Friday, March 30, 2012

Seize the Day! - Interview with Ricky Hinds, Associate Director for "Newsies" on Broadway

Before class I was able to sit down with Ricky Hinds for a quick interview - take a look!

What was your dance training like growing up?
I started dancing when I was four.  My aunt and uncle owned a dance studio in Connecticut so they pulled me in at a very, very young age.  So I grew up very heavy in the competition world, that's all we did - tons of competitions.  My last three years of high school I went to Interlochen, a performing arts high school that was very strongly routed in ballet.  And then, since I'm from Connecticut, I would come to Broadway Dance Center all the time.  And then after I graduated high school I moved straight here to New York and just started auditioning and performing for about 5 years and then transitioned over to choreographing and directing.

Knowing that you wanted to pursue musical theater, did you also have voice and acting training growing up?
I started my voice training at my performing arts high school.  But back then, I feel you were sort of able to get away with being just a "dancer" in a Broadway show or musicals where now the casts are so small you have to do everything.

What was auditioning like when you first moved to New York City?
Not unlike what it is now.  I did two non-equity tours, "Fosse" and "CATS."  And then I got my equity card doing the show "We Will Rock You," the Queen musical in Las Vegas.  I did a couple regional productions too.  My big mentor in New York was Andy Blankenbuehler, so when I told him that I wanted to transition over into choreography he asked me to assist him on "It's A Wonderful Life: the musical" at Papermill Playhouse.

What was it like to choreograph a brand new musical like "It's A Wonderful Life" or "Newsies?"  You don't have the influences of previous choreographers such as Fosse's "Sweet Charity."
I'm the associate director for "Newsies," and we did months and months of pre-production where we worked to get everybody on the same page.  That's the most important thing - that as a choreographer, you share the same vision as the director.  And it extends way beyond just the artistic team - it includes the lighting, set, and costume designers.  Everyone needs to be so clear that when we start rehearsals no one is questioning.  There's a lot of trust and awareness.  I've also worked on projects where directors don't work that way, however.  You know, where you're flying by the seat of your pants! - but that can be fun too!  But for me, my personal process is a lot of prep, a lot of pre-production, a lot of communication - I do my best work in that atmosphere.

How did you transition into directing?
I kind of go back and forth between choreographing and directing.  The day after opening night for "Newsies" I fly down to Kansas City to choreograph a production of "Little Shop of Horrors."  And I come back and I'm working as choreographer and director of a tour of "Jekyll and Hyde."  So, it's good - I don't think I see myself as only a choreographer or only a director.  I also like a blend of the choreography and directing roles together so I am always active and involved.  "Jekyll and Hyde" will be interesting for me, though, because it will be more about the acting than about the big dance numbers with turns and high kicks.

You are in the midst of a really exciting time with the opening of "Newsies," your first musical on Broadway.  What was the process like of taking a movie that, dare I say, flopped, and turning it into a musical?
Our new book writer is Harvey Fierstein and he was great; It just took somebody with fresh eyes coming in.  And the way Disney works is that they had done all these workshops and readings before they had attached a director or choreographer to it.  When we came on board, the entire show was written for a turntable...And our director said, "Absolutely not." (Our biggest fear was that these boys with dirt on their faces in 1899, on a turntable, would look too much like "Les Mis"). And it was good to sort of start over a little bit.  Once we came in, we had about 9 months before we started auditioning people, so we really had a lot of time to prepare.  And then it wasn't until we had our cast that we then developed it further - because everyone in the show has a line, has a character name, there's no ensemble.  The cast that we have now have helped further the script.  It's been quite a process, two years now - and we're still making little tweaks here and there up until Thursday night's opening.

What's your opinion about having a cast without an ensemble and the idea that you can't just be a dancer on Broadway anymore?
I think it's fantastic.  What's great about our director is that he made each actor write out a history of his or her character.  And then we all had to sit around and talk about these characters.  And I think as a dancer, it's really gratifying to feel like you're not just the fifth dancer from the left in the third line and you have to dance like everybody else.  I mean, there are certainly moments in the show where the dancing has to be clean and in unison, but there are other moments where it is more of "what would your character do here?" "how would your character react to this information?"  And I think at the end of the day that's what we all want to do - have a voice, a personality, individuality.

