Dance Theatre of Harlem: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry. 

Next up is Dance Theatre of Harlem.

What is Dance Theatre of Harlem?

Dance Theatre of Harlem is renowned for being the first major ballet company to prioritize Black dancers. 

A little history…

DTH was founded in 1969 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was established by Arthur Mitchell (a protégé of George Balanchine and the first Black dancer with New York City Ballet) and his former ballet master, Karel Shook, as a classical ballet school for young dancers in Harlem. A company was formed with the top dancers and DTH began performing as a way to match money donated to fund the school. George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins bestowed the rights to several of their ballets and before long, DTH was touring internationally, integrating stages, and presenting both classical ballets and contemporary works celebrating African American culture. 

Breaking barriers in ballet

Since day one, DTH has been a multi-ethnic dance company. “[The vision],” says Virginia Johnson, founding member and later Artistic Director of DTH, “was to make people aware of the fact that this beautiful art form actually belongs to and can be done by anyone. Arthur Mitchell created this space for a lot of people who had been told, ‘You can’t do this,’ to give them a chance to do what they dreamed of doing.” Both the school and the company preached inclusivity and innovation. Dancers of all backgrounds and body types were welcomed at DTH. 

Dancing into the future

Now in their sixth decade, DTH continues to educate, perform, and inspire. Despite financial constraints and the recent pandemic, DTH has found a way to keep going. Check out their 2020 virtual performance, “Dancing Through Harlem.” Additionally, DTH’s outreach program, “Dancing Through Barriers,” travels across the country to offer classes in ballet, choreography, and musicology to anyone who wants to study dance—from children to seniors. For more about DTH, visit their website.

Brown Ballerinas: Inside the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Virginia Johnson in Creole Giselle

Pearl Primus: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry. 

Next up is Pearl Primus.

Who is Pearl Primus?

Pearl Primus was an American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist on a mission prove African dance was worthy of both critical study and professional performance.

Discovering her gift

Primus was born in Trinidad in 1919 and emigrated to New York City with her parents when she was a toddler. She excelled in school and majored in biology/pre-med at Hunter College. However, racial discrimination in the field prevented Primus from landing a job. To make ends meet, she worked backstage for America Dances and was eventually hired as an understudy. Her natural talent for the art form was undeniable, and Primus went on to join the New Dance Group, a Lower East Side dance troupe that promoted social reform through their performance. At NDG, Primus studied with such teachers as Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow, Nona Schurman, William Bales, Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, and Louis Horst.

Dance as activism

Primus also began to choreograph her own works, fusing spirituals, jazz music, spoken word, and themes of her own heritage to demonstrate the African and African American experience. An eternal student, Primus did extensive fieldwork to inspire and authenticate her choreography. To experience the impoverished Black communities of the South, she posed as a migrant laborer working in the fields and attending church worship. And when she traveled to Africa for an 18-month anthropological study (with a grant from the Jules Rosenwald Foundation), Primus declared herself a man so that she could learn the dances that only men were allowed to do. Primus’ sociological research was unique in that she kept the original dances, songs, and customs intact in her choreography rather than adapting them to “fit” her artistic vision. 

An art worthy of study and performance

Primus choreographed for Broadway, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and her own troupe, The Primus Company. She continued her education by pursuing an MA in educational sociology and a PhD in anthropology from NYU. She founded the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute with classes in African American, Caribbean, and African dance forms as well as ballet and modern technique. Primus went on to teach anthropology and ethnic dance at numerous universities and was awarded a National Medal for the Arts in 1991. She remained active in the dance community until her death in 1994.

Fanga Dance

Strange Fruit

Michael Peters: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry. 

Next up is Michael Peters.

Who is Michael Peters?

Michael Peters was an African American director and choreographer best known for his work creating music videos for pop stars like Diana Ross, Pat Benatar, and Michael Jackson.

A born and bred New Yorker

Peters was born in 1948 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to an African American father and white Jewish mother. From an early age, he loved musicals like West Side Story and My Fair Lady. As a teen, Peters attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High school of Music & Art and Performing Arts and trained at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center in Queens. Early on in his career, Peters danced on Broadway in shows like The Wiz and Purlie and worked with modern choreographers including Alvin Ailey and Talley Beatty. 

