Jamie Salmon’s got a gift to inspire

Jamie Salmon’s passion for ballet radiates from her every pore and shines onto each student she encounters here at BDC. With her virtuosic demonstration, careful hands-on correction, visual imagery, and historical and experiential anecdotes, Salmon has had many of her students grace the ballet, concert, and Broadway stages. And before their shows or in between contracts, these dancers come back to her ballet class because they know with “Miss Jamie,” there’s always more to learn and improve. Even dancers who for one reason or another begrudgingly make their way to the barre often discover a new appreciation for ballet—both as an art and as a practice—thanks to Salmon’s thoughtful, inspirational, and empowering teaching.

Growing up, Salmon trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts, SAB, Joffrey Ballet School, and Broadway Dance Center. Her first professional gig was performing with her ballet bud, Nicole Fosse, in a production of “The Nutcracker,” directed by Gwen Verdon and produced by Bob Fosse, who were like second parents to Salmon during her SAB summers in the Big Apple. She went on to dance with the Joffrey Concert Group and for TV, film, and commercials. Salmon credits her teaching philosophy to the mentors and experiences that helped to shape, challenge, and support her as a dancer. “Both my training and performance experience have influenced me tremendously as a teacher.” Salmon considers herself a “tough love teacher with positive reinforcement.” This, she explains, is a balanced foundation to truly empower her students with the encouragement and discipline to achieve their goals. “Every student and circumstance is unique,” she adds. “What works for one dancer might not work on another. You, as a teacher, have to determine the best way to reach that individual dancer—when to give a little extra pressure and when to back off in that moment.”

To Salmon, it’s an exciting challenge to teach open adult classes at BDC where students come from all over the world and have diverse dance backgrounds and varying levels of technical ballet training. “While I do love teaching at a conservatory, it’s just as rewarding to inspire a contemporary or street style dancer to find a love for ballet.” This gift to inspire was passed down from Salmon’s most memorable teachers and mentors (*see acknowledgments). “I had teachers that were so energetic, hands-on, and visual with imagery. That was very helpful to me,” she remembers. “As a teacher, I feel like I’m the new messenger—passing on the ballet history and folklore that came before me. And then, by sprinkling in my own personal stories, it becomes something new and personal. It’s very special.”

Salmon first began teaching at BDC back in 2008 and she still gets goosebumps walking through the halls. “It means a lot to teach at Broadway Dance Center,” she acknowledges. “I trained here with Finis Jhung, Evie Lynn, and Douglas Wassel. It’s humbling to be on the faculty amongst my ballet colleagues, all the incredible educators in their own genres, and then also part of the great legacy of teachers who have called BDC home.”

For Salmon, ballet will always always be the crux of any dancer’s training–at Broadway Dance Center, a liberal arts university, a pre-professional conservatory, or anywhere. “There’s a lot of talk about cross-training today,” Salmon says. “I hear about Broadway performers who skip dance class and head to the gym. Fitness classes might build your stamina, but they won’t help you perfect your pirouettes or heighten your extension. You need to get back to the barre.”

And ballet, emphasizes Salmon, is an integral foundation for every style of dance. “An arabesque is an arabesque no matter if its jazz, contemporary, or any other style of dance. You need to know the architecture of that position from ballet,” Salmon explains. “There’s something from ballet—whether it’s proper alignment, posture, quick and detailed footwork, or graceful port de bras–that can be taken and used to inspire in any form of dance.” She continues, “What’s more, there’s an aura about ballet dancers. I can tell the type of ballet training a dancer has had just by how they prepare at the barre before the music starts. You can tell by a dancer’s demeanor and the way they carry themselves. That poise and professionalism will translate anywhere.”

Then why do many dancers feel like they have to drag themselves to the barre? “If you only take ballet once a week, you won’t like it,” Salmon says frankly. “It’s difficult to do only once per week because the body doesn’t respond quickly to the very formal movement and rigid placement of ballet technique. It needs repetition…to be reminded over and over again. People think ballet is rigid. It isn’t—it has a very specific placement. You can find freedom and energy within those restricted confines, but it requires the discipline of showing up and working towards that…It isn’t just handed to you. I promise the more you do it, the stronger, freer, and more confident you’ll feel.”

Still, Salmon admits that ballet class is certainly not always sunshine and rainbows. “It’s so fascinating that dancers feel the most naked in ballet class. I don’t know why that is, but I felt the same way,” she admits. “That’s the barrier I want to try and break down…For my students to come to class dressed professionally, looking confident, and saying ‘Here I am!’”

