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
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.”
via Heather Rigg – Dance Teacher Magazine by Andrea Marks
Born and raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, Richard J. Hinds began dancing at his aunt’s and uncle’s studio at a young age. His mother wanted him to head to college after high school, but this small town boy had another plan in mind. Ricky packed his bags, headed to New York City, and booked his first professional job, a European tour of the musical Grease, after just three months. Since then, he has toured with national and international companies, choreographed, and most recently, became the Associate Director for Disney’s Newsies National Tour! BDC got the chance to talk with Ricky about what he looks for in a dancer and his advice for people who are trying to” make it” in this crazy business.
What was your dance training like growing up? Did you always know you wanted to dance?
My aunt and uncle own a studio in CT where I grew up. They pulled me in at a very young age, and I never looked back. We were a competitive studio so performing was a big part of our education, and I absolutely loved it. As I got older, I started realizing that I actually wanted to pursue this as a career, and began to take steps towards pushing myself even further.
I attended a summer dance program at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, and when I heard they had a year -round program, I begged my mother to send me there. I ended up going my sophomore year and continued through the rest of my high school education. It was incredibly inspiring being surrounded by such talented people who were also as serious as I was. After I graduated, I made the move to NYC and that is where I have been ever since.
When did you start teaching and auditioning?
My mother wanted me to go to college after I graduated high school, but I was ready to take on NYC. We made a pact that I had one year in NYC, and if I didn’t get a performing job I would go to college. Lucky for me, I booked my first professional job after only 3 months, a European tour of the musical Grease. I shipped off to Europe, and continued with the show for 10 months where I was a dancer in the ensemble and understudied Eugene. After I returned from Europe, my mother had accepted that college was not in the cards for me.
Throughout my professional career I developed an interest in choreography and teaching. I started reaching out to different studios and teaching some master classes while I was traveling the country with the tours of Cats and Fosse. Some of those studios asked me to do choreography for their competition programs, and I began flexing those muscles as well. I reached out to my mentor, Andy Blankenbuehler, and asked him about transitioning to being a choreographer. He told me to really make sure it was a path I wanted to take. He said it had its own challenges, and because I was so young I needed to go at it full force so people would take me seriously. I thought long and hard about it and went back and told him it was what I wanted to do. Shortly thereafter, he offered me my first Associate Choreographer job working with him on A Wonderful Life at Paper Mill Playhouse. The experience was incredible and within two years, I had completely stopped performing.
What is it like being the Associate Director for Disney’s Newsies National Tour? How did you land that job?
I have been working with the Director Jeff Calhoun for several years now. Some projects I had been his associate on include High School Musical, Jekyll and Hyde, 9 to 5 and Pippin with Deaf West. After he was approached by Disney to direct Newsies for the stage, he asked me to be a part of his team. It was truly a dream come true. I grew up watching the movie, and it taught me that it was OK to be a male dancer. Jeff and I approached the show from two very different perspectives. He had never seen the movie before, and I had seen it so many times I could sing every song by heart. It was the perfect balance of old and new. Together with our amazing team, we began the journey of transforming Newsies to a stage show. I couldn’t be prouder of what our entire team created.
We saw you on the Bethenny show teaching a dance to Coco Austin. What was that like?
I got the call the night before the filming, so it was fast and furious! They weren’t exactly clear on what they needed, but knew I would be teaching a dance to Coco and Bethenny. When I arrived on set, I met the creative team who were incredibly warm and friendly. They quickly ushered me to my dressing room. I soon discovered that Coco had no idea I was there or that she was going to be taught a dance. I had a camera blocking rehearsal with 2 stand-ins on the set, and then I went back to my dressing room and waited. Once the show began filming, they snuck me down behind the set and had me get into place behind a door that opened onto the set. Once Bethenny revealed to Coco that she was about to get a dance lesson, the door swung open and off we went! Once it was over, I really couldn’t remember a thing that happened. It all went by so fast.
You’ve choreographed for commercials, theater, television, and live events. Which do you prefer?