The “Balanchine of MTV”

Peters got his big break choreographing Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You, Baby.” He went on to choreograph music videos for other famous stars like Lionel Richie, Pat Benatar, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, and Michael Jackson. Peters makes a few cameos as a dancer in many of these videos, too. He quickly became known as the “Balanchine of MTV.” Beyond the world of music videos, Peters choreographed and directed for both stage and screen. He won a Tony Award for Dreamgirls (with co-choreographer, Michael Bennett), staged live shows for Aretha Franklin, Ben Vereen, the Pointer Sisters, and Earth Wind and Fire, worked on films such as “Sister Act II,” “13 Going on 30,” and “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and directed episodes of popular shows like “New Kids on the Block,” FAME,” and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

#CreditTheCreator

In addition to his Tony for Dreamgirls, Peters won two Primetime Emmy Awards (“Liberty Weekend” and “The Jacksons: An American Dream”) and the American Choreography Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Feature Film (“What’s Love Got to Do with It”). He was a strong advocate for choreographers’ rights and started a campaign for an Academy Award to acknowledge choreography. Peters died of AIDS in 1994 at the age of 46.

Watch Peters’ work here:

Michael Jackson “Beat It”

Michael Jackson “Thriller” rehearsals

Francis Morgan and Michael Peters on Soul Train

Mable Lee: BDC celebrates Black History Month

Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry. 

First up is Mable Lee.

Who is Mable Lee?

Mable Lee was an acclaimed jazz tap dancer, singer, and entertainer on both the stage and screen.

If I can make it there…

Lee was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1921 and started performing at school and local venues before she was 10 years old. In 1940, Lee and her mother moved to New York City so she could pursue a professional performance career. She danced in the chorus of the Apollo Theater, the West End Theatre, and at various nightclubs. Eventually Lee broke out of the chorus to become a soubrette, a soloist with a line of dancers behind her. On Broadway, Lee danced in musicals including Shuffle AlongBubblin’ Brown Sugar, and The Hoofers. During World War II, she toured with the first all-Black USO unit, performing at hundreds of army camps and veterans’ hospitals—sometimes up to five shows per day. 

“Queen of the Soundies”

In the 1940s, “soundies” were the precursor to music videos. They were 3-minute black-and-white films that featured big band music, jazz vocalists, and high-energy dancers. Lee appeared in over one hundred of these mini movies, earning her the title, “Queen of the Soundies.” Lee also choreographed for many of the soundies she appeared in, though she did not receive formal credit.

A tap dance legend

Lee was recognized with numerous accolades throughout her illustrious career. In 1985 she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create dance instruction videos of vintage chorus line routines. In 2004, Lee won the Flo-Bert Award (honoring outstanding figures in the field of tap dance) and was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2008. She continued to choreograph and perform at tap festivals and events up until her death in 2019 at the age of 97.

BDC Online inspires the world to dance…from home!

We understand that virtual classes may sound strange at first, but our online platform has incredible benefits. And trust us, we can’t wait to be back together dancing in the studio, but now, no matter where you are in the world, you can train with BDC’s esteemed faculty. Explore new teachers, styles, and classes from the comfort of your own home, and challenge yourself to grow as an artist.

We spoke with several dancers who are loving BDC Online livestream classes—So much so that they wanted to share their experiences with you!

Mia Davidson
Queens, NY
“I’ve created a mini dance studio in my basement. I even put down a piece of Marley floor so I can dance in my character shoes. This is just an intermission. Keep working, keep growing, and keep crafting your art.Designate a time and space for you to not only sharpen your skills in dance but to move your body freely.”

Anna Hiran
Los Angeles, CA
“Training online has been a discovery process for me. I love taking from teachers like Sheila Barker, Ginger Cox, and Lane Napper. They make sure to give constructive feedback and ensure everyone’s still on top of their training. It truly heightens the virtual experience. This is also a great opportunity to explore classes you might have been nervous to try in-person at the studio. Now is the perfect time to focus on growing as a versatile dancer because you have access to all these different classes, styles, and teachers at the tip of your fingers while in the comfort of your own home. BDC is an all-styles studio, so use this time to train as an all-styles dancer!”

