Food for Thought

If dance is both an art and a sport, then our bodies are both our instruments and our machines. Therefore, it is vital to fuel our bodies with the proper nutrition and hydration so that we may continue dancing at our fullest potential. But how do we know what “balanced nutrition” means for a dancer? It can be frustrating to research a “diet” plan dancers because we exercise more than the “average Joe” yet do not want to bulk up with muscle. And the fact that the dance industry is often based on one’s physical appearance only complicates matters. To appease my anxiety, I turned to Tiffany Mendell, a registered dietitian at Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life.

Tell us about your experience as a dancer and how you became interested in nutrition.
I started dancing seriously when I was 13 and was a member of a performing and competition company all throughout high school.  I went on to major in dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  I was a modern major in school and danced with Philadanco II, a modern-based repertory company in Philly.  It was my experience in college that the dancers were the WORST eaters!  We were the ones dancing for 10 hours day and eating raw chocolate chip cookie dough in our dorm rooms at night!  That being said, in my first professional experience with Philadanco my artistic director did suggest that I lose about 10 pounds.  I knew NOTHING about nutrition.  My idea of eating to lose weight was a bowl of rice crispies for breakfast, a pretzel from the cart on Spruce Street for lunch and a bowl of Ramen noodles for dinner.  “Fat-free” was the nutrition trend back then, as there always are trends in the world of nutrition.  Of course, I wasn’t successful losing the weight because I wasn’t fueling my body properly, my metabolism was slow and I was starving, so then I would overeat!
I moved to NYC to pursue a career in dance, taking class at BDC when I could and auditioning for more jazz/musical theater type dance roles.  When I was in my mid-twenties my father (who was raised in the deep South where everything was fried with gravy on it!) was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.  He was very fortunate that he didn’t have a heart attack, and he ended up having seven bypasses and two stents placed in his heart.  We met with a registered dietitian when he was in the hospital to educate him on eating “heart healthy.”  Heart disease has a very strong genetic component, and I remember saying to my brother at that time that we were going to have to start thinking about our diet then, when we were young, because what we ate in our youth was going to affect our health in our older years.  I subsequently started reading everything I could about proper nutrition and attempting to make healthier changes in my diet.  I made a concerted effort to incorporate fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack, cutting out saturated fat and processed foods and eating sources of lean protein and the right kind of fat.  Consequently, my body just CHANGED.  My dancing improved profoundly, my energy levels were amazing, my skin was clear and I felt satisfied with every meal.  I actually felt that I was eating MORE, and while I wasn’t trying to lose weight I just did.   I was excited about good nutrition!  Then I got my job dancing with the New Jersey Nets dance team, which was a fantastic experience!

I always knew I would pursue another career after dance, and because I was always drawn to the nutrition articles in all my health magazines that I read I decided to go back to grad school for nutrition.  I danced for myself, and I was ready to use my knowledge and passion for nutrition to help others lead healthier lives.The dance industry has a reputation for being “unhealthy.”  Why do you think that is?

Dancers are under pressure to achieve a certain aesthetic.  Sometimes this pressure is from external sources, sometimes it is pressure they impose on themselves.  They tend to be perfectionists, but perfectionistic thinking can sometimes backfire and lead to self-sabotage.  Furthermore, a dancer may go to extremes to achieve this ideal because this is the only way they know how; perhaps they’re getting their nutrition information from unreliable sources on the internet, or they are getting misinformation and pressure from their peers.

For a healthy approach, I think it’s important for dancers to think of themselves as athletesas well as artists.  They need to fuel their bodies as athletes do, and depending on the sport athletes have different nutritional requirements.  Obviously a gymnast is going to eat differently than a linebacker.  But all athletes need to eat right for optimal performance, and dancers are no different.  Additionally, a dancer’s body is his or her instrument.  A violinist with the New York Philharmonic doesn’t just shove his violin in his duffle bag with his gym clothes after rehearsal.  He takes care to wipe it with a soft cloth, place it in its proper case, care for the strings, and tune it to ensure that his instrument sounds the way it’s supposed to.  Dancers need to focus on taking care of their bodies outside of the studio as much as they do in the studio.  This includes eating healthy, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep.What exactly is “balanced nutrition” for a dancer?

