What It Takes to Put on a Virtual Recital

Why digital end-of-year performances were the best option for these three studios—and how they pulled them off 

A young girl sits on the floor in a purple costume, looking at a Zoom screen on a computer, during her virtual dance recital
A Studio A student prepares for her virtual recital over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Studio A Dance & Performing Arts, LLC

Recital season counts for a sizable revenue boost—often 15 to 20 percent of a studio’s yearly budget. But how do you hold a spring recital when you’re not able to rehearse in person, much less gather en masse at a theater?

“I struggled with the decision for a month, but it hit me that a virtual recital was the one thing that would give our kids a sense of closure and happiness after a few months on Zoom,” says Lisa Kaplan Barbash, owner of TDS Dance Company in Stoughton, MA. She’s one of countless studio owners who faced the challenges of social distancing while needing to provide some sort of end-of-year performance experience that had already been paid for through tuition and costume fees. 

We spoke with Barbash and the two other studio owners to learn how they planned their online recitals, an option that ensured all participants—from students, to faculty to audience members—remained safe in their homes. The timing and execution for these studios’ virtual shows were similar, and even though ticket sales are one of the biggest income drivers of recital season, they all chose not to charge their families to watch the debut or to download the digital file. Instead they said they saw it as a way to thank parents for their continued support and to honor their dancers’ determination. 

“Providing a way to perform, even if it was in their homes—just to be able to put on their costume, do their hair and makeup—made them feel like they were going through the regular motions of getting ready for a show onstage,” says Ann Schwenzer, owner of Studio A Dance & Performing Arts, LLC, of Avon, CT. “This is the time to show that we are resilient and that we are not going anywhere, that we love our dance families and want to continue to have an impact on their lives.”

Here are some further insights into how these studios handled costume pickups, Zoom rehearsals and day-of-premieres.

Creating a Safe Costume Pickup Strategy

Five women in masks stand in a room full of organized costumes for a virtual dance recital, giving a thumbs up
The Dance Concept staff in the midst of their costume pickup event. Photo courtesy of Dance Concept

Dance Concept
Fort Worth, TX
500 students
Show Date: July 25

Recital prep starts almost a year in advance at Dance Concept with ideation, theme selection and costume previews. Students get measured in November; orders are placed in December. Costumes are part of a non-refundable performance bundle based on how many classes a student takes, and it includes tickets, tights and a recital T-shirt.  

“Usually we pass out costumes in classes, but in virtual land, everything is different,” owner Debbi Jo Thibeau says. That’s why she developed a three-day curbside pickup schedule, with costumes and accessories bagged, alphabetized and boxed in advance. Her staff wore masks and worked in shifts to make it a fun drive-through experience.

“We also added extra surprises like a bag of candy, a flower and a frisbee with our logo,” she says. “From the very beginning we communicated several times a week with our families about our plans and have been very honest so we aren’t overpromising anything. I think they really appreciate that.”

The curbside pickup method went so smoothly that next year’s costume handout might look a little different. Plus, the extra goodies ended up being good social-media PR.

Rehearsing and Editing Choreography Via Zoom

A young girl in a pink costume sits on the floor at looks at a Zoom screen during her virtual dance recital
A Zoom recital rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Studio A Dance & Performing Arts, LLC

Studio A Dance & Performing Arts, LLC
Avon, CT
110 students
Show Date: June 5

When your canvas is no longer a stage but a Zoom gallery view, it means reimagining formations and partnered lifts. It also means adjusting for any student attrition. “We kept the same recital theme, but some of the dances didn’t end up being in the show,” Schwenzer says. “We had a lot of success with ages 2 to 10, but some of the older dancers weren’t participating in rehearsals.”

During dress rehearsal week, students wore their costumes and did their hair and makeup just like they would have for the stage. They ran their dances on Zoom in the gallery view and Schwenzer recorded two to three run-throughs of each on her computer, choosing the best takes for the virtual performance. She sent all of the videos to a video editor along with the music and artistic directions, and once she received a finished file, Studio A’s recital occurred on Zoom with a password-protected link. In addition to all of the dances, the show included announcements, a graduating senior slideshow, and pictures and videos from studio events. “We encouraged the premiere to be a fun movie-night experience,” Schwenzer says, “and I offered a giveaway for $50 in class credit if families sent in pictures while they watched it live.”

Hosting a Live Premiere

TDS Dance Company
Stoughton, MA
300 students
Show Date: July 5

A young girl takes dance class in her living room, wearing a leotard and sitting up very straight with her legs outstretched in front of her
A TDS student takes virtual class at home. Photo courtesy of TDS Dance Company

TDS Dance Company’s “Castle of Dreams” recital will be pre-recorded and premiere online, with Barbash and other faculty members dressed up at the studio and emceeing the show in front of a green screen, à la the Oscars. A video production company will host the event on a dedicated web page connected to the studio’s online store, so viewers have the option of simultaneously shopping for studio-branded hoodies, shirts and phone covers and can download a digital file of the show once it finishes airing.

The dances will feature an edited mix of Zoom gallery views recorded by faculty, solo videos filmed by parents and uploaded to Google Drive, and footage from the only competition the dancers were able to participate in this year. 

The opening number will feature a montage of 40 soloists, each appearing for a few seconds performing to Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” and the finale will showcase students dressed in costume or in their recital T-shirt, freestyling to Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancin’.” “I’ve been watching the clips come in, and they make me cry. It’s the best finale we’ve ever had,” Barbash says. “I hope it helps them feel good and puts a smile on their faces and pulls the year together for them in some way.”

Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from NYU and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.