Student Profile: Kayla Janssen – Adidas Dancers Wanted Challenge

My name is Kayla Janssen and I am the Global Winner of the Adidas Dancers Wanted Challenge 2012. I studied at the Broadway Dance Center Professional Semester back in Fall 2011 and since then decided to move back home to Antwerp, Belgium.

Through a nudge from my boyfriend and not having much on my plate, I decided to enter the competition. I had to create a video (small music video) to a song create by Adidas and show off my moves. So I did. I went crazy asking all my friends, family and people with computers to vote for my video.

And it worked! On one cold summers evening in July, I received the email from the Adidas headquarters in Germany that I had won the whole competition – the Global Winner! I screamed, jumped around, then had to read the email again just to make sure what I read was true. *

I won a free trip to LA with a friend and was able to have a dance session with Nick Florez and R.J. Durell, Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour Choreographers. I brought my boyfriend as a thank you to him for that initial nudge. I was in LA in the first week of September and it was magical. We received the full “Adidas Experience,” as they called it. Day 1 consisted of a full shopping spree in the Adidas store in Santa Monica, Day 2 was our amazing dance session with Nick and R.J. Day 3 was a full day at Universal Studios and Day 4 was a helicopter ride over Los Angeles and an evening at the Scratch Academy LA, learning how to scratch a record the right way.

My highlight of the week was definitely the session with Nick and R.J. They were so warm and welcoming and made us all feel like one big family. Their choreography was fun and funky and by the end of the session we were able to create a small little music video. Katy Perry Tour Dance Leah Adler and Adidas Dancer Tyne Stecklein were there to dance and play with us. Nick and R.J. then surprised us with a Q&A session with ALL of Katy Perry’s Tour dancers, who were rehearsing in the studio next door. We asked them everything, it was like we were speaking to rock stars. Watching them rehearse and being a fly on the wall for that 1 hour was insightful.

Back in Belgium, I am inspired and pumped. The “Adidas Experience” was everything I imagined and more. Take risks, try everything, and don’t be afraid of the word “no”. Work creates work so if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs watching TV, get that friend and that camera and start dancing in your favourite parts of town. Who knows, it might win you a trip to LA.

*There were 4 winners from Argentina who came along as well since Adidas Argentina decided to create a separate competition.

Good Afternoon America!

On Monday, July 9th 36 BDC dancers arrived at the ABC Studios Stage Door in Times Square, headed to their dressing room, and began warming up for their performance on the premiere of “Good Afternoon America,” a mid-day spin-off of “Good Morning America.”  Clad in our black leotards, fishnet tights, character heels, feather headbands, and pearl necklaces (the boys were in dapper white button-down shirts, black pants, suspenders, and bowlers), we headed down to the ground floor studio which was surrounded by windows looking out into the chaos of Times Square.  Tourists of all ages whipped out their camera phones to snap photos and children pressed their noses up to the window to watch us rehearse.  We danced to “New York, New York,” choreographed by BDC Theater teacher and the associate director of Broadway’s “Newsies,” Ricky Hinds.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that we were dancing for Liza Minnelli?!

Bright Lights, Shining Stars! NYCDA Gala

On Thursday, September 5th I made my way down to New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts for NYCDA’s “Bright Lights, Shining Stars” Gala.  In conjunction with the New York City Dance Alliance convention and competition, the NYCDA Foundation was founded by Joe Lanteri to provide college scholarships to young aspiring dancers.

The NYC Dance Alliance Foundation, Inc. is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) public charity, committed to broadening performing arts awareness while advocating education and high standards of excellence in dance.  NYCDAF is dedicated to investing in the next generation of professional performers by offering scholarships for secondary and college education.

The evening of breathtaking dance including performances by NYCDA scholarship winners (accompanied by singer, Kelly King, who has taught vocal master classes to BDC’s Professional Semester students), Complexions Dance Company, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Ballet Next, and Ballet Hispanico.

Though the stage was graced with some notable professional dancers, I think the night was stolen by the NYCDA scholarship winners.  The nineteen dancers performed a contemporary piece to Kelly King’s rendition of RENT’s “No Day But Today.”  It was clear why each dancer was awarded a scholarship from NYCDA – their joy and talent filled the entire theater.  Because of the NYCDA Foundation, those nineteen dancers were awarded college scholarships to extraordinary schools such as New York University, Marymount Manhattan College, Dean College, University of the Arts, and Point Park University.

