Do you struggle with teen dancers quitting as high school activities beckon? One way I combat this problem is by implementing seven ideas to make every dancer’s senior year at the studio special. For maximum results, honor all the graduates equally, and let participation in each idea be optional. (The busy senior with several jobs may opt out of the more time-consuming activities.) Send out a participation survey to the graduating seniors in January so you can plan accordingly. Whether you utilize one strategy or all seven, your seniors will love it.
#1. Create a recital dance just for the graduates.
Take a graduation type song (like “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus) and choreograph a short solo within the song for each dancer. If the dancer’s chosen genre is out of your wheelhouse, hire another teacher to choreograph that dancer’s section. The entire dance ends with approximately 20 seconds when the graduates (in their graduation hats) perform extremely simple choreography together. Our graduates usually learn the dance (including solos) in six 30-minute rehearsals which begin in April.
#2. Schedule a picture of the graduates for your studio’s Picture Day.
Invite the graduates to be photographed on Picture Day wearing black clothing and their graduation hat. Hang the picture on the studio wall, use it in advertising, and post it on social media.
#3. Include a picture and biography of each senior in the recital program.
Ask the graduates to turn in a picture and to answer the following three questions: What do they love about the studio? What is their advice for the younger dancers? What are their plans for the future? Whether they’ve grown up in the studio or been there for one year, most seniors have something meaningful to share. Turn the questions into a biography for the recital program, and also utilize their answers in strategy #4. Be sure to give them a turn-in deadline.
#4. Post quotes from each graduate on your studio walls a month before the recital.
I started posting these quotes because the advice from the graduates was incredibly meaningful, and I wanted to share it in a powerful way. Since a sign company makes my graduate quote signs, this is the most expensive strategy. The signs offer great advice to the students and perpetuate the positive hard-working culture I strive to create.
#5. Invite the seniors to create a photo collage about their life.
Ask the dancers to glue photos on a trifold poster board. Exhibit one poster a week in the studio lobby beginning two months before the recital. Then display the posters in the lobby at the recital. The graduates can take their photo collage home as they leave the recital. (I first got this idea from Kristen Stoller, the owner of Chehalem Valley Dance Academy.)
#6. Create a senior goodbye line tradition.
At the end of your last class before the recital, ask the other dancers to stand in a receiving line. Graduates start by standing in front of the first dancer in the line. That dancer tells the graduate something they appreciate about them. Then the graduate moves to the next person. Play music to maximize the impact of the ritual. It took the less confident dancers a little time to get used to this tradition. Once they did, magic followed, and it became one of the most beloved traditions of the studio.
#7. At the end of the recital, talk about each graduate and present them with a gift.
After the curtain call, the graduates walk on stage dressed in formal attire. The teacher of their choice shares five carefully chosen sentences about that dancer. Present each dancer with a special gift like a bracelet engraved with their name.
These seven strategies will make your graduates feel incredibly special, and they also provide a meaningful way to say goodbye. At my studio, many dancers who dropped performing company continued to dance because they didn’t want to miss their senior year at the studio. “It’s my senior year here, too,” one dancer explained to me. Not only did these strategies keep a lot of dancers who may have otherwise quit, but it also reminded the dance families that the dance studio is a wonderful place to grow up.
By Holly Derville-Teer of Dance Informa.