A wish come true: BDC alum lands dream job in ALADDIN tour

Carissa Fiorillo is living her dream—touring the country in Disney’s ALADDIN, the musical. Fiorillo’s dream of pursuing musical theater started at a young age where her dance teacher back home in Tampa was a former Broadway performer. After high school, Fiorillo made the move to NYC to attend AMDA (The American Musical and Dramatic Academy). “In that first year and a half I really focused on my acting and singing, so my dancing took a bit of a back seat,” explains Fiorillo. “I auditioned for Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester so I could refocus my energy on dancing and use the tools I had learned at AMDA to dive into the musical theater world.”

BDC’s Professional Semester (Pro Sem) was the stepping stone that turned Fiorillo’s dream into a reality. “I loved the movie ‘Center Stage’ and used to daydream about what it was like to be a dancer in New York,” recalls Fiorillo. “The program was not only technically challenging and incredibly informative, but you are in the presence of such a supportive, beautiful group of dancers wanting to take in as much as possible. It’s inspiring and empowering.”

The Pro Sem dancers took 2-3 classes each day on top of workshops, mock auditions, and seminars. Fiorillo also had to juggle her survival job on the weekends. But the schedule wasn’t the most challenging part for her. “I was terrified to step out of my comfort zone,” she remembers. “In the classes you take as a Pro Sem, you’ll probably do some of the most free, safe, and open dancing of your life. I wish I had used that supportive environment to take more street styles.”

In addition to technique classes, vocal seminars, and master classes, the 4-month intensive also includes mock auditions to help prepare dancers for the “big leagues.” “The mock auditions were a great time to get instant feedback from a panel of industry experts like choreographers, casting directors, and agents,” explains Fiorillo. “You certainly don’t get that kind of honest criticism and understanding in the real world! So, having experienced it in Pro Sem, I feel more confident in how I present myself.”

Fiorillo recommends the Professional Semester program to aspiring dancers just out of high school or college and ready to make the move to New York City. “BDC’s Pro Sem is such a safe haven in Manhattan,” she says. “You’re challenged every single day—sometimes multiple times a day—but the connections you make with your fellow dancers, teachers, and mentors will support you during the program and long after. Pro Sem is probably one of the smartest training programs I’ve encountered. I owe so much of my career to my experience as a Pro Sem.”

After her semester ended, Fiorillo danced as a Radio City Rockette®, for regional and international theaters, and in the national tours of GUYS AND DOLLS and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY—All of which, for Fiorillo, were dreams come true. “I’m a very determined woman,” laughs Fiorillo. “When I have a dream, I won’t stop until I realize it.” ALADDIN was another such dream. “My journey with ALADDIN was very long,” she emphasizes. Fiorillo first began auditioning for the show when it opened on Broadway in 2011. “I would go to every Equity Chorus Call. I just kept going in,” she recalls. “Each time I would get further and further till the end—dancing and singing and dancing and singing again, but I never got the phone call.”

Back in August, the casting director called Fiorillo’s agent to ask if she was available to fill an open position in the national tour. “Of course, I said yes,” she says. “But I didn’t get my hopes up. This had happened to me many times before and I’d been disappointed. I felt I needed to protect myself from getting hurt again.” So, to distract her from her nerves, Fiorillo went about her day—to work, to dance class, and to a voice lesson. As she was walking home from the subway, her agent called…She got the job! And—she would join the tour in just three days. “I immediately Facetimed my mom and my fiancé. I was so happy!” she remembers with a big smile. “And then I really had to get to work packing and getting my life together before I left town.”

Fiorillo flew to Washington, D.C. to join the company’s residency at The Kennedy Center. “This was my first experience coming into a company that had already been established. It was a major learning experience.” In a big rehearsal space on the top floor of the theater, Fiorillo learned the entire show in just 10 hours. “It was challenging to rehearse with just me and our dance captains—without actually feeling and seeing the cast and traffic and sets around me.” Next, Fiorillo had an early put-in rehearsal since she had learned the show so quickly. “The entire cast is called on their day off,” she explains. “You run through the entire show. They’re all in their street clothes but you are in costume going through every quick change and rehearsing your traffic backstage.” And for the next week and a half, Fiorillo watched the show from the audience and the wings before her opening night on August 29th.

