Broadway Dance Center (BDC) is in the heart of New York, offering students of all ages and abilities the chance to take dance class in one of the most famous performance cities in the world. At the elite end of the scale, BDC offers a Professional Semester, a unique, intense training program designed to take talented dancers to the next level, ready for a long and successful career in the industry. Dance Informa spoke to Director of Educational Programs Emily Collin about the Pro Semester, available to both American and international students, and what makes the course so special.
The Professional Semester was created in response to the BDC faculty members’ own experiences. “Many of us moved to New York on our own and had to figure out the industry,” explains Collin. “We had to figure out how things worked and how to do basic things like build a resume and build a reel, and we had to do all that on our own. So the Professional Semester was created to give young dancers moving to New York a step ahead in what the industry involves, what’s expected, how things work and to oversee the change from being in training to being a working professional. We take talented dancers and really throw them into the mix of what it is to be living and working here full time.”
Unlike many similar courses, the Professional Semester covers much more than just dance technique. “They do take an intense course load of classes, and we go through an advising process to assess their goals and see where they need work,” describes Collin. “But we also go through a series of seminars and master classes, talking about how to market yourself in the industry, social media, your headshot, your resume. One of our faculty advisors leads one just on finances for dancers, covering how to create things like budgets, how to deal with filing taxes in 40 out of 50 states, and things like that. And at the end of the semester, we give them three realistic mock auditions in different styles, and we invite industry professionals, agents, and casting directors to attend.”
During these auditions, the students are given detailed individual feedback, which is something BDC is very proud to offer its students. “These industry people coming to the mock auditions and giving the dancers feedback is the most incredible part,” says Collin. “So many times, you walk into an audition, and you get cut and you never know why. This is a new experience, and all the people we bring in are very giving, offering the students information to help them as they go along in their career.”
The course concludes with a final industry showcase, choreographed mostly by BDC resident faculty, spanning all styles, from street and commercial to contemporary, theatre and jazz. “It’s a nice moment for the students to be in front of the industry doing things they’ve practiced and rehearsed,” explains Collin, “and we have had several students get signed at the end of each showcase, which is amazing.”
Although the course has been running at BDC since 2007, in 2015, it was opened up to international students, too. “We get a lot of students from the UK, from Australia, from places that I think already have a high professional level of dancers anyway,” notes Collin. “It’s an incredible experience for them to network in New York, and get to know the people in the industry here, but then we’ve seen them go off and do wonderful things globally, too. A lot of the Australians go back to Australia and do professional work, several do cruise ships and the Broadway shows on the ships now, a lot of the Europeans move to London and work through there. So it’s an amazing opportunity for them even if they can’t immediately work in the United States. I think the experience they gain from the program really translates to the work they want to do elsewhere as well.”
One such student is Amelia Sanzo, who hails from South Australia and moved to New York in 2018 to complete an International Student Visa Program (ISVP) with BDC for three months, followed by the Professional Semester. “I decided to do BDC’s Professional Semester, as it is like no other form of training on offer for aspiring artists,” Sanzo says. “I knew that at BDC, I would be exposed to the best mentors and choreographers in every genre possible. From ballet to hip hop, BDC provides exposure to choreographers and performers who are leading the industry today. It was by far the most positive and biggest learning experience I have had in my professional life. I was physically and mentally pushed, and I was able to meet my best friends for life in the best city in the world. There is truly no experience like it.”
The chance to make new friends and network with industry professionals is perhaps one the biggest draw cards for potential students. “I was able to work with world renowned choreographers, such as Marc Kimelman and Meghan Sannett,” Sanzo explains, “in pieces that both challenged and inspired me as an artist. The showcase was also a platform to expose the skills and knowledge I had gained over the four months.”