Balanced nutrition for anyone really just means eating the right proportion of high fiber carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fat.  It’s essential for dancers to understand that they need ALL of these components in their diet.  “Carbs” often have a negative connotation when it comes to weight management, but it’s important to know that carbohydrate provides energy for the body. Healthy carbs are those that our bodies use efficiently and are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals such as fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains.  You actually burn fat more efficiently with a little carbohydrate in the diet, and carbs help prevent protein being burned for energy. Lean protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair, which dancers need because vigorous activity breaks down muscle tissue.  Excellent sources are fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy as well as vegetarian sources such as beans and legumes, tofu, and edamame.  Fat is important in the diet because it helps our bodies absorb certain vitamins and provides satiety, meaning you feel satisfied after consuming it.  You’d likely be hungry an hour after eating an apple, but an apple spread with a little all-natural peanut butter will keep you satisfied longer!  Good sources of healthy fat include those from plants sources, such as nuts and nut butters, avocado, hummus, olive and canola oil.  A special type of fat called essential omega-3 fatty acids are especially important to fight inflammation in the body and are excellent for heart health. These fats are categorized as “essential” meaning the body can’t make them and they have to be consumed in the diet.  Excellent sources include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and plant sources include ground flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts and canola oil.  Dancers should strive to include healthy fat with each meal and snack, but it’s important to watch your portion size because fat is a concentrated source of calories and it’s easy to go overboard.

In a typical day dancers are not always able to get in 3 traditional meals plus 2-3 snacks with their crazy schedules.  Going from 2 back-to-back classes and then to an audition and then rehearsal can make it difficult to get in a solid lunch, and dancers don’t want to feel “heavy” or full from a big meal when they have to dance right afterwards.  However, it’s important to eat small, frequent, balanced meals or snacks throughout the day.  Eating frequently helps you have a constant stream of energy for the day, keeps your metabolism from slowing down and prevents you from becoming famished and overeating. And EVERY dancer needs to get in a good breakfast before starting the day!

How much water should I be drinking each day?
For women the general guideline is 2.7 liters per day, for men it’s 3.7 liters per day, however, some of this comes from water in food.  It’s SO important for dancers to stay hydrated throughout the day…this includes starting the day with water!  Water helps your body absorb certain vitamins and minerals, aids in metabolism and helps to fill you up.  I always encourage my clients to carry a 1 liter BPA-free water bottle with them whenever they can; their goal is to drink two per day for women, three for guys.  Green or herbal tea, seltzer/club soda and sparkling water are also great drink options and can certainly be counted towards your water intake for the day.  I try to discourage people from drinking their calories because they are not as satisfying as real food and may lead to overconsumption of calories.  This includes sodas, sweetened water, tea and coffee drinks, juice and smoothies and energy drinks.  I also recommend staying clear from artificially sweetened drinks as well; research shows that artificial sweetener use is actually associated with weight gain and can increase sugar cravings.
What are the best foods to eat:
-before class/rehearsal?
-before a performance?
It’s best to have a meal about 1 1/2-2 hours prior to dancing, whether it’s class, rehearsal or performance.  This will allow ample time for digestion and won’t cause you to feel too full or experience any gastrointestinal discomfort while dancing.  As mentioned previously, your meal will contain a proper ratio of carbs, protein and fat, but because fat takes a long time to digest it’s especially important not to have a meal that’s too high in fat.  An example of a good breakfast to start your day would be a ½ cup of plain oatmeal made with a cup of skim milk and a tablespoon of chopped walnuts, or lunch could be a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and avocado with an orange on the side.  If you only have an hour or so before dancing, this is when it’s best to go for a smaller balanced snack, still containing some healthy carb and protein and/or fat.  An apple with a little all-natural peanut butter, a non-fat Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of chia seeds or some veggies and 2 tablespoons of  hummus would all be good options.
If you feel the need to “de-bloat” on the day of a performance, try avoiding all carbonated beverages, artificial sweeteners, gum and hard candy as well as sodium (mostly from processed foods).  Also, sipping on chamomile, peppermint, or ginger tea and eating some asparagus, celery, fennel, papaya or pineapple may help with that bloating feeling.
-after dancing?
What you eat after dancing will depend on your day.  If it’s been several hours since your last meal and you have some time before dancing again, this is when getting a good meal will help to refuel your body.  However, if you only have a short time before you have to dance again you still need to get in a little protein and healthy carb.  A half-cup of low-fat cottage cheese with some sliced red peppers or 15 almonds with a handful of grapes would be good choices.
-when overcoming injury/illness?
This is the time when it’s especially important to avoid high fat, high sugar, processed foods (which hopefully you are avoiding at all times!).  These foods can contribute to inflammation in the body, and when recovering from an injury or illness it is necessary to eat foods that help to combat inflammation.  This means getting in those essential omega-3 fatty acids from fish as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.  And you want to make sure you’re getting in ample amounts of antioxidants from foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.  Berries, apples, artichokes, broccoli rabe, sweet potatoes, pecans, green tea and even dark chocolate are all excellent sources of antioxidants!   But these are foods that should be a regular part of your diet EVERY day, not just at times when you are recovering from illness!
 
