Broadway Dance Center has always been Al Blackstone’s home away from home. His teachers, mentors, and experience as a student helped shape him into the educator he is today. Since his first class in 2011 with just a few students, Al now packs the room no matter when he’s teaching. Beyond that, his courage to share his talent, vulnerability, charm, and lovable goofiness has created an undeniable ripple effect throughout the industry, challenging our preconceived notions about what ‘musical theater’ means, and how we can cultivate the energy of a dance class. Being a teacher or performer doesn’t mean masking who you are to portray someone or something else–quite the opposite, actually. It requires tapping even deeper into who you are in order to create a more meaningful connection with others, whether it’s your audience, dance partner, students, or fellow peers in class.
It’s Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. New York City–especially Broadway Dance Center–is celebrating love loud and proud by walking in the Pride March again and hosting special Pride March fundraiser classes. Amidst all this joy, pride, and celebration, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come (and also how far we still have to go) in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights and respect.
The arts reflect life, and the dance world has often ignited social change (Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey are but two choreographic changemakers that come to mind). It’s not quite a surprise, then, to know that the dance community had a huge influence on making “gay” visible, accepted, and mainstream.
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
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!
We wish all of our BDC moms a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
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.
Read and see more at: MacArthur Foundation
“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.”
via Kids Get Kicks Dancing Beside Broadway Performers by Jeryl Brunner