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 called ‘Aerofunk’–half aerobics and half hip-hop–at the local gym. “Atsuko really taught me how to teach a class with a thorough warm-up, cueing, and choreography.”

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.”

Linda Farrell shares how to find your “fit” – in Pilates and in life

When Joseph Pilates immigrated to the United States and founded his signature strength training technique in the 1920s, he emphasized a holistic, interconnected approach to physical well-being. Pilates focuses on core strength, proper alignment, and full range of motion. The exercise form has experienced several renaissances in the last century, but has remained a tried-and-true method in more recent decades as people have come to recognize and respect the science-backed technique that personifies the song, “Dem Bones” (“The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone!”). All of our body parts are connected and any imbalance in one area can impact everything else (#everythinghurts).

senior dance students

Letting them go with love: How to say goodbye to your senior students

The recitals, exams, competitions and conventions are done. If you don’t have a summer program running, the studio might feel pretty quiet. Too quiet. Saying goodbye to your senior students can leave you with empty nest syndrome, but know that you’re not alone! 

Seán Curran (department chair of New York University’s Tisch dance program) and Aram Manukyan (teacher at the School of Alberta Ballet and previous artistic director of Alberta Ballet II), talk about the seniors they’ve seen off, and how they deal with goodbyes year after year. 

Stepping into your purpose: A chat with Sheila Barker

“Gah, gah, reach–ball change. Now, one-two-three hundred turns!” If you haven’t already guessed, today we’re featuring the woman, the myth, the legend: the one-and-only Sheila Barker. Whether she’s teaching her weekly drop-in jazz classes, mentoring training program students, hosting classes for BDC’s annual Dance Teacher Workshop, leading her sought-after Summer Workshop, or just greeting everyone (by name!) as she roams the halls of BDC, Sheila seems to inspire every dancer she meets. 

Dancers stretching at Broadway Dance Center

Tips for summer stretching!

Summer sunshine! A time for pools, hikes, ice cream, hangouts and sunscreen. Maybe you take time off, find an inspiring intensive or fill your weeks with workshops. Yet the one thing we pretty much all have, at least in the northern hemisphere, and especially in NYC, is heat! And I bet that if there is one thing you love about heat is that it helps with your warm-up and feeling stretchy! 

You probably already intuitively knew that being warm is really important for getting more stretch out of our muscles, so you can totally take advantage of the warmer weather and get a jump start on sweating it out and getting your heart rate up to prepare for dance! But what are some other things to keep in mind to get the most out of your stretch? Here are a few things to think about for your best summer stretching!