Groove is in the heart: A chat with BDC’s Chio Yamada

“I started dance very late,” admits Chio. You’d never know. Dancers flock to Chio’s jazz funk classes whether morning, evening, weekday, or weekend. The energy is infectious and the groove feels so good. So how did a girl from Nagoya, Japan become one of the hottest street style teachers in the Big Apple? In short, by stepping out of her comfort zone and saying “yes” to the things that made her happy.

Chio did baton twirling in high school but didn’t start taking dance classes until she was in college. “My teacher from Japan loved New York and would frequently come to visit and take class,” Chio explains. “One year, she let me stay with her and I came to Broadway Dance Center to take classes from Sheila Barker, Sue Samuels, and Frank Hatchett. I was so overwhelmed with excitement…but I couldn’t keep up!” 

After graduation, when all Chio’s friends went off to “normal” jobs, she wanted to see if she could pursue dance professionally. “But I knew I didn’t have enough technical training,” she admits. Chio felt torn between whether to move to Tokyo or New York, but ultimately decided to go to NYC, even though it was far from her home and family. She dove into a 6-month training program that focused on ballet, modern, and jazz technique. “I also took a lot of street classes at BDC–especially Bev Brown’s class,” says Chio.

After the training program, Chio joined the dance team for the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklynettes). “The audition was actually at BDC!” Chio recalls. “That job gave me a lot of confidence as a working professional dancer.”

At the same time, Chio started assisting Bev and subbing for her classes. After about three years, Chio got the opportunity to teach for the Children and Teens Program. She was then offered her own summer class, and finally her own regular slot. “It was the very first morning street class at BDC on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 am!” Chio laughs. “Most of the street styles have class at night, but BDC had faith in me that I could build this early time slot…and it’s stuck!”

Chio’s class is all her own, though she certainly draws inspiration from her mentors. Chio’s first dance teacher in Nagoya was named Atsuko and taught a class that fused hip-hop and jazz. She saw Chio’s potential right away and trained her to teach an aerobics/hip-hop class called “Aerofunk” at a local gym. “Atsuko really taught me how to teach a class with a thorough warm-up, cueing, and choreography.”

In New York City, Bev was a huge mentor for Chio. “Her energy was incredible in every class,” Chio says. “And sometimes she would teach 14 classes per week!” Bev’s signature tough love was just what Chio needed to come into her own. “When I first started taking Bev’s class, she told me I was ‘plain’ and needed to find my funk!” Chio says with a laugh. “Atsuko taught me the basics, but Bev helped me to add my own flavor.”

Now, Chio teaches “Jazz Funk,” a fusion of her background in jazz, hip-hop, and even modern dance. “You have some of the same lines you see in jazz, but with the groove of hip-hop,” she explains. Chio also believes it’s important for street dancers to train in other styles. “Taking ballet and classical jazz will strengthen your center and make you a more versatile performer,” she notes. Additionally, taking a variety of classes is great for cross-training and preventing injury. “Nowadays, young [street] teachers often start class with choreography right away–without any stretch or warm-up. It’s important for dancers to understand how to take care of their bodies and to warm-up for class themselves.”  

At BDC, Chio teaches all levels of dance–including Absolute Beginner Workshops. “Beginner levels can be the most rewarding,” Chio says. “I have a lot of understanding because I’ve been there and know that a good teacher can really make all the difference.” 

It’s not just Chio’s grooves that get dancers coming back to class again and again, it’s also her patience, positive energy, and passion for teaching. “I teach class the way I want to take class,” explains Chio. “Even if I am having a tough day or feel tired, dancing makes me so happy and I can’t help but have good energy in class. I get so inspired by my students.”

Preparing for her full schedule of classes is tough, but it’s all worth it. “To be honest, choreographing doesn’t come easy to me…it definitely takes time,” confesses Chio. “I choreograph for the experience in class with my students in the studio–their enjoyment is my reward.  I don’t choreograph to show off my work on stage or on film. I do it to let my students show off their love of dance.”

