First Dance Recital Essay Format

This week, stories from six readers who work in dance. Previously we heard from readers who work in television and classical music; in the coming weeks, we will explore the worlds of pop music, video games, visual art and more.

Susan Weber, associate artistic director, Berkeley Ballet Theater

I loved to dance even before my first formal lesson at age 5. But a performance that galvanized my understanding of dance’s possibilities was Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the “Corsaire” pas de deux at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles sometime in the ‘60s. Their connection was nearly palpable, their physical abilities shocking, their effect on me seismic. Nearly 50 years later, after dancing in Lar Lubovitch’s beautiful work in the 1970s, I’m associate artistic director at Berkeley Ballet Theater, sometimes assist Mark Morris at San Francisco Ballet and teach ballet at University of California, Berkeley.

Namrata Bajaj, creative director of Beauty and a Beat Dance Company in New York

Born in New York, raised in Africa, educated in Las Vegas, my true global persona has motivated me to be an inspired dancer. Growing up in an Indian family where girls were not pushed to pursue their dreams and be talented was hard. I was always the shy one in the classroom and never expressed myself. My mother on the contrary, had a burning desire for me to be outgoing and expressive. While I failed in most forms of art, dance for some reason felt natural. She kept putting me in different dance classes with different styles as she wanted me to find myself.

After moving to Las Vegas I was able to earn a certification in, Bharatnatyam, a form of Indian classical dance. Since dance was still not seen as a career in my family, I took up a job at a bank. Nonetheless choreographing pageants, cultural events, fashion shows, group classes and even children dance classes kept me so busy that I should have just made it my full time job.

I returned to New York in 2012. After seeing the passion for dance, my family finally supported my new and exciting choice of career. I soon started my next big venture Beauty and a Beat Dance Company. I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t for my mother’s push and dedication, I probably would be working behind a desk not loving what I do each day of my life.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Charemaine Seet, right, performing with Curtis James at Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2000.

Charemaine Seet, dancer, choreographer and founder of Seet Dance in Sydney, Australia

I was a 12-year-old in Singapore doing a school production. I was chosen only because I was the smallest girl in class and they needed someone for the boys to lift. It was a space themed crazily costumed extravaganza and I loved it. What I loved was the excitement of creating another world with people on stage. And because it was through the body, it was it more potent. It was like a new universe was created. And it was a safe universe for a shy child like me.

Being from a family with no dance background, it was a long search to find a dance teacher. I decided to go full time when I was 18. My traditional Asian family was not pleased by my choice, but after much negotiation I embarked on a degree course at the Place in London.

After a career performing in London and New York City, I moved to Sydney to open up a new style of contemporary dance school — one in which young dancers are encouraged to improvise along with learning technique. I wanted my students to feel comfortable in creating their own universe to express themselves.

Lawrence Leritz, performer and choreographer in New York

After taking my first ballet class with Michael Simms in St. Louis, he asked me how long I had been studying. He noted I had performed two pirouettes perfectly. I was embarrassed that I had stood out in class, but Michael quickly offered me a scholarship. To my surprise, I was soon in New York on scholarships with the Harkness Ballet and School of American Ballet. This new energy of dance had entered my life.

The joy I felt gave me no other choice but to gratefully follow. I was in awe of its gifts, both physically and spiritually. Soon I met and was inspired by such choreographers as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, Robert Joffrey, Ruth Page, John Neumeier, Tommy Tune and Sir Frederick Ashton, dancing with Hamburg Ballet, Chicago Ballet, Israel’s Bat Dor Dance Company, Paris Opera and as guest artist/choreographer throughout the world, including Placido Domingo’s Los Angeles Music Center Opera. I also saw Broadway’s bright lights, in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Fonteyn and Nureyev on Broadway. I eventually choreographed and produced the Off Broadway hit “Boobs! The Musical.”

The dedication and love for dance I learned from these masters who came before me is humbling and inspiring. The beauty of beholding generation after generation of dancers, receiving this gift and eventually sharing it with the next generation is breathtaking experience. For a kid from a small Illinois town of 10,000, it has been a magical adventure that can only be appreciated with gratitude.

Christopher Duggan

The Trey McIntyre Project performing at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in 2008.

Christopher Duggan, photographer in New York

I was transitioning out of the financial industry, and my career coach asked what I wanted to do. I said: “My dream is to photograph a dance festival.”

I wanted to photograph not only the dance on stage but the goings on: the people who attend, the crew behind the scenes, rehearsals and scenery. And I wanted to make portraits of the amazing artists. I loved dance, dancers’ bodies, and all the grit and sweat that goes into creating an event.

