BDC Works: Richard Hinds

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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.

untitled9What 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?untitled10

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.

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BDC Works: AntBoogie

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
Antboogie_7definition, 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.

You danced for Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour. What was that experience like? How did you get that opportunity?

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.


antboogie_4If 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.

BDC Works: Richard Bowman

 

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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.

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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.

untitled14What 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.untitled15

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.

BDC Works: Cecilia Marta

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.
marta_cecelia_interview1We 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.

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 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. marta_cecelia_interview3

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.

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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.

Photos courtesy of Cecelia Marta; Photos by SPINKICK PICTURES, Thomas James, & Tim Grant 

Frank Hatchett: A Celebration of VOP

On Tuesday, April 1st Broadway Dance Center hosted a tribute celebration to the late Frank Hatchett who passed away last December.  Hatchett helped to found Broadway Dance Center in 1984 and was one of BDC’s most impressive teachers.  Hatchett was the kind of master teacher that comes along once in a lifetime, influencing the lives of each and every student he encountered.  Many considered him their “dance dad,” a supportive father figure in the challenging performing arts industry.

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As a performer, Hatchett danced with such stars as Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Pearl Bailey.  But his heart lied in teaching dance.  And truly, his classes were legendary—especially the infamous “3:30 Advanced class.” Hatchett gave attention to every dancer and would publicly call you out—for better or worse—in order to make you shine as a performer.  But above all, Hatchett wanted the best for his students.

Hatchett’s students have gone on to do great things—both as dancers and as
legacy-menhuman beings.  Many have graced the Broadway stage and Hollywood films while others have followed Hatchett’s inspiring vocation to teach.  And one thing is for sure: Hatchett didn’t teach “steps.”  He instilled in his students a sense of self by expressing emotion and overcoming challenges through movement and performance.  Hatchett was not just a teacher, but also a mentor, a father figure, and a friend.  He saw greatness in each of his students and challenged them to explore their true potential.
img_4871On Tuesday afternoon, the Symphony Space Theatre was packed with students, colleagues, and friends who have been touched by Hatchett’s passion for dance.  The nearly three hour-long performance celebration felt like a great big family reunion.  It was a sort of homecoming for all of those lives Frank touched.  Frank’s dance family—his brothers and sisters, daughters and sons—shared memories and performances that were humorous, sentimental, and moving.
img_4793After tripping up the stairs to the microphone (á la Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars), Brooke Shields described how Papa Frank nicknamed her, “Tasty B,” when she was learning to get in touch with her sexy-side in class. “I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror,” she explained, tearing up.  “I didn’t want to seem vain.”  But Frank helped her overcome her fear.  The mirror is not just a tool to see the lines and shapes of your body.  The mirror makes you see yourself: your soul and passion as a dancer.

The songs felt like spirituals.  John Eric Parker’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” was so sentimental (and also quite a contrast to the character he plays in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon).  Alyson Williams sang Bette Midler’s famous “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a poignant depiction of the teacher, mentor, and friend, Frank Hatchett; “Did you ever know that you’re my hero? …I can fly higher than an eagle, ‘cause you were the wind beneath my wings.”  And Vivian Reed concluded the performance with a virtuosic rendition of “God Bless the Child.”

The video montages were a great addition to the performances, allowing those who could not attend the event the chance to say a few words about Frank.  It was incredible to see—both on stage and on camera—the number of people who were so grateful to have had Papa Frank in their lives.  It was thrilling to recognize the influence one man had (and still has) in the lives of so many dancers and performing artists.
img_8498In ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized “good” art as that in which the audience experiences , a purgation of emotions that results in a sense of renewal and restoration.  The performance was an illustration of the power of art—not just dance, but also singing, music, speech, and film.  Art can help us to mourn, to express gratitude, to celebrate, to honor, and to heal.  This event, in my opinion, exemplified the therapeutic and magnificent power of art.In ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized “good” art as that in which the audience experiences catharsis, a purgation of emotions that results in a sense of renewal and restoration.  The performance was an illustration of the power of art—not just dance, but also singing, music, speech, and film.  Art can help us to mourn, to express gratitude, to celebrate, to honor, and to heal.  This event, in my opinion, exemplified the therapeutic and magnificent power of art.

