In the words of 10-year-old Gwendolyn Smith, Encore Dance Studio’s fourth annual Toy Drive Recital is about “raising toys for kids who don’t get presents at Christmas, by dancing.”

Instead of paying for admission to the recital — taking place at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at the Seaside Civic & Convention Center — attendees are asked to bring a toy to donate to Toys For Tots.

In past years, this has yielded a giant pile of soon-to-be presents for families in need. Being able to generate such an outcome through jazz, ballet, hip hop and tap dancing makes the dancers “feel really special,” studio owner Denele Sweet said.

“I remind them of that when we are rehearsing,” she said. “When they realize people are coming to watch them dance, and they are helping other kids, it is really fun for them to take pride in that.”

Leveling up

Each year, the hour-and-a-half recital features most of the same music, with different skill or grade levels performing designated pieces. Sweet said they maintain that structure both because the dancers enjoy “leveling up” over the years and anticipating what piece they will advance to, but also because those who stay at the same level for consecutive years already know the routine — meaning, they get better the second go-round and the instructors can spend less class time teaching choreography.

“It is a nice win all around, where we can get some more technique into our classes without having to learn the new choreography every winter,” Sweet said.

The recital is also structured to be affordable for the performers themselves. They don’t have to pay recital fees or buy a specific costume for their numbers. Instead, they make their own based on what they already own, such as Christmas pajamas for the toddlers. The goal, Sweet said, is to make the recital “very economical and fun and festive.”

This year, the roughly two dozen dancers who performed at Disneyland earlier this month will perform these same routines at the recital. Hip hop and cheer students, who performed during halftime at a recent Seaside High School girls’ basketball game, will do their numbers as the audience arrives.

“We are going to let them be the pre-game show,” Sweet said.

‘Better than a movie’

For the dancers, being on stage is a riveting experience, especially as they absorb the audience’s response and feed off the energy. Smith’s favorite part is watching “all the faces getting excited about what’s going to happen next.” When people are not feeling their best, they may turn on a movie or some other form of entertainment, she said.

“Being there in real life is better than a movie, I think,” she said. “With all the music, the energy from the dancers comes to you.”

Kaydence Bagley, 8, said that when watching a dance performance “you’re usually smiling or laughing,” waiting for the climax of each piece.

She is excited for the audience to enjoy the recital. “It will make other people happy for the holidays,” she said.

Candy and cars

Additional community partners are involved for this year’s recital.

Under the Big Top toy store, in the Seaside Carousel Mall, is giving patrons a 20-percent discount if they purchase the toy for the toy drive.

During the show, the nonprofit Encore Performing Arts Foundation will draw the winning ticket for a 2018 Toyota IA, which the organization purchased from Lum’s Auto Center at a discount. For the past few weeks, the studio has been selling 600 tickets for the drawing at $50 apiece to raise money for the foundation, which provides tuition-free community ballet classes and scholarships for dancers.

Bruce’s Candy Kitchen also donated candy for the audience to enjoy “as a thank-you for coming and bringing gifts,” Sweet said, adding, “We have a really fun show coming up.”

IF YOU GO

Encore Dance Studio Toy Drive Recital

Where: Seaside Civic & Convention Center, 415 First Ave., Seaside

When: Friday, Dec. 14. Doors open at 6 p.m., performance starts at 6:30 p.m.

Admission: A gift to donate to Toys for Tots

For more information: Call the studio at 503-717-1637 or email encoregearhart@msn.com

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