The night concluded with the one-and-only Liza Minnelli who presented the prestigious “Ambassador of the Arts Award” to one of the greatest dancers of all time, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Liza was, well, Liza!  Her speech about “Misha” was passionate and funny.  When she performed in “Baryshnikov on Broadway” back in 1980, she recounted that she was so intimidated to dance with such an acclaimed professional!  Turns out, however, she had to teach Misha how to do a simple Charleston!

Here’s their show-stopping performance:

Baryshnikov’s acceptance speech was just as genuine and humorous.  “I didn’t prepare a speech,” he admitted.  “I was thinking I might bring out a chair and talk to it, but that’s been done.  Maybe I will do that – but bring a throne – when I am awarded ‘Tsar of the Arts.'”

Here is one of Baryshnikov’s most memorable performances in “Giselle:”

Check out NYCDA’s homepage to learn more about their competitions, scholarship awrads, and annual gala.

Movie Review: Step Up 4 Revolution

On July 24th Broadway Dance Center faculty, staff, and program students packed the movie theater for an exclusive preview showing of the new Step Up movie.  The fourth movie of the Step Up enterprise, “Step Up 4 Revolution” takes place in Miami, FL where a group of dancers (“the MOB”) realize that they can organize intricate and creative flashmobs as a means of social change.  The film features cameos from dance notables such as Mia Michaels, Billy Bell, Misha Gabriel, and more.

After doing a little research online, I came across some no-so-great reviews of the film’s predictable plotline.  But Chris Hewitt (The Pioneer Times) sums it up well when he says, “[The] fourth installment hits on the perfect formula: more dance, less talk.”  After all, the film, which is probably 75% dancing, is called “Step Up” rather than “Speak Up.”  Hewitt continues, “Like all the “Step Up” movies, its plot jetes around a bunch of young hoofers trying to get ahead in the dance world.  But it’s set in Miami, so there is less clothing, and it features the most inventive choreography (by Jamal Sims) and staging of any of the four movies.”

“Step Up 4 was a brilliant work on how dancers can change the world…But not alone – we all need towork together.” – Daniel Montera (Professional Semester F’11)

“This was the best Step Up movie yet.  The precise movement and togetherness was astounding.  I loved how it was just “dance.” – Pierce Cady-Penny

Happy We’ll Be – Al Blackstone

After a much needed catch-up session at Blockheads Burritos, Jason Aquirre (PS S’12), Molly Day (PS S’12) and I headed over to the Roseland Ballroom for the much-aniticipated “Happy We’ll Be,” a dance narrative choreographed by Al Blackstone.  Al is a beloved guest teacher at Broadway Dance Center – just see what some students have to stay:

I have always subscribed to the notion that Al is the ultimate storyteller. Even in class, he brings a magical element to his teaching. The beauty of his movement and narrative is only matched by the warmth and compassion of his heart. – Alexa Erbach (PS F’11)

His class without a doubt always lifts my spirits. The energy he exudes is extraordinary and so motivational. – Nikki Croker (PS F’11)

Al was the 2011 recipient of the Capezio A.C.E Award (Dance Teacher Summit), which “is a great opportunity for emerging choreographers to expose their work to one of the most influential audiences in dance.”  Check out Al’s winning piece, “Brown Eyed Girl.”

As part of their prize, A.C.E Award winners receive a grant to fund their own dance production in New York City.  And thus, “Happy We’ll Be” was born…and for that, we are so happy!

The show is a full-length “dance narrative,” no dialogue – just music and dance.  The show takes a bit after the concept of “6 degrees of separation” (“Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.”) In a sort of ripple effect, one character meets and affects another character, who affects another, and so on.  But, only the audience gets to see the full picture.

Each new dance scene witnesses a character’s own pursuit of happiness. ie:

  • A teenaged girl learning to walk in heels to impress her school crush.
  • A man planning to propose to his girlfriend.
  • A young gay man looking for support from his family.

We are all connected in our pursuit of happiness and we all play a role in making others happy.