Now, to be honest, I never took an actual class from Frank Hatchett.  But my dancing—all of our dancing—is still inspired by him, by the generation of his students-turned-teachers who are keeping his legacy alive, including Broadway Dance Center’s own Sheila Barker, Lane Napper, Robin Dunn, Michelle Barber, Heather Rigg, and Debbie Wilson.  The celebration of Frank Hatchett created a tremendous sense of family and community within the theater—a feeling, I’m sure, was a part of his classes every week.   Whether we knew Frank personally or not, it was clear to see that he has had an impact on all of our lives.

Thank you, Papa Frank, for inspiring all of us to be the best dancers we can be. 

You’ll be deeply missed, but your VOP legacy will forever live on at Broadway Dance Center.

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BDC Works: Jared Grimes

Broadway Dance Center’s Jared Grimes is not only a triple threat; he’s also a producer, director and choreographer! His unique style of blending tap, jazz, and hip-hop within his performances leaves audiences speechless. Jared has showcased his talent through nearly every facet of the entertainment world, from appearing on television shows such as FOX’s Fringe, touring with stars like Mariah Carey, and recently debuted on Broadway.

He lent his imaginative choreography to commercials for Macy’s and Chili’s, as well as appeared in commercials for Coca-Cola and Subway. He danced alongside legends like Gregory Hines and Wynton Marsalis, and even performed for President Barack Obama. Grimes gives us the chance to take a closer look into his world, and tells us more about choreographing for Cirque Du Soleil and the production of his project Broadway Underground.

What was your dance training like growing up?

My mom was actually my first teacher. I would watch her dance and think, “I want to be just like her!” So, I started off taking tap, and then I tried different styles at other dance studios.

Where did you get the idea for Broadway Underground? Can you tell us a little about it?

When I first moved to the city no one would let me perform, and it was just because no one knew who I was. It was the first couple of months that I had moved here, and I was new. I was like, damn! I called this person and he said no, or this person said that she didn’t have any space. I always wanted to create an outlet for people that gave them an opportunity to showcase their talents, whether they just moved to the city or they recently started dancing. I hoped that one day I would be able to do something like that, and the vehicle that I came up with was Broadway Underground. The whole idea was to mix my Broadway friends with people who are not on Broadway; passionate people who are just looking for a chance.

How can artists become a part of Broadway Underground?

Broadway Underground the remix is kind of like an open mic. In a way, we revolutionized the whole thing. Everybody can bring their own CDs, choreography, and costumes, and showcase their talents. I always have agents, producers, directors, and casting agents there to pick up people that are looking for an opportunity. The acts should be under three minutes each, and the first thirty numbers that sign up get to perform. Then there’s the element of putting together a show on the spot with these acts, five minutes before the show starts. I look at the list, craft the whole show and make sure that it’s all balanced. There can’t be too much of one style of dance back-to-back.

How did you get the opportunity to choreograph for Cirque Du Soleil? What has that experience been like?

They actually saw me at Broadway Underground! A long time ago we used to do it more like a choreographer showcase. It was a production of people that I would see around the city and ask to perform. They happened to come one night, and I guess that some of my material was exactly what they were thinking for their show. I want to say just two or three weeks later I was having auditions for the show. I was one of six choreographers at the time, and I ended up being the only one. Cirque Du Soleil was tough! You know when you envision such an entity, and you have so many thoughts about what it will be like before you get into it? For me, none of those were accurate. It was a lot of mountains to climb daily, in terms of what they expected and how they expected it to be. I didn’t enjoy it at times, but did enjoy at other times. So it ended up being a challenge and one of the toughest and greatest experiences at the same time. I always say if I can make it through that, I can do anything!

Do you prefer appearing in commercials or choreographing for them? What’s the difference for you?

