Broadway Dance Center Celebrates “Papa Frank,” VOP-Style

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

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