Four-year-old Sumi Shah of Hicksville cried as she clutched the red wings she had worn moments earlier during her performance in the "Ladybug's Picnic" at the Ella Marie School of Dance recital at Hofstra University.
She wanted her mother.
Across Long Island, Mae Ann Ledva was also in tears, black mascara staining her cheek. The 17-year-old high school senior from St. James had just completed the dress rehearsal for her ballet solo at the Spotlight Dance Academy's recital at the Staller Center in Stony Brook.
Ledva started lessons when she was younger than Sumi. This was her last recital before she'll attend the University of Delaware, and, like every graduating senior at Spotlight, she was given the opportunity to choreograph a two-minute piece. Ledva, in a pearl tiara and white tutu, danced on pointe to the French ballad "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien."
"The studio's become my second home," Ledva said. "It's so sad to see it end."
Recitals are a rite of passage for countless young dancers on Long Island. The performances can be intricate and the costumes elaborate. And, of course, there is the intense pressure of appearing onstage in venues that may seat more than 1,000 people.
The recital is "our Super Bowl," said Lynda Gachè, co-owner of June Claire Dance Centers, which has more than 2,000 students in four schools. Its recitals are held on four nights in July at the Tilles Center in Brookville.
Recitals have evolved with the culture, said Michele Rosner, a co-owner of Ella Marie. "Look at what Beyoncé is wearing. Look at what Lady Gaga is wearing. They want to wear a showy, glitzy costume," she said.
Like many extracurricular activities, the costs add up. In addition to the costume, show tickets may range from $20 to more than $30 each. Then there are the extras: professional photographs, videos, ad space in programs to congratulate the dancers, bouquets and T-shirts with the year's recital theme.
Many parents embrace the ritual. Maria DeBlasi of East Setauket, whose daughters, Jennifer, 4, Jacklyn, 6 and Jessica, 8, performed with Spotlight at Staller Center, looks forward to the pomp.
"It's the payoff," DeBlasi said. "For the kids' sake, it's nice to have something at the end of the year that shows what they learned. To a kid, it's like you're on Broadway."
A PERFORMING ART
Spring recital planning starts the previous summer, with the selection of a theme, Spotlight owner Nancy Schmidt said.
Not every dance school has an end-of-the-year recital. Erin Lopez, the owner and artistic director of Variations, A Dancer's Studio in Huntington, said she doesn't do them because too much time is spent on preparation at the expense of learning.
Variations focuses on performances at community service events instead, and does a scaled-down "showcase" in March that features only classes Lopez feels are ready to be on stage. The costumes, she said, can cost as little as $11 each. "Dance is a performing art; it should be performed. That's why there are recitals," Lopez said. "But there should be a happy medium."
On Ella Marie's recital night at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse at Hofstra, excitement permeated the air. Dancers were signed in for the recital by their parents, who got a sticker they had to have in order to pick up their children later. Volunteers wore black T-shirts with SECURITY written across them in white letters.
Schools often have strict rules regarding how long parents must stay at the hours-long recitals (there is no leaving directly after your child's two-minute dance) and behavior during the performance (no videotaping, or you could be escorted out).
The rules are necessary, even if it makes some parents cranky, June Claire's Gachè said.
Parents aren't allowed to take their own video and photography allowed because "It's very disruptive, and it slows down the show," Rosner said. Her studio sells video for $55; at Spotlight, the video is $37.
When it was time for the Ladybugs to go on, Sumi and her five fellow dancers took the stage with two teachers, also in costume. The girls were wobbly. If they controlled their arms, they couldn't balance on their feet. Sumi turned a moment too soon. While running offstage, one girl blew kisses. The Ladybugs got huge applause.
At intermission, dancers 6 and younger were allowed to go home. Sumi's family arrived; mom Surbi Shah handed her a bouquet of pink flowers.
"You were awesome," said her father, Mihir. "Give me a high five."
Surbi said she doesn't mind that Sumi suffered a bit of separation anxiety. "It's her first time," Surbi said. "She'll learn."
Their gift to dance: Costumes
Teenage sisters Allie and Amanda Milberg have been dancing at the JAM Dance & Fitness Center in Dix Hills for 13 years. That adds up to a lot of costumes, and this year they decided to do some good with them.
They collected more than 700 costumes -- many only worn once -- from fellow JAM dancers, sorted through them in their Melville basement, and then donated them to programs or camps for underprivileged children. "It's like a clothes drives for dancers," Allie says. The girls also collected tap and ballet shoes.
The Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich was on the receiving end and will use the costumes during camp and year-round. "We're going to have a talent show. We're going to incorporate the recital costumes into that," says Bill Waters, child care director.
"From Our Hearts to Your Toes" hopes to expand collection to other dance studios. To donate costumes, call 212-872-7649.