In honor of Mother’s Day, we sat down with some of our faculty and staff to find out what they love about being mothers.
Sue Samuels, Jazz Faculty
Mother’s Day is an important day to me because of my children Elka and Jason! My children were “studio children”, and were in my class sitting on the floor doing their homework after school every day. I didn’t even think they were watching the dancing. They never danced in my class at that time. Then, one day, Frank Hatchett invited me to teach in his children’s program, and for Elka and Jason to take classes. They haven’t stopped dancing since! Now my grandchildren are in my dance classes and in the BDC CTP! I love Broadway Dance Center for always supporting me and my family.
Allie Beach, Director of Youth Programming
Being a mom is the one of the greatest privileges on this earth. And I am SO grateful that my son has the opportunity to grow up in the studio around wonderfully diverse friends, and people who are artistic and creative and who care about him. There’s a lot of love for my son within those BDC walls, and I’m grateful that we can call our dance community family!
Nicole Falabella, Scheduling Director
The best part about being a mom is the moment your baby cracks their first smile, and all your sleepless nights and months of planning are forgotten!
Dawn Rumbaugh, Director of Operations
The best part of my life is my two beautiful amazing loving kids! Christy and Ryan — you have taught me so much about life and given me so much love and happiness!! I love you both more than words can express!
Ginger Cox, Jazz Faculty
I love being a mom! Jack and I have such a great time together. I’ve learned so much from my fellow moms (and dads) at BDC! I’m so thankful that I can bring him with me to the studio. Jack loves dance, loud music, and being at BDC. Except once, when he was 3 years old, he started having a tantrum, freaking out and taking off all his clothes! Thankfully Danielle (a past manager) rescued me, and took him for a walk to cool down!
Jill Kenney, Tap Faculty
Jill with her son Nolan
Jill with her son Nolan
I’ve only been a mom for 8 weeks, but there is nothing more amazing than holding my little bundle of joy and seeing him smile each day. Even his little pout is the cutest thing in the world to me! Sometimes I can’t handle how much I adore him. As a new mom, I’ve been bombarded with so many life changes, but he is well worth the challenges that each day brings. I love him to pieces and I think he’s starting to like me a little too.
Jessica Epting, Ballet Faculty
“Life is not only meant to be appreciated in retrospect . . . There is something each day to embrace and cherish.” —Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I find motherhood an exhausting, thrilling, challenging and rewarding honor! I love living alongside these little people!
Shelly Hutchinson, Jazz Faculty
I used to be able to dedicate time each day to a creation station in the studio… and then I had 2 babies. So I make it work. Now we improv everyday wherever we can. Toddlers have the coolest, most rare movements and moments. Bringing the best of both of my worlds together — can’t go wrong with that!
Diane King, Executive Director
I love being a mom as it puts your own life in perspective and you have to shift your priorities. There’s nothing like the cuddles and love from my daughter!
The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more.
Michelle Dorrance is a tap dancer and choreographer breathing new life into a uniquely American art form in works that combine the musicality of tap with the choreographic intricacies of contemporary dance. Dorrance uses her deep understanding of the technique and history of tap dancing to deconstruct and reimagine its artistic possibilities.
“And one and two and three and four!” Tracie Stanfield accents each count with a staccato clap. Dancers whip through double-time chaînés, changing their spot each time to travel in a tight square. It is the culmination of a demanding across-the-floor combination in Stanfield’s contemporary/lyrical class at New York City’s Broadway Dance Center. “I usually try to do style, a turn and a jump across the floor,” she explains. Today’s turns are challenging enough, however, to keep dancers busy for the entire class segment.
This push to get students moving through space with technical precision points to Stanfield’s core philosophy: Dancers should learn technique as movement, not a separate concept. “I feel like they always think technique is this mountain in China, and they’re going to climb it one day,” she says. “But it’s just how you move the body.” Through exercises that focus on deliberate placement, spatial awareness and body control, she trains versatile, marketable dancers who can perform nontraditional choreography with technical integrity.