Years later, I met Nel Shelby. My soon-to-be wife had just completed an internship in video at Jacob’s Pillow. She would soon take on the role of festival videographer and introduce me to the staff.

Since 2006, I have lived that dream of making all the images I hoped I might. I’ve met inspiring artists, and I have contributed to the most prestigious and internationally well-known festival — affectionately known as The Pillow.

Art Shelby/NBC

Mary Martin as the title character in “Peter Pan,” the 1960 NBC television movie.

Sue Benton, teacher and creative director at Studio 44 Dance and Fitness in Westport, Conn.

When I was a little girl, there were two things that inspired me to dance. The first was the original TV production of “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin and Sondra Lee. It was 1960, and I was 3-years-old. I fell in love with Tiger Lily. I wanted to be her. I wanted to dance like her. Also, my parents were both very good dancers. The only time I ever saw them happy with each other was when they were dancing together. Only then did the tension drain from our home and I felt that there was hope for our family. I knew that my parents did not love each other, and I was terrified that one of them was going to walk out. But I can vividly remember watching them dance. I loved the swing music and the ache of hope that maybe they would stay together. These early experiences of finding happiness in dance have stayed with me and kept me sane over the years. Even in stressful times, I have been fortunate enough to be able to dance through sadness, into joy.

Guidelines for Viewing Dance and Writing Critiques for Dance Performances
By Myra Daleng, Richmond Department of Theatre & Dance
(printable version here)

Chance favors a prepared mind!  A mind is like a parachute; it works best when it’s open! The creative critic approaches each concert with open eyes and an open mind.  Do not go with preconceived ideas or compare one performance against other performances.  Each person will find a different aspect of the dance that is interesting for their own personal reasons and interests.

Guidelines for Viewing a Dance Performance:

  • When writing a dance critique, there are many things to consider prior to the performance. Who is performing? Are they professionals or amateurs? Is it a new work or classic choreography reset? Who are the choreographers? Are they known for other works? It is important to meditate carefully on the performance prior to seeing it so you can take as much from it as you can.
  • When viewing a performance be an active participant, don’t be a passive consumer.  Work as hard at viewing the piece as the choreographer did making the work.  Consult your program notes when writing critiques.
  • During the performance, there are also many things to consider that should be incorporated into your writing process. What style of dance is it? Is the performance experimental or conventional? What are the cultural implications of the performance? How do elements of the performance, such as lighting, scenery, and costume, enhance the choreography?
  • If a performance is very abstract, take as much from it as you can and strive to deliver your opinion of it as clearly as possible in your writing. Remember that there is no right answer since art is abstract and everyone responds to art differently.
  • There is a lot to take in when viewing dance, and it can be easy to forget aspects of the performance. It is helpful to bring a notebook and pen to jot down notes and initial reactions to the performance that you may forget later on. Also, write the paper as soon as possible after the performance to prevent a foggy recollection.
  • If there is a talk-back at the end of the performance, at which the choreographers and/or dancers answer questions and explain the performance more thoroughly, it is highly advisable to stay. It can offer you some insight into the choreographer's motivation as well as uncover some of the meaning of the performance.

Guidelines for Writing About a Dance Performance:

  • The opening statement of your critique should draw the reader in.  Be creative.  Tell the reader where and when the concert took place.
  • When writing about choreographers, always identify them by name.  Try to get inside the head of the choreographer.  What were the choreographer’s intentions and were they successfully communicated?  What do you think the choreographer was trying to say with the dance, or what did the dance say?  Try to have a thematic focus when writing your critique.  Were the themes of the individual piece clear?  What was the dance about?  Analyze the symbolism.  Does it relate to current events?
  • Discuss the choreography.  Did the choreography flow, what were the dynamics, how did it move in space and what were the motivations for the movements?  Make general comments but also include detailed descriptions.  Try to give at least one specific movement image.  Example:  “In another vignette, a woman seated properly, perpendicularly, on a bench, begins to tilt at an angle.  As her legs leave the floor and her torso leans to the side, both she and the bench seem to levitate a little above the floor.”  Vienna-Lusthaus (revisited); Reviewed by George Jackson: Dance Magazine, May 2003: 79.
  • What thoughts or feelings did the concert or piece evoke?  In constructing your critique, reflect on why you may have had certain reactions.  Always back up your assertions, positive or negative with concrete examples.  Don’t just be a negative critic; offer your thoughts in a constructive way. 
  • Comment on the music and identify the composer(s) and musician(s) when possible.  What was the relationship of the dance to the music?  Did the music play an important role in the performance?  Was the music live, pre-recorded or some combination of both? What difference did it make?  Did the form of the music influence the form of the dance or vice versa?
  • Were the dances well rehearsed and/or well performed? Support your comments with specific examples. Did the dancers work together well in the ensemble pieces?
  • Were the makeup, props (if used), and costumes appropriate?  Discuss the scenic design, lighting design, and overall use of the theatre space.  When speaking about any element of design, you must include the designers' names.
  • Comment on the overall production; give the reader a sense of what it looked like.  What was your reaction to the concert as a whole?  How did the piece or pieces connect?
  • Each critique should reach a conclusion regarding the performance.   


