On Tuesday, April 1st Broadway Dance Center hosted a tribute celebration to the late Frank Hatchett who passed away last December. Hatchett helped to found Broadway Dance Center in 1984 and was one of BDC’s most impressive teachers. Hatchett was the kind of master teacher that comes along once in a lifetime, influencing the lives of each and every student he encountered. Many considered him their “dance dad,” a supportive father figure in the challenging performing arts industry.
As a performer, Hatchett danced with such stars as Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Pearl Bailey. But his heart lied in teaching dance. And truly, his classes were legendary—especially the infamous “3:30 Advanced class.” Hatchett gave attention to every dancer and would publicly call you out—for better or worse—in order to make you shine as a performer. But above all, Hatchett wanted the best for his students.
Hatchett’s students have gone on to do great things—both as dancers and as
human beings. Many have graced the Broadway stage and Hollywood films while others have followed Hatchett’s inspiring vocation to teach. And one thing is for sure: Hatchett didn’t teach “steps.” He instilled in his students a sense of self by expressing emotion and overcoming challenges through movement and performance. Hatchett was not just a teacher, but 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.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Symphony Space Theatre was packed with students, colleagues, and friends who have been touched by Hatchett’s passion for dance. The nearly three hour-long performance celebration felt like a great big family reunion. It was a sort of homecoming for all of those lives Frank touched. Frank’s dance family—his brothers and sisters, daughters and sons—shared memories and performances that were humorous, sentimental, and moving.
After tripping up the stairs to the microphone (á la Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars), Brooke Shields described how Papa Frank nicknamed her, “Tasty B,” when she was learning to get in touch with her sexy-side in class. “I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror,” she explained, tearing up. “I didn’t want to seem vain.” But Frank helped her overcome her fear. The mirror is not just a tool to see the lines and shapes of your body. The mirror makes you see yourself: your soul and passion as a dancer.
The songs felt like spirituals. John Eric Parker’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” was so sentimental (and also quite a contrast to the character he plays in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon). Alyson Williams sang Bette Midler’s famous “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a poignant depiction of the teacher, mentor, and friend, Frank Hatchett; “Did you ever know that you’re my hero? …I can fly higher than an eagle, ‘cause you were the wind beneath my wings.” And Vivian Reed concluded the performance with a virtuosic rendition of “God Bless the Child.”
The video montages were a great addition to the performances, allowing those who could not attend the event the chance to say a few words about Frank. It was incredible to see—both on stage and on camera—the number of people who were so grateful to have had Papa Frank in their lives. It was thrilling to recognize the influence one man had (and still has) in the lives of so many dancers and performing artists.
In ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized “good” art as that in which the audience experiences , a purgation of emotions that results in a sense of renewal and restoration. The performance was an illustration of the power of art—not just dance, but also singing, music, speech, and film. Art can help us to mourn, to express gratitude, to celebrate, to honor, and to heal. This event, in my opinion, exemplified the therapeutic and magnificent power of art.In ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized “good” art as that in which the audience experiences catharsis, a purgation of emotions that results in a sense of renewal and restoration. The performance was an illustration of the power of art—not just dance, but also singing, music, speech, and film. Art can help us to mourn, to express gratitude, to celebrate, to honor, and to heal. This event, in my opinion, exemplified the therapeutic and magnificent power of art.
Now, to be honest, I never took an actual class from Frank Hatchett. But my dancing—all of our dancing—is still inspired by him, by the generation of his students-turned-teachers who are keeping his legacy alive, including Broadway Dance Center’s own Sheila Barker, Lane Napper, Robin Dunn, Michelle Barber, Heather Rigg, and Debbie Wilson. The celebration of Frank Hatchett created a tremendous sense of family and community within the theater—a feeling, I’m sure, was a part of his classes every week. Whether we knew Frank personally or not, it was clear to see that he has had an impact on all of our lives.
Thank you, Papa Frank, for inspiring all of us to be the best dancers we can be.
You’ll be deeply missed, but your VOP legacy will forever live on at Broadway Dance Center.