Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.
First up is Mable Lee.
Who is Mable Lee?
Mable Lee was an acclaimed jazz tap dancer, singer, and entertainer on both the stage and screen.
If I can make it there…
Lee was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1921 and started performing at school and local venues before she was 10 years old. In 1940, Lee and her mother moved to New York City so she could pursue a professional performance career. She danced in the chorus of the Apollo Theater, the West End Theatre, and at various nightclubs. Eventually Lee broke out of the chorus to become a soubrette, a soloist with a line of dancers behind her. On Broadway, Lee danced in musicals including Shuffle Along, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar, and The Hoofers. During World War II, she toured with the first all-Black USO unit, performing at hundreds of army camps and veterans’ hospitals—sometimes up to five shows per day.
“Queen of the Soundies”
In the 1940s, “soundies” were the precursor to music videos. They were 3-minute black-and-white films that featured big band music, jazz vocalists, and high-energy dancers. Lee appeared in over one hundred of these mini movies, earning her the title, “Queen of the Soundies.” Lee also choreographed for many of the soundies she appeared in, though she did not receive formal credit.
A tap dance legend
Lee was recognized with numerous accolades throughout her illustrious career. In 1985 she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create dance instruction videos of vintage chorus line routines. In 2004, Lee won the Flo-Bert Award (honoring outstanding figures in the field of tap dance) and was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2008. She continued to choreograph and perform at tap festivals and events up until her death in 2019 at the age of 97.
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.
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 Don Campbell.
Who is Don Campbell?
Don “Campbellock” Campbell (1951-2020) was an American dancer and choreographer famous for developing “locking” and performing with his dance troupe, The Lockers.
What is locking?
Locking is a style of hip hop in which a dancer freezes or “locks” for a brief moment before returning to fast-paced, fluid movement.
Discovering dance in La La Land
Similar to Janet Collins, Campbell grew up with an affinity for art—specifically sketching and drawing—and discovered his love for dance after moving to Los Angeles for college. He was a regular in the dance club scene gaining recognition for winning contest after contest and beginning to cultivate his signature dance, “The Campbellock” (what we now refer to as “locking”). Campbell’s reputation and suave style landed him a featured dancer role on the hit television series, “Soul Train,” a nationally-broadcast musical variety show featuring primarily Black performing artists.
A pivot to be proud of
Despite two years on “Soul Train,” Campbell was let go after asking that the dancers get paid. Many other dancers were removed from the show for the same reason, so Campbell banded the group together to form The Lockers” (originally “The Campbellockers”). This new dance troupe consisted of Fred Berry, Toni Basil (co-founder), Adolfo “Shabadoo” Quinones, Bill “Slim The Robot,” Williams Fred “Mr. Penguin,” Berry Leo “Fluky Luke” Williamson, and Greg “Campbellock, Jr.” Once tossed aside by “Soul Train” for standing up for dancers’ rights, Campbell and The Lockers swiftly rose to stardom of their own, performing with top celebrity entertainers and on shows including The Carol Burnett Show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Carson, The Oscars, The Grammys, and Saturday Night Live.
A lasting legacy
While The Lockers disbanded amicably in the 1980s, Campbell and his signature style of dance grew ever more popular. Many of his original steps can be seen in music videos by Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, N’SYNC, Busta Rhymes, and Michael Jackson, to name just a few. Campbell went on to become an international hip hop educator and ambassador, teaching, lecturing, and inspiring dancers all over the world.
Campbell’s passion and creative innovation are eternal and will continue to influence the evolution of not only hip hop, but all performing arts.
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!
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.
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 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
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 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
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
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