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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
Gender identity can be a sensitive topic. It is an evolving and ongoing conversation, and at Broadway Dance Center, it’s something that’s respected a great deal. BDC strives to make all its students feel comfortable as they step into the studio, honoring them in the way they wish to be seen, while simultaneously providing an appropriate setting to grow, discover and learn.
We caught up with several BDC teachers to hear how they approach sensitivity to all their students in the classroom, and how that awareness can have an impact on the dance community at large.
Daniel Patrick Russell had the performer’s gene in his blood from the day he was born. His mother was a ballerina and his father a performer as well. “I grew up in Australia surrounded by art. I don’t remember a time where dance wasn’t part of my life.” When he was twelve, he was cast as Billy in the Melbourne production of the Broadway musical, Billy Elliot. He then got the chance to perform the role in the North American national tour. “My dad is from the United States and, years ago, performed West Side Story at the State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Russell. “I got to perform on that same stage when I was on tour. That was really special.” Little did Russell know that West Side Story would become a significant part of his performing career, as well.
After tour, Russell returned back to Australia and continued his training. Upon graduating high school, he received a prestigious dance scholarship to study anywhere in the world. Russell applied and was accepted to Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester in the summer of 2015. “Just prior to coming to NYC, I was working as a contemporary dancer. When I came to BDC, I wanted to eat it all up and take from every teacher I could—in every style of dance. I couldn’t get enough!”
That intense and diverse training has since served him well throughout his career. After Professional Semester, he performed in West Side Story at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. “I had the opportunity to perform the original Jerome Robbins choreography and it was incredible,” he remembers. That was just the start of Russell’s journey with WEST SIDE STORY. He went on to join the world tour as Baby John for 15 months. “Touring was a neat experience to see how the musical connected with different audiences from so many different countries. In Dublin, it felt like we were part of a rock concert! This show resonates with people all over the planet, regardless of language or cultural differences,” he explains. “It’s an immense piece of art and a huge honor to share that on stage every night.”
More recently, Russell wrapped yet another production of West Side Story…this time, the highly anticipated film remake, set to come out in theaters in December 2020. “I can’t give too much away,” admits Russell, who just finished filming in September. “Justin Peck’s choreography is reimagined and genius. The director, Steven Spielberg, is incredibly gifted, generous, and giving. The entire creative team cultivated such an incredible energy on set that allowed the cast and crew to do our best work.”
“The entire project was a dream,” Russell says smiling. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging or exhausting at times.” Hours on a film set can start early in the morning and go long into the night. “When you do a show on stage, everything is chronological,” explains Russell. “But in film, you jump around the story a lot and have to make sure your character is present and truthful in each moment.”
“The cast was incredibly close and inclusive,” adds Russell. “You wouldn’t know that when the cameras came on because we had to be true to the story – the two opposing gangs: the Jets versus the Sharks. But when the crew yelled ‘cut,’ we were like a big family.”
The original production of West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957. The Oscar-winning movie premiered four years later in 1961. The show had four Broadway revivals (soon to be five) and countless tours and regional productions produced around the world. The new film will be released over sixty years after the show’s original inception. Clearly, West Side Story is a story that continues to resonate with audiences. “The themes are still so relevant,” explains Russell. “It’s a masterpiece. At heart, it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of love, conflict, family, betrayal, unity, and hope is universal.”
Filming wrapped in September 2019 and now we anxiously await what will no doubt be a spectacular film. So, what’s next for Russell in the meantime? “I’m going on vacation to Italy!” he tells us. “I’d like to take a moment to show my gratitude for BDC. Since I moved to NYC, many opportunities have come my way thanks to BDC, and for that I am very thankful.”
Salmon’s passion for ballet radiates from her every pore and shines onto each
student she encounters here at BDC. With her virtuosic demonstration, careful
hands-on correction, visual imagery, and historical and experiential anecdotes,
Salmon has had many of her students grace the ballet, concert, and Broadway
stages. And before their shows or in between contracts, these dancers come back
to her ballet class because they know with “Miss Jamie,” there’s always more to
learn and improve. Even dancers who for one reason or another begrudgingly make
their way to the barre often discover a new appreciation for ballet—both as an
art and as a practice—thanks to Salmon’s thoughtful, inspirational, and
up, Salmon trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts, SAB, Joffrey
Ballet School, and Broadway Dance Center. Her first professional gig was
performing with her ballet bud, Nicole Fosse, in a production of “The
Nutcracker,” directed by Gwen Verdon and produced by Bob Fosse, who were like
second parents to Salmon during her SAB summers in the Big Apple. She went on
to dance with the Joffrey Concert Group and for TV, film, and commercials.