Should I be taking vitamins and other supplements?
If you have a healthy, well-rounded diet there’s generally not a need to take a multivitamin/mineral or other supplements.  If you want to take a multi for insurance, it’s important to look for one that has no more than 100% of the Daily Value for each vitamin and mineral, and it can be taken every other day.  Of course, supplements are certainly warranted at times on an individual basis, but it depends on one’s diet and nutritional needs.  For example, it can be very difficult for vegans to get certain nutrients in their diet, such as vitamin B12, calcium, and zinc. Additionally, if someone doesn’t eat fish I would recommend taking a fish oil supplement to get the essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which help to fight inflammation in the body and contribute to heart health.  While you can get certain omega-3s from plant sources (such as flaxseeds or walnuts) these don’t provide the same type of omega-3s that fish provide.
 I ALWAYS recommend whole food over supplements.  You need to start with diet first.  Nutrients in food work synergistically, and individual supplements don’t always contain the proper ratio of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals for optimal absorption that nature provides through food.  Further, supplements that are advertised for weight loss are NEVER recommended.  They can be extremely dangerous or, at best, simply a waste of money.  The only sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off is through proper diet, exercise and good sleep habits, period.
If weight loss is a goal, how can I take a healthy approach?

First: You have to eat!  Skipping meals and snacks is the worst thing you can do for your metabolism, causing it to slow down and making it difficult to lose the weight.  Second: Cut out processed foods.  Often when people focus on getting in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of potato chips they tend to lose weight automatically.  Third: It’s imperative to measure portion sizes, because it’s SO easy to overestimate portions.  I encourage people to get measuring cups, measuring spoons and even a digital scale and USE them!  It’s very eye-opening to see what a half-cup of cooked oatmeal looks like.  If a dancer wants to lose weight I would suggest starting with cutting back on starch servings (1-2 per day) because starch is higher in calories than other foods that are higher in water.  This could mean a piece of whole wheat toast with breakfast and a small sweet potato at lunch.  Additionally, as mentioned before, it’s particularly important to monitor fat servings as well.  A lot of people are surprised when I mention that a healthy serving of peanut butter is 2 teaspoons instead of 2 tablespoons, as what’s listed on the manufacturer’s label.  Fourth: Keep a food journal.  Research has shown that people who write down everything they eat have more success taking the weight off and keeping it off.  It really raises your level of awareness as to what is going into your body.  If you can, seek guidance from a registered dietitian who can help you devise a food plan to safely take the weight off while ensuring your body is getting the nutrition it needs.Are there books or websites that I can read to learn more?

