Katherine Dunham: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.

Next up is Katherine Dunham.

Who is Katherine Dunham?

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was an American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist who informed her work (and namesake technique) with African American, Caribbean, African, and South American movement styles, themes, and other influences.

A dance student beyond the studio

Dunham was born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois to a French-Canadian mother and father with ties to Madagascar and West Africa. While she danced as a child, Dunham never envisioned a career in the arts. Instead, she followed her brother to the University of Chicago to study anthropology. After founding the dance company, Ballet Negre, Dunham was encouraged by her professors to integrate her academics and her art. For her master’s thesis, Dunham explored the ethnography (the study of culture) of dance through fieldwork in Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, and Haiti. She researched the material aspect, organization, form, and function of dance (for example, the use of dance in ritual and the evolution of dance during the African diaspora).

Bringing her studies to the stage

While Dunham was offered another grant to continue her studies, she decided to head to the coasts where she performed both on Broadway and in Hollywood films such as Star-Spangled Rhythm and Stormy Weather. But in addition to performing, Dunham longed to create. She revived her dance ensemble (renamed The Katherine Dunham Company) and toured her choreography throughout the United States and around the world. The Dunham Company performed on Broadway, in Hollywood films, on national television broadcasts, and in over 30 international countries. Despite their acclaim, the company frequently faced racial discrimination, receiving subpar accommodations and sometimes being denied any hotel options. Dunham refused to perform with her company in segregated theaters where Black audiences were forced to sit in the back or prohibited altogether. She brought several lawsuits to court in order to shine a light on the injustice.

Dance education takes a whole new meaning

In 1946, Dunham founded The Katherine Dunham School of Art and Research (later known as The Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts) in New York City. Here, Dunham cultivated her namesake technique—a modern dance style infused with ballet vocabulary and Caribbean folk movement. While Dunham Technique is a codified method, it is instilled with a philosophy: dance is a way of life—an integration of mind, body, and soul that has the power to transform people’s lives. In alignment with that mission, the Dunham School offered not only Dunham Technique and other genres of dance, but also classes in music, drama, foreign language, and anthropology.

Throughout her career at her school and with her company, Dunham continued to publish scholarly articles and lecture at universities and societies around the world. Even after retiring from the stage, she remained in the spotlight as a writer, educator, and humanitarian. For her incomparable contribution to the field, Dunham was bestowed numerous honorary doctorates and awards including the Haitian Legion Honor of Merit, a Distinguished Service Award from the American Anthropological Association, and a Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

A lasting legacy

Dunham’s choreographic, academic, and humanitarian work have inspired people around the globe. Her work lives on through Dunham Technique (which is often part of conservatory and collegiate curriculum) and through The Katherine Dunham Center for the Arts & Humanities and The Institute for Dunham Technique Certification.

Coles & Atkins: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.

Next up we’ve got Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins.

Who are Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins?

Coles & Atkins were tap duo known for their suave style and impeccable unison. Instead of showing off acrobatics and bold tricks, the pair mesmerized audiences with their cool, laid-back vibe and signature “Soft Shoe” dance where they performed a painstakingly slow and hypnotically smooth routine in perfect harmony—a talent that is especially challenging for tap dancers who need to not only match the physical movements of their partner but also the exact sound and quality of the taps.

Before they were a team

Charles “Honi” Coles (1911-1992) grew up in Philadelphia where he learned to tap on the streets, challenging neighborhood kids to dance duels—and usually winning. As a young adult, Coles moved to New York City to perform as part of vaudevillian troupe, “The Three Millers.” But when the other two dancers sought to replace Coles, he decided to prove them wrong by perfecting his technique and amping up his performance. When Coles returned to the NYC dance scene, he was hailed for his graceful style and incredibly fast feet. He performed with “The Lucky Seven Trio” and as a soloist for Cab Calloway’s orchestra before pairing up with Cholly Atkins (*read more about Coles & Atkins below). After their career as a duo, Coles worked as production manager for the Apollo Theater, served as president of the Negro Actors Guild, co-founder of the Copasetics (a tap ensemble honoring Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), and won both a Tony and Drama Desk award for his performance in Broadway’s My One and Only. Later in his life, Coles was bestowed a Dance Magazine Award, Capezio Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance, and National Medal for the Arts to honor his lasting legacy in tap dance.