Luke Opdahl
Saskatchewan, Canada
“As a musical theatre actor, I’ve been taking theatre jazz classes online with Lizz Picini, Ricky Hinds, Parker Esse, and Al Blackstone. They all have such passion for teaching and always challenge me as a performer. Being from Canada, it’s amazing to have the opportunity to take class from BDC’s incredible faculty. They have given me a sense of community when it initially felt like theatre and the arts were gone. BDC’s online classes have helped me to stay inspired as a performing artist.”

Alex Scott
Chester County, PA
“I love being able to see friends and familiar faces through BDC’s online classes. It keeps me feeling connected to others even though we can’t be in the studio together. I’ve been training with Lizz Picini, Josh Assor, and Marc Kimelman. Take classes and teachers that make you feel good. Times are hard right now, and we are so lucky to have this as an outlet to refuel and connect through this virtual platform.

Callie Volley
Orlando, FL
“Last year I was able to take class at Broadway Dance Center and I was planning to visit NYC again before quarantine happened. I was thrilled when I found out that BDC started offering online classes. All I have to do is walk downstairs to my living room, log on to Zoom, and dance with some of my favorite teachers like Carlos Neto and Robert Taylor Jr. BDC’s virtual classes have given me something to look forward to every day.” 

Check out our livestream class schedule at www.broadwaydancecenter.com. Get inspired, stay connected, continue training, and keep dancing with us—no matter where you are!

BDC’s Online Training Programs inspire dancers to train from anywhere

The Fall is just around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to ramp up your dance training through Broadway Dance Center’s Online Fall Program and Online Musical Theater Program. These incredible virtual programs offer dancers from around the world the opportunity to train intensively with Broadway Dance Center’s esteemed faculty. Experienced dancers ages 18-35 choose a dedicated track (Theater, Contemporary, or Street Styles), take seven virtual classes per week from BDC’s ever-growing online class roster, participate in weekly master classes and professional development seminars, and get paired with a personal mentor from the BDC faculty.

We can’t wait to be back, dancing together in the studio. In the meantime, BDC’s new online programs offer dedicated dancers the chance to improve their technique, study with some of the industry’s leading dance educators, work with an industry-expert mentor, connect with dancers from all over the globe, and get reinspired in their artform. But don’t take our word for it…Here’s what BDC’s Online Summer Program alumni have to say:

BDC: Why did you decide to enroll in BDC’s Online Summer Program?

Devin Alexander (Toronto, Canada): I chose to enroll in BDC’s Online Summer Program because I thought that it would be a great networking opportunity. As a Canadian performer, it can sometimes be difficult to get down to New York on a regular basis and take classes from and develop relationships with the people who are currently working in the US industry. Due to the virtual nature of this program, I have been lucky enough to be able to do just that!

Devin Alexander

BDC: How did you prepare for the Online Summer Program each day? 

Ricole Beaubian (New York, New York): Initially, I wrote out three short term goals that I hoped to achieve by the end of this four-week program, three midterm goals that I hope to achieve within two to three years, and one long term goal. To physically prepare for class, I set up my living room as a studio by rolling up the placement rugs, sweeping the floor, and removing any shoes off the “studio floor.” To further mentally put myself in the space to dance, I dressed professionally and appropriately for each class; I wore tights/a leotard for ballet and cargo pants/clothes that had a looser fitting for a street style class. After each class—during the entire four weeks—I continued to go over the movement, explored my own intention and connection the movement, and then either called someone via FaceTime or recorded myself to become acquainted with the idea of dancing on camera.

Ricole Beaubian

BDC: What were benefits to your virtual dance classes/program?