I would definitely say theater. I love the process and collaboration that comes with directing and choreographing for theater. I have found in the commercials, television, and live events I have worked on, the process can sometimes feel rushed. Also, it happens once and that is it. With theater, you can continue learning and discovering throughout the journey. Nothing is more exciting than having a live audience experience your work, and then know you still have time to go back and make it better.
What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
There have been so many that have changed my life, but if I had to pick one, it would be Newsies. I grew up watching the movie and being a part of the team who helped it come to the stage was a dream come true. Throughout our years on Broadway, we have discovered so many young performers who have launched a professional career in theater. The response we have received with the show was more than any of us thought could happen. I am so happy that we will continue telling our story with the National Tour that is about to launch. We have an incredible new cast that will be carrying the banner across the country.
Where do you feel most comfortable: on stage performing or behind the scenes choreographing and directing?
I feel most comfortable behind the scenes choreographing and directing. It has been so long since I have been on stage that it has given me a bit of stage fright. I just directed and choreographed a production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. They asked me to go on stage opening night and give a quick speech before the show. I thought it was going to be easy. It certainly was not! My mouth was so dry and I was sweating uncontrollably. Once it was finished, I couldn’t help but laugh. I had performed for years and now this quick two minute speech almost caused me to pass out.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Jeff Calhoun. He took me under his wing as I began my journey choreographing, and was instrumental in my shift into the directing world. What I love about our collaboration together is he always wants to hear my opinions and ideas. I have worked with some people in my life who prefer their Associates to sit next to them, take notes, and be more of an observer. From day one, Jeff has let me be very hands- on with any projects we have done together. He brings such history and knowledge with him, and nothing is more intriguing than story time with Jeff.
What is your advice for dancers who are trying to make it in this career?
I think one of the toughest things for dancers to learn is how to handle rejection. No one likes being cut from an audition, but at the end of the day, if you’re not right for something, you are simply not right. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time. People forget sometimes that everyone in the room wants you to book the job. It is so exciting for us to see who shows up to our auditions. None of us enjoy cutting people; however, it is all part of the process. Sometimes getting cut can be based on technical needs, sometimes it’s your look, and sometimes it’s your height. You will never know, and it is simply not worth trying to figure out. As long as you can walk out of the room and feel that you have done the best job you can, that is the most important thing.
What qualities do you look for when hiring dancers?
Of course the technical elements are very important but more than that, I look at the energy and demeanor of the individual. I really study people as they are learning material in an audition room. I watch how they interact with other people in the room, and their behavior on the sidelines. It’s someone who is a true team player, not just someone who can do four pirouettes. If I am going to hire someone, it has to be someone that I am excited to be working alongside and someone that brings a great energy to the room.
If you hadn’t chosen dance where would you be right now?
I honestly can’t imagine my life without theater. I have always had an interest in set design, and think I would have looked into that if I didn’t go the route I went.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Anthony “AntBoogie” Rue II has been an innovative leader in the entertainment industry. After founding the AmountBoyz and touring with Madonna, AntBoogie set his sights on training the next generation of dancers by starting Urban Dance League. We got the chance to speak with the fashion-forward entrepreneur to learn more about his experiences and what it takes to be a successful working artist.
What was your dance training like growing up?
My introduction to dance was very interesting. One day, I wanted to avoid math class so I took a chance on a dance class with National Dance Institute. This organization—founded by New York City Ballet Principal Jacques d’Amboise—offers dance instruction to thousands of New York City public school children each year. They invited me to join their program and that was the beginning of my life in dance. During the year, we focused on free movement, choreography, and performance. Over the summer, we learned ballet, tap and jazz.
When did you begin auditioning and training?
I started taking dance classes with National Dance Institute around nine or ten years old, and began auditioning for professional work around sixteen.
Can you tell us about Urban Dance League?
Urban Dance League (UDL) is a professional sports league of organized street-dance competitions, classes, and showcases based on the idea that “Dancers are Athletes.” UDL presents professional dancing in the same arena as the professional sports and athletic world. Sports, by
definition, are all forms of competitive physical activity, which through casual or organized participation aim to use, maintain, or improve physical fitness and provide entertainment to participants. To be a professional dancer is to do and be all of these things. Dancers train for years while investing countless hours training in sessions, classes, and rehearsals. They hone their craft, exercise all physical capabilities, and sometimes defy them by pushing past the limits of the human body. Dancers withstand injuries and endure both treatment and rehabilitation.