Honi as Tito, the bandleader, in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing

Charles “Cholly” Atkins (1913-2003) was born in Pratt City, Alabama and moved to Buffalo, New York with his family at the age of seven. Atkins grew up performing in his school’s musicals and, as a teenager, worked as a singing waiter. He and coworker, William Porter, partnered up to form the song-and-dance act, “Two Rhythm Pals.” Atkins went on to dance with Dotty Saulters before pairing up with Honi Coles (*read more about Coles & Atkins below). Throughout his performance career, Atkins also choreographed and coached behind-the-scenes. He was named staff choreographer at Motown Records and staged acts for stars like the Temptations, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and the Supremes. He also won a Tony Award (shared with Fayard Nicholas, Frankie Manning, and Henry LeTang) for his choreography in the Broadway show, Black and Blue. In 1993, Atkins was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship to teach vocal choreography (staging for vocal artists and singing groups) in colleges and universities.

A “class act”

Coles & Atkins won over audiences with their elegance, charm, and no-fail formula—beginning with a fast-paced song-and-dance number, followed by their trademark soft-shoe, and ending with an impressive dance challenge where each performer one-ups the other with their very best moves. The dynamic duo performed throughout the Las Vegas show circuit, with the big bands of Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Billy Eckstine, and Count Basie, and on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Coles & Atkins were considered a “class act”–the cream-of-the-crop tap dancers—and their signature style continues to influence and inspire tap dancing today.

Don Campbell: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.

Next up is Don Campbell.

Who is Don Campbell?

Don “Campbellock” Campbell (1951-2020) was an American dancer and choreographer famous for developing “locking” and performing with his dance troupe, The Lockers.

What is locking?

Locking is a style of hip hop in which a dancer freezes or “locks” for a brief moment before returning to fast-paced, fluid movement.

Discovering dance in La La Land

Similar to Janet Collins, Campbell grew up with an affinity for art—specifically sketching and drawing—and discovered his love for dance after moving to Los Angeles for college. He was a regular in the dance club scene gaining recognition for winning contest after contest and beginning to cultivate his signature dance, “The Campbellock” (what we now refer to as “locking”). Campbell’s reputation and suave style landed him a featured dancer role on the hit television series, “Soul Train,” a nationally-broadcast musical variety show featuring primarily Black performing artists.

A pivot to be proud of

Despite two years on “Soul Train,” Campbell was let go after asking that the dancers get paid. Many other dancers were removed from the show for the same reason, so Campbell banded the group together to form The Lockers” (originally “The Campbellockers”). This new dance troupe consisted of Fred Berry, Toni Basil (co-founder), Adolfo “Shabadoo” Quinones, Bill “Slim The Robot,” Williams Fred “Mr. Penguin,” Berry Leo “Fluky Luke” Williamson, and Greg “Campbellock, Jr.” Once tossed aside by “Soul Train” for standing up for dancers’ rights, Campbell and The Lockers swiftly rose to stardom of their own, performing with top celebrity entertainers and on shows including The Carol Burnett Show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Carson, The Oscars, The Grammys, and Saturday Night Live.

A lasting legacy

While The Lockers disbanded amicably in the 1980s, Campbell and his signature style of dance grew ever more popular. Many of his original steps can be seen in music videos by Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, N’SYNC, Busta Rhymes, and Michael Jackson, to name just a few. Campbell went on to become an international hip hop educator and ambassador, teaching, lecturing, and inspiring dancers all over the world. 

Campbell’s passion and creative innovation are eternal and will continue to influence the evolution of not only hip hop, but all performing arts. 

Janet Collins: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.

First up is Janet Collins.

Who is Janet Collins?

Janet Collins (1917-2003) was the first Black prima ballerina to dance at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House.

Growing up amid adversity

Collins was born in New Orleans in 1917 and moved to Los Angeles with her family for the majority of her childhood. She divided her time between ballet and painting and attended the Los Angeles Art Center School and Los Angeles City College. Collins initially took ballet lessons at the local Catholic community center and then trained under Carmelita Maracci, allegedly one of the few teachers accepting Black students at the time. When she was just 15, Collins auditioned for and was accepted to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. However, she turned down the opportunity after being told she would have to wear lighter makeup to try and pass as white. 

