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Student Blog: In the Studio with Dance Lab New York

An inside look at DLNY’s Broadway Choreography Intensive

Student Blog: In the Studio with Dance Lab New York
DLNY choreography intensive participants perform their classmate's work
(Shannel Resto, SJR Photography)

I've been a big fan of Dance Lab New York since I first discovered the organization, relatively soon after its founding in 2015. Originally called Broadway Dance Lab, the company supports choreographers (particularly in musical theatre, but in other areas as well) in their development of new work by providing space, dancers, administrative support and more for the workshop process: components that would usually be left to choreographers themselves to organize and fund, be they preparing to choreograph a Broadway show or develop an independent project. As a musical theatre performer, dancer, and aspiring choreographer, it was so exciting to discover an organization focused specifically on this aspect of the art form I loved.

Several years ago, the organization pioneered its Broadway Choreography Intensive - an incredible unique intensive for early-career choreographers (ages 18-29) to train specifically in theatrical choreography. This spring, over the complicated process of planning for a summer in which theatre was only beginning to return, I was thrilled to be accepted into the intensive myself. Having loved DLNY for so long, and having heard incredible things about this program specifically from a mentor who attended in 2019, I couldn't wait to be back in my favorite city training with Josh Prince (DLNY's founder and the choreographer of Shrek the Musical and Beautiful on Broadway), Valerie Salgado (DLNY's education director), and an array of guest teachers. Now, on my way home from New York City after two weeks of inspiration, learning, and growth, I'm excited to take you into the studio with me.

Student Blog: In the Studio with Dance Lab New York
Presenting my work-in-process for feedback (Shannel Resto, SJR Photography)

To be fair, not all of the program took place in an actual studio. The first four days were virtual - meaning I started my days around 6am as I zoomed into this NY-based intensive from my dining room dance studio in Seattle. We started most days up and moving, and although at first I wasn't particularly excited about going back to zoom dance, the guest teachers I was dancing with - Broadway choreographers, associates, performers, and more whose movement classes also offered choreographic wisdom- made it more than worthwhile. But rather than dancing in my kitchen all day, on this virtual schedule much of my learning actually took place sitting at my computer and taking lots of notes. This portion of the intensive consisted largely of lectures, Q and As, and discussions: with musicians and designers, choreographers and associates, an intimacy director, union representatives, agent and casting director, and more, all zooming in from around the world.

Student Blog: In the Studio with Dance Lab New York
DLNY's founder Josh Prince, and fellow Broadway directors/choreographers Joann Hunter and Jeff Calhoun, offer feedback and industry wisdom
(Shannel Resto, SJR Photography)

Also introduced in those first days, to become much more central as we moved in person, were Choreo Challenges. In these assignments, often tackled at the end of each day, we were given specific prompts ranging from "restage your favorite dance number ever" to "set a piece on a partner without speaking" on zoom, to "choreograph this full song in 30 minutes" or "stage a piece based only on this written notation" in person. I, and many of my peers in the program, usually love to enter a rehearsal with every step pre-planned. But Josh and Val emphasized the fact that while preparation can be valuable, in many situations it's a luxury you don't receive - and sometimes it's out of that in-the-room-creation that the best work can emerge. Thus, for all of these challenges, time to go create steps on our own before setting it on dancers or sharing a solo ranged from minimal (on zoom) to none (in person). The philosophy behind this - that we'd get plenty of chances to go create/prepare on our own and less to practice creating and teaching on the spot - was a great one that pushed me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to discover that I was in fact capable of such an approach, and to learn how I most effectively might go about it.

Student Blog: In the Studio with Dance Lab New York
Dancing my peers' work as they created it was always a joy
(Shannel Resto, SJR Photography)

Next, I flew to New York City for nine days dancing and creating in person in the Institute for American Musical Theatre studios in Washington Heights, where I settled into a new routine. No longer experiencing these 9-to-5-eastern-time days from several time zones to the west, getting up each morning was a little easier. After a short walk to the studios (I stayed just a few blocks away) and a warm up alongside my classmates, I'd be ready to start the day. Often, we'd begin with a class (and Q&A) with a guest, like Fosse with James Kinney, Horton with The Lion King's Ray Mercer, or a workshop of new choreo for The Muny's On Your Feet with William Carlos Angulo. Next, we might dive into challenges: choreographing on each other, sharing our work, and discussing the process as a group. While most of these choreo challenges were one-time projects, each choreographer was also given one larger assignment to return to several times throughout the week. Some focused on staging for non-dancers, some on story, some on relationships -- mine was to choreograph a 3-dancer version of Newsies' King of New York in a very limited space. Several times throughout the week, Broadway directors and choreographers (like Marc Bruni of Beautiful or Joann Hunter of School of Rock) would visit and offer feedback on our work (after q&a sessions that would take place over lunch). After a full day of classes, challenges, and rehearsals, I'd usually be pretty exhausted, but might go explore Washington Heights, visit favorite downtown spots like the Drama Book Shop, grab dinner with a friend, or even (if I could muster up the energy) take a class at Steps on Broadway.

By the program's end, my brain and heart were full: of artistic and industrial wisdom from Josh, Val, the guests; of inspiration from the brilliant work of my peers; of pride for the work we'd created, and of gratitude for the discoveries I'd made. As I get ready to embark on my senior year of college and, soon, a professional career in (hopefully) acting and choreography, I'm feeling lucky to be equipped with the tools and community I've found at DLNY.

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