I am a performer first and foremost. I’m really not sure how all of the choreography stuff even started. I began doing choreography in college and then through Broadway Underground, and I didn’t mind doing it for my own projects. Then my career kind of took off, and I started doing everything at the same time. In a way, I was killing many birds with one stone. It was easier to hire me to perform, choreograph, direct, produce, and even compose for one project. To me, appearing in commercials and choreographing for commercials are each their own form of freedom. When you are actually performing, you get to indulge in freedom in the moment. When you choreograph you feel that freedom for a second and then you have to live vicariously through the people that get to do it every night. It’s very bitter sweet.

What would your advice be for any artist trying to pursue a career in entertainment?

My advice would be to do as much as possible. I came to the city and thought that I was just going to be a tap dancer. Then thanks to all of the training that I had done growing up, I broke down all of the doors. The fact that I could do more than one discipline was a huge plus. So, take as many classes as possible and train as much as possible. You need to eat, sleep, breathe your dreams, and you need to be constantly thinking about how you are going to achieve them. There is no down time or time to relax. As soon as you relax, somebody passes you by. So, always keep busy and constantly work. I always say that you should practice as if you are not good; as if you suck! You should be afraid of becoming complacent. The entertainment world is one of those worlds where people become comfortable with their names or their resumes and they sometimes feel that they can relax. I think that’s unacceptable for people that are up-and-coming, and even for people that have already made it. To me, it’s about the heart and it’s about propelling the genres and taking them somewhere. Then maybe one day people will be saying your name. Duke Ellington for example; people will know who he is forever because of how hard he worked.

Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?

My two idols are Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr., for very obvious reasons! My whole goal was to be a different, updated version of those two.

Can you tell us about The Jared Grimes feel?

That’s my band! It’s like Pop and R&B Jazz. We are kind of like the Dave Matthews Band. Well, we don’t play that type of music, but when you hear DMB you know that they have a signature sound. I thought it would be cool to do something where everybody kind of connected to tap and music. I always wanted to be in a band. I am one of those people who set a goal in my mind and the goal was to breakthrough into the music industry, and to change the whole landscape. Jared Grimes Feel is the name of the band because we are probably the only band where the front man can sing, write, compose, and dance as if my tap shoes were a guitar or piano. So we came up with the idea to throw a party at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill where we open up for choreographers that I admire. We do a 45-minute set, and after that we clear the table and open up the floor for the dance performances. It’s kind of like a new version of a speak easy. It’s a Vegas type of feel with a little twist, but in New York. 

Can you talk a little about your experience with After Midnight?

 It’s cool! It’s actually my first Broadway show! I’ve done a lot of regional theater shows and I am really kind of tired of doing regional. I love it, but the whole goal of regional is to hopefully do a show that comes to Broadway. I have done so many shows that haven’t, so it was kind of cool to do something that was Off Broadway but kind of seen as Regional Theater. I always thought it would be cool if it went to Broadway, but in the back of my mind I thought it probably wouldn’t. So, when the buzz started about it might go on Broadway, my good friend, who is one of the producers, brought me on as one of the choreographers. It’s been a blessing, but it’s also still kind of surreal. It really hasn’t hit me yet, because this world is so new to me. It’s a show where I can do whatever I want on stage. I almost feel guilty about that. I have hustled so much until I got to that point, so that was kind of a big payoff. I am blessed an honored and excited to see where that takes me after.

You have been a part of so many amazing projects. Is there one you’re most proud of?

I don’t think that there’s one in particular. Everything is school, and everything is a lesson. With Cirque Du Soleil, I learned how to be a crazy choreographer, with After Midnight I get the opportunity to grow every night in the show. I never look at it like I have a project; I just think about what choreographer I get to work with or how I can’t wait to work with a certain director. I see all of my projects as an opportunity to enlighten myself and those around me, and see what I can add to the pot.

What has been your most memorable TV/FILM moment?

I think it’s the movie I did, The Marc Pease Experience, with Anna Kendrick and Ben Stiller. I got to improvise with Ben Stiller for two scenes. Everyone thought that I was pretty funny, and I don’t think they expected that. Ben and I dug doing improve scenes outside of the stuff we were given to see if we could find anything. I thought he was going to be this really light, fun, loving guy on set but he’s really not. He’s funny but he’s all about the scene and devoting as much energy to the take. So, here I was all smiles ready to do a scene with him. There was a balance between his professionalism and my ambitious personality. I saw it as a challenge to not get blown out of the water, but yet add comically to the scene. The other projects that I have done are more dramatic. Its fun to do more dramatic roles because its challenging, but I enjoy comedy the most because being silly is more my true personality.