Dance studios across the city have added vogueing to their schedules in response to student demand. Javier Ninja, whose real name is Javier Madrid, teaches a class at the Broadway Dance Center, which is frequently filled with women. “There have always been women in the scene, but not a surplus of women as it is now,” said Kia Labeija, who won in the popular and competitive women’s vogueing category at last year’s Latex Ball.
Founded in 2011 by Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award recipient Michelle Dorrance, Dorrance Dance features some of today’s best tap artists, performing alongside co-choreographers of The Blues Project Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Derick K. Grant. Award-winning musician and composer Toshi Reagon created the music for The Blues Project, which is performed live by Reagon and members of her band, BIGLovely, on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums and percussion, and violin.
Called “the best kind of party” by Marina Harss of The New Yorker, The Blues Project premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2013 in the Doris Duke Theatre to sold-out houses. A tribute to tap’s historical roots in blues music, the work features a diverse selection of dance styles including tap, zydeco, Appalachian flatfooting, and Lindy Hop, all performed by Dorrance’s collection of topflight, uniquely talented dancers. “One of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today” (Brian Seibert, The New York Times), Michelle Dorrance is among the most respected tap performers and choreographers of her generation.
From the time she was a little girl growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Lainie Munro loved every single thing about Broadway musicals. Taking dance class since she was 4, she adored her teacher Lodzia Heath, a former Rockette from the 1930s and ’40s who played Broadway soundtracks in class at her tiny Satellite Dance Studio. “She way my star and so passionate,” says Munro. “There’s a mural of a Rockettes line from this era at the Top of the Rock in New York and Mrs. Heath is the second from stage left in the picture.” Munro always got to the studio early so she could go through albums like “The Tap Dance Kid,” “The Act” and “My Fair Lady.”
In fact, it was a really big deal to be selected for one of Mrs. Heath’s performance groups which had space-themed names. “When I was chosen to be a Starlite I was given a blue cape to wear over my costume and I never wanted to take it off. I even slept in it,” says Munro. “Satellite was the tiniest dance studio you ever saw. But inside it was magic.”
Munro’s father who was on the radio at WKTZ in Jacksonville also brought home many show albums from the station. So after dance class Munro choreographed every number on the records in her bedroom. “I made my little sister Alicia be in the numbers. My poor sister wanted to go outside and play but I’d say, ‘no, you’ve got to do that dance again, five, six, seven, eight,’” says Munro. “I was a task master dance captain even then and made her practice over and over with me until it was perfect. To this day, she’s my favorite person to dance with.” Munro even typed up programs, handed them to her parents and charged 5 cents to view the show as the young Munro sisters performed in the living room. “Yes I charged them!,” she says. “My parents loved it. I don’t know about my sister.”
At 8, she was cast as Gretl in a production of The Sound of Music at Alhambra Dinner Theater. The show’s Maria was a very young Paige O’Hara, who voiced Belle in the movie version of Beauty and the Beast. Munro idolized her. “She is a great and beautiful actress and has the voice of an angel. I thought, I want to be like her one day,” recalls Munro. And she remembers planting herself in O’Hara’s dressing room asking myriad questions about her life in New York and performing. O’Hara gave all the children in the show a silver ID bracelet engraved with their character’s names. “It’s my good luck charm,” says Munro. “It reminds me of when I started and I think of Paige all the time.”
After college Munro moved to New York, began performing and also taught at the esteemed Broadway Dance Center. “As a teacher I get to be a “Mrs. Heath” to my students and pass on my love of dancing and theater to them,” she says. She saw how talented the kids were and how they all wanted to perform. And she realized that they needed mentors. “They get their training, but they need somebody to say, “Here’s how I did it.” I remember when I was younger thinking ‘I want to do that, but how do I get into this business? “I wanted somebody to say, “Hey kid. Here’s how I did it and kind of be my friend.”
