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Solo savvy: your guide to costuming, choreographing, and casting soloists.


For serious dance students, large group dances eventually become second nature. They start to crave standout attention--a solo. Each year more and more students want the stage to themselves, but teachers must decide which dancers are solo-worthy and which aren't. Then comes selecting the music and costuming, choreographing the routine, scheduling rehearsals, and mending the broken hearts of those who didn't get solos. This is extra work for teachers, but their decisions can shape future dance careers. Read on for advice on dealing with the oft-dreaded question: "Can I have a solo now?"


It's important that all of the dancers in your studio feel a solo is a privilege.

The decision to approach the teacher for a solo should come from the dancer, not from the dancer's mom or dad. Of course parents want their children onstage alone--better photo opportunities! But the student needs to want to perform a solo and have the confidence to command the stage by him or herself.

While age helps determine whether the dancer is ready for a solo, it shouldn't be the deciding factor. It's important to also consider the dancer's skill and stage presence. Has the dancer proven she can handle the choreography? Is she able to prioritize without letting her solo overshadow the importance of being part of a group? Will she know what to do if she messes up onstage?

"We pick kids we feel can handle the extra time that solos require," says Jami Artiga, director of The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV. "We make sure that our group dances always come first, so if a student hasn't mastered those yet, we don't allow them to have a solo."

Not only does the dancer need to be committed to learning and performing a solo, he or she must also have support. Solos require more than just a few extra hours in the studio. They mean an additional costume, extra (and often steep) competition fees, extra rehearsals, and, oftentimes, an additional day at competition.

For dancers with promise, the extra effort and expense can really pay off. Commanding the stage alone is an instant confidence booster. "We have some kids we feel need a solo for their self-esteem," says Artiga. "Having a solo makes them feel special and some dancers need that opportunity to work with a teacher one-on-one."


Age plays a huge role in determining which songs, costumes, and moves are acceptable in a solo. You want to play to the dancers' strengths without being over the top, and any competition judge will tell you that appropriate material is key. Here's a breakdown for each age group:

Choreographing for Petite/Mini Dancers (Ages 7-9) This is the age when dancers can get away with being cute. Judges love a cheerful grin, well-fitting costume, and clean tap sounds. Keep the choreography to what the dancer can handle (no fouette turns here!), but don't be afraid to challenge them. "Dancers really develop during this period," says Artiga. "Keep in mind what the student can handle emotionally. What can a 7-year-old really portray with a lyrical routine? Young dancers just copy what you show them and don't comprehend the lyrics, so make sure you're giving them content they can understand and master."


Janalyn Memmott, the ballet director at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT, emphasizes the importance of letting young dancers show off. "Utilize any special tricks these kids have, like tumbling or a leap they can do particularly well," she says. "At this young age the most important elements in a solo are balance, lines, rhythm, musicality, and showmanship."

Choreographing for Junior Dancers (Ages 10-12) As dancers approach their teen years they want to look older, but you want to focus on letting them be their age--or even a little younger--onstage. The choreography will be more advanced as they get older, but you don't want your 10-year-old dancer wearing a skimpy outfit and dancing like a 16-year-old.


"This is the hardest age to choreograph for," says Artiga. "The dancers still look young but they want to start dancing like adults." Juniors probably aren't emotionally ready to start doing lyrical solos at this age, but it's OK to try out songs that don't highlight subjects they can't grasp. Your best bets for junior dancers are lively jazz and musical theater routines. Avoid any sexual or sassy moves, but don't downplay the choreography to the step-touches and kick-ball-changes the petite dancers are doing.

"The juniors are focused on doing multiple turns and including more complicated elements at this point," says Memmott. "Performance-wise, the routine should be physically and technically challenging."

Choreographing for Teen Dancers (Ages 13-15) Teenagers seem to mature faster than any other age group, which is why lyrical solos are incredibly popular for 13-15-year-olds. They feel confident with their emotions and their ability to portray them onstage. Just make sure you keep them from appearing too mature onstage.

When selecting costumes, it's likely that these dancers will want to dance in something more revealing. Maintain your authority by selecting a few costume options with the dancer and allowing the parent to have input in the final decision.

Choreographically, include the most difficult steps the dancer can handle, but understand that tricks shouldn't overshadow the emotional execution. "Of course you want to show what the soloist can execute, but the routine shouldn't consist of 32 turns and switch leaps," says Memmott. "The dancer needs to have depth and control of her body."

Choreographing for Senior Dancers (Ages 16-18) As dancers reach their physical peak and are finishing up their competition and high school careers, it's crucial to let them have some say in their solos. Involve these maturing dancers in selecting the music and costuming, as well as which moves they can master and want to perform. This is probably among their final performances on the competition stage and you want them to go out with a bang.

Memmott makes sure her senior dancers appear mature onstage, but she keeps an eye on tastefulness. "Maturity isn't a matter of being racy. Maturity is confidence, attention to detail, and acting refined. It is showing off your versatility," she says.

"Remember, these dancers, no matter how old they seem, are still minors," says Artiga.


Whether your soloist is taking the stage for the first or 15th time, teachers need to give them lots of support. Make an extra effort to accommodate first-time soloists by giving them a hug backstage or waiting with open arms when they come offstage.

"We compete and we love to win, but we also really love it when a child can grow from their solo, even if it doesn't technically score high," says Artiga. "if that child loved doing their solo, then we feel like everybody has gained a lot."
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Author:Feller, Alison
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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