What qualities do you look for when hiring dancers?
Each job is different, so it depends on what project I’m working on. The dancers that are sure of themselves stand out to me; not over-the-top arrogant dancers, but someone who has that look in their eyes telling me they’re ready to work. The ability to freestyle is also very important to me. I want someone who isn’t intimidated to move freely, not someone who just does tricks. I also look for dancers that are in great shape. I think being in shape shows discipline and dedication, which are qualities everyone respects.
How would you tell dancers to prepare for UDL tryouts?
A great way to prepare for an Urban Dance League tryout is to watch footage of our previous games. You can get a feel of the different styles coaches throw at players. Come ready to dance with everything you’ve got, and leave all fears outside once you step on the floor.
Do you have any upcoming events you want people to know about?
The next UDL tryouts will be Sunday, September 28 at Broadway Dance Center. The final battle for the UDL competition on BET’s 106 & Park is September 29.
You are one of the founding members of the AmountBoyz. How would you say the group impacted the dance community?
Most of the group was formed in LaGuardia High School (the “Fame” School). While in school, we toured and performed on shows like Soul Train, TRL, The Ricki Lake Show, The Jenny Jones Show, 106 & Park. People loved the way we danced, and we started to generate a huge following. It was new to see a group of guys at that age at our level.
Many dancers today still come up to me and tell me about the first time they saw the AmountBoyz perform on TV—how it made them want to start dancing and move to NYC. It gave dancers a group to look up to before dance shows were popular. There was no social media or websites to host your videos for free. We had to pay for bandwidth to allow people to see our talent.
Our dedication to being the best and to each other inspired many. To this day, you can’t find many groups that stick together as long as we have. Our resume as a group is extensive. To say people wouldn’t believe how much work came from the AmountBoyz would be an understatement. Our 20th anniversary will be in 2016.
What advice do you have for people who are trying to start their own dance companies?
The first thing they should figure out is the goal of the company. If you’re paying taxes on your company, then you need to have a real plan for what you want to do. If you are looking to display your work, I would form a group first before investing money into creating a company. Dance companies need dancers that are dedicated. Without dedicated dancers, your work will not be able to form into something profitable.
I originally went to Madonna’s audition to hang out with her choreographers, Rich and Tone Talauega. After seeing their routine, I was ready to dance. I wasn’t signed in, but they asked me to jump in and try out the choreography. Rich and Tone are some of the best people to work with, so I did what they said! And the rest is history.
I was given the opportunity to travel the world and dance at the age of 25. I also got to choreograph my two solos with Madonna. This was a great time in my life. I believe it’s still the highest selling tour to date, so you can imagine the amount of people we performed in front of every night. You needed to be super focused on her stage, because it was very dangerous. If you didn’t pay attention to moving parts of the stage, you could lose a body part or your life. I learned a great deal about responsibility and being held accountable as not just a dancer, but also an adult.
We know that you’re also a rapper and MC! How does your music differ from other music out there now?
I don’t like most of the Hip-Hop music being created today. It’s very negative and only plays to one side of our culture. My music is different because I love dance. My energy and musical choices reflect that love of dance.
What are the steps to producing and recording a mix-tape?
The key things you want to have when creating a mix-tape are a good quality microphone and studio. The music cannot sound like you recorded it on your Casio. I would recommend hiring a producer who is also an engineer so that he can equalize and master your recordings. Hire a great artist to create your cover art. Research which blogs and websites cater to your sound, and send them a digital copy.
If a movie were produced about your life, who would play you and why?
I’m 32 but look younger, so I would probably have to find someone who could dance, rap, and look young at the same time. I’m not sure who I could get. I don’t think there is any actor that could pull off the size of the stars on my head.
What do you think has been the most challenging obstacle you’ve had to face in this industry?
