Do you love or loathe performance time? “That” time of year. Performance time.
The time of year that makes dance studio owners and dance teachers shudder with fear and squeal with delight! Being responsible for staging a performance is akin to hosting an elaborate wedding – every.single.year. A wedding with 200 bridesmaids and 200 mothers of the bride! It is exciting, it can be daunting, and it certainly has moments of overwhelm. It is not for the faint hearted. Currently buried amidst the sequins and fatigue, my 11th Annual Performance is just two weeks away, so what better time to share my top eight (practical and philosophical) tips on how to survive.
Follow the motto of the Scouts – be prepared! The more you do earlier in your season, the better. There are of course things on the “To Do” list that simply have to be left to the final month. By prioritising everything else sooner, you can leave white space in the lead-up to the performance for the inevitable last-minute items, as well as space for if things don’t go entirely to your original plan. Working backward from my performance date, I set precise dates and deadlines. For example, establish the last day costumes can arrive. From here, set your dates for measuring, sizing, ordering and dispatch. If you are lucky enough to have a team, give them as much notice as possible and share your creative vision and your non-negotiable dates. When does music need to be finalised by? How early do you consider your theme? For me, an annual performance takes a year of planning. This current season, I (slightly embarrassingly) started planning the minute my head hit the pillow after last year’s curtain. I’m sure you’ve suffered similar dilemmas! Much stress can be avoided – it’s still going to be a final month of long nights or early mornings, but the stress – that tight feeling in your chest — can and should be avoided.
You are not superwoman or superman. You do not have to be. I know it’s good for the ego, but it’s not good for your health!
Here’s the thing with accepting help: some people let you down! They excitedly offer their time and then do not always follow through. Worse yet, this can result in you having to do the task with even less time than before – agh! Choose who you delegate to very carefully, and set deadlines if people offer to help. For example: “Lucy, I’d love you to help with that; however, I would need it by date and time. Would that be achievable for you?”
As much as possible, try not to become a control freak where nothing anyone can do is good enough. I’m sure you are very talented and organised, but so are other people. Use their strengths, and use your own. No one is at their creative or inspired best when they are pulled too thin in too many directions.
Pick your battles.
You do not have to enter every argument you are invited to.
Let some conflicts, perceived or real, slide. Perhaps at the last minute a child cannot be in the performance anymore. It’s frustrating and annoying, I get it! You need to change your choreography, and of course it was most likely “that” child whose costume you’d had altered. “Ranting and raving” to the parent, your staff team or even just inside your own head is not going to change anything. You have to look at what is in your circle of control; get on with fixing anything that falls within it and leave everything else well and truly alone. You need your energy at this time of year, so save it for what actually matters. Students, and your team, can feel your energy, so it is important that your overall vibe is positive.
“The way we have always done it” doesn’t have to be the way you always do it. Just one example: every year, I see dance studio owners dread photo day. If it works for you, do it! If it doesn’t, don’t! I do not run a group photo day as many schools do. I have asked myself, “Is the value of the stress and my time at an already manic period worth the value of a group photo (that possibly has one child missing!)?” And I answered “no”! I engage a photographer at the performance and also a couple of weeks following our performance, when I have in-studio solo photos for those who would like to book. It really is easy. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that you have to adopt my approach. What I do recommend, though, is that each and every year you reflect and review your processes and ask yourself how you would improve and change it for future years. How can you make things easier? How can you avoid some drama?
Change your mindset.
I love the human mind – what a completely wondrous thing! It can be the maker or breaker at times of stress, and performance time can test even the most mentally agile. Let’s imagine you have spent hours working on your performance note. The day after you distribute it, a parent asks if they can “just check something on the note?” You roll your eyes, sigh and inwardly say, “Read.Your.Note!”
Take a check of yourself. Yes, I understand, there are some people who expect to be drip fed the information. Know this – you are there to serve, and it is your role to lead everyone through to the end result, the performance, successfully. This includes your studio parents. They are your clients and they pay the bills. How do you respond? Take a breath and change your mindset. Say to yourself, “They are only checking with me because they want to get it right for their child. This is a great opportunity to alleviate their anxiety and also to ensure they actually do have it right!” No, I’m serious. Try it! It works. Because I do not believe that in my 11 years of running a studio that any parent has made a special point of calling me or emailing me simply to “annoy Miss Jane with bizarre performance questions in the hope that she has a breakdown before the performance!” I’m honest enough to admit, that it does feel like that sometimes, but I truly do not believe that is their intention.