“Coming into the company, I wanted so much to be validated—both professionally and socially,” Fiorillo admits. “But I realized that I didn’t really need that external validation because I felt so proud of myself internally. It was weird to be the ‘new kid’ at first, but you find your way and suddenly you’re part of the family.”

As if the show itself weren’t a dream enough already, Fiorillo really lucked out on finishing these last few months of the tour route. “I get to be in Tampa, Florida—my hometown—for three weeks over Christmas and New Year’s,” she says, beaming. “I’m beyond ecstatic to bring this incredible show to my family and friends. It’ll be a very special experience.”

For all the highs of being a professional performer, there are certainly lows along the journey—being away from your loved ones, getting cut at auditions, and working a few survival jobs to make ends meet. “The first thing I tell anyone is that if there’s any other career that calls to your soul, do that!” Fiorillo says with brutal honesty. This job is so tough and if you aren’t one trillion percent invested, it can break you. “Pro Sem taught me all the skills and technique and tips to be successful in this business. But most importantly, I learned how important it is to have a support system and to ask for help when you need it,” she explains. “Find people you look up to and tell them. Ask them about their journey, what coaches they study with, what classes they take, and how they get through from one audition to the next. Just start an open conversation. It’s so important to share our stories and connect with one another. We’re all in this together!”


BDC has three more stops on the Professional Semester Audition Tour:

Los Angeles, CA – February 22nd
Las Vegas, NV – February 23rd
Chicago, IL – March 1st

To register for an audition or learn more about the Professional Semester, visit http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com.

To keep up with Carissa Fiorillo, follow her on Instagram @carissafiorillo.

Core Work: A chat with Joy Karley

Joy Karley’s journey to Broadway Dance Center was a weave of passion, artistry, and (believe it or not) science! Karley currently teaches ballet, Pilates, and frequent foot care and extension classes at BDC and, while her trajectory may not have felt linear at the time, her resume is incredibly impressive.

“I started dancing in Cleveland, Ohio in those 3-5 pre-dance combination classes,” remembers Karley. “I had three older brothers and my mom wanted me to do something ‘girly.’ I took everything from tap and ballet to tumbling.” Throughout her adolescence, Karley trained at various studios including the Cleveland Ballet. “Back in the 70s and the 80s, dance scene was still a very abusive environment,” she concedes. “To my teachers at the time, I would never be good enough or skinny enough to succeed.”

With that invigorating mix of disappointment and determination in her bones, Karley decided to apply for college where she felt she could major in dance and train in a more supportive environment.

She was accepted to Kent State University where the dance program was, at the time, part of the physical education department rather than performing arts or musical theater. “My degree was a B.S. (a Bachelor of Science). But I didn’t want to take the science requirements, so I pushed them off to my senior year.” While exercise physiology initially sounded boring to Karley, she eventually discovered she loved learning about human anatomy and how the body works. It all clicked—She could relate that knowledge to her dancing.

Alongside her academics, Karley found a side hustle teaching fitness classes at local gyms. “There was no such thing as a ‘fitness certification’ back then,” she recalls. “All you needed was a cassette tape and some rhythm!” Slowly but surely, Karley’s interests began to dovetail.

“Still, dance in college is like dance—or any performing art—anywhere else,” Karley admits. “There’s discouragement everywhere you go. My advisor even told me to change majors!” But a lightbulb went off after reading a small Dance Magazine article about the Pilates method, a training program popular among dancers. “I wanted to help dancers get better at what they do,” Karley told her advisor. “I think you’d better focus on your studies…” her advisor replied.

That same fire was ignited in Karley again. “I finished my degree, continued teaching fitness, and delved into learning more about other fitness methods including Pilates,” she says. “At that time Step Reebok was brand new. I learned to teach Step from Tamilee Webb (“Buns of Steel”). She kind of mentored me about pursuing a career in the fitness industry.”

Karley knew she had more to learn, so she headed west to San Diego State to get her master’s degree in Biomechanics and Athletic Training. “San Diego had the biggest concentration of well-known professors and was where Step Reebok was doing all their innovative research,” says Karley, whose thesis actually contributed to the research and development for the step training manuals. “It wasn’t so bad to study at the beach either!” She also kept up teaching dance and fitness and freelancing with some small dance companies in Southern California.