So Munro got inspired. She thought, imagine if I could give these children the opportunity to rehearse and perform side by side with a Broadway performer?
And in 2001 she created the Broadway Big Brother/Big Sister Program where kids perform with a dancer in the Broadway community. The young students who range in age from 10-16, are matched with Broadway cast members from a number of shows including On the Town, Pippin, Jersey Boys, Shrek The Musical, the Lion King, Anything Goes, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and more. Working side by side with their Big Brother or Sister, the children rehearse a production number and get to dance before a large audience. The kids gain an invaluable life changing experience learning about the joy, hard work and discipline it takes to be a professional performer. Just last month they performed “Put on a Happy Face” at the Broadway Dance Center Student Showcase to a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
Outside the studio, the youngsters have an instant role model and mentor. The dancers invite their young siblings to their shows, give them backstage tours, and even coach them for auditions. And now the program has come full circle. Gabrielle Salvatto, once a little sister, grew up to become a professional dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and returned to the program as a Big Sister to mentor and dance with a young person. “When I started the program I thought one day they’ll grow up, become professional dancers and maybe come back and be a Big Sister or a Big Brother,” says Munro. “It really is how we pass all this on, so that the current generation of performers can train the next generation.”
For one little sister who lost her mother to cancer, her Big Sister was like a surrogate mother, attending school play performances and helping with homework. “Some children start out very shy but they completely come out of their shell,” says Munro. And the big siblings benefit from the experience too. As one Big Sister and Broadway vet shared, “You can perform in show after show, but this program made me feel as if I made a difference in someone’s life.”
Amber Paul is not only one of Broadway Dance Center’s most beloved teachers; she is also celebrated for taking everyone’s class—from ballet and tap to theatre and hip-hop! Amber (or “Paul” as she is lovingly nicknamed by many ISVPs) integrated yoga into the fabric of the dance curriculum and currently teaches yoga and meditation classes here at BDC, catering both to dancers’ bodies and minds—and their important connection through the breath. BDC blogger, Mary Callahan, had the pleasure of chatting with Amber about the importance of yoga for dancers—of all styles, levels, and ages.
What was your dance training like and how did you come to find Broadway Dance Center?
I’m an actress and one of my acting teachers told me to take dance class. I was what they would call a “talking head”—I was really good on camera but my body wasn’t as expressive as it needed to be. That was how the whole professional dance journey started for me. I walked in to Broadway Dance Center off the street looking for basic adult dance classes and was literally welcomed by Richard Ellner who, as you know, was one of the original owners of BDC. Richard was the first person I met here. I had been to other dance studios in New York and they were not as friendly towards someone looking for beginner adult classes. I basically have not left BDC since. Richard became both a friend and a business mentor to me. I was a work-study student and would take up to eighteen classes each week. So, I’m home grown—literally! And although Richard passed on and never got the chance to see me become a teacher here, I know he would be really excited about that.
And when did yoga become a part of your life?
I like to do things backwards—its just part of who I am. I was a meditator first and then turned to yoga so I could learn how to sit better in my meditation. Most people start out in yoga for stress relief and then they turn to meditation. But I learned to meditate as a child…yet, in that meditation practice I wanted to learn how to be still. And, with all my dance training at BDC, I needed to really learn how to breathe. I knew how to be in the moment as an actor but I didn’t know how to be in the moment as a dancer. I felt very intimidated in auditions and even sometimes in dance class. Yoga was a safe space to relax, to breathe, and to improve my concentration.
What is the process like to become a certified yoga instructor?
I got certified to become a yoga instructor through the Yoga Alliance. I completed the 200-hour training at Sonic Yoga, which concluded with a written exam on both human anatomy and the history and philosophy of yoga as well as a practical exam where I taught a class to prove my ability. I then completed another 300-hour training at Three Sisters Yoga where I specialized in yoga and meditation for trauma survivors. Now I help teach that same teacher training at Three Sisters Yoga—to many students from Broadway Dance Center, actually. I am so adamant about teachers being certified. Students can easily get injured if a teacher is unfamiliar with human anatomy and all of the critical modifications for different populations and individuals.