I run into my biggest problems when working with people that don’t understand the value of what I do. A lot of the industry does not respect our craft. That is one reason why I created Urban Dance League. I wanted to create a business that would force the market to value our craft. Somebody has to get their hands dirty, and plant seeds to make some changes. So I backed away from gigs, because at the end of the day, my gigs didn’t do anything for the next generation of performers. What I have done for dancers in two years with Urban Dance League is more impressive to me than anything on my resume.
Any other projects you have in the works that dancers should know about?
I have a couple videos and performances coming up with Urban Dance League. If they would like to stay connected with us, they can visit our website UrbanDanceLeague.com.
We recently sat down with BDC Ballet Faculty member Richard Bowman for a Q & A session, and here’s what he had to say.
What was your training like growing up?
I started dancing when I was six years old. My mother was a dancer with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and my father was the company manager at that time. They settled in Auckland and my mother decided to put me into ballet class. When I was 14, I went to the Royal Academy of Dance’s International summer school in Wellington, New Zealand. They had teachers from the Royal Academy of Dance and The Royal Ballet. It was the first time I had been in a class with just boys, and being taught by a male teacher, as well.
At the end of the International Summer School one of the ballet masters was very interested in my potential. I was invited the following year to the International Summer School in Brisbane, Australia. There I was offered me full scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London. After training there for two years I was offered a position in Vienna at the Volksoper. Shortly thereafter I auditioned for the Vienna State Opera Ballet, during my time with the Vienna State Opera I was offered a position as a soloist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
While performing in New Zealand, I decided I needed to learn more about my profession so I returned to Europe. I accepted a contract as a soloist with the Leipzig Ballet under the direction of Uwe Scholtz.
How did your mother affect your career?
She was the basis for my training from the time I was a child until I went to London. She is a wonderful children’s teacher.
Who has been the most inspiring person throughout your career?
As a dancer one of the most inspiring teachers that I ever had was Jiahong Wang (Mr. Wang). I trained with him in the Royal Ballet School in London and years later when I was joined the Australian Ballet he was a ballet master. It was great to work with him as a student and then a professional dancer. His wealth of knowledge was unbelievable. As a teacher there have been so many teachers who have inspired me. Most recently was David Howard.
Can you tell us about the ABT® National Training Curriculum?
My experience with the ABT NTC is that it is a wonderful set of guidelines that aims to assist all teachers in training dance students in how to use their bodies correctly, it focuses on kinetics and coordination, as well as anatomy and proper body alignment. Artistically, the National Training Curriculum strives to provide dance students with a rich knowledge of classical ballet technique and the ability to adapt to all styles and techniques of dance.
What do you see dancers falter on the most?
I see dancers falter on their posture. It is a bad habit, which can be corrected with good training.
What is your advice for preparing for an audition?
You need to be in shape. Get plenty of sleep the night before. You have to be at the top of your game when you walk in that door. You also have to look like you came out of bandbox. You have to look like you’re a million dollars in other words. You can’t have dirty shoes, holes in your tights. Your hair and makeup have to be perfect. If I am auditioning somebody my first impression is what I see. That’s a tough lesson to learn. Make sure that you are prepared for whatever is going to be thrown at you. If you are going for a ballet audition, ladies make sure to have a couple pairs of pointe shoes ready to go. Make sure that you’re prepared to maybe even show a variation. You should have one already prepared in the back of your mind that you have been rehearsing. It has happened to me before out of the blue. They needed to see a variation. “Do you have music?” Sometimes it’s necessary since directors may want to see you outside of a classroom situation. Be prepared for anything.
What has been the most challenging obstacle for you in this business?
Trying to make sure as a teacher that I help and connect with every single person in the room.
Do you still take class? What kind of styles?
I would take class if I had time, but my schedule is very full at the moment. I used to take class maybe two or three times a week but recently it has become harder. I think it’s important to take other styles depending on what you are looking for. It doesn’t matter what style of a dancer you are, ballet class sets you up for every other genre. It’s a very good foundation for all dancers.
Can you tell us about the dance school you and your wife opened?