Making career moves

Collins eventually made the move to New York City, having saved money from selling her artwork. She performed with Katherine Dunham and Lester Horton’s dance troupes, in films including Stormy Weather and Jack Cole’s The Thrill of Brazil, and on Broadway in Cole Porter’s Out of This World. She also began to choreograph and perform her own work throughout the city. And people were taking notice—Collins won the Donaldson Award (for best dancer on Broadway) and Dance Magazine dubbed her “the most outstanding debutante of the season.” 

In 1951, Collins was invited to join the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company. She was not only the first Black dancer to join the company, but also the first Black artist to perform on the Met stage. Collins danced with the Met until 1954, performing leading roles in ballets such as Aida and Carmen and garnering notable reviews from critics and audiences alike. Collins’ former partner, Loren Hightower, told Dance Magazine, “You could show Janet a movement, and immediately it became something that nobody else could do. But she did not alter it. It was as if Janet looked inward, and a strange power that she had seemed to come from there…it was magic, hypnotic. It was totally intuitive, and when anything is that unadornedly genuine, it’s absolutely compelling.”

Discrimination on the road

Despite her prima status, Collins experienced racism when the Met Ballet Company toured throughout the United States. In several cities, Collins’ understudy had to perform her leading roles, and she was not welcome in many hotels and restaurants. In response, the company threatened not to return to venues that practiced such segregation. Just as in her teen years, Collins rose above, committing herself to her own artistic excellence and allowing her performance onstage to speak for itself. 

Beyond the stage

After her career with the Met, Collins went on to establish her own dance troupe and choreographed for companies including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the San Francisco Opera. She taught at the School of American Ballet, Marymount Manhattan College, San Francisco Ballet, the Harkness House, and St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf, always empowering her students to grow as artists and teaching them to accept nothing short of excellence. Collins passed away in 2003, but her legacy—both on stage and off—paved the way for future generations of Black dancers and continues to inspire and inform choreographers, educators, and audiences today. 

BDC Online inspires the world to dance…from home!

We understand that virtual classes may sound strange at first, but our online platform has incredible benefits. And trust us, we can’t wait to be back together dancing in the studio, but now, no matter where you are in the world, you can train with BDC’s esteemed faculty. Explore new teachers, styles, and classes from the comfort of your own home, and challenge yourself to grow as an artist.

We spoke with several dancers who are loving BDC Online livestream classes—So much so that they wanted to share their experiences with you!

Mia Davidson
Queens, NY
“I’ve created a mini dance studio in my basement. I even put down a piece of Marley floor so I can dance in my character shoes. This is just an intermission. Keep working, keep growing, and keep crafting your art.Designate a time and space for you to not only sharpen your skills in dance but to move your body freely.”

Anna Hiran
Los Angeles, CA
“Training online has been a discovery process for me. I love taking from teachers like Sheila Barker, Ginger Cox, and Lane Napper. They make sure to give constructive feedback and ensure everyone’s still on top of their training. It truly heightens the virtual experience. This is also a great opportunity to explore classes you might have been nervous to try in-person at the studio. Now is the perfect time to focus on growing as a versatile dancer because you have access to all these different classes, styles, and teachers at the tip of your fingers while in the comfort of your own home. BDC is an all-styles studio, so use this time to train as an all-styles dancer!”

Luke Opdahl
Saskatchewan, Canada
“As a musical theatre actor, I’ve been taking theatre jazz classes online with Lizz Picini, Ricky Hinds, Parker Esse, and Al Blackstone. They all have such passion for teaching and always challenge me as a performer. Being from Canada, it’s amazing to have the opportunity to take class from BDC’s incredible faculty. They have given me a sense of community when it initially felt like theatre and the arts were gone. BDC’s online classes have helped me to stay inspired as a performing artist.”

Alex Scott
Chester County, PA
“I love being able to see friends and familiar faces through BDC’s online classes. It keeps me feeling connected to others even though we can’t be in the studio together. I’ve been training with Lizz Picini, Josh Assor, and Marc Kimelman. Take classes and teachers that make you feel good. Times are hard right now, and we are so lucky to have this as an outlet to refuel and connect through this virtual platform.