Delaney Burke (Brielle, New Jersey): Doing this program has given me so much opportunity to grow as dancer and a human being. Getting feedback from a mentor is invaluable. I was able to show my mentor who I am and she gave me incredibly caring, thoughtful and constructive criticism. I have the utmost respect for my mentor and just because the program is over doesn’t mean her mentorship has ended. I am so grateful for her and her unending, loving support. Cultivating relationships with other teachers is also something that makes this program so valuable. It’s amazing how when you have the time to invest in going to class week after week what you can learn from someone in a short amount of time and how they can spark your inspiration. I also got to meet so many wonderful young artists from around the world—some in which I would never have had the opportunity to connect with if it weren’t for this virtual program. I feel like I made genuine friendships and I am invested in watching my fellow artists grow. One person I met has pushed me so much, challenging me to keep growing—We actually took each other’s mentor’s classes during this program and we were in different concentrations, she focused on contemporary and I focused on theatre. And now, I am so in love with contemporary—a style I had never tried before this. The support of the online community was incredible. All of this is what keeps me so fueled to come back and keep pushing myself, loving myself and my journey. I am so happy that I decided to do this program and I will be auditioning again for the next program!

Delaney Burke

BDC: Who was your mentor and how did they guide your growth over the past month?

DA: My mentor for the program was Parker Esse (Oklahoma!, Crazy For You, Westside Story), who was a generous and knowledgeable resource for us. Whether it was giving me advice about breaking into the US industry as a Canadian or offering feedback on my videos from previous classes I had taken, Parker always had incredible insight for each of our individual situations and experiences.

BDC: Was there a specific moment that was particularly memorable for you?

DB: There were so many fabulous things in this program, but one thing that stood out to me would have to be when we had our first masterclass with the one and only Sheila Barker (Master Teacher, BDC Faculty Advisory Board Chairperson). If you have never taken class with her, all I will say is change that immediately! Everything she says will change or challenge how you see yourself, how you show up for yourself, and how you make the absolute most of your time in class. One specific thing I took away from this class was when Sheila said, “You learn the most in classes that challenge you.” It took me until that day to see the difference in saying “omg that class is hard” to “omg that class! What a push that helped elevate my level in some capacity.” Hearing it from Sheila made me realize just because I’m not perfecting the dance or am the most successful with the combo doesn’t mean the class had less value. It means that we were pushed and given the chance to elevate and become more – what else could you possibly want?!

BDC: Did any particular teachers really guide your training/inspire you throughout the program?

RB: Maleek Washington (Sleep No More, NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Camille A. Brown and Dancers) was my mentor during this program and he left me feeling very inspired. With a group of about eight other students, we had discussions with Maleek about our goals and aspirations moving forward into our careers as professional dancers and teachers. I truly appreciated Maleek’s insightfulness and encouragement, while speaking from his perspective and experiences within the industry. A personal goal I have is to continue to discover ways that I can shift my movement effectively from a sense of an internal connection to an external connection. A big take away from my time working with Maleek was to consider the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of movement/a phrase as I am executing the steps. I recall Maleek emphasizing that focusing on the “who, what, when, where, why, and how,” not only visually shows the steps, but makes the movement more impactful, authentic, honest, and believable. I look forward to continuing to learn from his classes and potentially working with him in the future!

BDC: Did you learn anything about yourself through this month-long program?

DB: Oh boy did I ever! This month was very eye-opening. While specific dance notes were so important to help me work on my goal, even more importantly, I was able to take a step away from those notes and really learn how to look at myself with loving eyes. I realize being so eager for growth can take you away from being kind to yourself. Being able to reflect no only within myself but also with another person helped me realize how being kind to yourself is vital for change. I learned that instead of getting frustrated with my shortcomings, I need to ask myself why this is happening, what is keeping me from being successful, how can I acknowledge it and forgive myself for feeling less than, and then make an adjustment from there. I have truly experienced a shift in my mindset, and it has helped me take control over accepting the forever work-in-progress that I am.

BDC: How did your opinion of virtual dance classes change from the start of the program to the end?

DA: I had been taking various online classes before the program began so I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on how things were being run. However, something that I didn’t realize was how this type of training program allows dancers to really develop. By training through this online platform, I’ve utilized taping myself in order to self-correct my execution of the choreography. It has allowed me to begin to understand the notes that I’ve been getting for years on a more personal level and how I can modify my movement in order to execute the choreography to my fullest potential.