Michelle Dorrance: Artist to Watch (And Hear)

Known as one of the most sought-after tap dancers of her generation, Broadway Dance Center’s Michelle Dorrance has undoubtedly left her mark on the world of dance. When she’s not traveling the world teaching and choreographing, you can find her on stage inspiring others with her brilliant performances. Michelle’s impressive resume includes four years with the Off-Broadway show STOMP, performances with the most notable tap companies in the world, and countless festivals.

Sharing the stage with dancers such as Sam Weber and Dianne Walker, Michelle is known for her awe-inspiring, unique routines. As the winner of the 2011 Bessie Award and the 2012 Princess Grace Award, this talented dancer most recently received the 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award. Taking a break from her busy schedule, Michelle sat down with us to answer some questions about the Pillow Festival and what advice she shares with her students.

Can you tell us a little bit about winning the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award?

 What I can say is that it seemed absurd to me that I was going to get it. I told Ella Baff, the executive and artistic director, “are you sure there isn’t someone else you want to give this to?”  Ella is a champion for supporting a vision that encourages and promotes change in our culture. She is making sure that tap dance is a part of an institution like Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and supporting my vision for what I what to do with it. Clearly, she can acknowledge famous outstanding choreographers.  For me it’s more of an emerging artist award.

You had put together a show with the award money. What was the process like?

I have always had a huge passion for blues music and its origins. It has influenced me as an artist and a dancer for a really long time. I think tap and the blues have very similar origins and similar stories racially, socially and politically. I wanted to create a piece of work that was entirely blues based. I had worked with a musician, Toshi Reagon, in the past. She has a huge range musically and can take it in any direction. I knew she would bring the same approach to blues that I bring to tap, so I knew she’d be the perfect person to write my music. She was going to bring not just the traditional country blues, but also a more Led Zeppelin feeling. I wanted to explore that musically and I knew that we could create some emotional and political concepts together. We played on a lot of characters, emotions and abstract narrative that can bring you a feeling of different political and social ideas. Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards came on as choreographers with me. It was a godsend to be able to collaborate with some of my favorite artists and move forward with this idea I’ve had.

The list of artists who have won the Pillow Dance Award include Alonzo King, Annie P. Parson and Crystal Pite. Are there any similarities or influences these artists have had on your dancing?

Some of those people were revolutionaries and were willing to take risks in times when their names weren’t so well known. If anything they inspire me to push further.  I can relate to Kyle Abraham because we’re of the same generation. I love the messages and the content that he is bringing to the table, on top of the incredible movement. I am so humble to be in the company of such giants.

What was your dance training like growing up?

My mother was a professional ballet dancer who opened up her own dance school.  Being that my classes were all free, I studied every style of dance at first, but when I started taking tap it became my love immediately.  I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t in love with it. It came to define me, and I felt like it was who I was. It was a powerful feeling and it came much more natural to me than anything I had ever done. I feel blessed to have had my mother as a teacher. She always encouraged me and I learned a lot from her choreography.  I had another incredible teacher, Gene Medler, who had started seeking out the tap community when I was young. He opened up the tap world to not only me, but also many dancers in North Carolina where I was born.  We were exposed to all of the legendary hoofers and professional choreographers, and got the chance to attend some of the first tap festivals.  I couldn’t have asked for a better training experience.

You’ve performed in so many incredible shows with such talented artists. What was your most memorable performance experience?

That’s impossible to answer. I at least have to give you three performances! The three shows that I feel I learned a tremendous amount from are, Imagine Tap! choreographed by Derick K. Grant, STOMP and Jason Smith’s critically acclaimed Charlie’s Angels: A Tribute To Charlie Parker. Performing them is memorable in the lessons you learn along the way, and how it demands more from you as a performer.

 

You teach students all around the world. What is your advice for students who want to pursue a career in tap?

