Producing a dance performance factsheet #11

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From an educational perspective, the performance experience, the creative teamwork needed to make it happen, and the acknowledgement that comes with it, can undoubtedly enhance students’ personal development and self esteem. This factsheet may be a useful checklist for teachers, community or youth arts workers who are presenting a performance as part of learning experience, for the first time.

Teachers or leaders should observe students carefully and give praise, correction or guidance where due. For assessment purposes, look for consistency, cooperation, teamwork, creative input, problem-solving and commitment.

Be aware of all your OH&S obligations, have a first-aid kit on hand and establish emergency procedures for both rehearsal and performance locations.

Step one

Discuss themes, task or guidelines; select performance venue; organise rehearsal space; prepare rehearsal schedule.

Agree on a theme, an idea or a piece of music that will inspire and engage your group. This will be the focus for your choreography.

Be imaginative in the selection of a performance area. Consider the amount of space you will need for both performers and audience. The theatre or performance space should be clean, safe and appropriate to the style of the dance. For example, a bush dance could take place in a narrow hall or perhaps a corridor, providing the audience has adequate viewing space.

Measure and mark out the performance area if you are rehearsing somewhere other than the final performance venue. Use masking tape or chalk to mark centre stage, side edges and any other critical places where props may be placed or action must occur.

Prepare your rehearsal schedule now and make sure that students are aware of the importance of 100% commitment. So much time is wasted when cast members are absent. Negotiate and agree with the entire group rather than dictate. Discuss the intended outcomes and schedule timetables to include making, collaborating, problem-solving and refining as well as reflecting and appreciating.

Step two

Select music; assign roles; discuss design; begin choreography.

Choose your music with care as it has enormous influence over both atmosphere and movement quality. If you are using more than one piece, you will need to plan edits and transitions. Think about whether you want to use fade-outs, silence, natural sounds, human voice, live musicians etc.

Share thoughts on different roles, characters or skills within the choreography, and experiment with movement and style. If students will be taking on production and management roles as well as performing, allocate specific responsibilities to each member of the group. (This is often helpful in assessment procedures. A final presentation may not succeed, where individual efforts may be outstanding.) It is also a good idea to appoint understudies in case of illness or accident.

Discuss the design and overall ‘look’ of your performance or show so that costumes, lighting, props etc. are consistent and relevant to the theme or the ‘story’ that you are telling. How long will your dance be? What do you need to communicate? How might you do this effectively?

With your chosen theme, story or idea as stimulus, begin making movement/choreography. Experiment with composition techniques such as repetition, variation, symmetry/asymmetry, contrast, canon, accumulation, improvisation. Remember the value of stillness. Develop signature motif/s and set a structure or ‘form’ for the piece, so the task of creating a dance does not become overwhelming.

Check that all necessary copyright licences have been granted for public performance (i.e. music, images, film, written material) 1 and that a liquor licence (if applicable) has been given.

Step three

Prepare marketing material, programs, ticketing and front of house

Design, print and distribute posters and flyers and advertise in local media, school newsletter etc. Have an eye-catching e-flyer that you can send to key people who may be able to distribute your information efficiently.

Appoint a front-of-house manager to take responsibility for selling tickets, organising ushers, bar supplies and staff etc.

Step four

Finalise choreography, music, costumes and props

Don’t leave the composition of your ending or finale to the last minute as it is extremely important. You want to leave the audience with a memorable and satisfying ending, whether is be uplifting, inspiring, provocative, shocking etc.

Remember that music should enhance the choreography, but not dominate. Have at least two master CDs (or tapes)—one to use for rehearsals and one for final dress rehearsal and performances. If you are using a series of recordings collected on one CD, make the transitions smooth and/or carefully time the intervals between tracks to fit the action. 

Allow time now to explore, develop and refine your choreography or movement. When planning your rehearsal time, consider the needs and skills of your students; how they formulate ideas; how motivated or equipped they are to explore/experiment.

Costumes, shoes and props should be introduced as soon as possible, as they will influence the movement. Costume design should be in keeping with the style of dance and should add to, not detract from, both the movement and the theme. Will your dance be enhanced by soft flowing fabrics, or do we want to see all the lines of the body? Do you want to evoke a particular era in history? What is your budget? How might everyday street clothes be adapted at minimal expense? Consider the effects of colours and accessories. Encourage students to observe how the various production elements contribute to the choreography.

If you are using lights in a theatre and have access to a professional lighting designer and operator, encourage your group (or a selected individual) to have a written plan of colours, special effects and the timing of changes, which will enhance and relate to the choreography.

Step five

Rehearsal and refinement

Once the choreography is set, students should have enough rehearsal time to be completely at ease with the material.

Make time to share progress, to observe and criticise, to solve problems and to discuss final aspects of production such as make-up, hair styles, etc.

Encourage independent research on aspects of costuming, make-up etc. by any students with a particular interest.

Step six

Production week

Rehearsals should now take place in the actual performance space. Plan and practice all your entrances and exits.

