Recital season is here! While not my most stressful show of the year, it is hectic, whether you’re a dancer yourself or responsible for a dancer.
So here I offer my guide to staying organized and sane during production prep. I’m not necessarily the best at following my own advice, but here’s what I’ve found to be true the more shows I get under my belt.
For some productions I can thankfully leave the costumes to others — for our ballet company shows the costumes are brought to the theatre and organized for us; we don’t have to lug them around. But for the studio recital we each have to take responsibility for what we’ll be wearing which means picking them up at the studio, trucking them to and from the theatre for dress rehearsal and shows, and then returning them to the studio afterwards (the costumes for us adults tend to be rentals, so we have to give them back… sadly this eliminates the opportunity to prance around the house in spangles after the show is over… hey, we may grow old, but that doesn’t mean we grow up!). If you are responsible for costumes:
1. Costumes sometimes arrive stuffed in plastic bags. Some may arrive already on a hanger, perhaps in a garment bag, perhaps not. Regardless, before you get your hot little hands on them they’ve often been sitting in some sort of cramped condition making them look a bit rumpled. When you get the costume home, hang it up neatly to help some of the wrinkles fall out. If you’ve got something that’s super-wrinkled you may want to hang it in a bathroom where people shower (just don’t take it IN the shower with you!). The steam will help to smooth out the material. Do NOT iron it and do NOT stick it in the dryer unless you’ve received explicit instructions that it’s safe and that you should do so. Most costumes are made of a variety of synthetic materials that may or may not melt when exposed to extreme heat. So treat them gently. Oh, and if you have a costume with a tutu, hang it by the crotch to keep the tulle floofy!
2. Seems obvious, but store the costume in an area where they will stay neat, clean, and unmolested! That means, don’t toss it over a chair or shove it under the bed or leave it somewhere that animals or small children may spy it and mistake it for a toy. Even if you have purchased your costume, treat it like an honored guest in your home until after the show is over and you are sure you won’t need to wear it again.
3. Three necessary items for costume storage/organization: strong hangers (preferably ones with hooks and/or clips), garment bag(s), and zip-top food storage bags. The hangers that come with costumes are oftentimes wimpy; a good hanger will keep the costume in place. Garment bags are great for transporting your costumes and keeping them out of the elements and containing all the pieces-parts. Dry cleaning bags or garbage bags can do in a pinch, but they tear more easily and you have to remember to tie them securely at the bottom or you’ll risk leaving a sequined trail in your wake. Investing in at least one garment bag will make life tons easier. Zipper bags are great for putting all the “extras” to a costume such as headpieces, arm bands, etc. in one place. The zipper top will keep them secure and you can poke a hole in the bag and hang it on the hanger to keep everything together.
Shoes, tights, and extra clothes
1. Make sure you have all the shoes you will need and label them with your name (yes, even you adults). When things start flying backstage or in the dressing room it’s easy to get into an argument with someone else that, no, that is actually MY jazz shoe, not yours! And if you do lose something, it’s much more likely to come back to you if it’s been labelled! For things like ballet slippers or those silly little lyrical footie things plastic baggies are, again, a fabulous tool. If you are anything like me and have multiple pairs of the same type of shoe it’s easy to get pairs mismatched or lose them in the depths of your dance bag and a baggie is a great way to keep pairs separate and organized. And you can toss them in that baggie with your costume pieces to make sure you’ve got everything in one place.
2. Same dealio with tights. If you’re needing different tights for different numbers make sure you’ve got a pair in each requisite color. These can also get tossed in with the costume pieces baggie.
3. Dance undies… before I came to this studio I had never heard of wearing a nude camisole leotard under costumes, but it’s a highly recommended practice here. While there are some downsides to it (namely, that they add extra seams and straps that can be distracting under a costume), there are more positives. For one, if you’re wearing a rental costume it puts an extra layer between you and the costume. It also adds a level of modesty during changes. And I find it makes quick changes easier because the costumes tend to slide on and off more easily. I chose a fairly skimpy high-leg, low back style that doesn’t show much, if at all, under my costume. It also has clear, but matte straps that can be configured in various ways (also comes with nude straps).
4. Other clothes. If you’ve got a pre-show warm-up class you will probably want to bring a regular leotard (my nude cami leotard is NOT for public viewing!) and possibly warm-up pants, legwarmers, t-shirts, etc. We typically arrive to the theatre with hair and make-up done, so cardigans, button-down shirts, track jackets, etc. are all good top options. If you’re going to wear a pull-over make sure the neck opening is wide enough that you can put it over your head without mussing your hair or face.
5. Extras. Never a bad idea to have extra pairs of tights/ballet slippers on hand. You don’t want a run in your only pair of tights or an orphan ballet slipper to ruin an otherwise lovely performance. Bringing extras helps to ensure good karma and can save the day for you or a fellow dancer!
Make-up and hair
HOW to do your make-up and hair is a topic deserving of its own post, so I won’t get into it here, but some general tips:
1. Make sure you know what is expected for your performance. Dancers are often required to have a relatively uniform look. Unless you’ve been given the go-ahead for artistic license, follow the direction of the teacher or director. If you’re unclear on how to attain the desired look, please ask (preferably in advance of the show… NOT the morning of!).