Callie Volley
Orlando, FL
“Last year I was able to take class at Broadway Dance Center and I was planning to visit NYC again before quarantine happened. I was thrilled when I found out that BDC started offering online classes. All I have to do is walk downstairs to my living room, log on to Zoom, and dance with some of my favorite teachers like Carlos Neto and Robert Taylor Jr. BDC’s virtual classes have given me something to look forward to every day.” 

Check out our livestream class schedule at www.broadwaydancecenter.com. Get inspired, stay connected, continue training, and keep dancing with us—no matter where you are!

BDC’s Online Training Programs inspire dancers to train from anywhere

The Fall is just around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to ramp up your dance training through Broadway Dance Center’s Online Fall Program and Online Musical Theater Program. These incredible virtual programs offer dancers from around the world the opportunity to train intensively with Broadway Dance Center’s esteemed faculty. Experienced dancers ages 18-35 choose a dedicated track (Theater, Contemporary, or Street Styles), take seven virtual classes per week from BDC’s ever-growing online class roster, participate in weekly master classes and professional development seminars, and get paired with a personal mentor from the BDC faculty.

We can’t wait to be back, dancing together in the studio. In the meantime, BDC’s new online programs offer dedicated dancers the chance to improve their technique, study with some of the industry’s leading dance educators, work with an industry-expert mentor, connect with dancers from all over the globe, and get reinspired in their artform. But don’t take our word for it…Here’s what BDC’s Online Summer Program alumni have to say:

BDC: Why did you decide to enroll in BDC’s Online Summer Program?

Devin Alexander (Toronto, Canada): I chose to enroll in BDC’s Online Summer Program because I thought that it would be a great networking opportunity. As a Canadian performer, it can sometimes be difficult to get down to New York on a regular basis and take classes from and develop relationships with the people who are currently working in the US industry. Due to the virtual nature of this program, I have been lucky enough to be able to do just that!

Devin Alexander

BDC: How did you prepare for the Online Summer Program each day? 

Ricole Beaubian (New York, New York): Initially, I wrote out three short term goals that I hoped to achieve by the end of this four-week program, three midterm goals that I hope to achieve within two to three years, and one long term goal. To physically prepare for class, I set up my living room as a studio by rolling up the placement rugs, sweeping the floor, and removing any shoes off the “studio floor.” To further mentally put myself in the space to dance, I dressed professionally and appropriately for each class; I wore tights/a leotard for ballet and cargo pants/clothes that had a looser fitting for a street style class. After each class—during the entire four weeks—I continued to go over the movement, explored my own intention and connection the movement, and then either called someone via FaceTime or recorded myself to become acquainted with the idea of dancing on camera.

Ricole Beaubian

BDC: What were benefits to your virtual dance classes/program?

Delaney Burke (Brielle, New Jersey): Doing this program has given me so much opportunity to grow as dancer and a human being. Getting feedback from a mentor is invaluable. I was able to show my mentor who I am and she gave me incredibly caring, thoughtful and constructive criticism. I have the utmost respect for my mentor and just because the program is over doesn’t mean her mentorship has ended. I am so grateful for her and her unending, loving support. Cultivating relationships with other teachers is also something that makes this program so valuable. It’s amazing how when you have the time to invest in going to class week after week what you can learn from someone in a short amount of time and how they can spark your inspiration. I also got to meet so many wonderful young artists from around the world—some in which I would never have had the opportunity to connect with if it weren’t for this virtual program. I feel like I made genuine friendships and I am invested in watching my fellow artists grow. One person I met has pushed me so much, challenging me to keep growing—We actually took each other’s mentor’s classes during this program and we were in different concentrations, she focused on contemporary and I focused on theatre. And now, I am so in love with contemporary—a style I had never tried before this. The support of the online community was incredible. All of this is what keeps me so fueled to come back and keep pushing myself, loving myself and my journey. I am so happy that I decided to do this program and I will be auditioning again for the next program!

Delaney Burke

BDC: Who was your mentor and how did they guide your growth over the past month?

DA: My mentor for the program was Parker Esse (Oklahoma!, Crazy For You, Westside Story), who was a generous and knowledgeable resource for us. Whether it was giving me advice about breaking into the US industry as a Canadian or offering feedback on my videos from previous classes I had taken, Parker always had incredible insight for each of our individual situations and experiences.