BDC: What would you say to a dancer who is thinking about enrolling in one of BDC’s online programs?

RB: To a dancer thinking about enrolling in BDC’s Online Fall Program, I would tell you that you get as much out of the experience as you put into it! I would encourage you to write down your short-term/midterm/long-term goals as a way to set yourself up for success. Be consistent with your training, dress for each class as if you were in the studio, and stay honest with yourself. Continue to explore the movement you’re given within a class even after the class ends. Learn from as many instructors as you can and be sure to take at least one class a week that is just for fun!

To apply to or learn more about BDC’s Online Programs, visit http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com.

Why Lizz Picini is a unicorn

If you’re a musical theater dancer, you know the name Lizz Picini. Whether you take Ricky Hinds’ class next to her, audition for her at Pearl Studios, perform with her at a regional theater, hear her name called back at an ECC, or take her class at Broadway Dance Center, it’s clear that Picini has become what the industry calls a “unicorn” – someone who magically wears multiple hats on any given project.

BDC was able to catch a quick call with Picini, who is currently performing in and serving as associate choreographer for CHICAGO down at the Maltz Jupiter Theater in Florida. “I started dance because I liked dressing up in costumes,” she laughs. “Though honestly, it’s truly a miracle that I do this for a living.” Picini was born premature with underdeveloped hips. Her doctor had her wear triple diapers to realign her femurs in her hip sockets. “I’m lucky to be able to walk, let alone to dance! It’s a reminder to be grateful for this gift.”

Picini continued dance throughout her youth—mainly focusing on ballet and pointe work. She also sang in her church choir and studied piano from her mom. After high school she attended Towson University, known for their strong technical dance program, to obtain her BFA. “I studied Dance Performance and Education,” she explains. “I took all the education curriculum but ended up dropping that secondary focus. I never thought I was going to teach…I just wanted to perform!” (We’ll come back to that irony later)

Just four days after graduation, Picini moved to New York City to participate in Broadway Dance Center’s Summer Summer Session. “Towson was fantastic for concert dance training, but I felt BDC’s SIP would help bridge the gap between college and the professional world.”

Dirty Sugar Photography

“I vividly remember that first day at BDC,” Picini recalls. “There were 75 summer interns! I was intimidated by the talent.” But Picini stood out from the crowd. Bonnie Erickson, former Director of Educational Programs, saw how focused Picini was about training and about pursuing a lasting career in the performing arts. “I didn’t perform in every student-choreographed piece,” Picini admits, “l would take classes in the areas I wasn’t as strong in, I made an effort to look presentable in every class, I sent professional e-mails updating my mentors on my progress, and I took every note I was given.” For Picini, SIP was not just a fun summer in New York City. “The program opened my eyes to musical theater, and I was excited and hungry for the challenge.”

BDC’s theater teachers like Jim Cooney, Ricky Hinds, and Al Blackstone really shaped Picini’s time as a summer intern. “Jim saw my potential and gave me a lot of tough love,” Picini says. “I had strong ballet technique and vocal chops, but Jim’s class challenged me as an actor—It still does! Ricky’s and Al’s classes demand professionalism and hard work, but the room is filled with so much fun and joy. I believe that that supportive and empowering environment is how you can get the most out of a dancer.”

That’s not to say Picini’s time in the program was smooth sailing. “There was one musical theater mock audition where I crashed and burned,” Picini confesses. The teachers and administrators behind the table said that, with that performance, she would have been cut. But, because they knew Picini’s work ethic and capabilities, they said they would actually call her back. “More than anything, the program taught me that, while talent is great, consistency and hard work are the most valuable qualities to be successful in this business.”

At the end of SIP, Picini was praised with the “Most Outstanding Student” award. “I was given a job in BDC’s retail store which gave me the opportunity to continue my intense training.” She became a “regular” in many of the advanced theater classes and, when a teacher’s assistant would leave town for a gig, Picini was there and she was ready. “I didn’t go into class desperately wanting to become an assistant,” she explains. “Stay present and patient and do the work. It’s a balance of being proactive and open, but also being in the right place at the right time.”

