Katherine Dunham: 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 Katherine Dunham.

Who is Katherine Dunham?

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was an American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist who informed her work (and namesake technique) with African American, Caribbean, African, and South American movement styles, themes, and other influences.

A dance student beyond the studio

Dunham was born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois to a French-Canadian mother and father with ties to Madagascar and West Africa. While she danced as a child, Dunham never envisioned a career in the arts. Instead, she followed her brother to the University of Chicago to study anthropology. After founding the dance company, Ballet Negre, Dunham was encouraged by her professors to integrate her academics and her art. For her master’s thesis, Dunham explored the ethnography (the study of culture) of dance through fieldwork in Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, and Haiti. She researched the material aspect, organization, form, and function of dance (for example, the use of dance in ritual and the evolution of dance during the African diaspora).

Bringing her studies to the stage

While Dunham was offered another grant to continue her studies, she decided to head to the coasts where she performed both on Broadway and in Hollywood films such as Star-Spangled Rhythm and Stormy Weather. But in addition to performing, Dunham longed to create. She revived her dance ensemble (renamed The Katherine Dunham Company) and toured her choreography throughout the United States and around the world. The Dunham Company performed on Broadway, in Hollywood films, on national television broadcasts, and in over 30 international countries. Despite their acclaim, the company frequently faced racial discrimination, receiving subpar accommodations and sometimes being denied any hotel options. Dunham refused to perform with her company in segregated theaters where Black audiences were forced to sit in the back or prohibited altogether. She brought several lawsuits to court in order to shine a light on the injustice.

Dance education takes a whole new meaning

In 1946, Dunham founded The Katherine Dunham School of Art and Research (later known as The Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts) in New York City. Here, Dunham cultivated her namesake technique—a modern dance style infused with ballet vocabulary and Caribbean folk movement. While Dunham Technique is a codified method, it is instilled with a philosophy: dance is a way of life—an integration of mind, body, and soul that has the power to transform people’s lives. In alignment with that mission, the Dunham School offered not only Dunham Technique and other genres of dance, but also classes in music, drama, foreign language, and anthropology.

Throughout her career at her school and with her company, Dunham continued to publish scholarly articles and lecture at universities and societies around the world. Even after retiring from the stage, she remained in the spotlight as a writer, educator, and humanitarian. For her incomparable contribution to the field, Dunham was bestowed numerous honorary doctorates and awards including the Haitian Legion Honor of Merit, a Distinguished Service Award from the American Anthropological Association, and a Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

A lasting legacy

Dunham’s choreographic, academic, and humanitarian work have inspired people around the globe. Her work lives on through Dunham Technique (which is often part of conservatory and collegiate curriculum) and through The Katherine Dunham Center for the Arts & Humanities and The Institute for Dunham Technique Certification.

Belgian Ballet Dancer to Gay Icon: A closer look at BDC’s Salim “Slam” Gauwloos

It’s Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. New York City–especially Broadway Dance Center–is celebrating love loud and proud by walking in the Pride March again and hosting special Pride March fundraiser classes. Amidst all this joy, pride, and celebration, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come (and also how far we still have to go) in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights and respect.  

The arts reflect life, and the dance world has often ignited social change (Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey are but two choreographic changemakers that come to mind). It’s not quite a surprise, then, to know that the dance community had a huge influence on making “gay” visible, accepted, and mainstream.

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. 

And the Tony Award goes to…

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The nominees for this year’s Best Choreography category are all so amazing and so different! We couldn’t pick a winner so now we want to hear from you!

[1]”History from the Tony Awards.” TonyAwards.com. The American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®, n.d. Web. 04 June 2016. <http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/history/index.html>.
[2]”Tony Awards Facts & Trivia.” TonyAwards.com. The American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®, n.d. Web. 04 June 2016. <http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/history/facts/index.html>.

Agency Auditions

Hear about two of BDC’s Professional Semester Alumni who recently signed with two of the top talent agencies in New York City.  Congratulations, Nikki and Matt!  We’re so proud of you!