Definitely do it! First piece of advice I have is what I would tell any dancer or athlete. Practice hard and practice smart. Don’t just practice what you’re good at. Have a passionate work ethic, stay humble and never give up. Those seem to be all generic pieces of advice, but they are important. For tap specifically, make sure that you’re approaching the art form with integrity and know your history.  Know the music that has influenced tap, and the tap that has influenced history. Know the styles that have influenced tap, and the styles that tap has influenced. I think that tap is so unique. You are a musician and a dancer and you are responsible for the music that is coming from your feet.  Also, remember that it is an art form because too many people try to lump it into just a form of entertainment.

Do you encourage your students to take other styles of dance?

Yes, you have to know your body, that’s huge! Tap predates all other American street styles and influenced House, Lindy Hop, Boogie, etc. There are so many different movements along the way inside of tap.  You can learn more about yourself physically when you push yourself to do other styles. It gives you a chance to discover why you make certain choices in your tap dancing.

You founded Dorrance Dance in early 2011. What was your vision behind the company?

What I wanted to do was to honor tap’s tradition, incredible legacy and the art form, while pushing it and exploring it rhythmically, aesthetically and conceptually. I never want to abandon its roots, and at the core of what I am, it’s impossible. I know a lot of people who try to take risks and push something in a new direction and sometimes they lose the core of what it is. That I can say will never happen. I had these incredible dancers and too many ideas that excited me. I had too many concepts in which I wanted to kind of show off. I love being able to use tap dancers that have other forms in their bag because it allows you to explore more. For my company it happens organically.

What do you look for in a dancer?

I look for incredibly hard working, inspiring dancers who practice with performance integrity.  There is a dancer that I work with that always stands out to me in rehearsals.  This guy is never less than full out in rehearsal and everyone should practice like that.  I have never once had to ask him to step it up.  I also look for strong improvisers as well as soloists who are interested in creating group energy, and being a part of whatever my vision is choreographically.  I am inspired to work with a dancer who has a unique personality and that is very different. I don’t want a specific body type.  I like the grittiness and the rawness of a bunch of unique dancers, characters and personalities working together. They might have to all do the same thing, but none of them are going to look the same.  I think it’s very powerful as dance and theatre to be moved by a group of diverse people.

How can dancers become a part of Dorrance Dance?

I don’t have actual auditions for the company, but my advice would be to come to class!  I have literally watched students grow in class and saw them attain a new skill set and new level. Whenever you can be connected to someone’s learning process and feel their connection in a room, that’s the first thing to lead you to want to work with them. In a classroom setting you get to know who someone is. People always ask me if there’s a certain skill that they need to know. I want someone with his or her own unique style; I don’t want a bunch of me’s running around!

How would you say that your choreography differs from other tap choreography?

That’s hard for me to say. I don’t know, I think I just manifest my influences a little differently than others.  I have friends who are choreographers, but what comes out of us is very different. With any given choreography, the collections of influences that go into a piece are what make a difference. Lets say one thing that will influence it is that my dancer is 6 foot 8, another thing is a cartoon, and another thing is a really sad song that I used to listen to in high school.

Longchamp scores a SLAM-dunk

Contemporary jazz teacher, Slam, has made his mark on nearly every aspect of the industry from documentary film to the Broadway stage and from international pop tours to memorable TV commercials.  If you’ve watched television or opened a fashion magazine in the past year and a half, you’ve probably seen Longchamp’s campaign starring Coco Rocha.  And who else would be the mastermind behind the movement than BDC’s own Slam!


slamWhat was your dance training like growing up?

I started training to be a classical dancer at age 13. I went to the Royal Ballet School in Antwerp, a school with total of only 100 students.  We danced all day and then had 2 hours of academics – Kind of like the Fame school but just for ballet. It was very strict but I’m very happy I did it because it actually made me the dancer that I am today and taught me to be disciplined. Growing up, I would also take a lot of Jazz dance classes at night. But before dancing, I had a big passion for gymnastics. I was obsessed with Nadia Comaneci…but then realized guys don’t get music on the floor exercise so that was a deal breaker for me.


img_1164When did you begin auditioning and teaching?