I work in a private nutrition counseling practice for a wonderful registered dietitian named Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN.  She has written two books about nutrition that I would highly recommend called The Snack Factor Dietand The O2 Diet (and the upcoming Slim, Calm, Sexy). They’re great resources for someone wanting to learn more about nutrition, and would be excellent for dancers as well (and I’m not just saying this because I work for her!).  The information in the books is based on sound nutrition research and helps you to understand why we need carbs, protein and fat in our diet as well as goes into specifics on portion sizes and creating healthy menus.  I also really like Strong Women Eat Well by Miriam Nelson, PhD.  These books are about eating healthy for the rest of your life and make good nutrition accessible to anyone who reads them.
When searching for nutrition information on the internet it is very important to consider the source, because there is a lot of misinformation out there.  Reputable nutrition information will cite a body of scientific research (not just one article) and be based on the scientific literature, not just one person’s opinion.  Unfortunately, this information can be difficult for some people to discern.  Generally, if it promises a quick fix miracle or causes you to cut out huge food groups it likely isn’t quality nutrition information.

Who should I talk to if I’m feeling overwhelmed?
Whomever you trust.  This may be your parent, a good friend, a dance teacher, or a therapist.  It’s important to feel that you can turn to someone when you are overwhelmed, but be sure that this person has your best interest at heart.

Read All About It!

You’re sitting in the holding room for three hours at an Equity call waiting to (hopefully) get the chance to audition. Here’s a list of some great dance-related books to help you pass the time:

The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron) is a self-help book to help artists cultivate self-confidence and harness their creative talents. The chapters correlate to a 12-week course which provide resources and techniques that foster artistic inspiration.

All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse (Martin Gottfried) is a thorough biography of Tony, Emmy, and Oscar-winning choreographer, Bob Fosse. Gottfried artfully accounts Fosse’s life experiences which later served to inspire his innovative style.

The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body and Nutrition (Linda H. Hamilton) describes the wellness program at NYCB that was created to support the physically healthy, emotionally balanced, and mentally prepared dancer in achieving his or her goals and aspirations.

Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life (Donna McKechnie) is the autobiography of Donna McKechnie who inspired and performed the role of “Cassie” in “A Chorus Line.” Her book recounts the roller-coaster career filled with unbelievable successes and disappointments that shaped her as an artist.

Steps in Time (Fred Astaire) is an autobiography of the legendary Fred Astaire (with a great little forward by his dancing partner, Ginger Rogers).  The memoir is honest and full of personal anecdotes (and nearly 50 amazing black and white photographs!).

Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins (Greg Lawrence) tells the tale of the “nightmare genius” (Tony Walton).  While Robbins is remembered for his legendary works including West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof, his life was plagued with religious, political, and personal conflict.

Ballet and Modern Dance: A Concise History (Jack Anderson) describes the role of dance in history from the time of the Ancient Greeks and French royal courts all the way to contemporary modern and jazz styles.

Diet for Dancers: A Complete Guide to Nutrition and Weight Control (Robin D. Chmelar) was the first published nutritional guide based on research and outlining topics specific to dancers.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation (Jeff Chang) provides an extensive overview of the evolution of Hip Hop and its influence as a social and cultural movement.

That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader (Mark Anthony Neal) discusses the gender, racial, social, and political impact of Hip Hop in the United States.

Books on my reading list:
I Was a Dancer (Jacques d’Amboise)
Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology (Karen Clippinger)
TAP! The Greatest Tap Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955 (Rusty Frank)
On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line (Robert Viagas)
Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance (Jennifer Dunning)
Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams (Alvin Yudkoff)
Buzz: The Life of Busby Berkeley (Jeffrey Spivak)

Feel free to comment with your reading suggestions!

So you want to be a “triple threat”?