Al’s latest project is a full-length dance production that defies the convention of any other show you have ever seen. “Happy We’ll Be” is an inexplicable account of love, loss, kindness, wonder and hope. It penetrates the center of our hearts and delves into the source of individual happiness, taking the audience on an unforgettable journey that forces us to marvel at the exquisite beauty in the smallest moments of our own lives. “Happy We’ll Be” is a revivifying reminder that love can be found beyond a lover’s embrace. It reminds us that love is rooted in the slightest touch of a hand, the help of a friend, the kindness of a stranger, and the affection of a parent. – Alexa Erbach

[excerpt from Al Blackstone’s resume]

…My heart’s been stolen.

Nice Work @ BDC

Broadway Dance Center was thrilled to host two master classes taught by the lovely and lively Samantha Sturm.  Samantha is currently performing in Nice Work If You Can Get It on Broadway, and taught repertoire from the show as part of BDC’s Broadway Choreographer Series.

Two-time Tony Award® winner Matthew Broderick (The Producers) and three-time Tony® nominee Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific) star in a madcap tale of bootleggers, chorus girls, playboys and politicians set loose in a glorious Long Island mansion in the rip-roaring 1920s. The cast features 2012 Tony® winners Judy Kaye (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and Michael McGrath (Best Featured Actor in a Musical).

This brand-new musical features a treasure trove of George and Ira Gershwin’s most beloved, instantly recognizable tunes set in a fresh and funny song-and-dance spectacular with a book by Tony® winner Joe DiPietro (Memphis), directed and choreographed by three-time Tony® winner Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes).

Overflowing with 15 great songs, including “But Not For Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” this sparkling musical comedy combines laughter, romance and high-stepping Broadway magic.

Samantha Sturm is currently in the ensemble of Nice Work If You Can Get It. Before Nice Work, she was an original cast member of The Addams Family musical on Broadway. Samantha has worked at several regional theaters including the Paper Mill Playhouse, The Westchester Broadway Theatre, and Casa Manana Theatre. You might also have seen her as the tango dancer in the national tour of Evita, and as a swing on the 25th Anniversary national tour of Cats. Before becoming involved in musical theatre, Samantha was a soloist with The Asaph Dance Ensemble.

^ Check out Samantha in this video clip! (1:50, yellow dress!)

Book Review: A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett

I would like you to say that I am a direct

descendant of Terpsichore, and I don’t have a

mother and father, and I wasn’t born in Buffalo,

and all the boring things that are really true

about where I come from.  I wish I was born in a

trunk in a basement of a Broadway theatre, and I

crawled into the pit and looked up and there was

Jule Styne conducting the overture to Gypsy, and

I heard Ethel Merman sing, and the first moment

of like was experiencing a Jerry Robbins musical.

I can’t think of anything more perfect.

-Michael Bennett, 1983

I love learning about dance (the history, culture, and people)  just as much as I love dancing itself.  When I read about dance, I feel like I become a more educated and engaged performer.  Understanding why Fosse choreography requires turned-in feet (because Bob Fosse was pigeon-toed himself) or how come female ballet dancers wear pointe shoes but men traditionally do not (because ballerinas were idealized as ethereal) helps me appreciate every nuance of a style of dance.

Ok, so now I’ll get to the point of this blog post: please read “A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett” by Ken Mandelbaum.  No matter what style of dancer you are, you’ve most likely heard of A Chorus Line , the legendary Broadway musical about life as a dancer – countless auditions, overwhelming rejection, and unmitigated determination and passion.  You can (and should!) go see the live performance or watch the movie version (which does a pretty good job of maintaining the integrity of the stage show), but knowing the story behind A Chorus Line reveals the real magic of the show and why it is the quintessential dancer musical.

I’m not going to give away all of the magical mysteries of A Chorus Line, but here’s a little overview.  Michael Bennett danced on TV’s “Hullabaloo” and as Baby John in the OBC of West Side Story before pursuing his passion for choreography (Follies, Company, Dreamgirls, etc.).  A Chorus Line was his attempt to 1) hire his out-of-work colleagues, 2) reveal the recent changes in musical theater (ie. more versatile performers but fewer and fewer jobs), and 3) “examine the fierce discipline, hard work, and devotion that is required to wind up ‘only’ in the chorus, backing a star but never becoming one.”