“It’s about getting excited for the challenge,” she adds. “The people that go and climb Mount Etna don’t look at the mountain thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s so far. I’ll just turn back.’ They say, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m going to climb this!’ with the full intent of getting there. They are going regardless of their fear because it’s just so exciting.” As perfectionists, many dancers ascertain it’s better not to try at all than to try and fail. That’s when our egos can get in the way. “As a young dancer, I would hold myself back because I was afraid of making a mistake and feeling humiliated,” Salmon recalls regrettably. “It’s a false sense of pride that we’re supposed to do everything perfectly.” In class, Salmon often reminds her students that ballet is a never-ending journey towards an impossible destination. “Not being able to achieve the same standard as Tiler Peck, Misty Copeland, Mikhail Baryshnikov, or whoever you believe epitomizes the ‘perfect’ ballet dancer is not an excuse not to try to find your personal best. There are only a few people that can achieve those standards. Instead of feeling discouraged by comparing yourself, get inspired to achieve your personal best.” The art and the joy are in the work itself.

And that “work” extends beyond a few tendus and pliés at the barre. “While there seems to be a lot more dancing—and more people dancing—than ever before, I’m concerned about this new generation of dancers,” admits Salmon. “There’s a lack of knowledge about dance history. Kids are doing steps without understanding where they originated. Can you really express the dance correctly when you don’t know the genesis of where it came from? If you’re really interested in dance, you need to do your homework.

That homework includes understanding dance history and also taking proper care of the dancer’s physical instrument. “I notice a lot of dancers today seem very out of shape due to lack of training. That also makes you more prone to injuries.” To best aid her students, Salmon relies on visual and aural cues as well as physical adjustments. “Of course, I ask the student beforehand,” says Salmon. “But a little physical manipulation can be incredibly helpful in discovering proper placement in ballet—especially for more beginner students.”

@jaynaphotography

At BDC Salmon currently teaches beginner ballet, advanced beginner ballet, and pointe to wonderfully diverse classes of dancers from tiny hopeful pre-teen primas and seasoned Broadway veterans to hundreds of students from BDC’s professional training programs and many of BDC’s own faculty. At heart, Salmon believes a great teacher is one who looks at each student as an individual dancer and as part of a collective ensemble. “It’s like a family,” she says with a smile. “You—the teacher—have to nurture and mentor each student differently.”

Though Salmon isn’t performing professionally anymore, the qualities and skills she cultivated as a dancer have grown ever stronger in her teaching: taking risks, paying attention to detail, collaborating, inspiring those around her, creating, and being present in the journey. Most of all, Salmon hopes to encourage those abilities, values, and aspirations for her students. “The memories that most stuck with me were the hug with, ‘I’m proud of you. You had a tough day today and you didn’t give up’ or the arm around my shoulder with, ‘I need more work from you—You’re too talented to be getting in your own way.’ Those moments were infinitely more impactful than teachers who just tell you how wonderful you are all the time.”

“I was so lucky to have some truly amazing teachers in my life,” Salmon recognizes. “I am grateful for how they mentored, nurtured, sometimes babied, and often acted tough on me. I wouldn’t trade any of it.” She jokes that she’s a “torchbearer,” passing on the information she learned from her teachers and professional experiences—and selectively choosing what to bring with her and what to consciously leave out. “Because of my teachers who did it for me, teaching just seems natural …As many students as I can fill in my heart!”

*Salmon would like to extend her gratitude for her teachers and mentors, including: Dana Kennedy, Melissa Hayden, Margaret Thayer, Paul Mejia, Juan Anduze, Joan Saunders, Duncan Noble, Joyceann Sedimus, Meredith Baylis, Dorothy Lister, Trinette Singleton, Jim Snyder, Finis Jhung, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, North Carolina School of the Arts (now UNCSA), School of American Ballet, Joffrey Ballet School, and Broadway Dance Center.

Eric Jenkins on committing to your journey as a dancer

“I’ve always danced,” says Eric Jenkins. Whatever dances the kids were doing in his Maryland hometown, Eric was a part of the action. But everything changed when Eric saw the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” “I begged my mom to go buy the VHS so I could watch it over and over,” recalls Eric. “Even back as a kid, I knew to mirror the choreography when I was learning it!”