Salmon credits her teaching philosophy to the mentors and experiences that
helped to shape, challenge, and support her as a dancer. “Both my training and
performance experience have influenced me tremendously as a teacher.” Salmon
considers herself a “tough love teacher with positive reinforcement.” This, she
explains, is a balanced foundation to truly empower her students with the
encouragement and discipline to achieve their goals. “Every student and
circumstance is unique,” she adds. “What works for one dancer might not work on
another. You, as a teacher, have to determine the best way to reach that
individual dancer—when to give a little extra pressure and when to back off in
To Salmon, it’s an exciting challenge to teach open adult classes at BDC where students come from all over the world and have diverse dance backgrounds and varying levels of technical ballet training. “While I do love teaching at a conservatory, it’s just as rewarding to inspire a contemporary or street style dancer to find a love for ballet.” This gift to inspire was passed down from Salmon’s most memorable teachers and mentors (*see acknowledgments). “I had teachers that were so energetic, hands-on, and visual with imagery. That was very helpful to me,” she remembers. “As a teacher, I feel like I’m the new messenger—passing on the ballet history and folklore that came before me. And then, by sprinkling in my own personal stories, it becomes something new and personal. It’s very special.”
Salmon first began teaching at BDC back in 2008 and she still gets goosebumps walking through the halls. “It means a lot to teach at Broadway Dance Center,” she acknowledges. “I trained here with Finis Jhung, Evie Lynn, and Douglas Wassel. It’s humbling to be on the faculty amongst my ballet colleagues, all the incredible educators in their own genres, and then also part of the great legacy of teachers who have called BDC home.”
Salmon, ballet will always always be the crux of any dancer’s training–at
Broadway Dance Center, a liberal arts university, a pre-professional
conservatory, or anywhere. “There’s a lot of talk about cross-training today,”
Salmon says. “I hear about Broadway performers who skip dance class and head to
the gym. Fitness classes might build your stamina, but they won’t help you
perfect your pirouettes or heighten your extension. You need to get back to the
And ballet, emphasizes Salmon, is an integral foundation for every style of dance. “An arabesque is an arabesque no matter if its jazz, contemporary, or any other style of dance. You need to know the architecture of that position from ballet,” Salmon explains. “There’s something from ballet—whether it’s proper alignment, posture, quick and detailed footwork, or graceful port de bras–that can be taken and used to inspire in any form of dance.” She continues, “What’s more, there’s an aura about ballet dancers. I can tell the type of ballet training a dancer has had just by how they prepare at the barre before the music starts. You can tell by a dancer’s demeanor and the way they carry themselves. That poise and professionalism will translate anywhere.”
do many dancers feel like they have to drag themselves to the barre? “If you
only take ballet once a week, you won’t like it,” Salmon says frankly. “It’s
difficult to do only once per week because the body doesn’t respond quickly to
the very formal movement and rigid placement of ballet technique. It needs
repetition…to be reminded over and over again. People think ballet is rigid. It
isn’t—it has a very specific
placement. You can find freedom and energy within those restricted confines,
but it requires the discipline of showing up and working towards that…It isn’t just
handed to you. I promise the more you do it, the stronger, freer, and more
confident you’ll feel.”
Salmon admits that ballet class is certainly not always sunshine and rainbows. “It’s
so fascinating that dancers feel the most naked in ballet class. I don’t know
why that is, but I felt the same way,” she admits. “That’s the barrier I want
to try and break down…For my students to come to class dressed professionally,
looking confident, and saying ‘Here I am!’”
“It’s about getting excited for the challenge,” she adds. “The people that go and climb Mount Etna don’t look at the mountain thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s so far. I’ll just turn back.’ They say, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m going to climb this!’ with the full intent of getting there. They are going regardless of their fear because it’s just so exciting.” As perfectionists, many dancers ascertain it’s better not to try at all than to try and fail. That’s when our egos can get in the way. “As a young dancer, I would hold myself back because I was afraid of making a mistake and feeling humiliated,” Salmon recalls regrettably. “It’s a false sense of pride that we’re supposed to do everything perfectly.” In class, Salmon often reminds her students that ballet is a never-ending journey towards an impossible destination. “Not being able to achieve the same standard as Tiler Peck, Misty Copeland, Mikhail Baryshnikov, or whoever you believe epitomizes the ‘perfect’ ballet dancer is not an excuse not to try to find your personal best. There are only a few people that can achieve those standards. Instead of feeling discouraged by comparing yourself, get inspired to achieve your personal best.” The art and the joy are in the work itself.