Lizz with Jim Cooney and Bonnie Erickson

Picini was also promoted on the administrative side when she started working in BDC’s Group Services. “One day there was a teacher who didn’t show up for class, so they threw me in!” Picini recalls. “It was exhilarating!” After that dive into the deep end, Picini got a few chances to sub for Jim Cooney, an opportunity to lead one of BDC’s Absolute Beginner Workshops, and eventually scored her own guest teaching slot. “I had about three people in my initial classes,” she says. But things took an unexpected turn in 2016 when FOX brought cameras into Picini’s class to promote “Grease Live.” “When cameras show up, a class will always sell out,” Picini jokes. Maybe dancers initially came for the cameras, but they stayed for Picini. Her class has been waitlisted ever since.

“I’m completely overwhelmed when I’m in that studio in front of 75 people. I have to pinch myself,” Picini says with immense gratitude. “It’s an honor to teach alongside so many of my mentors at BDC. Sometimes I feel insecure because I haven’t been on Broadway yet. But I realize that dancers don’t come to my class because of my resume, but because of me and my work.”

Photo by Glorianna Picini

Outside of BDC, Picini has performed at numerous reputable regional theaters across the country. “I did a ton of dance captain jobs and then was asked to be assistant choreographer for a show at Finger Lakes Musical Theater (now The Rev Theater Company),” Picini remembers. “I was nervous because I didn’t want to give up performing. But, due to the limited amount of union contracts available, I would not have been on the project at all had I not also been assistant choreographer!” Her initial predicament quickly became her superpower. It wasn’t black-or-white—Picini could do both. And she was more marketable as a result! “It checks a lot of boxes if one person is capable to do a lot,” Picini acknowledges. That’s one less flight, one less housing accommodation, etc. “I’ve put a lot of work in and it has really blown up. People have taken notice and that’s such an incredible feeling.” Picini has assisted such choreographers as Parker Esse, Ricky Hinds, Rommy Sandhu, and Denis Jones. “Being behind the table has leveled me,” she discloses. “Casting a show is a complicated puzzle. At many auditions, you could cast the show ten times over with the amount of talent that comes in! A dancer’s job is to show up and do your work. That’s all you can do—and that’s enough.”

Photo by Glorianna Picini

As a teacher, associate choreographer, and active performer, it’s no surprise Picini’s schedule can be jam-packed. “I’ve learned (and am still learning) about balance,” she concedes. “There was a point when I felt so popular yet so alone. I was also hospitalized for exhaustion at one point.” Picini has realized how important it is to rest, say no when she needs to, and keep a supportive inner circle of family and close friends. “Rest days, therapy, and my faith keep me grounded. Now I understand that I am me and the opportunities that have been opened to me are because I am expressing and taking care of who I am.”

Picini credits her ever-bourgeoning journey to BDC. Her creative voice, infectious laugh, and humble work ethic inspire her peers, students, audiences, and own teachers and mentors. “Recently a choreographer whom I had never worked with called me to wear multiple hats for his upcoming project,” Picini explains. “He said, ‘And if I know of Lizz Picini, this is right up her alley.’ That is the most amazing feeling. Sure, Broadway will always be a goal. But I’m learning to celebrate the present and continue to put in the work every day.”

Honoring the Doctor of Jazz, Frank Hatchett

In honor of black history month, we’re throwing it back to the “Doctor of Jazz,” Frank Hatchett.

In 1984, Hatchett was an original faculty member of Broadway Dance Center. Located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, BDC quickly became the premier training ground for professional performers in ballet, on Broadway, and beyond. The studio was known for its roster of master teachers including Luigi, Jamie Rogers, Henry LeTang, Phil Black, David Howard, and, of course, Frank Hatchett.

Hatchett exemplified what it meant—and still means—to be a teacher at Broadway Dance Center. He had an impressive performance resume, having danced for the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Pearl Bailey. He had an insatiable passion for teaching dance that went beyond just teaching steps. Hatchett instilled in his students an inner confidence, encouraging them to express emotion and overcome challenges through movement and performance. Hatchett was not just a teacher; he was also a mentor, a father figure, and a friend. He saw greatness in each of his students and challenged them to explore their true potential.

