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.

Jamie Salmon’s got a gift to inspire

Jamie 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 empowering teaching.

Growing 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 that moment.”

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.”

For 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 barre.”

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.”

Then why 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.”

Still, 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.”

@jaynaphotography

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.”

Though 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.

Finding balance in the journey with Carlos Neto

“I was at the airport in London getting ready to fly to New York City,” recalls Carlos Neto. “I was looking forward to teaching at Broadway Dance Center before I even landed in New York!”

That was back in 2013, and Carlos has been teaching Street Jazz at BDC ever since. But while his flight from London to New York was direct, those years leading up to 2013 were all over the map–literally! Carlos grew up in Portugal and spent the majority of his youth as a child actor on a Portuguese sitcom. He also studied Shotokan, a Japanese style of martial arts, from ages 7 to 19. He then ventured to Wales for college, where he studied journalism and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. That’s also when Carlos really began dancing. “I would travel four hours on the train to London every week just to take class. I couldn’t get enough of it,” he remembers. Carlos took to street dance quickly–much thanks to his background in martial arts. From a young age, he trained in self-control, discipline, respect, meditation, and style…Putting that practice to music just came naturally. 

Carlos on the Portuguese sitcom, “Medico de Familia” (1998)

Carlos eventually began teaching his own class in London (both as an excuse to get himself to the city each week and also as a way to earn a little extra cash as a graduate student). “One day, Simon Cowell accidentally walked into my class when he was looking for another studio,” Carlos explains. “The next thing I knew I was choreographing for ‘Britain’s Got Talent!’”

Amidst teaching and choreographing throughout the UK, Carlos couldn’t fight the acting bug. In 2012 he came to New York to study acting. “My teacher would say that dancers are the hardest to work with because they have a shell built up.” Breaking that shell wasn’t easy, but it ultimately made Carlos a more engaged performer. “Acting taught me to be okay with my mistakes and imperfections and to be honest in the moment. Being an actor isn’t a mask you put on…And the same is true for a dancer. I am Carlos when I’m dancing, and my technique is just a layer on top of that.

When Carlos officially made the move across the pond in 2013, he was amazed at how warm and supportive the dance scene was in New York City. “There’s a level of professionalism at Broadway Dance Center that sets a different kind of standard,” Carlos explains. “As a teacher, you feel valued and supported. You’re also incredibly proud.”

Humility, hard work, and respect are three qualities Carlos learned early in his martial arts training–and ones that he strives to pass on as a teacher. “It’s so important for dancers to have discipline,” he says. “Notice your body language when you take class, always keep pushing yourself to be better, do what the teacher asks of you, and train in the foundations of the style you’re learning.” Additionally, Carlos emphasizes how critical it is to put good energy into class–whether you’re a teacher or a student. “We all struggle and celebrate together,” he describes. “That’s a powerful thing.”

For Carlos, there are two main characteristics that make a good dance teacher: 1) staying true to yourself, and 2) balancing encouragement and discipline. “Not everyone is going to like you,” Carlos acknowledges, “but you can’t just spoon feed your dancers. To be a good educator, you have to empower your students to become better–that’s your job.” One thing that Carlos is not a fan of, however, is social media. “I understand that it’s necessary for promotional purposes,” he concedes. “But it often becomes a ‘fame game.’ Being a talented dancer with a lot of followers does not necessarily translate to being a good educator. What’s more, class should be a safe space and never feel like an audition where you can’t mess up or fall down.”

Carlos continues trying to juggle it all–teaching, choreographing, and acting, too. “It’s challenging,” he admits. “But you need to find a balance for you. At one point, I was teaching so much that I didn’t have the time or energy to do anything else. Luam once told me that sometimes you need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. I dedicated more time to working on my reel, getting an agent, and putting myself out there, and that’s when the bigger projects started coming my way. You have to invest in yourself in order to manifest your dreams.

Teaching is an important part of Carlos’s balance. “BDC is my home base,” he says, and no matter where else in the world his talents take him, you can bet Carlos is challenging himself, creating new work, and inspiring dancers with his passion and work ethic.

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.

Stepping into your purpose: A chat with Sheila Barker

“Gah, gah, reach–ball change. Now, one-two-three hundred turns!” If you haven’t already guessed, today we’re featuring the woman, the myth, the legend: the one-and-only Sheila Barker. Whether she’s teaching her weekly drop-in jazz classes, mentoring training program students, hosting classes for BDC’s annual Dance Teacher Workshop, leading her sought-after Summer Workshop, or just greeting everyone (by name!) as she roams the halls of BDC, Sheila seems to inspire every dancer she meets. 

BDC holds Dance Teacher Workshop

Get ready for another undeniably inspirational weekend! Broadway Dance Center is gearing up for this year’s annual Dance Teacher Workshop, coming up July 31 to August 2. For the second year in a row, BDC will be holding this amazing weekend in Gibney Dance’s beautiful studios at historic 890 Broadway in NYC, giving participants lots of room to move, learn and network.

Take a look at the packed schedule. There are a multitude of classes open only to workshop attendees that are led by BDC’s esteemed faculty. These aren’t your typical classes; each one is geared specifically toward helping dance educators gain insight into the teaching process as specific to student age, level and style.