BDC: Was there a specific moment that was particularly memorable for you?

DB: There were so many fabulous things in this program, but one thing that stood out to me would have to be when we had our first masterclass with the one and only Sheila Barker (Master Teacher, BDC Faculty Advisory Board Chairperson). If you have never taken class with her, all I will say is change that immediately! Everything she says will change or challenge how you see yourself, how you show up for yourself, and how you make the absolute most of your time in class. One specific thing I took away from this class was when Sheila said, “You learn the most in classes that challenge you.” It took me until that day to see the difference in saying “omg that class is hard” to “omg that class! What a push that helped elevate my level in some capacity.” Hearing it from Sheila made me realize just because I’m not perfecting the dance or am the most successful with the combo doesn’t mean the class had less value. It means that we were pushed and given the chance to elevate and become more – what else could you possibly want?!

BDC: Did any particular teachers really guide your training/inspire you throughout the program?

RB: Maleek Washington (Sleep No More, NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Camille A. Brown and Dancers) was my mentor during this program and he left me feeling very inspired. With a group of about eight other students, we had discussions with Maleek about our goals and aspirations moving forward into our careers as professional dancers and teachers. I truly appreciated Maleek’s insightfulness and encouragement, while speaking from his perspective and experiences within the industry. A personal goal I have is to continue to discover ways that I can shift my movement effectively from a sense of an internal connection to an external connection. A big take away from my time working with Maleek was to consider the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of movement/a phrase as I am executing the steps. I recall Maleek emphasizing that focusing on the “who, what, when, where, why, and how,” not only visually shows the steps, but makes the movement more impactful, authentic, honest, and believable. I look forward to continuing to learn from his classes and potentially working with him in the future!

BDC: Did you learn anything about yourself through this month-long program?

DB: Oh boy did I ever! This month was very eye-opening. While specific dance notes were so important to help me work on my goal, even more importantly, I was able to take a step away from those notes and really learn how to look at myself with loving eyes. I realize being so eager for growth can take you away from being kind to yourself. Being able to reflect no only within myself but also with another person helped me realize how being kind to yourself is vital for change. I learned that instead of getting frustrated with my shortcomings, I need to ask myself why this is happening, what is keeping me from being successful, how can I acknowledge it and forgive myself for feeling less than, and then make an adjustment from there. I have truly experienced a shift in my mindset, and it has helped me take control over accepting the forever work-in-progress that I am.

BDC: How did your opinion of virtual dance classes change from the start of the program to the end?

DA: I had been taking various online classes before the program began so I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on how things were being run. However, something that I didn’t realize was how this type of training program allows dancers to really develop. By training through this online platform, I’ve utilized taping myself in order to self-correct my execution of the choreography. It has allowed me to begin to understand the notes that I’ve been getting for years on a more personal level and how I can modify my movement in order to execute the choreography to my fullest potential.

BDC: What would you say to a dancer who is thinking about enrolling in one of BDC’s online programs?

RB: To a dancer thinking about enrolling in BDC’s Online Fall Program, I would tell you that you get as much out of the experience as you put into it! I would encourage you to write down your short-term/midterm/long-term goals as a way to set yourself up for success. Be consistent with your training, dress for each class as if you were in the studio, and stay honest with yourself. Continue to explore the movement you’re given within a class even after the class ends. Learn from as many instructors as you can and be sure to take at least one class a week that is just for fun!

To apply to or learn more about BDC’s Online Programs, visit http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com.

Why Lizz Picini is a unicorn

If you’re a musical theater dancer, you know the name Lizz Picini. Whether you take Ricky Hinds’ class next to her, audition for her at Pearl Studios, perform with her at a regional theater, hear her name called back at an ECC, or take her class at Broadway Dance Center, it’s clear that Picini has become what the industry calls a “unicorn” – someone who magically wears multiple hats on any given project.

