us parents already ensure our kids have a good sleep routine but the excitement of an upcoming recital can really throw off your child’s sleep schedule, especially if you have a series of dress rehearsals that also finish late and mess with your child’s sleep time and routine.

Making sure your child is eating well may already be something you prioritize, but sometimes when we are busy or stressed we let things such as eating habits slide over convenience.

Generally, during concert week your child may be required for several dress rehearsals at the venue or at their studio. Dance teachers do tend to schedule rehearsals for younger students early, but because hiring the venue for example for rehearsals can be costly, they sometimes need to squeeze as much rehearsal as they can into a small amount of time which can mean later than normal nights. Dress rehearsals also notoriously run late as teachers and students run through their items and deal with issues and find solutions to ensure everything is running like clockwork on the day.

Tips for Practicing Healthy Sleep and Eating Habits before your Recital

  • Have an ample supply of your child’s favorite fruit or healthy snacks available.
  • Having a daily gummy vitamin may help to ensure your dancer is getting enough of what they need no matter what else they are served.
  • Making double your meals the weeks prior and freezing the second portion for family at home or a late-night or to bring to rehearsal when you don’t have time to make dinner is another good idea for recital week!
  • Remember that some foods especially those high in caffeine and sugar and even some food additives can affect your child’s sleeping habits so try to avoid those.
  • Listen to stories from the CALM app (or similar) to help still the mind and relax you and your kids to sleep.

NOTE ABOUT THE CALM APP:

My kids love listening to CALM stories before bed.

I initially bought the CALM app for myself to help my meditation practice before I began using their sleep stories to help me drift off to sleep when my mind wouldn’t stop racing around in never-ending circles.

They have a kid’s selection of sleep stories and I figured if they worked so well with me, why not try them with my kids.

I’ll admit sometimes my kids don’t immediately go to sleep if it is a new story as they want to listen to what happens, but if it is a Moshi Story or one they have listened to a few times before they generally work like a charm and have them sleeping before the end.

I find they help distract them from their thoughts and quiet their minds which is perfect for any child to stressed or overly excited about an upcoming recital to sleep.

Practice Self Care & Staying Calm

To be on your best game, to deal with your child when they are whinging at you because you’re hurting them as you stick in 10 bobby pins to keep their headpiece in place or because they yell at you to stop touching them because your hands are freezing’ whilst ripping one costume off and getting them into the next during a mid-song costume change, will mean you will need to have a few practiced tools up your sleeve to keep your cool and stay calm.

The above two examples were actually me when I was younger, whinging and yelling at my mom, because basically I was stressed and worried about not getting on stage.

My mom was doing an awesome job and I always got on stage on time with my costume in place and looking great.

But it could have been a disaster if she hadn’t been so calm and in charge of what was going on and the only way for any parent to do this is because their own cup is full, or they have an abundant reserve of love and energy.

Therefore you as the parent also need to do what you need, to ensure you are at your best on the day.

This will look different to everyone but to me, it means asking others for help.

Tips for practicing Self Care and Staying Calm

  • Asking family or a friend to look after any other kids so you can focus on your dancer.
  • Eating out or preparing meals in advance so you don’t have to worry about feeding everyone.
  • Making sure you have been getting some me time before the recital and doing things that you enjoy rather than serving others all the time.
  • Whatever self-care looks like for you, just make sure you get some so you can be your best and be there for your child on the day so you can be the calm when the storm brews.
  • Practicing calming tools at home such as taking some deep breaths, counting to 10, walking away from the situation, reminding yourself that this too shall pass.

TAKE A SEAT – Literally

If your dance studio offers the choice of helping backstage or watching the concert, don’t feel bad to take up the offer and not be with your child. I have done both for my girls and am glad I had faith in the other wonderful moms who helped backstage on those times I sat in the audience.

It can be a real lifesaver especially if you are at a period in your life when sleep deprivation from a new baby (my situation when I sat in the audience!!) or some other factor going on in your life might make being backstage super stressful for you.

A Few Other Ideas…

  • Go watch a show in a theatre so they know what to expect
  • Read books about dance recitals
  • Make sure you attend any class showings to support your dancer

By putting a few of these tips into practice, you and your dancer will be one step ahead of the game come recital day.

But next, you also need to think about preparing and organizing yourself and your dancer for the performance. Click here to read our in-depth article about how to prepare for your dancer’s ballet or dance recital.

The Ultimate Guide

If you didn’t find all the information you were after that is because I turned what was an extremely long article about getting ready for your dance recital into a 5-page Ultimate guide.

For more information, tips, and advice on each step to getting recital ready head to any of the other four following articles in the guide here:

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