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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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 andtell 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
Joy Karley’s journey to Broadway Dance Center was a weave of passion, artistry, and (believe it or not) science! Karley currently teaches ballet, Pilates, and frequent foot care and extension classes at BDC and, while her trajectory may not have felt linear at the time, her resume is incredibly impressive.
“I started dancing in Cleveland, Ohio in those 3-5 pre-dance combination classes,” remembers Karley. “I had three older brothers and my mom wanted me to do something ‘girly.’ I took everything from tap and ballet to tumbling.” Throughout her adolescence, Karley trained at various studios including the Cleveland Ballet. “Back in the 70s and the 80s, dance scene was still a very abusive environment,” she concedes. “To my teachers at the time, I would never be good enough or skinny enough to succeed.”
With that invigorating mix of disappointment and determination in her bones, Karley decided to apply for college where she felt she could major in dance and train in a more supportive environment.
She was accepted to Kent State University where the dance program was, at the time, part of the physical education department rather than performing arts or musical theater. “My degree was a B.S. (a Bachelor of Science). But I didn’t want to take the science requirements, so I pushed them off to my senior year.” While exercise physiology initially sounded boring to Karley, she eventually discovered she loved learning about human anatomy and how the body works. It all clicked—She could relate that knowledge to her dancing.
Alongside her academics, Karley found a side hustle teaching fitness classes at local gyms. “There was no such thing as a ‘fitness certification’ back then,” she recalls. “All you needed was a cassette tape and some rhythm!” Slowly but surely, Karley’s interests began to dovetail.
“Still, dance in college is like dance—or any performing art—anywhere else,” Karley admits. “There’s discouragement everywhere you go. My advisor even told me to change majors!” But a lightbulb went off after reading a small Dance Magazine article about the Pilates method, a training program popular among dancers. “I wanted to help dancers get better at what they do,” Karley told her advisor. “I think you’d better focus on your studies…” her advisor replied.
That same fire was ignited in Karley again. “I finished my degree, continued teaching fitness, and delved into learning more about other fitness methods including Pilates,” she says. “At that time Step Reebok was brand new. I learned to teach Step from Tamilee Webb (“Buns of Steel”). She kind of mentored me about pursuing a career in the fitness industry.”
Karley knew she had more to learn, so she headed west to San Diego State to get her master’s degree in Biomechanics and Athletic Training. “San Diego had the biggest concentration of well-known professors and was where Step Reebok was doing all their innovative research,” says Karley, whose thesis actually contributed to the research and development for the step training manuals. “It wasn’t so bad to study at the beach either!” She also kept up teaching dance and fitness and freelancing with some small dance companies in Southern California.
After a stint in Los Angeles, Karley got recruited to work in fitness marketing in New York City. “The environment was very toxic and misogynistic,” she recalls. “I missed dance, so I started taking (and eventually subbing) classes at Broadway Dance Center.” It was here that everything seemed to fall into place. “I realize I’m doing exactly what I told my advisor I wanted to do—help dancers get better at their craft,” Karley says with pride. “To all the teachers who told me to quit, I’m teaching at Broadway Dance Center in New York City and empowering dancers to become better, stronger, and smarter artists.”
“Being onstage is great, but I have had such rewarding experiences as a teacher.” Karley recounts one story about a former International Student Visa Program student who dragged himself to her ballet class because it was required for his program. “While the student was very resistant at first, after a few weeks he started getting really good. I would catch him checking himself in the mirror and clearly enjoying class,” she remembers. “When the program ended, he came up to me and said, ‘I want to thank you because you taught me about ballet and made me appreciate it.’ That makes what I do worth it. If ballet comes on TV and his buddies joke about it, he might defend it and say, ‘No, that’s really difficult. Those men are athletes.’ That makes an impact.”
Karley’s classes are popular amongst dancers because she teaches not only technique, but a deeper understanding of how the muscles and joints work to achieve each movement. “In my day, we were taught to just make your body do that. It was like Darwinism…the weak would be weeded out and the cream of the crop would rise to the top,” Karley explains. “I try to teach people from a biomechanical standpoint so dancers can understand their abilities from the inside-out and work with what they have to train and perform safely. There’s a lot of imagery in ballet, but some of it is untrue. Understanding what’s actually going on anatomically can make a huge difference in a dancer’s technique.”
Good workouts are the ones that withstand the test of time. They can certainly evolve, but they’re scientifically proven and aren’t just ‘trends.’ “Science behind it ensures you’re not going to get hurt,” explains Karley. “Ballet actually proves to be scientifically sound—You start with plies and end with jumps after an hour of warming up. It’s progressive physically.”
If you understand how your body works, you can avoid injury and get stronger. Dancers, like athletes, have a tendency to push through pain in order to perform. “The industry is getting much healthier,” addresses Karley. “Companies have physical therapists on staff and training programs are encouraging dancers to take control of their own self-care through classes like Pilates, yoga, and active isolated flexibility. Imagine how much longer you might be able to dance if you take care of yourself.”
In addition to a dancer’s core technique classes, Karley strongly encourages Pilates as a critical form of cross-training. “Pilates keeps dancers healthy and strong,” she says. “Young people think ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’ but you don’t realize how vulnerable you are until your first injury.” Pilates strengthens and lengthens the body with a sense of control and centering through your ‘powerhouse’ (core abdominal and lower back muscles).
Karley’s additional specialized signature classes evolved from her own students’ needs. “Years back I had a dancer who was planning to have bunion surgery,” Karley recalls. “I gave her a foot kit (sold in the BDC store) and, after using it only twice, her foot pain went away.” Karley got inspired to design a foot conditioning class to help dancers care for their most important instruments—their feet. In addition to her foot class, Karley’s other signature classes, stretching and improving extension, remain popular at BDC.
Over her years teaching here, Karley has noticed an ever-growing bad habit amongst her younger students: tech neck (poor posture from texting, gaming, or working on a computer). “These kids have the posture of senior citizens,” Karley worries. To combat this postural problem, she suggests four simple exercises: 1) aligning the body starting a the feet and stacking the skeleton all the way up to the crown of the head, 2) some sort of core activation exercise like opposite arm/leg reach, bridging, or ab curls, 3) an upper back ‘swan,’ and 4) cat/cow stretch to mobilize the spine. “If you can start your day with these exercises or do them before dance class, they’ll make a world of difference.”
To become an even more informed dancer, be sure to drop into Karley’s ballet, Pilates, and frequent signature classes at BDC.
Gender 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.”