2. If you are expected to wear a formal ballet bun, wear a formal ballet bun. Practice beforehand to figure out how to make a nice, neat, swirly bun. I see way too many funky-looking buns that stick up too much or have loose ends or wispies or whatever. Also, much as I love the sock bun look it’s really not appropriate if you’re instructed to do a ballet bun. If, however, you are given freedom on how to do your hair, do still practice beforehand to figure out the style that will work best. If you have to change hairstyles during the show you’ll want to make sure you can make the transitions quickly and with ease.
3. The “practice” advice goes for make-up, too. I wear make-up everyday, but my performance routine is markedly different and includes additional steps, so it can even be helpful to write it all down to make sure you don’t forget anything. Make sure you have all the cosmetics you need as they may not be items typically in your make-up bag (white eyeliner, eyelashes/glue, etc.). I keep all that stuff in a baggie (Ziploc should seriously be sponsoring this post right now) along with a travel set of brushes and know that between that baggie and my regular cosmetics bag I should have all I need.
4. We are instructed to arrive to the theatre with hair and make-up done. This is especially important for children who need adult help with these tasks, but even for those of us who can do our own faces, mirror space in the dressing room can be limited and cramped and lighting can be so-so. I find it easier to get the majority of stuff done at home and only do touch-ups or last-minute additions at the theatre. That being said, I bring all my makeup and hair stuff with me just in case! FYI, a good aerosol hairspray (and by good I really mean cheap!) has myriad uses. I keep a can in my dance bag at all times.
5. Don’t forget an umbrella or a jacket with a good hood if there’s even a remote chance of inclement weather on your way to the theatre to save yourself the possibility of resurrecting your look after being caught in a downpour!
Snacks and water are important to keep backstage, especially if you have multiple shows back-to-back with limited time to go out and grab a bite to eat. I don’t like to eat much while I’m at the theatre, so I usually try to eat a good meal beforehand (think protein-rich, whole foods).
1. Staying hydrated is key. Performance pieces tend to be longer than any combination you may do in class and can leave you winded and thirsty! Make sure you are sipping throughout the day. Water is, of course, essential, but I also like to bring along something with some calories seeing as I don’t feel up for eating when I’m battling backstage nerves. Helps to keep my energy up without slogging me down. I stay away from sports drinks (too many weird colors and sugar), but I have found some flavored coconut waters that are kind of tasty (okay, fine, I like the coffee and chocolate flavored ones… the rest of them are gross!) and pre-bottled yogurt smoothies are nice. Don’t drink anything colored while you’re in costume, of course!
2. Some people bring coolers packed with huge lunches. If you can do that, great. Again, I really don’t like eating once I get to the theatre. Small snacks such as granola bars (Kind bars are my new favorite, though temporarily on hold due to the orthodontic work going on!), crackers, BabyBel cheeses, apples, carrots, etc. are my choice… things that you can pick at and that won’t spoil easily. Our school does not allow us to bring snacks that contain peanuts which I think is a good rule to follow. While peanut butter is one of my favorite pre-show protein sources, I’ll only eat it at home and wash my hands afterwards. Peanut allergies have become more prevalent and people who have them are often SUPER sensitive to even small traces of peanut. I don’t want to have to be putting my nursing license to use backstage (I will, of course, but like to avoid tragedy when at all possible)!
3. Along with food you may want to bring along a travel toothbrush and floss, or those disposable toothbrush/pick things. While that spinach dip on your carrots might have been delicious, you don’t want to share that news with the audience from the stage.
The Mental Prep
Again, something probably deserving of its own post, but…
1. Try to have everything set to go the night before the show. Being able to grab and go helps to lessen the nerves, as opposed to madly dashing around the house trying to find something essential at the last minute.
2. Along with that, try to give yourself plenty of time to get ready. I have to be at the theatre fairly early in the morning, so much as I’d love to sleep in on a Saturday, I’ve set my alarm early to give myself time to relax with my coffee and not feel rushed.
3. Indulge in your pre-show ritual, if you have one. Maybe you eat the same meal or drive a particular route or have some sort of voodoo chant or listen to certain music on your iPod. If there’s something that gives you comfort and makes you feel in control of your day, do it. Mine is to go out on stage and look out at the empty seats.
4. Visualize yourself dancing your dances beautifully. It can be helpful to run through choreography in your head, but don’t stress over it. It’s showtime. You know the steps as well as you’re going to know them, so don’t overthink it. Instead of focusing on what you want the audience to see focus on what you want them to FEEL. Things will go wrong, it’s inevitable. But remember that the audience will rarely know about most of them unless you tell them. That tell-tale look of panic on your face? That is a major clue to them right there. If you perform an unintentional solo, so be it. Do what you do with grace, conviction, and emotion. I’m not saying go out there and eff up all you want… just don’t let the bloopers derail you. These brief moments on stage are why we do what we do, so take a deep breath, go out there, and enjoy it.
Any performance prep tips I forgot? Post them in the comments below!