Music videos were a huge influence for Eric. “I loved Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately?’” he adds. “I noticed the same dancers would appear in different videos and dance backup for different artists. That’s when I realized this is a career…to always, always dance!”

And dance he did! “I’m the youngest in my family, and my bedroom was the smallest one upstairs in our house,” Eric says. “They would hear me stomping and yell at me to turn my music down.” In high school, Eric’s parents moved his bedroom to the basement. “I could crank my music and do all the dancing I wanted,” he laughs.

Though Eric didn’t take formal dance classes, performing and choreographing seemed to just come naturally to him–and people began to take notice. “In middle school choir we sang ‘Hand Jive’ from GREASE,” Eric says. “I was so into it that they made me audition for show choir (like glee club) so I could really dance.” And in high school, Eric blew his classmates away at his school’s talent show. “I became popular for being ‘the kid who could dance.’”

After high school, Eric attended the University of Maryland: Baltimore County where he majored in visual and performing arts with a concentration in dance. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Eric admits. “I didn’t understand the terminology. I thought ‘modern’ dance meant the stuff that everyone was doing now. So, I figured, ‘Oh, I’m ready for that.’ I was in for a rude awakening…but I ended up loving it!” In addition to modern, Eric trained in ballet, jazz, and African dance throughout his college career.

Eric made the big move to New York City after he graduated from college. “When I was new to the city, I had a job interview at The GAP,” remembers Eric. “I didn’t know the subway system well and I was turned away for being a few minutes late.” Disappointed, Eric popped into a nearby dance studio. On the call board he noticed an audition for Jeté, a jazz dance company founded by J.T. Jenkins. It must be true what they say about When one door closes, another one opens, because after being turned away from The GAP, Eric auditioned and booked a spot in the dance company.

Eric went on to dance for artists and in countries around the world. “I would scan Backstage Magazine every week for upcoming auditions,” Eric says. He went on to dance for the New York Liberty women’s basketball team and for a big Toyota industrial in Japan.  He also danced with artists like Brandy, Missy Elliott, and Ricky Martin. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Eric, who worked part-time at Au Bon Pain between performing gigs. “There were a lot of ups and downs,” Eric says. “Money in the bank, then no money in the bank. The struggle was real.”

At one point, Eric finally quit his side job, determined to invest more time and energy into his craft. He began subbing at Broadway Dance Center for teachers like Chio, Jermaine Brown, and Rhapsody. “I got my permanent slot–Thursdays at 9pm–on July 8th, 2004,” Eric smiles, having recently celebrated 15 years here at BDC. “My class is billed as Hip-Hop/Street Jazz. It’s a combination of hip-hop elements with a stylized form of jazz and bringing that together. I like fluidity of going in and out of both of those styles.”

Broadway Dance Center has been a special place for Eric both as a teacher and as a student. “Years ago, I was taking class and Travis Payne, Michael Jackson’s choreographer, scouted me for a gig.” In his own classes, Eric focuses on performance quality as much as the choreography itself. “You’re going to mess up,” Eric says. “It’s up to you to not let your mistakes hold you back. As a choreographer, you can teach steps, but you can’t teach passion. Don’t let technique get in the way of your performance because you never know what opportunities might be around the corner.”

For many street style dancers, performing for an artist is the ultimate goal. From experience, Eric knows that dancing backup is sometimes not all it’s cracked up to be. “There will be dark before you get to the light,” he explains. “Learn from your experiences and make it worth it. Approach each new job smarter than your last. That might mean you end up walking away from something. Changing direction is okay. Just commit to staying present in your journey.”

Eric practices what he preaches. Teaching classes and creating choreography every week can be challenging, especially when your job is to inspire an entire class of students every day. “I get inspired by music,” says Eric. “I listen to songs and don’t even realize I’m choreographing in my head!” But sometimes, when choreographing feels more like a chore, Eric watches performances from artists (like Missy Elliott’s recent show for the VMAs) or pops into a class outside of his genre. “I like to move differently every once in a while, with class from Cecilia Marta or Brice Mousset. It helps open myself up and feel free to explore in my own classes.”

In addition to teaching drop-in classes at BDC, Eric also assists with the International Student Visa Program placement auditions. “I imagine it’s overwhelming to be in a new environment trying to grasp the concept and choreography without fully understanding the language,” Eric says. “When I teach at these auditions, I try to lighten the mood and to communicate differently. Sometimes sounds and noises can tell you a feeling where a count can’t. I see the intimidation in these auditions, but I also see the joy. The students are so ready, willing, and open–it’s awesome.”