Nikki Croker – MSA Agency

Why did you choose to go to the audition?

I chose to go to the MSA open call because it has been the agency that I’ve been looking to sign with since moving to New York. They have a lot of really skilled, talented performers and choreographers signed with them, including some of  my favourite choreographers – Al Blackstone, Josh Bergasse, Derek Mitchell, and Maria Torres. 

How did you prepare for the audition?

I trained really hard all last year taking classes in a variety of styles including Ballet, Theatre, Tap, Hip Hop, Latin Jazz, Gymnastics, Voice and Acting. I completed the Fall Professional Semester at Broadway Dance Center in which we completed 12 classes a week and had helpful seminars regarding headshots and resumes, nutrition, and mock auditions for all different styles. I received a vast amount feedback from this semester that helped me grow tremendously! 

What was the audition environment like?

The audition was at Pearl Studios. There were hundreds of people!  We lined up to get our numbers and you could either audition for ‘commercial’ or ‘theatre’. I decided to audition for both so I was there from about 11am-6.30pm. We learned each combination in about 15 minutes and then performed it in small groups of 5. For the theatre audition we also had to sing a 16 bar cut. 

How did you feel the audition went?

I felt good about the audition –  I had met Lucille at Josh Bergasse’s Music Theatre Summer Program and also at a Professional Semester mock audition, which eased my nerves a little. I had prepared the best way I could before the audition and knew that I gave my best, no matter the outcome.

When did you receive the call?

 I received the call about 10 days later. I was puppy-sitting at the time and I was playing with the dog Captain when my phone started ringing. I don’t think I’ll forget the day – I was so excited!

Matt Tremblay – Bloc/NYC Agency

Why did you choose to go to the audition?

I chose to go to the audition for the experience. Auditions are a perfect learning atmosphere to figure out your strengths and weaknesses in order to move forward.

How did you prepare for the audition?

I did my research on which choreographers the agency represents because I knew some of them would be teaching the audition combinations. I was sure to hit the gym and take class a lot prior to the audition.  I also did a lot of positive-thinking and reflecting to be mentally ready.

What was the audition environment like?

The studios were packed with dancers! We were typed cast right away.  I felt like it was quite competitive in there until we got to the last few cuts; After a long day, the atmosphere became more supportive.

How did you feel the audition went?

I felt extremly hyped and full of energy all day. As the day went by and I was asked to stay, I surprisingly become more relaxed! This completely shoked me, but I realized that it was just a matter of giving everything I have and hoping for the best.

When did you receive the call?

I was informed 5 days later, Friday at 5:30pm.  I remember the entire conversation!  That was the longest 5 days of my life!  I was so happy and I couldn’t believe it at first. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t a dream until I signed my contract and I heard “Welcome to Bloc.”

Mamma Mia! – Broadway Choreography Series with Allyson Carr

This ongoing series offers the opportunity to learn the original choreography to some of Broadway’s finest shows, presented by actual cast members straight from the stage to the studio.
On April 3rd and 5th, “Mamma Mia!” dance captain,

Allyson Carr visited Broadway Dance Center to teach the choreography from the show’s finale “Dancing Queen.”  Students couldn’t help but sing-along to the well-know ABBA classic as they learned the combination, which is taught at the Broadway auditions for “Mamma Mia!”  Though not technically intricate, the choreography challenged students to showcase their individual personalities within the movement.   Following the fun combination, BDC students joined Allyson in a Q&A about her dance career which has included professional performance in ballet, hip hop, modern, and theater!  When asked to give audition advice, Carr responded, “We are watching you the minute you walk in the room.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the best dancer in the world;  You have to be someone that we are drawn to work with.”

Upcoming workshops in BDC’s Broadway Choreography Series:

“How to Succeed…” with Chris Bailey: April 7th and 14th, 12-1:30pm
“Evita” with Chris Bailey: April 10th and 12th, 1:30-3pm
“Chicago” with David Kent: April 14th, 10:30-12pm