“triple threat” performer is someone who can act and sing and dance – sometimes all at once! It is vital for yourself and also for the industry that you are able to embrace all three disciplines, in order to survive. (Musical Theater Handbook by Gerry Tebbutt)
But one has to ask:
  • How important is it to really be a “triple threat?”
  • Doesn’t the term “triple threat” just apply to musical theater?
  • How can I become a “triple threat?”
Well, Cameron Adams (The Music Man, Hairspray, Oklahoma!, Follies, Cry-Baby, Promises Promises, How to Succeed…, Nice Work If You Can Get It) was nice enough to answer a few of these questions for us. Check out what she has to say:

“The triple threat absolutely still exists. It’s actually more important than it has ever been to be as well-rounded as possible. Most productions aren’t hiring large ensembles anymore. Therefore, to get a spot in the ensemble you must be able to sing, dance, and act and usually understudy one of the leads. This isn’t true for every production, but the more diverse you are the better your odds. Same goes when auditioning for roles. I always say you have more options out there if you’re well-rounded and feel confident in all areas.

I think it’s nothing more than taking classes. Knowing what your weaker areas are and searching for teachers or coaches that can help. And if it feels overwhelming, pull back a bit and take your time. It doesn’t have to consume every part of your life. Being a well-rounded human being helps out with being a well-rounded performer.”
You heard it here, folks! Hop in to BDC’s amazing voice and acting classes (and obviously our dance classes too!) and you’ll be on your way to becoming a true triple threat
  • Vocal Technique (Bettina Sheppard) Monday 2-3pm
  • Vocal Performance/Audition Technique (Bettina Sheppard) Monday 3-5:30pm and Friday 3:30-5pm
  • Acting for Dancers (Bronwen Carson) Tuesday 10:30am-12pm

The Flash Mob Phenomenon

Today, flash mobs seem (ironically) common, especially in New York City. One of the first flash mobs recorded actually occurred here in NYC back in 2003 when over 100 people organized a secret gathering at Macy’s using social media. The participants met on the 9th floor at a specific time, began dancing spontaneously, and then went on to their individual shopping as if nothing had happened. The term “flash mob” was added to the dictionary shortly after in 2004, defining it as an organization demonstration that is “unusual” or “pointless.” That definition definitely seems to have expanded because contemporary flash mobs are often anything but “pointless.”

Since 2003, flash mobs have been organized for specific purposes of entertainment, artistic expression, political advocacy, commercial advertisement, social protest, and satire.  Some recorded flash mobs have even turned violent, literally taking on the mob mentality of a riot.  For the most part, however, flash mobs are known for their peaceful and creative approach by incorporating artistic elements such as song and dance.

Check out these “famous” flash mobs:

Flash mobs aren’t just exciting because of their element of surprise.  There is something thrilling about the synergy of the whole event: the planning and organization, the communal participation, and the final social performance.  And what’s more, flash mobs seem to unite people, especially through dance.  You can search flash mobs on YouTube and find hundreds of events from all over the world.  Flash mobs are proof that dance really is the universal language.

But what is it like to be part of a flash mob?  Well, here’s what some BDC students had to say:

“Watching flash mobs is great, but to be a dancer in one is truly such a great experience.  The crowd reaction is so unique and special.  It’s such a great way to share my passion for dance with un-expecting crowds.  What a way to put a smile on someone’s face!” – Latoyia Everett

“Being part of a flash mob is one of the greatest experiences because you get an opportunity to come together as one and be part of something that is bigger than anything you could do one your own.” – Olivia Conlin

“Being in a flash mob is an amazing thing to see what dancers love to do and how people everywhere love to dance.” – Jessica de la Cruz

“Dancing in a flash mob is like a tornado of energy!  It’s an incredible experience!” – Matt Tremblay

Flash Mobs starring BDC students & faculty choreographers:

New BDC Acting Class is a Class Act

It is said that after one of Fred Astaire’s first screen tests the director noted, “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Can dance a little.” Boy, was that wrong.