Hatchett’s signature style, VOP, was a blend of strength, funk, and individual interpretation, with an emphasis on selling your performance. VOP was a marriage of movement and music where dancers matched their technical training with their own artistic flavor and expressive soul. Hatchett’s classes, especially his famous “3:30pm Advanced class,” were always packed with high-energy choreography, celebrity clientele (Madonna, Brooke Shields, Naomi Campbell, Olivia Newton-John, etc.), and a dash of tough love. Hatchett gave attention to every dancer and would publicly call you out—for better or worse—in order to help you grow as a performer.

In 2013, Hatchett passed away at the age of 78. Broadway Dance Center hosted a tribute performance at Symphony Space in his honor. The three-hour event included heartwarming speeches, spiritual songs, and dance performances showing off Hatchett’s legendary VOP style. Many of us never had the opportunity to take an actual class from Frank Hatchett. But dancing at BDC is inspired by him thanks to the generation of his students-turned-teachers who are keeping his legacy alive…Sheila Barker, Lane Napper, Robin Dunn, Michelle Barber, Heather Rigg, Ginger Cox, Derek Mitchell, and Debbie Wilson. Like so many teachers here at BDC, Hatchett emphasized the importance of foundational dance technique, artistry and individuality, and passion for the art of dance. We are forever honored to keep the VOP legacy alive.

Click here to watch our video honoring the late, great Frank Hatchett.

Core Work: A chat with Joy Karley

Joy Karley’s journey to Broadway Dance Center was a weave of passion, artistry, and (believe it or not) science! Karley currently teaches ballet, Pilates, and frequent foot care and extension classes at BDC and, while her trajectory may not have felt linear at the time, her resume is incredibly impressive.

“I started dancing in Cleveland, Ohio in those 3-5 pre-dance combination classes,” remembers Karley. “I had three older brothers and my mom wanted me to do something ‘girly.’ I took everything from tap and ballet to tumbling.” Throughout her adolescence, Karley trained at various studios including the Cleveland Ballet. “Back in the 70s and the 80s, dance scene was still a very abusive environment,” she concedes. “To my teachers at the time, I would never be good enough or skinny enough to succeed.”

With that invigorating mix of disappointment and determination in her bones, Karley decided to apply for college where she felt she could major in dance and train in a more supportive environment.

She was accepted to Kent State University where the dance program was, at the time, part of the physical education department rather than performing arts or musical theater. “My degree was a B.S. (a Bachelor of Science). But I didn’t want to take the science requirements, so I pushed them off to my senior year.” While exercise physiology initially sounded boring to Karley, she eventually discovered she loved learning about human anatomy and how the body works. It all clicked—She could relate that knowledge to her dancing.

Alongside her academics, Karley found a side hustle teaching fitness classes at local gyms. “There was no such thing as a ‘fitness certification’ back then,” she recalls. “All you needed was a cassette tape and some rhythm!” Slowly but surely, Karley’s interests began to dovetail.

“Still, dance in college is like dance—or any performing art—anywhere else,” Karley admits. “There’s discouragement everywhere you go. My advisor even told me to change majors!” But a lightbulb went off after reading a small Dance Magazine article about the Pilates method, a training program popular among dancers. “I wanted to help dancers get better at what they do,” Karley told her advisor. “I think you’d better focus on your studies…” her advisor replied.

That same fire was ignited in Karley again. “I finished my degree, continued teaching fitness, and delved into learning more about other fitness methods including Pilates,” she says. “At that time Step Reebok was brand new. I learned to teach Step from Tamilee Webb (“Buns of Steel”). She kind of mentored me about pursuing a career in the fitness industry.”

Karley knew she had more to learn, so she headed west to San Diego State to get her master’s degree in Biomechanics and Athletic Training. “San Diego had the biggest concentration of well-known professors and was where Step Reebok was doing all their innovative research,” says Karley, whose thesis actually contributed to the research and development for the step training manuals. “It wasn’t so bad to study at the beach either!” She also kept up teaching dance and fitness and freelancing with some small dance companies in Southern California.