Eric’s favorite part of dancing has not changed since he was a little kid jamming to Michael Jackson in his upstairs bedroom. “I love being able to create, and then to see something you create come to life and make other people happy,” Eric acknowledges. “When you do what you love, you never know what kind of amazing experiences will open up to you.”

Finding balance in the journey with Carlos Neto

“I was at the airport in London getting ready to fly to New York City,” recalls Carlos Neto. “I was looking forward to teaching at Broadway Dance Center before I even landed in New York!”

That was back in 2013, and Carlos has been teaching Street Jazz at BDC ever since. But while his flight from London to New York was direct, those years leading up to 2013 were all over the map–literally! Carlos grew up in Portugal and spent the majority of his youth as a child actor on a Portuguese sitcom. He also studied Shotokan, a Japanese style of martial arts, from ages 7 to 19. He then ventured to Wales for college, where he studied journalism and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. That’s also when Carlos really began dancing. “I would travel four hours on the train to London every week just to take class. I couldn’t get enough of it,” he remembers. Carlos took to street dance quickly–much thanks to his background in martial arts. From a young age, he trained in self-control, discipline, respect, meditation, and style…Putting that practice to music just came naturally. 

Carlos on the Portuguese sitcom, “Medico de Familia” (1998)

Carlos eventually began teaching his own class in London (both as an excuse to get himself to the city each week and also as a way to earn a little extra cash as a graduate student). “One day, Simon Cowell accidentally walked into my class when he was looking for another studio,” Carlos explains. “The next thing I knew I was choreographing for ‘Britain’s Got Talent!’”

Amidst teaching and choreographing throughout the UK, Carlos couldn’t fight the acting bug. In 2012 he came to New York to study acting. “My teacher would say that dancers are the hardest to work with because they have a shell built up.” Breaking that shell wasn’t easy, but it ultimately made Carlos a more engaged performer. “Acting taught me to be okay with my mistakes and imperfections and to be honest in the moment. Being an actor isn’t a mask you put on…And the same is true for a dancer. I am Carlos when I’m dancing, and my technique is just a layer on top of that.

When Carlos officially made the move across the pond in 2013, he was amazed at how warm and supportive the dance scene was in New York City. “There’s a level of professionalism at Broadway Dance Center that sets a different kind of standard,” Carlos explains. “As a teacher, you feel valued and supported. You’re also incredibly proud.”

Humility, hard work, and respect are three qualities Carlos learned early in his martial arts training–and ones that he strives to pass on as a teacher. “It’s so important for dancers to have discipline,” he says. “Notice your body language when you take class, always keep pushing yourself to be better, do what the teacher asks of you, and train in the foundations of the style you’re learning.” Additionally, Carlos emphasizes how critical it is to put good energy into class–whether you’re a teacher or a student. “We all struggle and celebrate together,” he describes. “That’s a powerful thing.”

For Carlos, there are two main characteristics that make a good dance teacher: 1) staying true to yourself, and 2) balancing encouragement and discipline. “Not everyone is going to like you,” Carlos acknowledges, “but you can’t just spoon feed your dancers. To be a good educator, you have to empower your students to become better–that’s your job.” One thing that Carlos is not a fan of, however, is social media. “I understand that it’s necessary for promotional purposes,” he concedes. “But it often becomes a ‘fame game.’ Being a talented dancer with a lot of followers does not necessarily translate to being a good educator. What’s more, class should be a safe space and never feel like an audition where you can’t mess up or fall down.”

Carlos continues trying to juggle it all–teaching, choreographing, and acting, too. “It’s challenging,” he admits. “But you need to find a balance for you. At one point, I was teaching so much that I didn’t have the time or energy to do anything else. Luam once told me that sometimes you need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. I dedicated more time to working on my reel, getting an agent, and putting myself out there, and that’s when the bigger projects started coming my way. You have to invest in yourself in order to manifest your dreams.

Teaching is an important part of Carlos’s balance. “BDC is my home base,” he says, and no matter where else in the world his talents take him, you can bet Carlos is challenging himself, creating new work, and inspiring dancers with his passion and work ethic.