Those 20-page handbooks…could they be 10? I empathise, I understand. There is a lot of information to distribute. I’m guilty of slightly plump newsletters, too. Cut out the fluff and get to the point. Think: what – where – when – how – for how long. Like you, parents are time poor. Edit your newsletters and performance information to include the basics.
Look after yourself.
Those final weeks before curtain up – a mix of adrenalin, excitement and tears. Tears!? I meant fears! Try not to have tears. If you do, take the night off, have a bath, go to bed early, sleep in, have an afternoon nap. Whatever you can squeeze in, do it! Without guilt. No one likes to work with a crazy dance studio owner who looks like they may cry at any moment. More than ever, recognise that if you are not right with yourself, nothing will be right with anyone or anything else. All your judgement is clouded, and nothing will appear to go as planned.
Lower your standards, and let go of guilt.
Increasingly hard as the pressure mounts is looking after your family, especially feeding them. Last night, my children had crackers, ham, cheese and cucumber for dinner, which they made themselves. I’m not making this up to make you feel better. It’s dance studio life the month before performance. Don’t feel bad about it. My kids think it’s great! I do also try and complete a big “cook off” about four weeks from performance date, when I fill the freezer with pasta sauces, curries and other easily thawed and reheated meals – which while I do not enjoy doing it, I do thank myself any time I reach into the freezer in the morning and pull out a pre-cooked meal. For that 12 seconds, I do feel like superwoman! Yes! Look at me – feeding my family in performance season! More seriously, do lower your normal standards if you can. Try not to worry about the state of your house, your office, or your car. Staging a production is a mammoth task in itself.
Remember your ‘why’.
I plead this with you.
It is about your students. Costumes are wonderful. Fancy lighting is nice. Some sets are creative and clever, but now more than ever, remember your students. Remember how it feels to dance on a stage yourself. Remember that surge of adrenalin – how powerful and confident you felt. Students do not want to come to dance and be grilled. Stay calm in rehearsal and even more so in the theatre. Remind yourself you are not the director of an international dance company. Keep it in perspective. If you are a parent yourself, you will know that the love people have for their child overrides all. It is about your students showcasing their talents to people who love them. Don’t get caught in creating unrealistic expectations. Look at each individual as exactly that – an individual. Remind yourself that each child’s version of success is different, and your role is to facilitate a wondrous experience that allows each child to shine in their own unique way. What you are really doing is creating memories that last a lifetime, both for you and them. Make the memories good ones.
By Jane Grech of Jane Grech Dance Centre.
Jane Grech is the Founder and Director of JG Creative, a South Australian company which operates Jane Grech Dance Centre, Pirouettes Dancewear and Adelaide Institute of Vocational Dance. An empowering leader, Jane’s businesses thrive from the power of a positive culture by design. Working with vision, her teams are a united and determined force. By embracing and enjoying challenges and celebrating success through having fun, her people are not only personally and professionally fulfilled, but her businesses greatest strength.
Jane is the creator and founder of DanceStep, a unique training program that works in partnership with dance schools around the world to offer Assistant Teacher Training programs. Through her work Jane is empowering studio owners to grow young leaders who give back to their studio communities.
Jane is an author and speaker on the topics of dance education, entrepreneurship and leadership. Passionate about encouraging, supporting and inspiring others Jane writes articles for Dance Informa Magazine and at her own blog, Dance Studio Success. Previous speaking engagements include Dance Teachers Unite, Come Together Dance Teachers Conference, ‘Exchange’ and Victorian Dance Festival. Jane shares her experiences with dance studio owners from around the world through her work as a Leadership and Studio Growth Coach with Dance Studio Owners Association.
Jane works part time in an effort to successfully navigate the challenges of combining a career with her greatest role, that of mum to Alana, Caitlin and Liam and wife to Brian.