After a stint in Los Angeles, Karley got recruited to work in fitness marketing in New York City. “The environment was very toxic and misogynistic,” she recalls. “I missed dance, so I started taking (and eventually subbing) classes at Broadway Dance Center.” It was here that everything seemed to fall into place. “I realize I’m doing exactly what I told my advisor I wanted to do—help dancers get better at their craft,” Karley says with pride. “To all the teachers who told me to quit, I’m teaching at Broadway Dance Center in New York City and empowering dancers to become better, stronger, and smarter artists.”

Karly taking class with longtime BDC teacher, Natasha Del’Elmo

“Being onstage is great, but I have had such rewarding experiences as a teacher.” Karley recounts one story about a former International Student Visa Program student who dragged himself to her ballet class because it was required for his program. “While the student was very resistant at first, after a few weeks he started getting really good. I would catch him checking himself in the mirror and clearly enjoying class,” she remembers. “When the program ended, he came up to me and said, ‘I want to thank you because you taught me about ballet and made me appreciate it.’ That makes what I do worth it. If ballet comes on TV and his buddies joke about it, he might defend it and say, ‘No, that’s really difficult. Those men are athletes.’ That makes an impact.”

Karley’s classes are popular amongst dancers because she teaches not only technique, but a deeper understanding of how the muscles and joints work to achieve each movement. “In my day, we were taught to just make your body do that. It was like Darwinism…the weak would be weeded out and the cream of the crop would rise to the top,” Karley explains. “I try to teach people from a biomechanical standpoint so dancers can understand their abilities from the inside-out and work with what they have to train and perform safely. There’s a lot of imagery in ballet, but some of it is untrue. Understanding what’s actually going on anatomically can make a huge difference in a dancer’s technique.”

Good workouts are the ones that withstand the test of time. They can certainly evolve, but they’re scientifically proven and aren’t just ‘trends.’ “Science behind it ensures you’re not going to get hurt,” explains Karley. “Ballet actually proves to be scientifically sound—You start with plies and end with jumps after an hour of warming up. It’s progressive physically.”

If you understand how your body works, you can avoid injury and get stronger. Dancers, like athletes, have a tendency to push through pain in order to perform. “The industry is getting much healthier,” addresses Karley. “Companies have physical therapists on staff and training programs are encouraging dancers to take control of their own self-care through classes like Pilates, yoga, and active isolated flexibility. Imagine how much longer you might be able to dance if you take care of yourself.”

In addition to a dancer’s core technique classes, Karley strongly encourages Pilates as a critical form of cross-training. “Pilates keeps dancers healthy and strong,” she says. “Young people think ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’ but you don’t realize how vulnerable you are until your first injury.” Pilates strengthens and lengthens the body with a sense of control and centering through your ‘powerhouse’ (core abdominal and lower back muscles).

Karley’s additional specialized signature classes evolved from her own students’ needs. “Years back I had a dancer who was planning to have bunion surgery,” Karley recalls. “I gave her a foot kit (sold in the BDC store) and, after using it only twice, her foot pain went away.” Karley got inspired to design a foot conditioning class to help dancers care for their most important instruments—their feet. In addition to her foot class, Karley’s other signature classes, stretching and improving extension, remain popular at BDC.

Over her years teaching here, Karley has noticed an ever-growing bad habit amongst her younger students: tech neck (poor posture from texting, gaming, or working on a computer). “These kids have the posture of senior citizens,” Karley worries. To combat this postural problem, she suggests four simple exercises: 1) aligning the body starting a the feet and stacking the skeleton all the way up to the crown of the head, 2) some sort of core activation exercise like opposite arm/leg reach, bridging, or ab curls, 3) an upper back ‘swan,’ and 4) cat/cow stretch to mobilize the spine. “If you can start your day with these exercises or do them before dance class, they’ll make a world of difference.”

To become an even more informed dancer, be sure to drop into Karley’s ballet, Pilates, and frequent signature classes at BDC.

Gender sensitivity in the studio

Being sensitive to gender identity in the classroom

Gender identity can be a sensitive topic. It is an evolving and ongoing conversation, and at Broadway Dance Center, it’s something that’s respected a great deal. BDC strives to make all its students feel comfortable as they step into the studio, honoring them in the way they wish to be seen, while simultaneously providing an appropriate setting to grow, discover and learn. 

We caught up with several BDC teachers to hear how they approach sensitivity to all their students in the classroom, and how that awareness can have an impact on the dance community at large. 