  • Do not write in the first person.  Your critique should be written in the third person.
  • Your essay, paying attention to grammar, neatness and spelling, should be as thorough as possible.
  • All critiques must have a title page, which will include name, date, professor’s name, course and the pledge written in full and signed.
  • The ticket stub and/or verification from the performance must be attached to each critique.
  • Only typed papers, three pages, double-spaced, in standard 12 font, with one inch margins on all sides, are acceptable; do not justify right margin.  Check your computer for margin settings. 
  • Student’s last name and page number should be included in the upper right corner of each page.
  • Critiques are due the second class following the performance.  Read other critiques in Dance Magazine, if necessary.
  • Tell the reader the name of the performance, the company or dancers performing, the date and place of the performance.
  • Identify the composer(s), choreographer(s) and title(s) of the work(s) you have chosen to discuss.  When writing about a specific dancer(s) identify them, when possible. 

Dance Critique Pet Peeves:

When writing about the subjects below:

Refer to male dancers, men or danseurs (if classical ballet) 
NOT men dancers, boys, guys or males

Refer to female dancers, women or ballerinas (if classical ballet)
NOT women dancers, girls, gals, chicks or females

Refer to a piece, work or dance
NOT routine or act

Refer to movements
NOT moves

Refer to live music
NOT live musicians

Refer to recorded or pre-recorded music
NOT taped music

Refer to danced together or in unison
NOT in sync or synchronized

Refer to the performance or the concert
NOT the show, play or recital

DO use both names ("Catherine Zeta-Jones danced well in Chicago" or "Ms. Zeta-Jones danced well in Chicago.") 
DO NOT use first names only to refer to dancers ("Catherine danced well in Chicago") 

DO write in the third person
NOT in the first person

DO NOT make general assumptions for the audience

DO NOT include title page information on first page of critique (name, date, professor's name, class, performance)

DO NOT switch tenses;
            Example when to alternate tense;
(Serenade was performed poorly yet it is a choreographic triumph.)
            Example when not to alternate tense;
(On Friday night the dancers appeared tired which causes the choreography to be lack luster.)

DO NOT identify the performers in a list from the program notes.



This is poor example of an opening paragraph because it does not grab the reader’s attention and only lists information readily found in the program. Also it does not provide the reader with any additional information or insights into the performance.  

At 8:00 PM on February 27th, 2004, Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, directed by Serge Diaghilev, performed “Symphonie Fantastique” at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy.  The choreography was done by Léonide Massine.  This ballet consisted of five movements.  The set was created by Christian Bérard, executed by Prince A. Schervachidze.  The costumes were designed by Christian Bérard.  Costumes for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th movements were made by Madame Karinska.  The costumes for the first and fifth movements were made by Madame Larose.  The ballet premiered July 24th, 1936 at Covent Garden, London, England, and was conducted by Efrem Kurtz.  Performing lead roles were, Léonide Massine and Tamara Toumonova. Also dancing were Tatiana Riaboushinska, Alexandra Danilova, Yurek Lazowski, Vera Zorina, Marc Platoff, Vera Volkova, Igor Youchkevitch and George Zoritch. Hector Berlioz did a great job composing both the music and the libretto for this performance.

Dance Critique Checklist:

_____ Title page including: student's name, due date of paper, class, concert critiqued, professor's name, pledge written in full.  No title page information should be included on first page since you have a title page.

_____ The ticket stub and/or verification from the performance must be attached to each critique.

_____ Student's last name and page number should be included in upper right corner of each page.

_____ Be sure to use one-inch margins on all sides in the text of your paper.  Check your computer for margin settings.

_____ Do not write in the first person.  Write in the third person.

_____ The first sentence of your critique sets the tone for the paper and should draw the reader in.

_____ Critique has a centralized theme.

_____ Critique has a conclusion.

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