Collin also elaborates on the industry contacts that Pro Semester students are introduced to. “The agents and casting directors who come in for the mock auditions don’t come into anything else here at BDC, so that is a huge thing that’s unique to the program,” she says. “Likewise, sometimes we have companies come in and do a private audition just for the Professional Semester students, and to give them that access is really incredible. And yes, for their showcase, we have brought in choreographers before who are not a full-time faculty member, like Marc Kimelman. Similarly, dancers like Lacey Schwimmer will sometimes come in and set a piece on the Professional Semester students. That way, the students get the opportunity to work with someone else whom maybe they’re not taking classes with all the time.”
The overall experience for students in the Professional Semester is also naturally intertwined with life in New York, a city that lives and breathes dance. “New York has such diverse opportunities for training, across all styles,” says Collin, “and there’s this spirit of everyone being here and ready to work. You just meet such incredible people who are really taking the time to further their careers, and grow, and put themselves in uncomfortable places so they can get better, and I think that spirit permeates through all of our students. And then on top of that, you have the opportunity to go see incredible dance works pretty much every day if you want to. There’s a lot of inspiration and energy here. It’s exciting when you work with faculty who have choreographed for Broadway or for your favourite artist. All those things are a benefit to being here. And of course the biggest benefit is the relationships that you build with these people who are really just striving to be better. That’s the essence of New York; I think everyone wants to push themselves to a new level, to a new place.”
Acceptance into the Professional Semester is not as simple as joining the open ISVP program. Students are expected to have already achieved a high standard of dance before joining the course. “With ISVP, we have people with a wide range of goals and levels,” explains Collin, “but with the Professional Semester, every applicant has to submit a video in ballet, as well as the styles they feel comfortable dancing in. We want to see that people have been training for years because the goal of this program isn’t for them to be training, training, training to get up to a point that they are professional. They are already at that point dance-wise and we take them that extra step, to polish them up and give them the information they need to be successful. We do require that they submit letters of recommendation, which we always read carefully, and we also ask them to fill out a little more essay information about why they want to come, what their goals are, what they’re hoping to use this program to do afterward, things like that. The amount of experience and training they have had prior is something we place a much heavier emphasis on than with the ISVP.”
The intensity of the program is another reason why students must be of a certain standard on acceptance. “Even though we tell the dancers all the time this is a really full out course, when we get feedback they often say, ‘Everyone said it was going to be full out, but I didn’t realise it’s truly full out!’” Collin laughs. “But it’s good because on the other side of that, a lot of our alumni have talked to me afterward and have said that when that kind of schedule was expected of them in their professional work, they knew how to handle it. And that’s really what we’re going for creating this intense four-month program.”
The success of BDC’s alumni is proof that the Pro Semester achieves what the faculty hope for. Students like Sanzo credit BDC for kick-starting their careers. “From choreography, performing and business seminars, BDC equips you with all the skills you need to have a successful career in the industry,” Sanzo says. “It also allowed me, a small town girl from Australia, to perform on a Broadway stage in Red Bucket Follies, a dream come true!”
Collin herself can’t say enough about the successes of former BDC students. “We have had one dancer who was just on Beyoncé’s world tour, we have several on Broadway right now or have been doing Broadway recently, several in company works, and we have some who teach here at BDC as well,” she says. “We have dancers who are doing national tours, cruise lines, the whole thing. We try to highlight some of our alumni’s achievements on Instagram, and I feel like I always have a list a mile long of people to highlight because they’re all doing so much. One of our internationals has a Green Card for the US, and he just got cast in West Side Story the movie. And another one of our dancers had a winning solo on the World of Dance competition, so they flew him out to LA, and he got to perform there for that. They’re all doing amazing things. And the best thing is that no one has ever come back to me and said this experience wasn’t something that helped them.”
BDC runs two Professional Semesters per year, from January through May, and from August through December. The course is open to dancers aged 18-27 (exceptions are sometimes made for older dancers) who have reached a professional level of dancing in their training. Auditions are held around the United States, and video submissions are accepted for those who can’t attend a live audition.
Special thanks to Emily Collin, Director of Educational Programs at BDC.
By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.