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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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
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
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
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.”
“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
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 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
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
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
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.
“I started dance very late,” admits Chio. You’d never know. Dancers flock to Chio’s jazz funk classes whether morning, evening, weekday, or weekend. The energy is infectious and the groove feels so good. So how did a girl from Nagoya, Japan become one of the hottest street style teachers in the Big Apple? In short, by stepping out of her comfort zone and saying “yes” to the things that made her happy.
Chio did baton twirling in high school but didn’t start taking dance classes until she was in college. “My teacher from Japan loved New York and would frequently come to visit and take class,” Chio explains. “One year, she let me stay with her and I came to Broadway Dance Center to take classes from Sheila Barker, Sue Samuels, and Frank Hatchett. I was so overwhelmed with excitement…but I couldn’t keep up!”
After graduation, when all Chio’s friends went off to “normal” jobs, she wanted to see if she could pursue dance professionally. “But I knew I didn’t have enough technical training,” she admits. Chio felt torn between whether to move to Tokyo or New York, but ultimately decided to go to NYC, even though it was far from her home and family. She dove into a 6-month training program that focused on ballet, modern, and jazz technique. “I also took a lot of street classes at BDC–especially Bev Brown’s class,” says Chio.
After the training program, Chio joined the dance team for the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklynettes). “The audition was actually at BDC!” Chio recalls. “That job gave me a lot of confidence as a working professional dancer.”
At the same time, Chio started assisting Bev and subbing for her classes. After about three years, Chio got the opportunity to teach for the Children and Teens Program. She was then offered her own summer class, and finally her own regular slot. “It was the very first morning street class at BDC on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 am!” Chio laughs. “Most of the street styles have class at night, but BDC had faith in me that I could build this early time slot…and it’s stuck!”
Chio’s class is all her own, though she certainly draws inspiration from her mentors. Chio’s first dance teacher in Nagoya was named Atsuko and taught a class that fused hip-hop and jazz. She saw Chio’s potential right away and trained her to teach an aerobics/hip-hop class called “Aerofunk” at a local gym. “Atsuko really taught me how to teach a class with a thorough warm-up, cueing, and choreography.”
In New York City, Bev was a huge mentor for Chio. “Her energy was incredible in every class,” Chio says. “And sometimes she would teach 14 classes per week!” Bev’s signature tough love was just what Chio needed to come into her own. “When I first started taking Bev’s class, she told me I was ‘plain’ and needed to find my funk!” Chio says with a laugh. “Atsuko taught me the basics, but Bev helped me to add my own flavor.”
Now, Chio teaches “Jazz Funk,” a fusion of her background in jazz, hip-hop, and even modern dance. “You have some of the same lines you see in jazz, but with the groove of hip-hop,” she explains. Chio also believes it’s important for street dancers to train in other styles. “Taking ballet and classical jazz will strengthen your center and make you a more versatile performer,” she notes. Additionally, taking a variety of classes is great for cross-training and preventing injury. “Nowadays, young [street] teachers often start class with choreography right away–without any stretch or warm-up. It’s important for dancers to understand how to take care of their bodies and to warm-up for class themselves.”
At BDC, Chio teaches all levels of dance–including Absolute Beginner Workshops. “Beginner levels can be the most rewarding,” Chio says. “I have a lot of understanding because I’ve been there and know that a good teacher can really make all the difference.”
It’s not just Chio’s grooves that get dancers coming back to class again and again, it’s also her patience, positive energy, and passion for teaching. “I teach class the way I want to take class,” explains Chio. “Even if I am having a tough day or feel tired, dancing makes me so happy and I can’t help but have good energy in class. I get so inspired by my students.”
Preparing for her full schedule of classes is tough, but it’s all worth it. “To be honest, choreographing doesn’t come easy to me…it definitely takes time,” confesses Chio. “I choreograph for the experience in class with my students in the studio–their enjoyment is my reward. I don’t choreograph to show off my work on stage or on film. I do it to let my students show off their love of dance.”
“I get so inspired by my students,” Chio repeats. “In any class at BDC, you have people from so many different places. It can be a challenge because, as a teacher, you don’t know what you’re going to get in class. But that makes it exciting and magical because we all get to express ourselves, create, and dance together. Broadway Dance Center is so open and welcoming–it really feels like home.”
“My parents are very proud of me,” explains Chio. “They have every magazine article about me framed up on their wall! Still, they always ask when I’m going to come home. What they don’t realize is that Broadway Dance Center has become a home for me, and for so many other dancers, too.”