The process started when Bennett called a group of his dancer friends to meet up one night.  They started with a dance class to “loosen up” and then sat around in a circle eating, drinking, and talking for nearly twelve hours straight.  The dancers shared their stories – their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears and insecurities.  And long story short, those stories became A Chorus Line.

Alright, fine! I’ll give you some juicy secrets.  But you still have to read the book!

  • Even though the characters in A Chorus Line were based on the stories of Bennett’s friends, some of them didn’t get cast (as themselves!).
  • Bennett was adamant about keeping the show honest and not glamorizing the audition process.  Originally, the character of Cassie (the over-qualified former star who at one time had a little romance with Zach, the show’s director) did not get hired at the end of the show.  However, this depressing ending, however realistic, was quickly changed to win over the hearts of audiences.
  • At one rehearsal, Bennett told a dancer to “fake” falling and getting injured.  When the cast crowded him and cried out  in panic, Bennett called out, “Now, do you all remember what you just did?  Let’s work that into blocking.”
  • The characters of Connie and Richie (Asian and African-American, respectively) originally had a duet about being typed as “ethnic” dancers.  They joked that they didn’t need to be the best dancers because the directors needed them in the show.
  • The set of A Chorus Line is bare – a white line across the black stage and rotating triangular pillars upstage.  The pillars’ three sides represented “the dancer’s world:” 1) a black panel (the black box theater), 2) a mirrored panel (the rehearsal studio), and 3) a sequined panel (the glamor of the stage/lights).

Are you enthralled yet? Now go read the book yourself!

“She said YES!”

Saturday, June 9th seemed like just your typical summer day in New York City.  After a short, warm summer rain, the Bryant Park lawn was soon crowded with people: a young couple on a picnic date, an acrobatic yoga class, curious toddlers with their mommies and daddies, and tourists from all across the world.  But this was no ordinary Saturday in the park – here’s why:

You cried, didn’t you?

This real-life fairy tale was choreographed by Broadway Dance Center’s own Derek Mitchell, assisted by Emily Greenwell, and performed by BDC’s Educational Program students and alumni. The amazing spectacle was even featured on Piers Morgan’s talk show!

Really, who needs Disneyland when Broadway Dance Center can make all your dreams come true?!

“Dancing for them was an amazing experience, I love to make people smile. Being part of one of the happiest days of that couple’s life made my entire life.” Andy Caballero (BDC ISVP ’11-12)

“It makes me happy to make someone happy.” Nallely Aquirre (BDC  ISVP ’11-’12)

“It meant a lot to me to be a part of that special day. It was such an amazing feeling knowing that all of us together made that day an unforgettable one in those two peoples’ lives. Love and dance is all we need!” Bella Takkunen

“It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of something so special. Seeing the Bride to be so happy and surprised was such a touching feeling. It makes me happy to know I was a part of the next chapter of 2 people’s lives.” Alex Vari (BDC PS ’12)

Snack Attacks

As a dancer, your body is your instrument.  Fuel your body with the right foods to get the most out of your dancing.

When you have a long day of dance ahead of you:

  • Bowl of oatmeal with flaxseed and skim milk.
  • Greek yogurt with berries.
  • Poached egg with whole grain toast and an orange.

When you’re running to dance class/rehearsal:

  • 1/4 cup of mixed nuts and dried fruit.
  • Lara bar or Kind bar.

When you’re done with dance class/rehearsal:

  • Small banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
  • Apple with string cheese/baby bell cheese.

When you’re under the weather:

  • 1 cup tea with lemon and honey.
  • Foods high in Vitamin C: oranges, broccoli, and sweet peppers.
  • Chicken and vegetable soup.
When you want to build muscle:
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese with canned fruit (in water).
  • Canned salmon with whole grain crackers.
  • Protein shake with protein powder, raw oats, and flaxseed.

When you’re sore:

  • 1 cup low-fat chocolate milk.
  • Smoothie with blueberries, banana, and low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • Foods high in potassium: raisins, melons, apricots, avocados, squash, beets, and dairy.

When you have butterflies/are feeling nervous:

  • 1/2 cup blueberries.
  • Small piece of dark chocolate.
  • Cup of herbal, decaffeinated tea.