BDC hosts The Bob Fosse Master Class Series

We couldn’t get enough of the limited series, “Fosse/Verdon,” which aired on FX this past spring and scored an impressive 17 Emmy nominations and 4 awards including Outstanding Lead Actress (Michelle Williams), Outstanding Hair Design, Outstanding Makeup (non-prosthetic), and Outstanding Music Direction for a Limited Series. The television show, starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams in the title roles, explored the longtime relationship of director-choreographer, Bob Fosse, and dancer-actress, Gwen Verdon. Together, their joint careers lit up both Broadway and Hollywood in shows like Chicago and Sweet Charity and films including “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz.” The series was raw, real, and heavy on the drama. But most of all, it got us itching to dance that incredible Fosse choreography! 

Broadway Dance Center is honored to continue hosting The Verdon Fosse Legacy with the Fosse Master Class Series. Nicole Fosse founded the Legacy to promote, protect, and preserve the artistic and intellectual property of her legendary parents, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. One of the primary ways the Legacy works to achieve this goal is by passing on the choreography to younger generations of dancers through master classes. Legacy-sanctioned reconstructeurs (who either had the great opportunity to work with Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon or are hand-picked protégés of the Legacy) lead these master classes, imparting the original intention and integrity of the dances along with the iconic style and steps. “This work that we’re doing is so important,” explains reconstructeur, Dana Moore, who performed in such shows as Dancin’, Fosse, and the 1986 revival of Sweet Charity. “To be able to share it is precious.”  Recent Fosse teachers here at BDC have included Dana Moore, Lloyd Culbreath, Valarie Pettiford, Gary Flannery, Pamela Sousa, Cady Huffman, Stephanie Pope, Jane Lanier, Shannon Lewis, and Michael McArthur.

BDC’s 3-hour Fosse Master Classes offer a condensed but deep dive into both the work and work ethic that so defined what it meant to be a “Fosse dancer.” These classes are recommended for intermediate/advanced dancers over the age of 16. Students will learn choreography from both stage and screen in an intensive, encouraging environment. “The joy these dancers have in their eyes is the same joy I had actually working with Bob,” says reconstructeur, Valarie Pettiford (Dancin’, Big Deal, Fosse).

Our next scheduled class is with Gary Flannery (Dancin’, “All That Jazz”) on Sunday, October 6th from 1:30-4:30pm. Be sure to pre-register on our website and for Gary’s class and our entire Fall series of Fosse classes throughout October and November. Click here for more information.

Groove is in the heart: A chat with BDC’s Chio Yamada

“I started dance very late,” admits Chio. You’d never know. Dancers flock to Chio’s jazz funk classes whether morning, evening, weekday, or weekend. The energy is infectious and the groove feels so good. So how did a girl from Nagoya, Japan become one of the hottest street style teachers in the Big Apple? In short, by stepping out of her comfort zone and saying “yes” to the things that made her happy.

Chio did baton twirling in high school but didn’t start taking dance classes until she was in college. “My teacher from Japan loved New York and would frequently come to visit and take class,” Chio explains. “One year, she let me stay with her and I came to Broadway Dance Center to take classes from Sheila Barker, Sue Samuels, and Frank Hatchett. I was so overwhelmed with excitement…but I couldn’t keep up!” 

After graduation, when all Chio’s friends went off to “normal” jobs, she wanted to see if she could pursue dance professionally. “But I knew I didn’t have enough technical training,” she admits. Chio felt torn between whether to move to Tokyo or New York, but ultimately decided to go to NYC, even though it was far from her home and family. She dove into a 6-month training program that focused on ballet, modern, and jazz technique. “I also took a lot of street classes at BDC–especially Bev Brown’s class,” says Chio.

After the training program, Chio joined the dance team for the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklynettes). “The audition was actually at BDC!” Chio recalls. “That job gave me a lot of confidence as a working professional dancer.”

At the same time, Chio started assisting Bev and subbing for her classes. After about three years, Chio got the opportunity to teach for the Children and Teens Program. She was then offered her own summer class, and finally her own regular slot. “It was the very first morning street class at BDC on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 am!” Chio laughs. “Most of the street styles have class at night, but BDC had faith in me that I could build this early time slot…and it’s stuck!”

Chio’s class is all her own, though she certainly draws inspiration from her mentors. Chio’s first dance teacher in Nagoya was named Atsuko and taught a class that fused hip-hop and jazz. She saw Chio’s potential right away and trained her to teach an aerobics/hip-hop class called “Aerofunk” at a local gym. “Atsuko really taught me how to teach a class with a thorough warm-up, cueing, and choreography.”