Music and technical equipment should be securely placed and sound levels checked. If you do not have an allocated technical person/team, it is a good idea to have your own supply of extensions cords and tape (gaffa or good quality masking tape) for all wires and cords. Make sure both the performance space and audience areas are clean and safe.

If you have a stage manager in charge of music, props, sound cues etc. they should be involved with every rehearsal now. 

Have plenty of run-throughs so that students can be familiar and comfortable not only on the stage, but with all backstage operations.

Schedule a special ‘technical run’ for the first time that lights and sound are used and prepare your students for a stop-start rehearsal as lights need adjusting or timing isn’t right. Everyone will need to be patient. Expect technical problems and be prepared for last minute frustrations and stress! This might be a good time to share a surprise bag of treats or lollies.

Allow time for the group to adjust choreography in the performance space if necessary. Spend time on discussion after rehearsals and encourage students to solve any problems and offer ideas for improvements.

With intensive rehearsal focusing on ‘steps’ and technicalities, students may need encouragement to recapture the initial excitement, stimulus and intention. Promote confidence and pride.

Consider your audience

If you are expecting a large audience, it is a good idea to have tickets sold in advance to avoid cues at the box office or front desk. Have students in the theatre or performance space to welcome audience members and show them to their seats if appropriate. Establish a mood with well-chosen music and commence the performance on time.

If you are selling refreshments at interval, have your helpers well briefed and everything well organised for speedy service. Check with your local food authority if you have any doubts about meeting health regulations.

Consider the temperature and seating arrangements if you are somewhere other than a theatre. You want the audience to be comfortable and able to see the performance. (It can be useful to have a friend in the audience to monitor temperature and sound levels, as these can alter depending on the number of people.)

Entrances and exits need to be clearly visible for the audience.

General principles for performers

  • Dancers, and indeed all performers, should aim to perform with confidence and sincerity. Any displays of embarrassment or acknowledgement of a mistake will most likely make an audience very uncomfortable and will certainly reflect poorly not only on the individual, but on the entire group of students and teachers/director. Teach students during final rehearsals to continue, improvise and/or recover quickly.
  • As teacher or leader, you will hopefully establish a strong senes of group unity and trust so that performers will feel safe and supported both on stage and off.
  • Concentration and relaxation is vital, so have a group warm-up sessions before each run-through and performance to establish focus and unity, and to help reduce nerves.
  • Performers should be ‘in character’ before entrances and after exits.
  • Silence backstage at all times is essential.
  • All personal jewellery and valuables should be left at home.
  • Dancers should have a water bottle and healthy snacks (if necessary) and some warm comfortable clothing if they are off stage for any length of time.
  • If the dressing room mirrors globes around them, these should be turned off immediately after make-up has been done as they make dressing rooms hot, use a lot of energy and may be a fire risk.

Some handy hints

  • Choose complementary background music to be played quietly before and after the performance.
  • If you are programming a concert with multiple items, set the running order to provide variety and balance and have printed copies posted indressing rooms and backstage areas. A bright, large group opening can make the audience comfortable and at ease quickly. If you are having an interval, finish Act One with an energetic group number to leave the audience on an ‘up note’ and hopefully wanting more. Conclude the program with confidence and colour and a sense of resolve.
  • In a complicated or multiple-item program you will need both a music/sound person and a lighting operator.
  • If the performers are taking a bow make it simple, sincere and well-rehearsed.
  • Solos in non-professional situations are best kept short, i.e. under two minutes. Group dances work well in under four minutes.
  • Consider the amount of space between the performers and the audience, as dance rarely works best when the viewer is very close.
  • If there are speeches or presentations included in the program, these will need careful planning and rehearsal. If a microphone is needed, speakers need to practice using it. If awards or other props are being presented, plan exactly how this will work and who will do what.
  • Make sure all props, costumes and sets are returned to start places ready for the next performance.
  • It is a good idea to have a supply of items such as safety pins, hair ties, towels, a needle and thread etc. for any little costume malfunction or emergency that may arise.
  • Make sure that there is a first aid kit on hand at all times, and emergency contact numbers are clearly visible.

Step seven

After the performance 

To increase the personal and learning outcomes of a performance project consider some or all of the following:

  • have a few meetings with the group to wind down and debrief.
  • encourage students through group discussion to share their experiences and perceptions of what they have learnt.
  • initiate discussion with questions such as: How did the audience react? Did we communicate our idea? What could we do better next time? What was the best thing about the experience?
  • some students might best express themselves through visual art or a journal or some creative writing.
  • be aware of a possible sense of anti-climax or ‘let down’ after a show, especially with sensitive personalities and/or high–achievers. Have strategies in place to assist a student to cope i.e. discuss thoughts and feelings, introduce a new project, focus or challenge (as well as the debriefing ideas mentioned above). 


The information in this factsheet has been adapted by Leanne Craig (Ausdance National) from a paper written by Priscilla Ruffell for Dance Studies Year 11 and 12 Teacher Support Material Jane Grelier (Ed.) Pub. Education Department of Western Australia in association with the Australian Dance Council—Ausdance WA, 1996.

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