BDC was able to catch a quick call with Picini, who is currently performing in and serving as associate choreographer for CHICAGO down at the Maltz Jupiter Theater in Florida. “I started dance because I liked dressing up in costumes,” she laughs. “Though honestly, it’s truly a miracle that I do this for a living.” Picini was born premature with underdeveloped hips. Her doctor had her wear triple diapers to realign her femurs in her hip sockets. “I’m lucky to be able to walk, let alone to dance! It’s a reminder to be grateful for this gift.”

Picini continued dance throughout her youth—mainly focusing on ballet and pointe work. She also sang in her church choir and studied piano from her mom. After high school she attended Towson University, known for their strong technical dance program, to obtain her BFA. “I studied Dance Performance and Education,” she explains. “I took all the education curriculum but ended up dropping that secondary focus. I never thought I was going to teach…I just wanted to perform!” (We’ll come back to that irony later)

Just four days after graduation, Picini moved to New York City to participate in Broadway Dance Center’s Summer Summer Session. “Towson was fantastic for concert dance training, but I felt BDC’s SIP would help bridge the gap between college and the professional world.”

Dirty Sugar Photography

“I vividly remember that first day at BDC,” Picini recalls. “There were 75 summer interns! I was intimidated by the talent.” But Picini stood out from the crowd. Bonnie Erickson, former Director of Educational Programs, saw how focused Picini was about training and about pursuing a lasting career in the performing arts. “I didn’t perform in every student-choreographed piece,” Picini admits, “l would take classes in the areas I wasn’t as strong in, I made an effort to look presentable in every class, I sent professional e-mails updating my mentors on my progress, and I took every note I was given.” For Picini, SIP was not just a fun summer in New York City. “The program opened my eyes to musical theater, and I was excited and hungry for the challenge.”

BDC’s theater teachers like Jim Cooney, Ricky Hinds, and Al Blackstone really shaped Picini’s time as a summer intern. “Jim saw my potential and gave me a lot of tough love,” Picini says. “I had strong ballet technique and vocal chops, but Jim’s class challenged me as an actor—It still does! Ricky’s and Al’s classes demand professionalism and hard work, but the room is filled with so much fun and joy. I believe that that supportive and empowering environment is how you can get the most out of a dancer.”

That’s not to say Picini’s time in the program was smooth sailing. “There was one musical theater mock audition where I crashed and burned,” Picini confesses. The teachers and administrators behind the table said that, with that performance, she would have been cut. But, because they knew Picini’s work ethic and capabilities, they said they would actually call her back. “More than anything, the program taught me that, while talent is great, consistency and hard work are the most valuable qualities to be successful in this business.”

At the end of SIP, Picini was praised with the “Most Outstanding Student” award. “I was given a job in BDC’s retail store which gave me the opportunity to continue my intense training.” She became a “regular” in many of the advanced theater classes and, when a teacher’s assistant would leave town for a gig, Picini was there and she was ready. “I didn’t go into class desperately wanting to become an assistant,” she explains. “Stay present and patient and do the work. It’s a balance of being proactive and open, but also being in the right place at the right time.”

Lizz with Jim Cooney and Bonnie Erickson

Picini was also promoted on the administrative side when she started working in BDC’s Group Services. “One day there was a teacher who didn’t show up for class, so they threw me in!” Picini recalls. “It was exhilarating!” After that dive into the deep end, Picini got a few chances to sub for Jim Cooney, an opportunity to lead one of BDC’s Absolute Beginner Workshops, and eventually scored her own guest teaching slot. “I had about three people in my initial classes,” she says. But things took an unexpected turn in 2016 when FOX brought cameras into Picini’s class to promote “Grease Live.” “When cameras show up, a class will always sell out,” Picini jokes. Maybe dancers initially came for the cameras, but they stayed for Picini. Her class has been waitlisted ever since.

“I’m completely overwhelmed when I’m in that studio in front of 75 people. I have to pinch myself,” Picini says with immense gratitude. “It’s an honor to teach alongside so many of my mentors at BDC. Sometimes I feel insecure because I haven’t been on Broadway yet. But I realize that dancers don’t come to my class because of my resume, but because of me and my work.”