Would you encourage dancers to get certified as yoga instructors?
Definitely. I wish I had become a teacher earlier in my life. As an actor, I used to wait tables between acting gigs. I wish that I had had a more fulfilling work when I wasn’t acting. Yes, teaching yoga can be exhausting physically, but it feeds me emotionally and spiritually (not to mention literally, with a pay check!). For me, acting and yoga are symbiotic. Yoga helps me so much when I audition—I’m calm, I’m breathing, and I know that whatever I have to offer in that moment is the right thing. It’s not that I never critique myself; but instead of judging myself, I recognize where I can improve and then I work to do so. As a yogi, I’m always, always learning. I would love for dancers to experience this same freedom and empowerment in their art form through teaching yoga.
How did yoga become a part of the curriculum at Broadway Dance Center?
I mentioned earlier that Richard Ellner was a sort of business mentor to me. From him I learned how important it is to set up an ethical business practice—to not take away anything from anyone else in order to achieve my goal of weaving yoga into the BDC curriculum. My first time slot was one that no other teachers wanted. They honestly didn’t think that yoga would work here because other people had struggled to get it up and running in the past. So I started out with one student. My job is to serve my class, whether it is one student or sixty. Because I’ve stuck to that mission, my classes remain popular. About two years ago, I began teaching meditation classes at BDC on a volunteer basis. BDC provided me with studio space and students would come take class for free. The dancers really started to attach to these meditation classes. There’s no imposed spirituality, which makes everyone feel welcome—especially our significant number of international students.
How do your yoga classes at Broadway Dance Center differ from other yoga classes?
My classes are designed specifically for the dancer—for students who are dancing fifteen classes a week, rehearsing, auditioning, and performing. I serve the students here. That has and always will be my goal. I ask my students every class, “What do you need? What postures do you want to work on? What areas of the body do you want to focus on?” And basically what I’m asking is, “How can I help you feel better? How do we, together as a group, prepare you for the next rehearsal or dance class or performance? How do you relax after a long day of classes? How do we keep you from getting injured?” And what happens is I keep hearing the same body parts all the time from dancers: the IT band, the psoas, the lower back, the hip flexors, the feet, the neck, and the shoulders. So, I’ve designed a whole series that really focuses on these areas in order to better serve my classes.
Why do some dancers call your class the “yoga hospital?”
Dancers sometimes come to my class when they are injured or burnt out—for restorative yoga. In fact, some students I only see in my yoga class (or, yes, as many call it, “yoga hospital”) when they’re feeling sick or broken. It can be very emotional for these students who are so used to pushing themselves in dance classes to learn to relax and experience the present moment without judgment. For those dancers, my “yoga hospital” provides a safe and nurturing space to relax, rejuvenate, and heal.
As dancers, we’re always striving for perfection. Does this exist in yoga?
Not exactly…Yoga is actually quite the opposite. You might have an asana (pose) that takes you twenty years to master. You may say, “Well, I don’t have twenty years.” But you do! Yoga is about the journey; it’s about taking an asana, finding your own version, and committing to that. Don’t beat yourself up or push for “perfection” because if you’re fully committing to your version of an asana, you’re already perfect. That blows dancers’ minds! It’s a different kind of “striving.” The secret is that if you fully commit to your version that day, you will eventually reach the full expression of that asana. But if you fight and judge yourself, it will never come. I also deliberately have my students face away from the mirror. Yoga is about listening to your body and noticing yourself in the space physically.
The stillness of yoga can be very uncomfortable for dancers. How can students learn to be still and present in the moment?
