Feature Article - April 2013
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Programming: Performing Arts

Break a Leg!
Put Your Best Foot Forward for Performing Arts Programming

By Jessica Royer Ocken

How to Grow

Finally, whether you're starting from scratch or looking to expand your performing arts offerings, the following tips may come in handy:

Be sure to cover basic technique. Whether they're dancing, singing, playing an instrument or writing a play, be sure your students know the basic techniques and terms of their art. This will ground them for future success and prepare them to adapt their skills more and more creatively as they grow. "If they don't know basic ballet steps, they can't do hip hop or jazz," Brackmann said. "We focus on ballet with the youngest kids, and then the skills carry to other classes."

Consider all your audiences. Most performing arts programming is aimed at kids. "There's a sweet spot for kids because of after-school activities and summer camp," Baker explained. But don't miss the opportunity presented by adults. "I think as baby boomers retire, more Ys will have more arts offerings for older adults," she said. "Statistics indicate that [baby boomers] are a Peter Pan generation that wants continual learning."

Test the arts within existing programs. Ideally you'd like to see what sort of interest there might be in drama or dance before you've bothered to construct an entire program, so use your existing after-school program or summer day camp participants as a practice group. "Have a theme week working toward something specific at the end," Baker suggested. That could be a gallery show, a dance performance, or a skit. "Weave the arts into something you're already doing, but make it special." The Amarillo Y does this with their day camp each summer (one way they make the arts available to their lower-income constituents). "One day per week is completely arts-oriented," Struble explained. The campers take a field trip or see a performance and have assorted art classes, depending on the theme for the year. They've done musical theater, visual art and creative writing, and not only does this give students new skills, they have a blast performing for parents at the end of the session, she reported.

Highlight the strengths of what you offer. As these experts have noted, parks and YMCAs may be serving a different demographic than the ritziest dance academy or music conservatory in town, so there's no need to compete. Offering quality instruction at a lower price point will likely fill a valuable need in your community, and don't forget the added convenience, Memmer said. At the Y or a park, there's something for everyone to do. While one child takes dance and the other has a piano lesson, adults can swim or work out or play with younger children on the playground. It's all right there!

So get a sense of your community, reach out to the artists around you, and start having some fun. The show must go on!