BDC allows international students to shine

Broadway Dance Center (BDC) is synonymous with the New York dance scene, an institution recognized as a place to truly experience dance to the fullest. With the motto, “Inspiring The World to Dance”, BDC welcomes students from all over the world to its studio in the heart of the Broadway Theater District, to immerse themselves in training in all styles and genres.

BDC runs an International Student Visa Program (ISVP), allowing international students to obtain an M-1 Visa to attend classes for a three-month, six-month or one-year period. Dancers from over 96 countries have graced the halls of BDC, creating a unique community that truly embodies diversity and inclusion. 

International students at Broadway Dance Center.
International students at Broadway Dance Center.

“We are a very all-inclusive studio,” explains BDC’s Director of Educational Programs, Emily Collin. “We range from drop-ins, groups, summer intensives and things like that, to adult and teen full-time programs. The ISVP is our largest international program, and it’s also our longest running program. The BDC training program is the American counterpart to the ISVP, for dancers who want to come and get some training under their belt, from other places around the U.S. Then we have our Professional Semester, which is our most prestigious program, open to both international and American students. What we’re really working on with that is making sure that people are ready for the industry, so we go through a whole series of mock auditions, industry masterclasses and seminars. We also have our summer session, which is an eight-week program ideal for college-age students who want to get ready for the professional semester or whatever comes next in their life.”

For those currently considering their training options, the sheer variety of classes on offer is reason enough to look at BDC. “Students always talk about the diversity of training here,” agrees Collin. “Many of them have done a lot of training in one particular style or a couple of different styles, but to be around everything from street styles, to theater, to contemporary is a really exciting thing for our students. And you’ll have working Broadway performers taking class with you, so that atmosphere is an inspiring place to be. I think it’s competitive, but it’s also a really supportive environment for honing your craft.”

ISVP alumna Linh An from Vietnam chose BDC because of the range of classes on offer. “I always had a huge curiosity for Broadway jazz and theater jazz, since musicals are not part of the Vietnamese culture,” says An. “When I came to NYC for a vacation two years ago, I searched online for the best dance center to learn theater jazz. I chose BDC because they offer a wide range and variety of dance styles. I am pretty diverse when it comes to styles, and I believed BDC would be the perfect platform for me to experiment and grow in multiple areas of dance.”

The caliber of teaching and of the students around her was another reason An loved dancing at BDC. “I got to observe and learn from inspiring dancers all over the world,” she notes. “Learning from Broadway professionals was a great privilege to me and something I will never take for granted. The dancers I was in class with were phenomenal, and I was so fortunate to learn from observing their craft.”

The dancers who attend class at BDC, both in the ISVP and as drop-ins, are at different levels and stages of their training, and have different goals. “We’ve had everyone here,” says Collin, “from people who maybe grew up dancing and just decided to come here and train a little bit and maybe don’t have any professional aspirations, all the way up to So You Think You Can Dance winners. There’s a little bit of something for everyone. And in this day and age, being a diverse dancer is everything, it’s how you book jobs. However, we do allow our ISVP students to choose a concentration of study while they’re here. That allows us to focus a bit more on what classes they’re taking and how they’re structuring their schedule. Around week three of their program, we have an advising session with the student, focusing on what their goals are, how long they’re here, and making sure that what they want to achieve by the time they leave is feasible.”

For many ISVP alumni, BDC gave them connections and opportunities that have furthered their dance careers. “We’ve had many people work and fight to obtain their artist visa to work and dance in the states,” says Collin. “One of our students from India just won a soloist competition for World of Dance, and he’s going to be on the finals coming up. A lot of our Australian students go back and dance professionally in Australia; it really is so varied what they do. And another former student just created his own dance convention in Poland.”

That student is Brian Poniatowski, who joined the ISVP program for six months and has since obtained his green card to live and work in the U.S. 

“What I really love about BDC is the professional attitude from the entire administration, teachers and students,” Poniatowski shares. “You will never feel lonely there, and with the diversity of classes, I am sure every dancer can find the best class for themselves, and new styles to explore and learn. I am really glad I did the ISVP, and I still take classes at BDC even now. I recently opened my convention company in Poland, Broadway Beasts, with faculty from BDC, and I also travel around the world teaching and choreographing. I now have an agent, Lucille DiCampli, and I’m an equity union member. BDC is a great place for networking; I highly recommend it.”

The opportunity to perform and connect with other dancers is a huge advantage in the dance industry. BDC does everything it can to give its students the chance to showcase their talents and network with professionals.

“We have an in-house performance project every other month that we do for all our ISVP and training program students,” describes Collin. “A lot of our students who come in the spring get to participate in the student showcase at Symphony Space. And depending on the year, we do a lot of seasonal events. We just participated in the Pride March in June, and actually the performance project for this year’s summer session ISVP program is going to be at an off-Broadway theater. We are always looking at ways to give the students the chance to perform here in New York. And for the professional level dancers, the teachers will often use them in projects and performances while they are here, just from students connecting and networking with them. If people develop close relationships with their teachers while they are here, they can turn into lifelong friendships that span distance and time.”

Lifelong friendships are the heart and soul of a studio like BDC. Former ISVP student Carèsse Hanley, from St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, recalls her excitement at meeting people from all over the world. “When I wasn’t in class, my days at BDC were spent sitting outside the studios admiring all the amazing dancers who were levels above me!” she says. “I’d sit with maybe a new friend from France or India sometimes, and we’d share stories about our countries and our dance life. It was crazy how many different kinds of people I was able to click and bond with. And I always got excited when I randomly bumped into dancers whom I have admired and have been following on social media in the studio taking a class or two.”

Despite being far away from her family, Hanley, like so many of BDC’s international students, felt completely comfortable. “I was in this city that I hadn’t visited for 16 years, here on my own, attending classes in this building and space I had never stepped foot in, and to my surprise in no time it felt like home,” she reveals. “I was at ease, I felt safe, I felt cared for, and I felt happy. The faculty plays a big part in this.”

It’s certainly true that the BDC faculty put a lot of energy into its pastoral care. From the moment you submit an application, BDC staff will guide you through everything you need to prepare for your training, including obtaining the M-1 Visa for the ISVP. “We walk every student through the process and make sure they have everything they need to go and get their visa to come here,” says Collin. “It is a non-working visa, which differs a little bit from the F-1 visa, but it allows them to be here and train and not have to work while they’re doing it, which is actually really nice. We are there every step of the way for them, making sure they get what they need.”

If training in New York is something you’ve dreamed of doing, the BDC program is unmissable. “It is truly such a wonderful, all-encompassing experience, to be here in New York,” agrees Collin. “For many people, it is a very rare opportunity to get to devote three months, six months or a year fully to dance. I think the program is really a magical experience, that leaves a lasting mark on people’s lives.”

For more information on Broadway Dance Center’s International Student Visa Program, click here.

Special thanks to Emily Collin, Director of Educational Programs at BDC, and to BDC alumni Linh An, Brian Poniatowski and Carèsse Hanley. 

By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.

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