“I get so inspired by my students,” Chio repeats. “In any class at BDC, you have people from so many different places. It can be a challenge because, as a teacher, you don’t know what you’re going to get in class. But that makes it exciting and magical because we all get to express ourselves, create, and dance together. Broadway Dance Center is so open and welcoming–it really feels like home.”

“My parents are very proud of me,” explains Chio. “They have every magazine article about me framed up on their wall! Still, they always ask when I’m going to come home. What they don’t realize is that Broadway Dance Center has become a home for me, and for so many other dancers, too.”

For Neil Schwartz, BDC is home

This year Broadway Dance Center celebrates its 35th anniversary. In those three and a half decades, BDC has trained and inspired thousands of dancers, and also cultivated professional performers and talented teachers. For one such eager student-turned-adored teacher, Neil Schwartz, Broadway Dance Center has always been home. 

“I’m the baby of the family,” says Neil. “I always mimicked what my siblings did, and I started watching MTV at a young age.” Neil vividly remembers being inspired by the music videos of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. “I’ve always loved female entertainers,” he explains. “There’s something so bad-ass and powerful about strong female characters.”

At 7 years old, Neil began taking dance lessons at a local studio on Long Island. A family friend recommended Neil train at Broadway Dance Center. The rest is history!

12-year-old Neil would take class every week from Bev Brown and Chio. He continued taking classes throughout high school before heading to the University of Maryland to pursue a degree in Psychology. “I knew I loved helping people,” says Neil. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt very lost.”

On a spring break vacation, however, Neil’s life completely changed. “At 21, I suffered a blood clot in my right leg that caused pulmonary embolisms in my lungs. I was very overweight at the time, and doctors told me I had a 50/50 chance to live. At that traumatic moment, I vowed to turn my life around.”

Neil’s health journey began with one simple thought, “As soon as I get out of the hospital, I have to dance,” he recalls with a solemn conviction. “I have to do what makes me happiest.” After graduating college, Neil returned home to Broadway Dance Center to participate in the Fall Intern Program (now the Professional Semester). “It was a huge eye-opener,” Neil remembers. “It was scary in a good way. It was my first taste of the ‘industry,’ and I realized I had so much to learn.” Neil trained with his mentors, Sheryl Murakami, Rhapsody James, Luam, and Eric Jenkins. He also credits ballet teachers, Dorit Koppel and Peter Schabel, for helping him accept and understand his body. 

It was during his internship that Neil also began choreographing for BDC’s Student Showcases. “The BDC Intern Program guided me in a lot of ways,” says Neil. “I realized my place in the industry was as a choreographer and teacher.” Neil admits he’s happiest when he’s creating, connecting, and inspiring others to be themselves. His goal…to teach at his home, Broadway Dance Center. The journey wasn’t easy. As a former student, Neil had to prove himself not only to the senior faculty at BDC, but also to himself. “It took me a year and a half to sub at BDC and another year and a half before I got my own slot,” he recalls. “Luam, Brian Green, Rhapsody James, Candace Brown, and Eric Jenkins all took my class. It was so intimidating. But I had the determination and patience to stick it out. I know that fight made me a stronger teacher.”

This year, Neil celebrates his 10-year anniversary teaching at BDC. “I don’t teach anywhere else,” Neil reveals. “I’m grateful to have been raised at Broadway Dance Center. This is my home.” Neil teaches all levels of Street Jazz, a style of dance inspired by the culture of hip-hop and fused with elements of jazz funk and contemporary influences. “I challenge my students both musically and emotionally,” explains Neil. “Music is like therapy. It impacts me in such a positive, energetic way. I encourage my students to connect to the music in their own way and to exude those feelings in their movement.”

Last year, Neil helped launch “BreakThrough: The Series,” an intimate, intensive workshop where dancers practice performance execution and gain confidence. “This was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been a part of,” Neil gushes. “We became a family in those two days. Dancers get the chance to be filmed, watch the footage, receive notes, and do it again. It’s an incredible opportunity to experiment, learn, and grow. I hope to host another BreakThrough workshop soon!”

For Neil, dance is all about communication. “Whether in the classroom or in an audition, it’s not about perfection,” he says. “I want to see your blood, sweat, and tears. I want to see why you have to dance–how you connect and communicate through your movement.” Neil’s ultimate test? “If my mom can understand, I know I’ve communicated through my choreography,” he laughs.