This year Broadway Dance Center celebrates its 35th anniversary. In those three and a half decades, BDC has trained and inspired thousands of dancers, and also cultivated professional performers and talented teachers. For one such eager student-turned-adored teacher, Neil Schwartz, Broadway Dance Center has always been home.
“I’m the baby of the family,” says Neil. “I always mimicked what my siblings did, and I started watching MTV at a young age.” Neil vividly remembers being inspired by the music videos of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. “I’ve always loved female entertainers,” he explains. “There’s something so bad-ass and powerful about strong female characters.”
At 7 years old, Neil began taking dance lessons at a local studio on Long Island. A family friend recommended Neil train at Broadway Dance Center. The rest is history!
12-year-old Neil would take class every week from Bev Brown and Chio. He continued taking classes throughout high school before heading to the University of Maryland to pursue a degree in Psychology. “I knew I loved helping people,” says Neil. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt very lost.”
On a spring break vacation, however, Neil’s life completely changed. “At 21, I suffered a blood clot in my right leg that caused pulmonary embolisms in my lungs. I was very overweight at the time, and doctors told me I had a 50/50 chance to live. At that traumatic moment, I vowed to turn my life around.”
Neil’s health journey began with one simple thought, “As soon as I get out of the hospital, I have to dance,” he recalls with a solemn conviction. “I have to do what makes me happiest.” After graduating college, Neil returned home to Broadway Dance Center to participate in the Fall Intern Program (now the Professional Semester). “It was a huge eye-opener,” Neil remembers. “It was scary in a good way. It was my first taste of the ‘industry,’ and I realized I had so much to learn.” Neil trained with his mentors, Sheryl Murakami, Rhapsody James, Luam, and Eric Jenkins. He also credits ballet teachers, Dorit Koppel and Peter Schabel, for helping him accept and understand his body.
It was during his internship that Neil also began choreographing for BDC’s Student Showcases. “The BDC Intern Program guided me in a lot of ways,” says Neil. “I realized my place in the industry was as a choreographer and teacher.” Neil admits he’s happiest when he’s creating, connecting, and inspiring others to be themselves. His goal…to teach at his home, Broadway Dance Center. The journey wasn’t easy. As a former student, Neil had to prove himself not only to the senior faculty at BDC, but also to himself. “It took me a year and a half to sub at BDC and another year and a half before I got my own slot,” he recalls. “Luam, Brian Green, Rhapsody James, Candace Brown, and Eric Jenkins all took my class. It was so intimidating. But I had the determination and patience to stick it out. I know that fight made me a stronger teacher.”
This year, Neil celebrates his 10-year anniversary teaching at BDC. “I don’t teach anywhere else,” Neil reveals. “I’m grateful to have been raised at Broadway Dance Center. This is my home.” Neil teaches all levels of Street Jazz, a style of dance inspired by the culture of hip-hop and fused with elements of jazz funk and contemporary influences. “I challenge my students both musically and emotionally,” explains Neil. “Music is like therapy. It impacts me in such a positive, energetic way. I encourage my students to connect to the music in their own way and to exude those feelings in their movement.”
Last year, Neil helped launch “BreakThrough: The Series,” an intimate, intensive workshop where dancers practice performance execution and gain confidence. “This was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been a part of,” Neil gushes. “We became a family in those two days. Dancers get the chance to be filmed, watch the footage, receive notes, and do it again. It’s an incredible opportunity to experiment, learn, and grow. I hope to host another BreakThrough workshop soon!”
For Neil, dance is all about communication. “Whether in the classroom or in an audition, it’s not about perfection,” he says. “I want to see your blood, sweat, and tears. I want to see why you have to dance–how you connect and communicate through your movement.” Neil’s ultimate test? “If my mom can understand, I know I’ve communicated through my choreography,” he laughs.
This idea of connection goes far beyond the “steps” Neil teaches in class. “I try to create a safe environment where dancers feel both challenged and empowered,” Neil explains. “For me, students are number one and I try to give my attention and energy to each dancer. I want them to know, ‘you matter.’” As a teacher, there’s no greater feeling for Neil than watching students achieve goals, push past limits, and break free from adversity. “I had a student once who told me my class empowered her to leave an abusive relationship.” That’s the sign of a truly great teacher, making an impact that goes far beyond the studio.
Whether you’re embarking on your own dance, professional, health, or emotional journey, Neil has the same advice: “Surround yourself with a good supportive system of friends and mentors. There is no shame in needing help. Dance can be the best therapy.” And remember that Broadway Dance Center is always your home away from home.