When I retired from performing full time with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre we moved to California and opened our own school. It was an amazing experience. A few years later my wife and I were invited to direct and manage an already established school and we were able to help turn the school around and make it very successful. In 2011, my wife was appointed the assistant principal of the Jackie Onassis School at ABT. Where I also teach now.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes, I do! I will be teaching at BDC this summer, as well as the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive in NYC.
What would you say is the biggest change you’ve seen over the years in dancers?
Over the decades, I find that the dancers are stronger now than they have ever been before. One thing I find that is missing is there are not many storytellers out there anymore. I see lots fantastic dancers who have difficulty portraying their characters. Imagination has a lot to do with that. What I mean is its not just about the steps, you actually have to become the character, a good way to work on this is to encourage dancers to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. I think that’s where the fun part comes in. If you can’t have fun then you cannot act or portray roles. Then it becomes very superficial.
Which of your projects are you most proud of?
My passion is training good dancers, so I try to be proud of every project I do.
How has your teaching experience been at BDC?
I really love teaching here. It’s a positive experience and always filled with energetic people who want to learn and that makes it fun.
For years, Cecilia Marta has given students a taste of her culture in her classes at Broadway Dance Center.
As a Native Panamanian, Cecilia grew up in a one- bedroom apartment with seven other family members. Dancing, music, and drumming were a way of life, and her community and family instilled within her a sense of love and stability that is still with her today. Before coming to America, she knew nothing about our dance culture, and her eyes quickly opened to a whole new world. She eventually traveled all over the world and learned more about herself and her movement.
We had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with Cecilia to learn more about her upbringing and the secrets to her longevity and health. Her advice and tips are sure to motivate any dancer to get back into the studio and train harder!
What was your childhood like growing up in Colón, Panama?
I was born in the ghetto in Colon, which is outside of Panama City. We were a family of eight in a one- bedroom apartment; three boys, three girls, mom, and dad. I grew up dancing; not as in training, but for us dancing was a way of life. We drummed as well, not necessarily on drums, but on walls, tables, and on each other’s heads. We would dance for each other and with each other, and the girls would partner with the boys. Somehow we managed to have a lot of celebrations. We used to have parties that consisted of people dancing their butts off all night long.
I was always outside enjoying the sun, playing with bugs, or playing soccer. Soccer by nature is rhythmical; almost everything I did was related to rhythm and dance. We didn’t have a refrigerator, so I grew up eating fresh food when we had food in the house. Inevitably, even though there are a lot nasty foods out there, my tendency as I grow older is to go back to how I was raised. So I eat a lot of fresh foods, like vegetable juices. Although we were poor, my upbringing served a great purpose. I am very grateful for dance, music and great food. I am staying very healthy and maintaining a great sense of self. I managed to gain a great deal of longevity thanks to my upbringing, my parents, neighbors, and community. That sense of community is still very strong for me. Even though I have been out of Panama, Panama is still in me.
How did your childhood affect your work today?
I would say my childhood has completely affected my work! I came to the United States when I was nearly 13 years old. I didn’t know anything about dance studios or being a professional dancer. We didn’t have the funds to investigate that kind of stuff. It was not until our high school dance teacher saw my sister and I doing salsa that I considered making dance a career. She walked us to a dance studio in San Francisco, and it was then that my sister and I began our venture into the dance world, knowing nothing about it. Both of our lives changed that day. It’s pretty amazing. We are still friends with that teacher today, and she has been very supportive and an amazing mentor through the years. My upbringing has served an amazing purpose. I am still reaping the benefits of it, and I give thanks for it all the time.
Can you tell us about your World Jazz class?
World Jazz came to be from all my years of traveling and exploring different genres of dance. The travel I have done in different countries has exposed me to different cultures. Since I was born in Panama, I found myself being very sensitive about arriving to a different country and dealing with the natives of the land. Just when you think you aren’t being influenced by certain people, you may find you have been influenced. I left New York after fourteen years and moved back to San Francisco, where I started my dance training. I taught at a studio, and it was there that I met my most important ballet teacher. He gave me great training and took me in. It was then that I started to explore myself and my own movement.
