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.

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.

Linda Farrell shares how to find your “fit” – in Pilates and in life

When Joseph Pilates immigrated to the United States and founded his signature strength training technique in the 1920s, he emphasized a holistic, interconnected approach to physical well-being. Pilates focuses on core strength, proper alignment, and full range of motion. The exercise form has experienced several renaissances in the last century, but has remained a tried-and-true method in more recent decades as people have come to recognize and respect the science-backed technique that personifies the song, “Dem Bones” (“The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone!”). All of our body parts are connected and any imbalance in one area can impact everything else (#everythinghurts).

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. 

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.

Premier 2017

Broadway Dance Center (BDC) hosted the 2nd annual presentation of Premier October 17 at Symphony Space in New York City. Premier is a carefully curated evening of dance choreographed by BDC’s renowned faculty and guest artists. This year, the net proceeds from Premier were donated to Unidos por Puerto Rico, an organization that provides aid and support to those affected by Hurricanes Irma and María.
According to their website, “Unidos por Puerto Rico is an initiative brought forth by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, in collaboration with the private sector, with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the passage of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. 100% of the proceeds will go to helping the victims affected by these natural disasters in Puerto Rico.”

ABW Theater Review on Lindance Life Blog

20150915_212311-1Absolute Beginner Workshop student, Linda Flores, took ABW Theater with Katelin Zelon last fall. Read about her experience on her blog, Lindance Life.

A few days after class, we would get an email from Katelin with an encouraging message, list of songs we used in class, and video links to iconic dances from the era. It was at this point that I realized Katelin is happily going above and beyond in teaching her first Absolute Beginner Workshop and I’m getting waaay more than my money’s worth!

via Absolute Beginner Theater Dance Workshop | Lindance Life.

Luam Keflezgy…this girl is on fire!

images1Attention! Attention!  Luam is back teaching at Broadway Dance Center! A long-time Hip-Hop teacher at BDC, Luam has danced and toured for many recording artists before choreographing for stars like Britney Spears, Beyonce, Kelly Roland, Carly Rae Jepson, Rihanna, and countless commercials and industrials. A truly inspiring teacher, Luam is also a popular mentor for BDC’s ISVP, Training Program, and Professional Semester students. She’s recently back after serving as choreographer and artistic director of Alicia Keys’ new “Set the World on Fire” tour.  In between her busy schedule, BDC blogger, Mary Callahan, sat down to interview Luam about her experience working on the Alicia Keys tour and what she looks for when hiring dancers.

What was your dance training like growing up?

I was born in East Africa and grew up in Philadelphia, Cali, and Seattle. My family lives in Seattle but I came to New York for college.  Dance was actually not a part of my life until after college.  I was planning on going to medical school.  When I graduated I had a lot of freedom to take classes…and I was hooked!  I said, “I’ll do this for now and then go back to school.”  But I never went back…I couldn’t go back!

It’s kind of funny – I initially began taking dance exercise classes at the local gyms.  Soon after, I quickly found Broadway Dance Center and Djoniba Dance center.  I then realized I needed a better dance foundation if I wanted to pursue this.  I could do African dance and hip hop, but I needed to understand dance as a whole to be a versatile dancer.  So I started taking classes at Ailey and Steps in addition to jazz and ballet classes at BDC.

When did you begin auditioning and teaching?

I was training, training, training, and then started performing in different showcases and eventually danced for artists.  The music industry was totally different back then – there was a lot of work for dancers in New York, big and small.  And this was before any dance agencies were around.  You just went out and did your thing.  It was a small but tight dance community and everything was word of mouth.

At the same time, I was also teaching and developing my classes.  Having trained in African dance in college, I started teaching hip hop at New York Sports Club, Djoniba Dance Center, and then at BDC which was a big honor.  As I developed my choreography while teaching I also began getting small choreography gigs that built my repertoire, experience, and credibility.

How did you get choreography jobs without an agent?

People would see my work and seek me out.  Nowadays I get work through my agency as well, but as choreographers we still shoulder a lot of the responsibility.  You have to become visible by getting your work out there and marketing your “brand.”  You really have to “build your own buzz.”

You’ve really choreographed everything: music videos, tours, commercials, and live events.  Is one type more challenging or more enjoyable as a choreographer? 

It’s not the type that determines difficulty but rather the situation – the conditions that you’re working in.  For example, you may have to change everything on the spot due any number of reasons, or the song arrangement may change last minute, or you artist may not even be able to attend rehearsals…but you still make the artist and performance look flawless.  Situational challenges come up with any type of job whether it’s for the stage, TV, or a commercial.  For me, I love being diverse and working on different projects.  I welcome that challenge.  But I especially love choreographing to music that I enjoy.  If I get to work with music that inspires me, that’s icing on the cake!

What is it like to work with vocal artist who are not necessarily trained dancers?

You have to understand what their goal is, who their market is, and how you can push them to be fresh and new (but still true to their “brand”).  Most vocal artists are not dancers, but they are performers.  It’s about creating a visual around them.  While the artist is telling the story through their music, the story is actually unfolding around them.  But the singer is participating!  Even if they cannot dance a single step, they can walk to the right, walk to the left, look at somebody, look over there, and then they become involved.  You have to be clever about the choices you give them.