BDC alum kicking her heels in sixth season as a Radio City Rockette

Since she was a little girl, Alyssa Lemons always knew she wanted to be a dancer. Lemons excelled in her Dallas hometown ballet classes and was accepted to the University of Oklahoma as a ballet major. But when an injury sidelined Lemons the very first semester of her freshman year, she felt jolted and defeated. Over the Christmas break Lemons’ dad surprised her with a trip to New York City and tickets to see the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” And with that, the rest is history.

Photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden

Lemons loved the precision, glamour, technique, and athleticism of the Radio City Rockettes®. Suddenly, that twinkle came back to her eye. When she returned to college, Lemons switched her major to Kinesiology and began dabbling in musical theater dance classes once her injury had fully healed. She was stepping out of her comfort zone—and it was exciting!

In her heart, Lemons was ready to take the leap into the concrete jungle. But in her mind, she knew that she didn’t have all the knowledge and tools to succeed in the theatre world, having grown up a bunhead her entire life. So, upon graduation Lemons attended Broadway Dance Center’s Summer Session—an intensive eight-week program offering dancers diverse training of unparalleled distinction in addition to weekly seminars and master classes designed to introduce the tools and networking opportunities to help launch a professional career. Students take 12 technique classes per week, participate in mock auditions with esteemed panelists, and have several performance opportunities (including a final showcase) throughout the two-month session.

“Like most dancers first coming to this city, I was intimidated by the whole scene,” admits Lemons. “The BDC training programs offer more than technique classes—You’re encouraged and challenged to step outside your comfort zone, and you get incredible mentorship along your journey from the amazing faculty.” Some of Lemons’ key teachers throughout her training were Matthew Powell, Dorit Koppell, Jamie Salmon, Richard J. Hinds, Al Blackstone, Ray Hesselink, and Germaine Salsberg.

“I grew up a ballerina,” Lemons says, “and at BDC I realized I could do so much more. I felt empowered to take classes in different styles like hip-hop, tap, and musical theater.” Lemons credits her strong and versatile technique and her ability to pick up choreography to her commitment to take diverse and challenging classes.

On top of the Summer Session program, Lemons was also accepted into Invitational Week at the Rockettes Summer Intensive.  Doing double duty with the Summer Session and Rockettes Intensive made for a memorable, however exhaustive, first few months in the Big Apple. After Invitational Week, Lemons was asked to come back to Radio City as an assistant for the educational programs such as the Rockettes Experience and Summer Intensive. And, she also knew she had more training to do. So, she went back to BDC for the Professional Semester—a four-month training program that allows for an even deeper dive into all that it takes to cultivate a professional dance career.

Year after year, Lemons lined back up outside of Radio City to audition for the Rockettes. Instead of feeling defeated, Lemons learned from her college experience—choosing to use a new perspective and grow from the perceived setback. “When I would get cut, I knew what I had to work on, and I got back into class to keep getting stronger. As a dancer, you’re going to have hard days,” Lemons admits. “But if you have that passion inside you, that fire, discipline, and perseverance will get you through.” After her fifth audition, Lemons got the call she had always dreamed of—She was officially a Radio City Rockette.

Lemons, now in her sixth season with the Rockettes, emphasizes how much her training at Broadway Dance Center prepared her for the job of a lifetime. “The schedule was probably the most challenging part of Pro-Sem,” remembers Lemons. “You’re taking up to four classes a day plus a seminar in the morning and rehearsal at night.” That schedule built up Lemons’ stamina and work ethic for when she started rehearsals with the Rockettes—six hours per day, six days per week for six weeks! “Pro Sem really pushes your stamina and teaches you persistence,” Lemons adds. “It’s a skill—and a practice—to always show up and do your best even when you’re tired.”

The Rockettes rehearsal process and show schedule are undeniably brutal (we’re talking up to four shows per day!). “But it’s empowering to know you’re not alone,” Lemons says. “There are 79 other women standing with you. It’s definitely a sisterhood and we encourage each other through it all.”

“I still get chills,” Lemons admits. “To call myself a Rockettes is just mind-blowing. I’m so inspired by my fellow Rockettes, the entire cast, and production crew for the Christmas show because I know how much goes into it all. This is truly a dream come true.”