Photo by Glorianna Picini

Outside of BDC, Picini has performed at numerous reputable regional theaters across the country. “I did a ton of dance captain jobs and then was asked to be assistant choreographer for a show at Finger Lakes Musical Theater (now The Rev Theater Company),” Picini remembers. “I was nervous because I didn’t want to give up performing. But, due to the limited amount of union contracts available, I would not have been on the project at all had I not also been assistant choreographer!” Her initial predicament quickly became her superpower. It wasn’t black-or-white—Picini could do both. And she was more marketable as a result! “It checks a lot of boxes if one person is capable to do a lot,” Picini acknowledges. That’s one less flight, one less housing accommodation, etc. “I’ve put a lot of work in and it has really blown up. People have taken notice and that’s such an incredible feeling.” Picini has assisted such choreographers as Parker Esse, Ricky Hinds, Rommy Sandhu, and Denis Jones. “Being behind the table has leveled me,” she discloses. “Casting a show is a complicated puzzle. At many auditions, you could cast the show ten times over with the amount of talent that comes in! A dancer’s job is to show up and do your work. That’s all you can do—and that’s enough.”

Photo by Glorianna Picini

As a teacher, associate choreographer, and active performer, it’s no surprise Picini’s schedule can be jam-packed. “I’ve learned (and am still learning) about balance,” she concedes. “There was a point when I felt so popular yet so alone. I was also hospitalized for exhaustion at one point.” Picini has realized how important it is to rest, say no when she needs to, and keep a supportive inner circle of family and close friends. “Rest days, therapy, and my faith keep me grounded. Now I understand that I am me and the opportunities that have been opened to me are because I am expressing and taking care of who I am.”

Picini credits her ever-bourgeoning journey to BDC. Her creative voice, infectious laugh, and humble work ethic inspire her peers, students, audiences, and own teachers and mentors. “Recently a choreographer whom I had never worked with called me to wear multiple hats for his upcoming project,” Picini explains. “He said, ‘And if I know of Lizz Picini, this is right up her alley.’ That is the most amazing feeling. Sure, Broadway will always be a goal. But I’m learning to celebrate the present and continue to put in the work every day.”

Honoring the Doctor of Jazz, Frank Hatchett

In honor of black history month, we’re throwing it back to the “Doctor of Jazz,” Frank Hatchett.

In 1984, Hatchett was an original faculty member of Broadway Dance Center. Located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, BDC quickly became the premier training ground for professional performers in ballet, on Broadway, and beyond. The studio was known for its roster of master teachers including Luigi, Jamie Rogers, Henry LeTang, Phil Black, David Howard, and, of course, Frank Hatchett.

Hatchett exemplified what it meant—and still means—to be a teacher at Broadway Dance Center. He had an impressive performance resume, having danced for the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Pearl Bailey. He had an insatiable passion for teaching dance that went beyond just teaching steps. Hatchett instilled in his students an inner confidence, encouraging them to express emotion and overcome challenges through movement and performance. Hatchett was not just a teacher; he was also a mentor, a father figure, and a friend. He saw greatness in each of his students and challenged them to explore their true potential.

Hatchett’s signature style, VOP, was a blend of strength, funk, and individual interpretation, with an emphasis on selling your performance. VOP was a marriage of movement and music where dancers matched their technical training with their own artistic flavor and expressive soul. Hatchett’s classes, especially his famous “3:30pm Advanced class,” were always packed with high-energy choreography, celebrity clientele (Madonna, Brooke Shields, Naomi Campbell, Olivia Newton-John, etc.), and a dash of tough love. Hatchett gave attention to every dancer and would publicly call you out—for better or worse—in order to help you grow as a performer.

In 2013, Hatchett passed away at the age of 78. Broadway Dance Center hosted a tribute performance at Symphony Space in his honor. The three-hour event included heartwarming speeches, spiritual songs, and dance performances showing off Hatchett’s legendary VOP style. Many of us never had the opportunity to take an actual class from Frank Hatchett. But dancing at BDC is inspired by him thanks to the generation of his students-turned-teachers who are keeping his legacy alive…Sheila Barker, Lane Napper, Robin Dunn, Michelle Barber, Heather Rigg, Ginger Cox, Derek Mitchell, and Debbie Wilson. Like so many teachers here at BDC, Hatchett emphasized the importance of foundational dance technique, artistry and individuality, and passion for the art of dance. We are forever honored to keep the VOP legacy alive.

Click here to watch our video honoring the late, great Frank Hatchett.

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.