This idea of connection goes far beyond the “steps” Neil teaches in class. “I try to create a safe environment where dancers feel both challenged and empowered,” Neil explains. “For me, students are number one and I try to give my attention and energy to each dancer. I want them to know, ‘you matter.’” As a teacher, there’s no greater feeling for Neil than watching students achieve goals, push past limits, and break free from adversity. “I had a student once who told me my class empowered her to leave an abusive relationship.” That’s the sign of a truly great teacher, making an impact that goes far beyond the studio.

Whether you’re embarking on your own dance, professional, health, or emotional journey, Neil has the same advice: “Surround yourself with a good supportive system of friends and mentors. There is no shame in needing help. Dance can be the best therapy.” And remember that Broadway Dance Center is always your home away from home.

BDC Student Showcase

Student Showcase: A performance opportunity for all 

Sure, there can be so much fulfillment and joy in taking dance class. You can develop your technique, learn new skills, get a good workout, condition your body, meet new people. But how can you take your dance training to the next level? By taking your experience to the stage and performing. 

And performing doesn’t have to be solely for professionals. Broadway Dance Center celebrates that dancers of all levels and ages should have the opportunity to dance on stage, with lights, makeup, original choreography, the whole deal. Coming up this May 19, at NYC’s Symphony Space, is the BDC Student Showcase, a performance experience that is open to all students of all levels. 

DANCE-AID: A Benefit in Support of Vicitims of Hurricane Sandy

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Broadway Dance Center would like to thank all of the amazing teachers who hosted benefit classes in support of victims of Hurricane Sandy.

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  • Al Blackstone
  • Justin Boccitto
  • Jacob Brent
  • Chio
  • Cat Cogliandro
  • Jim Cooney
  • Ginger Cox
  • Ashle Dawson
  • Chris Erk
  • Brian Green
  • Jamie Jackson
  • Diana Laurenson
  • Matt Lopez
  • Kevin Maher
  • Lenore Marks
  • Michael Mindlin
  • Brice Mousset
  • Sheryl Murakami
  • Daniella Polanco
  • Q
  • Katherine Roarty
  • Neil Schwartz
  • Tracie Stanfield

Classes were $15 and all of the proceeds were donated to the American Red Cross.  In addition, BDC hosted a used clothing drive and donated 300 pairs of BDC sweatpants and 100 BDC T-shirts to the Salvation Army.

You can still donate to Hurricane Sandy relief on the American Red Cross website.

Thank you to everyone who donated their time, money, and clothing to this cause.  It is so inspiring to show the power of dance to make a difference in the world.

 

2012 Student Performance Showcase

The BDC community packed the house of the Symphony Space Theater for our annual Student Performance Showcase.  This is a tremendous opportunity for students to work closely with our esteemed faculty of teachers and choreographers.

Faculty Choreographers:

Justin Boccitto
Jacob Brent
Chio
Jim Cooney
Autumn Dones & Katherine Roarty
Jamie Jackson
Princess Lockeroo
Amira Mor
Q Pittman
Heather Rigg
Sue Samuels
Neil Schwartz
Bettina Sheppard & Diana Laurenson

The Showcase featured hip hop, contemporary, theater, tap, jazz, locking, and even singing and acting.  Princess Lockeroo choreographed a “Hunger Games” inspired waacking routine complete with waacking “battles” and fantastical costumes.  Q Pittman created a jazz funk/hip hop piece satirizing Alvin Ailey’s renowned “Revelations.”  And vocal teacher, Bettina Sheppard teamed up with theater teacher, Diana Laurenson to re-stage the original groovy Fosse choreography of Sweet Charity’s ‘The Rhythm of Life.”

Congratulations to all of the dancers and choreographers involved in this year’s Student Performance Showcase.  And a big “thank you” to April Cook for organizing the whole event.

Because of the great success of the Student Performance Showcase in the Spring, BDC is thrilled to announce the launch of a second Student Performance Showcase to take place in the Fall!  Stay tuned for more information!