In New York City, Bev was a huge mentor for Chio. “Her energy was incredible in every class,” Chio says. “And sometimes she would teach 14 classes per week!” Bev’s signature tough love was just what Chio needed to come into her own. “When I first started taking Bev’s class, she told me I was ‘plain’ and needed to find my funk!” Chio says with a laugh. “Atsuko taught me the basics, but Bev helped me to add my own flavor.”

Now, Chio teaches “Jazz Funk,” a fusion of her background in jazz, hip-hop, and even modern dance. “You have some of the same lines you see in jazz, but with the groove of hip-hop,” she explains. Chio also believes it’s important for street dancers to train in other styles. “Taking ballet and classical jazz will strengthen your center and make you a more versatile performer,” she notes. Additionally, taking a variety of classes is great for cross-training and preventing injury. “Nowadays, young [street] teachers often start class with choreography right away–without any stretch or warm-up. It’s important for dancers to understand how to take care of their bodies and to warm-up for class themselves.”  

At BDC, Chio teaches all levels of dance–including Absolute Beginner Workshops. “Beginner levels can be the most rewarding,” Chio says. “I have a lot of understanding because I’ve been there and know that a good teacher can really make all the difference.” 

It’s not just Chio’s grooves that get dancers coming back to class again and again, it’s also her patience, positive energy, and passion for teaching. “I teach class the way I want to take class,” explains Chio. “Even if I am having a tough day or feel tired, dancing makes me so happy and I can’t help but have good energy in class. I get so inspired by my students.”

Preparing for her full schedule of classes is tough, but it’s all worth it. “To be honest, choreographing doesn’t come easy to me…it definitely takes time,” confesses Chio. “I choreograph for the experience in class with my students in the studio–their enjoyment is my reward.  I don’t choreograph to show off my work on stage or on film. I do it to let my students show off their love of dance.”

“I get so inspired by my students,” Chio repeats. “In any class at BDC, you have people from so many different places. It can be a challenge because, as a teacher, you don’t know what you’re going to get in class. But that makes it exciting and magical because we all get to express ourselves, create, and dance together. Broadway Dance Center is so open and welcoming–it really feels like home.”

“My parents are very proud of me,” explains Chio. “They have every magazine article about me framed up on their wall! Still, they always ask when I’m going to come home. What they don’t realize is that Broadway Dance Center has become a home for me, and for so many other dancers, too.”

For Neil Schwartz, BDC is home

This year Broadway Dance Center celebrates its 35th anniversary. In those three and a half decades, BDC has trained and inspired thousands of dancers, and also cultivated professional performers and talented teachers. For one such eager student-turned-adored teacher, Neil Schwartz, Broadway Dance Center has always been home. 

“I’m the baby of the family,” says Neil. “I always mimicked what my siblings did, and I started watching MTV at a young age.” Neil vividly remembers being inspired by the music videos of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. “I’ve always loved female entertainers,” he explains. “There’s something so bad-ass and powerful about strong female characters.”

At 7 years old, Neil began taking dance lessons at a local studio on Long Island. A family friend recommended Neil train at Broadway Dance Center. The rest is history!

12-year-old Neil would take class every week from Bev Brown and Chio. He continued taking classes throughout high school before heading to the University of Maryland to pursue a degree in Psychology. “I knew I loved helping people,” says Neil. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt very lost.”

On a spring break vacation, however, Neil’s life completely changed. “At 21, I suffered a blood clot in my right leg that caused pulmonary embolisms in my lungs. I was very overweight at the time, and doctors told me I had a 50/50 chance to live. At that traumatic moment, I vowed to turn my life around.”

Neil’s health journey began with one simple thought, “As soon as I get out of the hospital, I have to dance,” he recalls with a solemn conviction. “I have to do what makes me happiest.” After graduating college, Neil returned home to Broadway Dance Center to participate in the Fall Intern Program (now the Professional Semester). “It was a huge eye-opener,” Neil remembers. “It was scary in a good way. It was my first taste of the ‘industry,’ and I realized I had so much to learn.” Neil trained with his mentors, Sheryl Murakami, Rhapsody James, Luam, and Eric Jenkins. He also credits ballet teachers, Dorit Koppel and Peter Schabel, for helping him accept and understand his body. 