I remember reading an article about a DJ from India living in London. I went and bought his music and listened. Right at that moment I felt like I was changed. I ended up doing choreography I had never done before, and a whole world opened up for me. So when I came back to New York, I felt that to call my work “jazz” wasn’t doing it justice because I was playing with so many genres.
I have traveled to so many places and I have been back to them so many times, that I feel like a citizen of each country I’ve traveled to. I feel like a citizen of the world. I have this relationship with spirit and I have been blessed enough to study so many different genres of dance. The idea of World Jazz has become even clearer as I grow older, and it has become very easy for me. I don’t plan on choreographing a certain way, it just happens. I open up and listen to the music; the music inspires me. It’s almost like a bridge has been built, and as I walked across it I found something new. I decided to tap into them as opposed to disregard them or be afraid. I am really grateful for that exploration.
How does music play a part in your choreography?
I am a music freak. When I first came here from Panama I started Junior High in San Francisco. My first thought was that I wanted to study music. My mom had a new husband and he ended up saying no and I never pursued it. I feel like I have great taste in music because I am so connected to it. I call music my lover. I tell the dancers that study with me that when you think of music as your partner, you are always connected to it and that eliminates the idea of having to work hard.
One of the blessings I have experienced in having a company is that I had music composed for me. I was able to be on different ends of the creation of music. I would hear the music and tell a musician or arranger what to do. I would actually be a part of producing. What I feel I experienced is further education in music. I learned how to create a sound that I am inspired to choreograph to.
Music plays an integral part in my work. I have been blessed enough to venture into choreographing by way of just hearing specific rhythms and then having music created after. Most of the time, I have the music first and then am choreographing to that, but one time I challenged myself. I have also used live music on stage for one of the pieces that I choreographed. It’s been an amazing journey for me.
Can you tell us about the Cecilia Marta Company and what you’ve been up to?
I had just got back from a trip to Japan and I was working at the original Broadway Dance Center. There was a lot of inspiration in the air and Richard was very supportive of what I was doing. One night I was talking to my roommate about how I had choreographed and performed, but I had never put on my own show. I wanted to direct, choreograph, and rent a theater. I decided to venture into what I called Project 1990. I did two of those. I had a lot of amazing dancers in class so I asked them to join forces with me. Because of the work that went into that and all that I learned, I was inspired to start a company.
I’ve had my company on and off since 1992. It was dormant for some time when I went back to the West Coast. I restarted it in 2008 when I came back to New York and we were invited to perform in a festival in Quebec, CA. We’ve performed for Summer Stage in Brooklyn and Summer Stage in Central Park, Latino Commission on AIDS, and Dancers Responding to AIDS. I was really honored to perform in Central Park! I didn’t think they would ask us. It was an amazing process. Through another project we actually met the person who organized Fashion Week at Waldorf Astoria and he invited us to perform in it. It was about creating a piece of choreography on their U-shaped platform that the models used as their runway. That was awesome!
Recently, we were invited to participate in the Summer Stage 2014 Harlem Dance Caravan at the Marcus Garvey Park. It’s under the Summer Stage umbrella but they bring in different companies to perform on the same stage and my company will perform one piece. In April I am going to Brazil to teach a work shop. I mentioned to them that I have a company and that I wanted them to perform over there. That’s a conversation for us to have, but I already planted the seed. That’s basically what I am constantly doing.
I have dancers from all over the planet. I feel that my dancer’s represent World Jazz pretty well. We represent all of the people as opposed to everyone having to look a certain way. The main focus for me is finding and connecting with dancers that have a very strong sense of self and intuitiveness. Their intuitive character plays a strong part in World Jazz.
What do you think the secret to your longevity is?
I haven’t stopped training, exercising, and dancing. I participate in my classes I teach and do some of the exercise that my students are doing. There are certain rituals that I have such as meditation, breathing, and yoga. I do different kinds of yoga that has been very helpful in maintaining my physical body, strength, and my core. For a lot of my students I tell them I treat myself like a queen. I know that has contributed greatly. I also have to say my parents and ancestors have a lot to do with my longevity. It has a lot to do with where and how I was brought up, and how I lived in a community. I have a memory of what I was given and the kind of love that I was exposed to. The neighbors loved you as well as your family members. I feel like that kind of energy and love holds you up through the years, even when times get rough.