Dancers are constantly in motion. But if you think about it, even in any count of eight there’s a moment of stillness. That’s what makes choreography exciting—that pause, that breath before we move again. I teach Ujjayi breath in my vinyasa classes here at BDC—flow yoga where every movement is connected to breath. And if you listen to your breath, there’s a pause between the inhale and the exhale and also a pause between the exhale and the inhale. So really, there are four parts to each breath. That’s the first meditation practice I teach—to focus on this breath cycle. If the exhale is the past and the inhale is the future…what is the space in between? The present. And as dancers, we want to live in that present moment. First, you find presence in the breath, then in the practice, and then in your classes and choreography.
How has yoga affected you and your students as dancers?
My dancing has improved dramatically since I started practicing yoga and meditation. I think about my breath in every plié! I can also see that yoga has a great influence on my students here at BDC. The biggest change comes from the students I see at least a few times each week. There will finally come a moment when they finally drop into a pose and be still—but alive. It’s magical. I also take a lot of class at the studio (I really take everybody’s class!) and it’s exciting to see my students apply the presence and awareness they’ve learned in yoga to their other dance classes. They’re breathing through the movement, they’re confident, their focus is up and out, and they have less fear. And once you have that, I believe you’re unstoppable.
Take the pirouette. Some people can whip out six turns naturally. Other people walk in and try hard to push out two or three turns. The yogic way of looking at a pirouette is to start at the simplest form of the movement: a plié into a passé rélevé. You take it back to just the balance—and fully commit to it. Then the next week you attempt a single turn, using the same technique, and you find that your shoulders are tense or your spotting is off. Going back to the basics helps you realize the little things preventing you from fulfilling the full expression of the movement. Dancers often get injured because they don’t want to back up and start at the beginning. It’s an entirely different way of thinking—but one that can really transform your dancing.
How is your class a resource for international dance students here at BDC?
Yoga class can be such a safe space for students. I think especially about our ISVPs who are far away from home, don’t have any family around them, and are speaking a second (or maybe even a third) language. And, along with BDC’s educational department that serves as an incredible support system for these students, my yoga and meditation classes are a place where students can just be. Sometimes, in my meditation classes, I suggest that students meditate in their native language. For example, I’ll have students repeat a word such as “love” or “compassion.” And translating that into your own language can make you feel that much more at peace.
What are the other benefits of yoga?
The true secret is that practicing yoga allows you to dance much, much longer. You learn how to breathe through movement, how to recognize areas of the body that dancing demands extra from, how to stretch properly, and how to prevent injury. And a study has shown that meditation also reduces aging.
What goals do you have as a teacher here at BDC?
In each of my classes I hope to 1) provide a safe space, 2) help dancers’ bodies, and 3) encourage a mindset that says we’re a community and we can be supportive of each other.
I’ve actually realized my largest goal: that yoga and meditation are part of the fabric here at Broadway Dance Center. We have started to bring in other certified yoga instructors (such as Traci Copeland who teaches a wonderful power yoga class). I would love for there to one day be a yoga teacher certification program through BDC or through a partnership with another yoga teacher training program.
What kinds of yoga classes would you recommend to dancers who can’t visit Broadway Dance Center?
Look for vinyasa yoga from a teacher certified through the Yoga Alliance. This will be a flow-style class where the movement and breath are connected. Don’t be embarrassed to start with a basic or beginner class. Yoga is not at all about the ego—it is about the process, the journey, and the practice.
Photos courtesy of Betty Bastidas for Omala Yoga, Sekou Luke,Andy Eisner and Austin Hogan.
…[Heather] Rigg teaches a style of commercial jazz that reflects her training with Joe Tremaine in the ’90s and her subsequent touring career with Britney Spears. Though Rigg’s class is billed as beginner, aspiring professionals come to polish their technique and increase their marketability. It helps diversify their commercial dance repertoire beyond the dominating trend of contemporary. “Some elements of jazz may not feel current,” she says, “but like fashion, everything comes back. Dancers should have a knowledge of all styles.” Besides, she adds, “Technique is never going out of style.”