It was during his internship that Neil also began choreographing for BDC’s Student Showcases. “The BDC Intern Program guided me in a lot of ways,” says Neil. “I realized my place in the industry was as a choreographer and teacher.” Neil admits he’s happiest when he’s creating, connecting, and inspiring others to be themselves. His goal…to teach at his home, Broadway Dance Center. The journey wasn’t easy. As a former student, Neil had to prove himself not only to the senior faculty at BDC, but also to himself. “It took me a year and a half to sub at BDC and another year and a half before I got my own slot,” he recalls. “Luam, Brian Green, Rhapsody James, Candace Brown, and Eric Jenkins all took my class. It was so intimidating. But I had the determination and patience to stick it out. I know that fight made me a stronger teacher.”

This year, Neil celebrates his 10-year anniversary teaching at BDC. “I don’t teach anywhere else,” Neil reveals. “I’m grateful to have been raised at Broadway Dance Center. This is my home.” Neil teaches all levels of Street Jazz, a style of dance inspired by the culture of hip-hop and fused with elements of jazz funk and contemporary influences. “I challenge my students both musically and emotionally,” explains Neil. “Music is like therapy. It impacts me in such a positive, energetic way. I encourage my students to connect to the music in their own way and to exude those feelings in their movement.”

Last year, Neil helped launch “BreakThrough: The Series,” an intimate, intensive workshop where dancers practice performance execution and gain confidence. “This was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been a part of,” Neil gushes. “We became a family in those two days. Dancers get the chance to be filmed, watch the footage, receive notes, and do it again. It’s an incredible opportunity to experiment, learn, and grow. I hope to host another BreakThrough workshop soon!”

For Neil, dance is all about communication. “Whether in the classroom or in an audition, it’s not about perfection,” he says. “I want to see your blood, sweat, and tears. I want to see why you have to dance–how you connect and communicate through your movement.” Neil’s ultimate test? “If my mom can understand, I know I’ve communicated through my choreography,” he laughs.

This idea of connection goes far beyond the “steps” Neil teaches in class. “I try to create a safe environment where dancers feel both challenged and empowered,” Neil explains. “For me, students are number one and I try to give my attention and energy to each dancer. I want them to know, ‘you matter.’” As a teacher, there’s no greater feeling for Neil than watching students achieve goals, push past limits, and break free from adversity. “I had a student once who told me my class empowered her to leave an abusive relationship.” That’s the sign of a truly great teacher, making an impact that goes far beyond the studio.

Whether you’re embarking on your own dance, professional, health, or emotional journey, Neil has the same advice: “Surround yourself with a good supportive system of friends and mentors. There is no shame in needing help. Dance can be the best therapy.” And remember that Broadway Dance Center is always your home away from home.

From summer to fall: Heading back to school fresh

It’s always a bit sad when we sense that summer is coming to an end. Perhaps you had an incredible experience at a multi-week dance intensive, or ventured to various workshops to learn new things, or maybe you had some down time with your friends and family. No matter how you spent your summer, it’s almost time for back to school, and back to dance. This time of year can feel bittersweet – you’re excited to start a new year of dance, but you’re also grieving over the soon-to-be-gone dog days of summer. 

Well, these Broadway Dance Center teachers are here to help you start your new school year feeling fresh and inspired! 

Summer hydration for dancers

Summer sweat: How best to hydrate during the summer

Alex Gonzaga is a professional dancer with Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre and also a personal trainer to dancers and athletes with Proteus Fitness. “I still remember years ago when I took the Atlanta Ballet summer program,” he shares. “I was 18 years old and straight out of high school. The workload during that summer was a lot more intense than I had ever experienced. With my limited knowledge at the time, I did not think hydration would be a problem, but it was. Right around the second week of the program, I had an unusually hard day, and down I went. Due to dehydration, my body just completely shut down. I didn’t pass out, but I got extremely lightheaded and had to stop dancing for the day. An older company dancer at that time introduced me to this simple hydration drink where you mix sugar, salt and water together. That was my first experience with dehydration.”

Jim Cooney: “Theater class should be a staple for every dancer.”

What does theater dance mean today? On Broadway, we’ve recently seen everything from hip-hop in Hamilton to pointe work in Anastasia. As a result, theater dance class can truly run the gamut when it comes to genre and even music. “A jazz, tap, or modern class will focus on specific codified technical training,” explains Jim Cooney, who teaches theater dance and serves as the educational department’s resident faculty advisor here at Broadway Dance Center. “In theater class, we work on storytelling, style, and musicality. You focus on communicating the story–what you’re thinking and feeling—through dance. It’s like an acting class, but instead of text we’re using movement.”