I walk in to rehearsals and I get to know how the artist moves.  My goal is to push the artist to be the best at what they do rather than imposing something totally different upon them (unless they are a dancer and then they might want to explore or challenge themselves through new styles of movement).  It’s not about the steps, ever.  It’s about the visual, the feeling, and the total performance.  And you have to be ready to sacrifice.  You can choreograph an entire routine and you have to be ready to say, “Let’s cut it all” because it’s just not working.  You have to put the artist’s agenda over your own.  You have to match the artist.


images2You just finished directing and choreographing for Alicia Keys’ new tour, “Set the World on Fire.”  What is it like being a choreographer for a tour?  Who do you “report” to?

It really depends.  Usually if you’re a choreographer you report to the creative director and show director (though the overall boss of any artists’ project is the artist!).  On this last tour [Alicia Keys] I was both the choreographer and show director and worked alongside the creative director so it was a little more complicated. Also I worked pretty closely with Alicia to make sure the heart and message of the show was on point as she’s such an organic musician and artist. Choreographing eventually became the last thing I did.  I was more concerned with the movement of the stage, changing musical arrangements, the timing of the LEDs, the way the piano was coming in, shooting the content for the back screen, etc etc. I also had an assistant choreographer/artistic director, Jemel McWilliams, who was brilliant and talented and together we kept each other positive enough to handle all creative challenges.

It’s both beautiful and daunting when the artist looks to you for guidance and her team trusts you with the vision. If something doesn’t work, it’s on you!  That’s what directing or choreographing is about really, being able to make the vision come alive no matter what is happening around it. I’m a planner so I was super prepared but that went out the window! The show was a living, organic thing, and evolved as such… So you have to stay flexible when logistical and technical elements change and people look to you for next steps. It’s about being able to manage the changing elements and people and keeping the vision alive. By the way, there’s no time to vet anything, you have to trust your instincts and go! It works out as long as you stay positive, inspired and keep the people around you the same, and I’m very lucky to have worked with such a positive & talented team.  Alicia herself is such a phenomenal spirit, her continued grace always kept me wanting to give my best, my all.

Do you get to go on the tour, too?

I did go for the first few cities, I pretty much stayed with the show until I felt we found our final stage movement, choreography, and lighting.  Jemel is still there to make sure everything’s running smoothly, and is dancing as well.  At this point I’ll check in for maintenance, tweaks, and to keep things fresh.

What do you look for when hiring dancers?

My advice for dancers? Be a very consistent and confident dancer who can represent the choreography as it is taught but still have a great style in the execution.  Performing with your own style is great, but just be careful not to overdo it, you have to add to the vision, not distract from it.

For the past eight months I found myself hiring dancers quite frequently. With not a lot of time for auditions, I preferred to pull dancers that I knew would do well and matched the physical requirements for the artists. Luckily, being a teacher and choreographer in the community allowed me to be familiar with the dance community. When I do hold auditions, I have to be very efficient.  For Alicia I was constantly looking for tall, strong, masculine male dancers because she’s a mature woman with a family and not a young pop star.  I posted a height and body-type specification on the casting notice.  At times dancers would come who were not we asked for and it sometimes became frustrating. I tell dancers to be mindful of that. You may leave a bad impression if you “crash” an audition where you know you’re not the right type. It complicates things for the choreographer a lot of times. But if you fall in the category that works well for the artist, do your best!

Above all, exude confidence (even if you’re nervous), know your body, dress presentable and fashionable, be consistent and solid, and be respectful.  Give them everything you’ve got!  We can tell if you really care about an audition.  Your energy and spirit that you bring into the room can tell a lot about how you will be on the job.  I am excited to hire you and I want to see that you’re excited to do what you love too!

You said that you often don’t have time to audition dancers because gigs pop up so quickly.  Do you ever hire dancers directly from your classes?

The thing is, I want my class environment to be primarily a learning environment.  But I have students who have trained with me for years and if I need a dancer and they’re the right type, of course I’ll recommend them. I think hard work should be rewarded.  But those students weren’t just coming to my class to “get seen,” I’ve watched them grow and train for a long time in my class and in the dance community in New York.  Coming to a class to “audition” isn’t the right attitude for me (come to learn!)…but at the same time, it is good to be “seen” in the dance community.  My class is a part of the greater New York dance community and I want New York dancers to work.  And it’s not just in class. I am always looking for dancers, for talent, for students to mentor.  People should just be giving it their all in class and leaving the rest to the universe. Give freely of yourself to your dance classes, dance teachers, and the dance community.  You’ll be surprised at what will come back to you…

What is it like to be a New York-based commercial choreographer?

I feel very grounded here.  It’s my home.  No matter what’s happening in the music industry, I know I’ll always have myself, my home, here in New York.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the desires of chasing things in the industry, and I try to keep myself from that.  I want my home to be a place where I can reconnect with myself.  I really enjoy LA, but if I travel to LA, it’s for work or pleasure, not to live.  If I lose a few jobs because I’m not there quick enough, so be it. I have me!

“When you have a passion, there is no choice but to follow it, fight for it.  Make it your life’s work…because when you love what you do, you live your destiny.” – Luam

Check out this video from behind the scenes with Luam and Alicia Keys!

Luam’s class schedule:

Advanced Beginner Hip-Hop – Tuesdays 4:30-6:00pm

Intermediate Hip-Hop – Fridays 4:30-6:00pm

Intermediate Advanced Hip-Hop – Tues./Thurs. 9:00-10:30pm and Saturdays 6:00-7:30pm

A lover of music of all genres, Luam adores teaching and choreography and brings to her Hip-Hop classes a fusion of Hip-Hop, street jazz, African, and dancehall. She pushes her students to pair their inner grooves with precision and emotion while exploring the rhythms and lyrics of the music. In her classes ‘the music drives the movement’.