Broadway Dance Center students VOP in a piece by faculty member Derek Mitchell, a former student of Frank Hatchett.

Frank Hatchett produced stars. This was obvious at yesterday’s tribute to the late Hines-Hatchett studio (later Broadway Dance Center) co-founder and Dance Teacher’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award–winner.

In the format of Hatchett’s renowned student talent showcases, devotees and colleagues from more than three decades of his VOP jazz classes presented dances, songs and speeches to a full audience at New York City’s Symphony Space. Well-prepared Broadway performers John Eric Parker and Ron Wyche presented nearly stage-worthy monologues commemorating their time with Hatchett. By the time Brooke Shields made a surprise appearance to thank “Papa Frank” for his guidance, it was clear he’d touched countless performing careers in the dance world and beyond.

Brook Shields said Frank Hatchett gave her the nickname "Tasty B" in his class.

Hatchett’s students are fiercely devoted to preserving his legacy—that is, a tradition of teaching for teaching's sake and learning for learning’s sake, a belief system that feels distinctly old-school amid today’s commercial dance popularity. During a fast-tapping improv session with Omar Edwards, Jason Samuels Smith drew cheers from the crowd when he took the mic to reminisce about a time—Hatchett’s time—when professional-level students didn’t take class just to prepare for an audition or to be seen by a certain choreographer. “You took class to get better,” he said. Derek Mitchell, who teaches at BDC and has choreographed for “So You Think You Can Dance,” created a group piece in Hatchett’s style and thanked his teacher via video greeting for being a true educator, not just “an egomaniac” at the front of the class.

Omar Edwards and Jason Samuels Smith jamming at Broadway Dance Center's celebration of Frank Hatchett

Additional video tributes came from Hines-Hatchett co-founder Maurice Hines, Savion Glover, Kinky Boots star Billy Porter, Faruma Williams of the Williams Brothers tap-dancing duo and other performing artists, all of whom thanked Hatchett for shaping their careers.

Speakers, including actress Tamara Tunie and Broadway performer Vivian Reed remembered Hatchett’s no-nonsense attitude. His 3:30 advanced class, all agreed, was his best and most challenging. He never tolerated timidity or low self-esteem. If a dancer belonged in the front row, students recalled, that’s where Hatchett put him, and he had no problem taking a dancer by the hand to move her from the front row to the back, either. He had dozens of catchphrases, and the audience murmured in recognition every time a speaker mentioned one: “You need the cookies and the milk, the cookies and the milk,” “Enough about me, let’s talk about me,” “You got this, and I got you,” and, most iconically, “You gotta VOP it,” which was usually spoken with a hip pop and a skyward finger-snap to show the sassy, swaggering attitude Hatchett required.

To close the ceremony, popular BDC jazz teacher and Hatchett protégée Sheila Barker took the stage doing what she does best: getting everybody to move. She led the audience in a final dance.

Broadway Dance Center students performing "Happy," choreographed by Frank Hatchett protégée Sheila Barker

Photos by Sandy Shelton, courtesy of BDC

How-To

Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico's School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 3- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.

Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.

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Dance Buzz
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How-To
Todd Rosenlieb, left, of The Governor's School for the Arts. Photo by Victor Frailing, courtesy of Todd Rosenlieb

You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?

Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.

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Dancer Health
Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

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How-To
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

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Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

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