And that “work” extends beyond a few tendus and pliés at the barre. “While there seems to be a lot more dancing—and more people dancing—than ever before, I’m concerned about this new generation of dancers,” admits Salmon. “There’s a lack of knowledge about dance history. Kids are doing steps without understanding where they originated. Can you really express the dance correctly when you don’t know the genesis of where it came from? If you’re really interested in dance, you need to do your homework.”
That homework includes understanding dance history and also taking proper care of the dancer’s physical instrument. “I notice a lot of dancers today seem very out of shape due to lack of training. That also makes you more prone to injuries.” To best aid her students, Salmon relies on visual and aural cues as well as physical adjustments. “Of course, I ask the student beforehand,” says Salmon. “But a little physical manipulation can be incredibly helpful in discovering proper placement in ballet—especially for more beginner students.”
At BDC Salmon currently teaches beginner ballet, advanced beginner ballet, and pointe to wonderfully diverse classes of dancers from tiny hopeful pre-teen primas and seasoned Broadway veterans to hundreds of students from BDC’s professional training programs and many of BDC’s own faculty. At heart, Salmon believes a great teacher is one who looks at each student as an individual dancer and as part of a collective ensemble. “It’s like a family,” she says with a smile. “You—the teacher—have to nurture and mentor each student differently.”
Salmon isn’t performing professionally anymore, the qualities and skills she
cultivated as a dancer have grown ever stronger in her teaching: taking risks,
paying attention to detail, collaborating, inspiring those around her,
creating, and being present in the journey. Most of all, Salmon hopes to
encourage those abilities, values, and aspirations for her students. “The memories
that most stuck with me were the hug with, ‘I’m proud of you. You had a tough
day today and you didn’t give up’ or the arm around my shoulder with, ‘I need
more work from you—You’re too talented to be getting in your own way.’ Those
moments were infinitely more impactful than teachers who just tell you how
wonderful you are all the time.”
“I was so lucky to have some truly amazing teachers in my life,” Salmon recognizes. “I am grateful for how they mentored, nurtured, sometimes babied, and often acted tough on me. I wouldn’t trade any of it.” She jokes that she’s a “torchbearer,” passing on the information she learned from her teachers and professional experiences—and selectively choosing what to bring with her and what to consciously leave out. “Because of my teachers who did it for me, teaching just seems natural …As many students as I can fill in my heart!”
*Salmon would like to extend her gratitude for her teachers and mentors, including: Dana Kennedy, Melissa Hayden, Margaret Thayer, Paul Mejia, Juan Anduze, Joan Saunders, Duncan Noble, Joyceann Sedimus, Meredith Baylis, Dorothy Lister, Trinette Singleton, Jim Snyder, Finis Jhung, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, North Carolina School of the Arts (now UNCSA), School of American Ballet, Joffrey Ballet School, and Broadway Dance Center.
“I’ve always danced,” says Eric Jenkins. Whatever dances the kids
were doing in his Maryland hometown, Eric was a part of the action. But
everything changed when Eric saw the music video for Michael Jackson’s
“Thriller.” “I begged my mom to go buy the VHS so I could watch it over and
over,” recalls Eric. “Even back as a kid, I knew to mirror the choreography
when I was learning it!”
Music videos were a huge influence for Eric. “I loved Janet
Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately?’” he adds. “I noticed the same
dancers would appear in different videos and dance backup for different
artists. That’s when I realized this is a career…to always, always dance!”
And dance he did! “I’m the youngest in my family, and my bedroom
was the smallest one upstairs in our house,” Eric says. “They would hear me
stomping and yell at me to turn my music down.” In high school, Eric’s parents
moved his bedroom to the basement. “I could crank my music and do all the
dancing I wanted,” he laughs.
