How to Produce A Dance Show for the First Time

So you want to produce your own dance show. Congratulations! Maybe this is your first time taking this journey, or maybe you dipped your toes in once, and want to make sure your second go ‘round is a success. Either way, this is going to be an awesome adventure. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something you envisioned come to life. And though it may seem like an overwhelming task - and truth be told there are many things to think about - following these steps will make it simpler!!

1. PICK A CONCEPT

What’s been on your mind lately? Maybe you’ve been inspired by a song, or there’s an idea that’s been ruminating for awhile. Maybe you’ve recently gone through an experience that’s really touched you, or you’ve seen something happening in the world and you want to take a stand. Lay out your ideas, sort through them until you have one left, take that and turn it into a show!

How to Produce A Dance Show for the First Time: Budget

2. BUILD A BUDGET

Build a budget. Factor in things such as the cost of rehearsal space, performance space, costumes, hired crew, and dancer pay. Funding is an important part of creating work. The reality is - it takes money to put on a production. If you have some of your own money to incorporate - great! If you don’t, or would prefer to have the money come from elsewhere, your best bet is to crowdfund.

3. CAST

Casting your work can seem like a daunting task. It takes a lot of trust to hand over something you’ve created - not to mention, your dancers can really make or break the atmosphere in the rehearsal studio! I advise taking a step back and really thinking about what you envision onstage. What type of style will your show be? How many dancers are you going to need to bring your concept to life? Do you want them to give physical feedback and help in the creation of the work? Do YOU want to perform?

There are two ways to go about casting:

  • The first is by utilizing your network. Reach out to dancer friends or students of yours.
  • Your other option would be to hold an audition. Book a studio, and put out some posts on local audition websites or social media groups.

No matter who you choose, make sure they are willing to commit to the project, time-wise.

How to Produce A Dance Show for the First Time: Choreograph

4. CREATE

This is where the magic happens. Get in the studio and make some movement! If you are an up and coming choreographer, consider inviting a guest artist or company to perform in your show. This partnership can help bring in their audience, creating a wider support base for you (and hopefully more ticket sales!).

5. BOOK A VENUE

There are many options for a dance performance venue. You may want  to perform in a traditional, large proscenium theater with curtains, wings, and a full lighting set-up. But that can come with a high price tag, and it can be very difficult to find an available date. Reach out to local high schools and community colleges; they often have a theater available for rent for a more reasonable price. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box! A local park with a stage perhaps? Or an art gallery looking to host a dance performance? As long as there are restrooms for your guests, and an area to use as a dancers’ dressing room, the sky is the limit. Make some calls and explain your vision - the worst thing they could say is no!

Once you find a venue you like, check the following:

  • Available dates
  • Lighting and stage set-up
  • Amenities
  • Access to space for tech and dress, as well as show day
  • Videography permission: some venues may charge you for bringing in a camera
  • Alcohol: If the locale serves alcohol, find out who will get the sales from that - often, they will take the sales from the bar, and you will take sales from the door.
  • Event insurance: At some venues, you will be covered under their policy - others will require you to procure an outside policy.
  • Read the contract thoroughly and book!
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box

6. COMPILE A TEAM

It takes a lot of different people to make a show come together. First, check and see if your venue provides any designers. Depending on where you’ve booked, they may be able to provide a backstage team like a lighting designer that will walk you through tech and a stage manager who can run your sound and the actual show. If the venue doesn’t provide anyone, I recommend going back to your network. Post a status on Facebook looking for recommendations - chances are someone in your dance community either has experience in those areas, or knows someone who does. Consider hiring a photographer and videographer, so you can use the footage to promote future projects. Do you need a professional costumer, or can you work with your dancers to find an aesthetic from things they already own?

You’ll also need someone to manage tickets the day of so you can attend to more pressing matters. You may even want to consider finding an assistant (especially if you plan on performing!). Having someone else handle the technical side and all of the smaller details can help you focus on your creation as a whole. Will you need an extra pair of hands backstage, to help with props or quick changes? Lastly, you’ll need someone who can call the show - someone who knows the lighting cues, sound cues, and movement cues.

7. PROMOTE THE SHOW

Years ago, promoting a show used to mean hiring a press agent, taking out ads in newspapers or on television, and printing posters. While those are still very useful, we’re now in the age of social media, which means you can promote your show effectively and affordably.

  • Set up a ticket website on a platform like OvationTix or Brown Paper Tickets
  • Create a poster using a free site like Canva
  • Post it on your personal social media sites (and have your dancers post it too!)
  • Promote it on industry event boards and community pages - this is a simple and inexpensive way to reach a lot of people!
  • Make a program with bios, info about the show, and your social media handles
How to Produce A Dance Show for the First Time: Tech

8. PREP & TECH

Depending on the venue you’ve chosen, you will mostly likely need to plan a load-in and load-out. This usually occurs on the day of the show (or maybe a day or two before, if you are lucky enough to get a theater for more than one day!). You’ll need to plan ahead, schedule some time to pick up any rentals (lights, speakers, mics for tappers, marley floor), and install them in the space (trust me - that’s going to take longer than you think!). Then you’ll need time for tech rehearsals, blocking for dancers, lighting, and of course a dress rehearsal. Create a realistic schedule and stick to it as much as possible (get your assistant to keep you on time!)

9. PERFORM

You’ve done all the hard work already - now it’s time to enjoy! If you’re not performing, I would recommend watching your show from the wings - not only is it a great viewpoint, you’ll want to take your bow at the end! Make sure you have some refreshments and snacks for your dancers - especially if you are tech-ing and performing on the same day. If the budget allows, it’s a nice gesture to have some sort of post-show reception with drinks and appetizers or dessert. Not only is it good to thank family and friends who came, that’s a great time to mingle, meet people and grow your support base!

It takes a lot of trust

10. FOLLOW UP

Send a thank-you email to everyone who attended (...and perhaps include a link where they can donate to support future projects!). Finally, take any footage recorded from the show and create a promotional reel. This will come in handy when you’re ready to produce your next show!

If your head is spinning a little, it's okay, take a big breath - there are undoubtedly a lot of parts into producing a show, and you will learn along the way! We hope that these simple tips will give you a good head start into making your first producing dreams a reality.

About the author

Anne Luben has performed works by notable choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Bill T. Jones, Jiri Kylian, Idan Cohen, Alex Ketley, and Summer Lee Rhatigan, among others.