I can’t say it’s just the dance and the training; it’s a combination of being consistent, disciple, eating well, and my connection to people, family, and the universe. I feel like there’s a rhythmical vibration that I pay attention to that really helps me. Quiet time is so important. When I share that information with my dancers they say they don’t know how to be quiet. If it stresses you out to think about meditation then don’t close your eyes. Just sit quietly, turn the lights down, and chill out for 5 minutes. I have honored that aspect of my life and I feel like that has infused me with energy and it keeps replenishing me.
I am no different from everyone else, I get tired. I am able to take time to slow down my rhythm and vibration so that I am able to keep going. That serves an amazing purpose for all of us. It’s the matter of me acknowledging that it works and honoring it. I tell my students the warm up is a meditation, class is meditation. You have to be present and breathe properly.
What are your tips on how to train a dancer?
It’s not just about how to train a dancer. What does training mean? What is training? I feel like we are living in a time where so much has been commercialized. I feel like the dance community shifted a bit when hip-hop got popular. There is nothing wrong with hip-hop; I admire hip-hop artists because they have something very organic, animalistic, and fierce. For a lot of people they remain within that environment pursuing only what they already know, as opposed to stepping outside of it to learn other things. A lot of the kids don’t understand the concept of training. They think it’s about doing something they already know. Part of my teaching has been based on educating those that are interested in learning. I tell them the whole idea of training is to repeat the same thing at least three times a week. Twice a week is doable, but the more you do it the more your muscle memory strengthens. We are attempting to do great at something we forgot because too many days have gone by and the muscle memory is weak.
For a lot of people I feel like they are waiting for someone to convince them that they should be training as opposed to having that excitement and knowing what they need to do that day. A lot of students think going to class means following their friends or going to classes that are popular. It becomes a little bit competitive. Competition doesn’t equal to gaining training. It actually kind of takes you to the opposite extreme of what training is. You’re not focusing on self-acknowledging what you need in order to succeed.Part of the training is to have the disciple to acknowledge everything that I said. Without the discipline we don’t get to tap into what that training is. It’s about being wise enough to find the proper teachers that will help you. If you’re not getting any attention don’t take it personal, but go to classes where you will get attention. Our jobs as teachers are to look at you and help you understand what needs to be corrected.
Part of what I am passing on is basically how I train and what my teacher did to help me. I was consistently present in class, even if I was out late night. I would always be in ballet class at 9:30am. When I started taking ballet at age twenty-four, I took it seriously and started to take it every single day. I wasn’t trying to be a ballet dancer, so it wasn’t about having to prove anything. It’s about being smart enough to say that you want ballet, need ballet and you know it’s going to help to transform your body and mind. Rather than thinking of the destination, acknowledge the process. The process is actually the sweetest part of the journey. To make a real dancer the training is extensive. When you put in the time and take care of your physical body and mind, you gain longevity. I am still here and dancing. In fact I am probably stronger than ever. Your muscles are a support system and I call the muscles an army. When that army works together you have magic. We are the magicians and we create the magic based on the knowledge that we have gained.
Do you have any more advice that you’d like to share with dancers?
Trust your voices; trust what you feel, and what you hear. That’s your intuitive nature speaking to you. I feel very blessed because of the way I was brought up. I was able to trust that as a child and that has been my guiding force throughout my life, and it hasn’t steered me wrong. I don’t believe that I am capable of that only because I am from Panama. I believe we all have that ability. I feel that because a lot of people don’t take that quiet time they kind of disconnect from the concept of “I can.”
We have to begin to own the idea that we are capable of a lot more than what we think we are. We don’t’ have to feel like we have to set the clock and accomplish this or that by a certain age. Individually, we all have our internal rhythm and we have to trust and honor that internal rhythm because that’s our clock.