I guess I started auditioning at age 13 because I had to audition to get into the ballet school. But my first real audition for work I would say was at age 19.  I used to love going to dance auditions, I remember when I didn’t have the money for class I would just go to auditions to stay in shape – it’s free class!  I started giving classes a couple years after, but the actual teaching the classes came much later.

How did you land the job as choreographer for the Longchamp commercial?

Madonna called them. Just kidding!  The ad agency approached me.  They saw some of my previous work in fashion – Wella, German Vogue, and my recent Glamour Issue with Anne Hathaway – and they were aware of my work.  So the producer contacted me and I had a couple meetings with them, I also had a dance rehearsal with Coco Rocha (who happens to be an amazing dancer and we clicked right away).  Everything kind of fell in its place and all of our creative energies totally worked together. I’m also sure my expertise in working with women and making them look beautiful was a big help, too. I have experience choreographing a lot fashion productions.  In April we just wrapped my second season with Longchamp, shot in NYC with Coco.  I think they released some photos of the print ad already and the commercial should be out soon. Stay tuned!

From a choreographer’s standpoint how’s choreographing a commercial different from choreographing a live performance?

It is different but I enjoy both!  Choreographing a commercial feels a little bit busier, more spontaneous because half of the time you are still choreographing on set (as it becomes more of a meeting of the minds with the art director). But I like that; I like that nervous energy and constantly changing energy. And also when shooting film, you have more options as far as editing.  As a choreographer you can make different versions and edits.  It is stressful, though, with all the different voices on set. But overall, it’s pretty amazing.

Choreographing a live performance feels more structured.  The rehearsal schedule is set up upfront.  When you have organized rehearsals I feel like you have more time to play around with choreography and also get to know the performers more.  It feels a little more intimate to me because you get to connect with your audience on an almost spiritual level.  And what I love about a live performance is its honesty, it’s either good or bad – there’s no editing process!


img_0519What was it like working with models like Coco Rocha and Liisa Winkler?

Amazing! They were both a pleasure.

Lisa comes from a dance background as well; she used to be a ballet dancer in a ballet company in Canada. I liked her innocence.  I didn’t even get to rehearse with her in a studio –  She flew in from Canada straight to JFK terminal 5 where we shot the Longchamp “You Should Be Dancing” commercial! We only rehearsed on set but she did great.

Working with Coco is amazing too, I always call her “the Martha Graham of modeling.” She does it all.  Coco takes amazing direction and it is incredible to work with a true supermodel. And on top of all that she’s the sweetest and most humble person.

Coco has danced before – she was an Irish dancer growing up and she has danced in commercials for Black House White Market and in flash mobs for Fashion’s Night Out. How do you think dance experience helps one as a model?

Everything is movement these days.  As you’ve probably heard, “In fashion, one day you’re in and the next day you are out!”

So if you are a model with dance experience, like in Coco’s case, you’re going to work more. I think it’s going to be more inspiring for the photographer and the client to have a model who can play different parts through her movement and follow direction. But then again, I also like working with models that can’t move at all!  It becomes a challenge for both of us. There’s something raw about their dance inexperience and it captures a different (but still good) energy. I actually encourage  a lot of models – both aspiring and established –  to take a dance class… it’ll most definitely help them out on set, at a casting or anywhere they need to “move.”

I saw you on this season of “The Face” where you led models in a dance/movement challenge. What did you look for when you chose the winner of that challenge?

This was actually a great opportunity to show how dance influences fashion these days.  I looked at each model’s energy, how quickly she picked up direction, her willingness to learn, and her inspiration.  But as it turned out, the girls that had a harder time moving (but still sort of went for it and threw themselves into the challenge) actually photographed great!


0Is choreographing for models different than choreographing for dancers since you have to focus on featuring a specific product?

Yes it is different with models.  The product is the most important. You will have a really good take of a dance section but the product (in this case, the purse) wasn’t turned the right way or flap wasn’t facing up. So a lot times they go with the take we’re the product looked the best and maybe the performance was a bit less.  I must say the energy on a fashion set is different then on a film commercial set with dancers In Fashion there are no rules, you just go!  For example, you will start at 9am until 3am and the next day you start again at 9am again!  But the choreography itself is basically still a creation from the choreographer… so the difference  between choreographing for models  is that you are choreographing around a specific product or message. In dance, you are a bit freer as an artist to take the audience where you want to go.