It is a common stigma, however, that dancers “can’t act.” We are taught from our very first ballet class to watch our alignment, straighten our posture, and improve our turnout. The only thing we’re really supposed to emote (or at least try to emote) during tendus at the barre is a sense of calm confidence. So maybe acting isn’t a real part of dancing then, right? WRONG! Just take a look at what some notable industry professionals have to say:

“…commitment from the dancer means communication to the audience. This is true for both the actor and the dancer, because dance is acting and acting is dance. The principles of storytelling are the same.” – Tony Testa (Los Angeles; ‘The Cheetah Girls,’ ‘Wizards of Waverly Place,’ ‘Dance on Sunset,’ a music video for Miranda Cosgrove, halftime shows for slamball on ABC, commercials for Skechers and Versace, shows for Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and Danity Kane)

“The most important acting skill a dancer can have in my work is the ability to get really honest—to be able to relate to the work personally.” – Jack Ferver (New York; Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project, the New Museum, Théâtre de Vanves (Paris), an upcoming piece for Performance Space 12)

“I like dancers who put themselves out there on the line without the fear of embarrassment. Dancers are constantly seeing themselves as they dance. My advice is to get past that voice in your head, the one saying how you “should be.” Instead, like the good actor, find that quiet, open space that lets you be whatever you want to be—or whatever I ask you to be.” – Mark Swanhart (Los Angeles; ‘Viva Elvis’ for Cirque du Soleil (Las Vegas), Celine Dion’s ‘Taking Chances’ tour, ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ a film of ‘La Bohème,’ the 2003 Tony Awards)

“If you don’t think of “acting” per se, but rather use your imagination to infuse your movement with clear intention, strong imagery, discovery, subtext, and self-knowledge, you will be more likely to enter that magical zone of “being in the moment.” – Dance Magazine, “Going Inside the Role”

“Today’s world of musical theater demands dancers to have acting and singing skills. In musical theater there is always a story to tell and a plot to further– no one is ever just dancing steps. Every dancer needs to comfortable using their voice and have the confidence to speak on stage. Broadway shows are full of ” one liners”, which are typically assigned to the chorus. If a dancer is asked to read sides during an audition, he or she must make a strong choice and read with authority; there is no time to be embarrassed about how you sound or how you “act”. This is why a basic knowledge of acting is essential to dancers hoping to break into musical theater and Broadway. In terms of casting, the more skills you have the more valuable you are. This is why the cliche “triple threat” exists; if you can do it all, you are a threat to those who cannot. For example, Directors always need understudies, a job which typically goes to a member of the chorus. A dancer who can potentially understudy a lead role is more likely to book the job over one who cannot. Just as in life, being a well-rounded individual adds dimension to a dancer’s talent and creates more opportunity.” – Kiira Schmidt (New York; “Follies,” “White Christmas,” “Stairway to Paradise,” “Mame;” assistant to Josh Bergasse for NBC’s “SMASH”)

“Agreed!” remarks Bronwen Carson, a recent addition to the faculty here at Broadway Dance Center. Ms. Carson, who will be teaching “Acting for Dancers” (Tuesdays at 10:30am-12pm), describes, “Dancers inherently have tools at their disposal to become powerful storytellers, but are rarely shown how to translate the precise control they have over their bodies into truthful, nuanced character portrayals.”

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a performer.

I started in classical ballet at 7 because I wanted to be the music. It wasn’t so much the movements, that passion came later. It was the music and the story I imagined in my head when I watched dancers. I’d make up the most intricate stories about every person I met. I kept the stories to myself, like favorite books one doesn’t share at first. Now, after being in the performing arts for over thirty years, I’m ready to share those stories.

What brought you to acting?

I was incredibly fortunate to study with two extraordinary artists for the first decade of my training, Paul Curtis and Shawn Stuart. They seamlessly incorporated acting into my basic skill set as a dancer. So, almost from day one I was implementing it. I remember in rehearsals, even as a toy soldier in “The Nutcracker,” I’d be really interested in what the director was trying to convey, and how I could best portray that as a toy soldier. Later on, I received a scholarship to study at the Theater Arts Institute in the Bay Area, under the director of Marc Jacobs, a RADA trained director who put a great deal of importance upon honing the craft and technique of acting. The more I studied it and played with it as a dancer, the more I sought out projects and artists who felt the same.

Why do you think it is important for dancers to know how to act?