Now, Lemons is feeling the “full circle” moment—teaching the Rockettes Experience to aspiring young dancers like she was not so long ago. “You can’t train in this precision style anywhere else,” notes Lemons of the Rockettes training programs. “Whether you want to pursue the Rockettes or any other dance career, they help you in all aspects of technique and really show you all that goes into a professional job.”

When Lemons is on her “off-season” (i.e. not kicking up her heels at Radio City during the holidays), you’ll find her back taking class at BDC. You see a lot of professional dancers nowadays either hitting the gym or just taking classes they’re comfortable in. But for Lemons (and many Pro Sem alumni), why would you ever want to stop challenging, training, and growing? That’s not just a “professional,” that’s an artist.

“I would strongly encourage dancers to audition for Pro Sem,” Lemons adds. “It’s an incredible program with such a tried-and-true structure. You get technical training, mentorship, and master classes with top Broadway and commercial choreographers. And, perhaps most of all, you develop the work ethic, professionalism, and confidence to audition (and audition, and audition), work in this business, and never quit your daydream.”

BDC alum lands role in new WEST SIDE STORY film

Daniel Patrick Russell had the performer’s gene in his blood from the day he was born. His mother was a ballerina and his father a performer as well. “I grew up in Australia surrounded by art. I don’t remember a time where dance wasn’t part of my life.” When he was twelve, he was cast as Billy in the Melbourne production of the Broadway musical, Billy Elliot. He then got the chance to perform the role in the North American national tour. “My dad is from the United States and, years ago, performed West Side Story at the State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Russell. “I got to perform on that same stage when I was on tour. That was really special.” Little did Russell know that West Side Story would become a significant part of his performing career, as well. 

BILLY ELLIOT National Tour – Kyle Froman photography

After tour, Russell returned back to Australia and continued his training. Upon graduating high school, he received a prestigious dance scholarship to study anywhere in the world. Russell applied and was accepted to Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester in the summer of 2015. “Just prior to coming to NYC, I was working as a contemporary dancer. When I came to BDC, I wanted to eat it all up and take from every teacher I could—in every style of dance. I couldn’t get enough!”

That intense and diverse training has since served him well throughout his career. After Professional Semester, he performed in West Side Story at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. “I had the opportunity to perform the original Jerome Robbins choreography and it was incredible,” he remembers. That was just the start of Russell’s journey with WEST SIDE STORY. He went on to join the world tour as Baby John for 15 months. “Touring was a neat experience to see how the musical connected with different audiences from so many different countries. In Dublin, it felt like we were part of a rock concert! This show resonates with people all over the planet, regardless of language or cultural differences,” he explains.  “It’s an immense piece of art and a huge honor to share that on stage every night.”

WEST SIDE STORY International Tour – Zheng Tianran photography

More recently, Russell wrapped yet another production of West Side Story…this time, the highly anticipated film remake, set to come out in theaters in December 2020. “I can’t give too much away,” admits Russell, who just finished filming in September. “Justin Peck’s choreography is reimagined and genius. The director, Steven Spielberg, is incredibly gifted, generous, and giving. The entire creative team cultivated such an incredible energy on set that allowed the cast and crew to do our best work.” 

“The entire project was a dream,” Russell says smiling. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging or exhausting at times.” Hours on a film set can start early in the morning and go long into the night. “When you do a show on stage, everything is chronological,” explains Russell. “But in film, you jump around the story a lot and have to make sure your character is present and truthful in each moment.”

“The cast was incredibly close and inclusive,” adds Russell. “You wouldn’t know that when the cameras came on because we had to be true to the story – the two opposing gangs: the Jets versus the Sharks. But when the crew yelled ‘cut,’ we were like a big family.”

The original production of West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957. The Oscar-winning movie premiered four years later in 1961. The show had four Broadway revivals (soon to be five) and countless tours and regional productions produced around the world. The new film will be released over sixty years after the show’s original inception. Clearly, West Side Story is a story that continues to resonate with audiences. “The themes are still so relevant,” explains Russell. “It’s a masterpiece. At heart, it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of love, conflict, family, betrayal, unity, and hope is universal.

Filming wrapped in September 2019 and now we anxiously await what will no doubt be a spectacular film. So, what’s next for Russell in the meantime? “I’m going on vacation to Italy!” he tells us. “I’d like to take a moment to show my gratitude for BDC. Since I moved to NYC, many opportunities have come my way thanks to BDC, and for that I am very thankful.” 

Marnya Rothe photography

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.