By Bonnie E. Erickson, Director of Educational Programming, Broadway Dance Center.
As Broadway Dance Center master theater teacher Jim Cooney and I looked around the room, we saw lovely young dancers standing in groups with other dancers in the identical leotards of their respective studios, with arms crossed, hips out, and expressions of trepidation – we looked at each other and smiled: a beautiful blank canvas for our work!
Jim and I had come to Australia for two weeks of workshops in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, and we were excited to bring our message of kindness between dancers, of supporting one another in the classroom, at the audition, and on the stage to Australia’s dancers, and especially to fellowship with other dance educators to bring the dance world ever closer. Jim is the Faculty Advisor for our Educational Programming and I am the Director of Educational Programming at Broadway Dance Center – in these roles, Jim and I teach this message to all the dancers who come through our full-time programs at BDC, creating dancers who are “happy to be here, and ready to work!” – a quote I must properly attribute to the extraordinary Lucille DiCampli of MSA dance agency, with whom we work on our mock auditions.
At each of the eight workshops we taught, it was exhilarating to watch these dancers go around the room, shaking hands with other dancers to get acquainted and to get past their fears, and then expanding that energy as they learned Jim’s wonderful musical theatre choreography. It was wonderful to see their hearts and minds open, and fully enthralled in the joy of dance.
We were fortunate enough to secure a segment on Australia’s popular television show The Circle, and at the behest of the show’s producers, Jim quickly put together a flash mob for the show, recruiting dancers we’d met at our Melbourne workshops through the lovely directors of the studios The Space and Dancescape to perform on the show. It was so gratifying to be able to immediately put into practice what we’d taught them – life is the audition, and you never know what might lead to a gig in this industry, and quite simply being nice can get you the job.
After each of the workshops we had a talk-back with the students, answering their questions about Broadway Dance Center and New York. We were especially excited to announce the planned opening in April of two new studios on the first and second floors of the building, bringing us to seven state-of-the-art studios. The students were, as you can imagine, ecstatic to imagine a schedule of over 300 classes a week in ballet, contemporary, jazz, theatre, hip-hop, tap, yoga, pilates, flexibility, belly-dancing, acting, Latin, partnering, and so many more. We also spoke of our new offerings like the Original Broadway Choreography Series, the Contemporary Variations Series, our Industry Insider Series, and the exciting introduction of Parsons Dance in Residence at BDC.
While BDC’s main demographic is and always has been the walk-in dancer — New Yorkers and others who come in and simply sign up for whatever classes they want to take that day — we’re also home to four full-time programs: the International Student Visa Program, the largest and oldest of the programs; the BDC Training Program, its counterpart for American dancers of varying levels; and our two professional elite training programs for US dancers, the Summer Intern Program and the Professional Semester. The students of the ISVP hail from more than 35 countries worldwide. They comprise of a vibrant community of talented, multi-cultural dancers who take 12 classes weekly, enjoy special master classes, rehearsals, performances, the benefit of a full-time staff (including a student advisor), and one-on-one faculty mentoring. They join us for three months, six months, or a year initially, and then can extend their programs for up to three years. It is quite simply a joy to watch these students progress as they study closely with our world-class faculty, many of whom are working choreographers. Often our teachers offer the students incredible performance opportunities available only through their participation in the program.
A recent graduate of the ISVP, Jess Orcsik, is herself a studio owner in Sydney, and an ambitious young entrepreneur, as well as a lovely dancer indeed. Jess loved her time at BDC, and upon her return to Australia felt that the training she’d received was so powerful that she wanted to find a way to share it with the dancers of her country, perhaps during shorter visits to New York. When she contacted me with her idea, we jumped at the chance to work with her to develop The Australian Intensive, a program designed by Jess through her J.O. International Productions, whereby groups of young dancers can come to BDC to study intensively in a similar structure to the rigorous ISVP course.
As a longtime Australiophile — I have a sister who lives in Yeerongpilly, Brisbane — I had a trip planned to take a respite from New York’s winter months to the lovely Aussie summer, and so in chatting to Jess about my trip, it became obvious to both of us straightaway that we ought to combine pleasure with business and offer some workshops and reach out to the burgeoning dance community of Australia. We’ve had many Aussie dancers in the ISVP through the years, and have been delighted to watch them get better and better — the training in Australia is clearly on the rise. We’ve had gorgeous dancers like Amy Campbell from So You Think You Can Dance and Dena Kaplan from Dance Academy come through the program, and we’re seeing more and more dancers of their calibre apply to the program.
I like to think that the founder of BDC, the late Richard Ellner, would feel that his dream of one all-encompassing studio, with the best dance faculty in the world, offering the finest dance instruction and a veritable “home away from home” for dancers, is indeed thriving here in the heart of the Broadway theatre district. Even more, I hope he’d feel proud to see that rather than resting on our laurels, we’re all working hard to further this dream and welcome more dancers from around the world into the BDC-red hallways of our studios.
Photo: Students enjoy dancing Jim Cooney’s choreography.