Check out the television commercials here:
“You Should Be Dancing”
The Making of “You Should Be Dancing”

Josh Bergasse is simply SMASH-ing

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The American musical-drama, SMASH, might be over, but choreographer, Josh Bergasse, isn’t going anywhere.  The long-time Broadway Dance Center teacher landed the coveted choreography job when the show premiered back in early 2012.  In his numerous pieces such as “The National Pastime,” “Let’s Be Bad,” and “Ce N’est Pas Ma Faute,” Bergasse brings the energy and awe of live theatre to the television screen.  Called the “secret weapon” of SMASH, Bergasse went on to win the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography.  Take a look at BDC’s exclusive interview with Josh and check back on our website to see when Josh will be teaching at the studio again this summer.

BDC: What was your dance training like growing up?

JB: I grew up at my mother’s dance studio just outside of Detroit.  I put my first pair of tap shoes on at the age three and I was hooked.  I studied mostly jazz and tap in the early years, and it wasn’t until my late teens that I studied ballet seriously.  Looking back, I wish I’d been in ballet class much sooner.

BDC: When did you begin auditioning and teaching?

JB: I began auditioning locally in Michigan for small shows and industrials as a teenager.  That’s when I started teaching at my mom’s school as well, which gave me the opportunity to explore different choreographic styles.  My first NYC audition was for a tour of WEST SIDE STORY.  I booked the job and toured for two years.  Shortly after that tour ended I started teaching at Broadway Dance Center.  That was 15 years ago…feels like yesterday.

BDC: How did you get connected with SMASH as actual choreographer and acting as the choreographer on the show?

JB: I was brought on board as choreographer for SMASH by Michael Mayer, the director of the first three episodes and a Consulting Producer.  Michael directed me in a musical in the past, but had never seen my choreography until an NYU benefit two-and-a-half years ago.  Soon after, we started working on SMASH together.  Once we were in rehearsals for the pilot, Theresa Rebeck, the creator of SMASH, asked if I’d play the assistant choreographer.  Of course I said “yes!”  I never thought it would be a recurring part.  I was always surprised when I read each new script and there was a line for “Josh” in it.

BDC: You’ve choreographed for a lot of live theatre in the past – how was choreographing for a TV show different?  Do you prefer one over the other?

JB: Since most of the pieces I choreographed for SMASH were theatrically based, there wasn’t much difference in choreographing for TV.  I’d say the main difference is in theater you craft every moment perfectly in rehearsal so that the audience follows the action and story exactly as you want them to from any seat in the theater.  For television, much of the work is done in the editing room.  The more footage you get, the more options you have in postproduction.

images2BDC: How has your work with SMASH (and your Emmy award!) influenced your career as a choreographer?

JB: SMASH has been a wonderful lesson in the importance of collaboration.  My assignment is to work with the producers, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, and of course the cast, to develop the choreography that best serves the show.  The visibility of the show (and the Emmy award!) has certainly opened new doors for me as a choreographer.  It’s so important for choreographers to get their work out to the public so people to see it.  SMASH has done that for me.

BDC: What impact do you think SMASH had on both the dance and theatre communities?

JB: I like to think that SMASH has made more people across the country interested in dance and theater.  Not everyone has the means to go to New York and see a Broadway show, but everyone has a TV or access to the Internet.  Hopefully it created a spark in people to go see theater or dance where they live, or even become a dancer or actor.

BDC: You recently choreographed New York City Center’s Encores! performance of “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman.”  What other projects do you have coming up?
images3JB: Right now I’m in the Berkshires choreographing “On The Town” at Barrington Stage Company.  Next up is a developmental workshop of the new musical “Bull Durham” and then the new musical “Secondhand Lions” at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle.

BDC: We know you’re very busy…but will you be returning to teach at BDC soon?

JB: I hope to get back to BDC this summer for at least a few weeks.