Though Eric didn’t take formal dance classes, performing and
choreographing seemed to just come naturally to him–and people began to take
notice. “In middle school choir we sang ‘Hand Jive’ from GREASE,” Eric says. “I
was so into it that they made me audition for show choir (like glee club) so I
could really dance.” And in high school, Eric blew his classmates away
at his school’s talent show. “I became popular for being ‘the kid who could
After high school, Eric attended the University of Maryland:
Baltimore County where he majored in visual and performing arts with a
concentration in dance. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Eric
admits. “I didn’t understand the terminology. I thought ‘modern’ dance meant
the stuff that everyone was doing now. So, I figured, ‘Oh, I’m ready for
that.’ I was in for a rude awakening…but I ended up loving it!” In addition to
modern, Eric trained in ballet, jazz, and African dance throughout his college
Eric made the big move to New York City after he graduated from
college. “When I was new to the city, I had a job interview at The GAP,”
remembers Eric. “I didn’t know the subway system well and I was turned away for
being a few minutes late.” Disappointed, Eric popped into a nearby dance
studio. On the call board he noticed an audition for Jeté, a jazz dance company
founded by J.T. Jenkins. It must be true what they say about When one door
closes, another one opens, because after being turned away from The GAP,
Eric auditioned and booked a spot in the dance company.
Eric went on to dance for artists and in countries around the
world. “I would scan Backstage Magazine every week for upcoming auditions,”
Eric says. He went on to dance for the New York Liberty women’s basketball team
and for a big Toyota industrial in Japan.
He also danced with artists like Brandy, Missy Elliott, and Ricky
Martin. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Eric, who worked part-time at Au
Bon Pain between performing gigs. “There were a lot of ups and downs,” Eric
says. “Money in the bank, then no money in the bank. The struggle was real.”
At one point, Eric finally quit his side job, determined to invest
more time and energy into his craft. He began subbing at Broadway Dance Center
for teachers like Chio, Jermaine Brown, and Rhapsody. “I got my permanent slot–Thursdays
at 9pm–on July 8th, 2004,” Eric smiles, having recently celebrated
15 years here at BDC. “My class is billed as Hip-Hop/Street Jazz. It’s a
combination of hip-hop elements with a stylized form of jazz and bringing that
together. I like fluidity of going in and out of both of those styles.”
Broadway Dance Center has been a special place for Eric both as a
teacher and as a student. “Years ago, I was taking class and Travis Payne,
Michael Jackson’s choreographer, scouted me for a gig.” In his own classes,
Eric focuses on performance quality as much as the choreography itself. “You’re
going to mess up,” Eric says. “It’s up to you to not let your mistakes hold you
back. As a choreographer, you can teach steps, but you can’t teach passion. Don’t
let technique get in the way of your performance because you never know what
opportunities might be around the corner.”
For many street style dancers, performing for an artist is the ultimate
goal. From experience, Eric knows that dancing backup is sometimes not all it’s
cracked up to be. “There will be dark before you get to the light,” he
explains. “Learn from your experiences and make it worth it. Approach each new
job smarter than your last. That might mean you end up walking away from
something. Changing direction is okay. Just commit to staying present in
Eric practices what he preaches. Teaching classes and creating
choreography every week can be challenging, especially when your job is to
inspire an entire class of students every day. “I get inspired by music,” says
Eric. “I listen to songs and don’t even realize I’m choreographing in my head!”
But sometimes, when choreographing feels more like a chore, Eric watches
performances from artists (like Missy Elliott’s recent show for the VMAs) or
pops into a class outside of his genre. “I like to move differently every
once in a while, with class from Cecilia Marta or Brice Mousset. It helps open
myself up and feel free to explore in my own classes.”
In addition to teaching drop-in classes at BDC, Eric also assists
with the International Student Visa Program placement auditions. “I imagine
it’s overwhelming to be in a new environment trying to grasp the concept and
choreography without fully understanding the language,” Eric says. “When I
teach at these auditions, I try to lighten the mood and to communicate differently.
Sometimes sounds and noises can tell you a feeling where a count can’t. I see
the intimidation in these auditions, but I also see the joy. The students are
so ready, willing, and open–it’s awesome.”
Eric’s favorite part of dancing has not changed since he was a
little kid jamming to Michael Jackson in his upstairs bedroom. “I love being
able to create, and then to see something you create come to life and make
other people happy,” Eric acknowledges. “When you do what you love, you
never know what kind of amazing experiences will open up to you.”