After a stint in Los Angeles, Karley got recruited to work in fitness marketing in New York City. “The environment was very toxic and misogynistic,” she recalls. “I missed dance, so I started taking (and eventually subbing) classes at Broadway Dance Center.” It was here that everything seemed to fall into place. “I realize I’m doing exactly what I told my advisor I wanted to do—help dancers get better at their craft,” Karley says with pride. “To all the teachers who told me to quit, I’m teaching at Broadway Dance Center in New York City and empowering dancers to become better, stronger, and smarter artists.”

Karly taking class with longtime BDC teacher, Natasha Del’Elmo

“Being onstage is great, but I have had such rewarding experiences as a teacher.” Karley recounts one story about a former International Student Visa Program student who dragged himself to her ballet class because it was required for his program. “While the student was very resistant at first, after a few weeks he started getting really good. I would catch him checking himself in the mirror and clearly enjoying class,” she remembers. “When the program ended, he came up to me and said, ‘I want to thank you because you taught me about ballet and made me appreciate it.’ That makes what I do worth it. If ballet comes on TV and his buddies joke about it, he might defend it and say, ‘No, that’s really difficult. Those men are athletes.’ That makes an impact.”

Karley’s classes are popular amongst dancers because she teaches not only technique, but a deeper understanding of how the muscles and joints work to achieve each movement. “In my day, we were taught to just make your body do that. It was like Darwinism…the weak would be weeded out and the cream of the crop would rise to the top,” Karley explains. “I try to teach people from a biomechanical standpoint so dancers can understand their abilities from the inside-out and work with what they have to train and perform safely. There’s a lot of imagery in ballet, but some of it is untrue. Understanding what’s actually going on anatomically can make a huge difference in a dancer’s technique.”

Good workouts are the ones that withstand the test of time. They can certainly evolve, but they’re scientifically proven and aren’t just ‘trends.’ “Science behind it ensures you’re not going to get hurt,” explains Karley. “Ballet actually proves to be scientifically sound—You start with plies and end with jumps after an hour of warming up. It’s progressive physically.”

If you understand how your body works, you can avoid injury and get stronger. Dancers, like athletes, have a tendency to push through pain in order to perform. “The industry is getting much healthier,” addresses Karley. “Companies have physical therapists on staff and training programs are encouraging dancers to take control of their own self-care through classes like Pilates, yoga, and active isolated flexibility. Imagine how much longer you might be able to dance if you take care of yourself.”

In addition to a dancer’s core technique classes, Karley strongly encourages Pilates as a critical form of cross-training. “Pilates keeps dancers healthy and strong,” she says. “Young people think ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’ but you don’t realize how vulnerable you are until your first injury.” Pilates strengthens and lengthens the body with a sense of control and centering through your ‘powerhouse’ (core abdominal and lower back muscles).

Karley’s additional specialized signature classes evolved from her own students’ needs. “Years back I had a dancer who was planning to have bunion surgery,” Karley recalls. “I gave her a foot kit (sold in the BDC store) and, after using it only twice, her foot pain went away.” Karley got inspired to design a foot conditioning class to help dancers care for their most important instruments—their feet. In addition to her foot class, Karley’s other signature classes, stretching and improving extension, remain popular at BDC.

Over her years teaching here, Karley has noticed an ever-growing bad habit amongst her younger students: tech neck (poor posture from texting, gaming, or working on a computer). “These kids have the posture of senior citizens,” Karley worries. To combat this postural problem, she suggests four simple exercises: 1) aligning the body starting a the feet and stacking the skeleton all the way up to the crown of the head, 2) some sort of core activation exercise like opposite arm/leg reach, bridging, or ab curls, 3) an upper back ‘swan,’ and 4) cat/cow stretch to mobilize the spine. “If you can start your day with these exercises or do them before dance class, they’ll make a world of difference.”

To become an even more informed dancer, be sure to drop into Karley’s ballet, Pilates, and frequent signature classes at BDC.