Because that’s what we are looking for now. When I say “we” I am speaking from the perspective of a director and choreographer. It’s enthralling and exciting to find a dancer who doesn’t drop out of character when whipping off their turns. I also see it as THE bridge to obtaining feature and leading roles in everything from concert work to film work. If you cannot act, you’ll be kicking those fantastic legs up in the background. If you can act, your chances of being in the foreground, maybe with some lines and a lot more money, exponentially increase. I’m also weary of seeing dancers work their guts out as “dance” or “body doubles” just to be replaced with an actor who receives much of the recognition or acclaim. I think more dancers should be nominated for Tony awards. why not? If it’s about excellence in storytelling and character portrayal, why shouldn’t dance and dancers accomplish that?

How did you get connected with Broadway Dance Center?

I took classes at BDC when I first moved to New York, back when they were located on Broadway and 54th Street! I’ve gotten to know Diane, Bonnie, and Vanessa through the years as a producer for Melanie LePatin and then as a producer for the Astaire Awards.

Tell us about “Acting for Dancers.”

It was born out of necessity really. I began working more as a director and choreographer a few years ago and with each audition I held, I found dancers falling into one of two categories – “fierce dancer” or “really good mover who can act.” But what I needed was fierce dancers with fantastic acting chops. The rarity of that combination concerned me a great deal. Then I realized it was not the dancer’s fault – the skill wasn’t really being taught. So, after I saw the need, I worked out the “what’s” and the “how’s” of training dancers to act. It’s a really different deal with dancers. Their control over the minutia of their bodies often creates blockades to truthful acting. I decided to create a class built for their unique strengths and challenges. I used my experiences as a professional dancer and actor to build specific exercises that bridge the two worlds. Once I felt I had a course that could offer results, I approached a number of schools in the city, including BDC. Bonnie Erickson was the first to respond with real excitement. So, a month later I started teaching during BDC’s Fall 2011 Professional Semester and am now teaching for the Spring Pro-Sem as well as newly available drop-in open classes offered on Tuesday mornings. The open classes go through March 27th.

Why do you think people believe dancers can’t be actors?

I think it’s an antiquated belief based solely upon the lack of training dancers receive in acting technique. Dancers train so ferociously on their lines, their strength, their flexibility, their “tricks”…but for the most part, they don’t learn how to build and perform a nuanced, evocative character with objectives, relationships and a storyline. Give them training and suddenly astounding abilities start to reveal themselves.

You are in the process of directing and choreographing a new work, “49th Street and Other Stories.” Why do you classify this project as a dance play?

I call it a dance play because of the sheer emphasis I’ve placed upon the storyline and character portrayal. I’m demanding a lot of myself and of my dancers, but they love it. They love being asked more of them. It’s been a thrilling and pretty daunting process. I spend a great deal of rehearsal time working out character development, relationship dynamics and tactical changes through their movements.

What prompted you to create this project and what are your hopes for the future of the project?

“49th Street and Other Stories” has been a long time in the making. There’s a huge Mason jar in my office filled with ideas and memories. It’s loosely autobiographical, so the challenge hasn’t been in creating the story, but which parts to include and which to leave out. As with anything I direct or choreograph, my primary desire is to have the audience forget the performers are not speaking because what they are watching…the characters, relationships, individual moments…all start to fill in what literally isnt’ being said so as to unconsciously create dialogue and conversations in their minds. As for the show’s future, all I have is an unrelenting drive to see it produced. I head into a final workshop early this summer for some interested backers, after I’m done choreographing a new musical called “Jack’s Back.” I’m pursuing all sorts of creative financial backing options, from grants to individual backers to corporate sponsors. The piece lends itself to a large scale production to fully experience the whole “mind’s eye of one woman’s New York” quality. I’m batting ideas around with some truly exciting and visionary set and costume designers right now. I want it to be exceptionally appealing both artistically as well as commercially. I want to pay my dancers, pay them well. With what I’m asking of them, they deserve it!

Drop-in classes for “Acting for Dancers” with Bronwen Carson will take place Tuesdays from 10:30-noon.

Read more about why acting is important for dancers:

Backstage

Dance Magazine

Dance Teacher Magazine