How does "Newsies" compare to the other Disney shows that have been/still are on Broadway?
I think it's great - it's fun for people to come in with very little knowledge of the material of "Newsies."  What was also a breath of fresh air for us was not having to be worried about "how is that fish going to swim?" or "how is that teapot going to pirouette?"  For Disney, I think, it was sort of a relief to have a show that's all humans!

What are your goals for the future as an artist?
I think everyone has this sort of thought that Broadway is the ultimate.  For me, I think it's just good theater - whether that's Broadway or regional theater or a tour or in Europe or here.  I just want to do good theater.  You know, something that touches people, that people respond to.  I would love to only say that I'm going to do Broadway shows!  But I really have had so many amazing experiences at theaters all across the country.

Be sure to get your tickets to "Newsies!"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Performance Project, February 2012

A big "thank you" to all of the students who choreographed and performed in BDC's February Performance Project.  Studio 5 was crowded with family and friends who came to watch our students showcase their original work in styles ranging from hip hop to vocal performance to contemporary.  We would also like to congratulate our three winners of the "Outstanding Student Award," Malcolm Buchanan, Chris Stuewe, and Kyle Breen.

"Being named outstanding student was such an honor, with all the hard work and dedication that each and every student puts into their classes and every day life to be pick out of such an amazing group is truly an amazing feeling. i can't thank the staff and faculty of bdc enough as well as my friends for making these months what they have been." - Chris Stuewe

"I am humbled and honored to say that I was given the Outstanding Student Award for the month of March at my school (Broadway Dance Center). Yay!!! Unending thanks go to my fellow students who inspire me to stretch harder, balance longer, and take more classes; my many teachers who give me extra attention and push me in my abilities; my mentor Dorit Koppel who has been on me from the first class; and of course the administrators BonnieE, Autumn Dizzzzones, NikkiK, and Julie!!! You guys keep me going!!!" - Kyle Breen

For those of you who were unable to attend the Performance Project, take a look at some of the dances here:

Don't forget to sign-up for the next BDC Performance Project which will take place in April!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

Albert Einstein wrote that "Dancers are the athletes of the gods."  Now, whether or not you'd consider dance to be a sport, I'm sure we would all agree that dance is extremely athletic, requiring stamina, strength, balance, and agility.  Still, dance is rarely given the same respect and acknowledgment as athletics.  I spent my freshman and sophomore years working as an assistant athletic trainer for my college's sports medicine department.  As much as I loved (*sarcasm) taping stinky football players' ankles, massaging sweaty track runners' calves, and the like, I really chose this job because I could train with the physical therapy equipment (thera-bands, medicine balls, ultrasound machines) when the room was empty.  I can remember though, those few occasions when a dancer from our school's nationally-ranked ballroom team would come to the training room.  Other athletes would scoff and even the trainers would not take the student's injury seriously.

  • Dance Medicine/Science only became a field of study in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
  • The annual frequency of injury among dancers has been reported to range between 23-84% while as many as 95% of professional dancers have ongoing pain.(University Health Network, Toronto)
  • Statistics show that 80% of dancers incur at least one injury a year that affects their ability to perform – compared to a 20% injury rate for rugby or football players. (University of Wolverhampton)
  • 31% of ballet dancers have had, or will have, a stress fracture (Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Medical Website)
  • 24 % of ballet dancers (mainly female dancers) have a scoliosis (Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Medical Website)
  • Over 50% of dancers are uninsured and cannot afford medical treatment for injuries/illness.

When I said goodbye to sunny Southern California to take part in BDC's Professional Semester, one of the first seminars we had was an orientation at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. The Harkness Center, associated with NYU's Lagone Medical Center, provides preventative and restorative care for dancers.   These include physical therapy, sports medicine/athletic training, and injury prevention workshops and assessments.
The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries (HCDI) aims to:
  • provide excellent musculoskeletal healthcare to the dance community at affordable rates through a team of specialized medical professionals.
  • offer free, one-on-one prevention clinics for individual dancers
  • make available free or subsidized preventative and educational outreach programs for dancers, teachers, choreographers and administrators about the occupational, behavioral and mechanical factors associated with dance injuries.
  • assist the dance community with identification and reduction of injury risks
  • conduct ongoing research which advances the quality of dance science and improves the delivery of dance medicine.
  • establish standards of excellence for dance medicine practitioners.
  • interact with the dance community to minimize medical insurance costs.
  • provide continuing education opportunities for the medical community in the specialized area of dance medicine.
  • enhance the visibility of the dance medicine specialist within the dance and medical communities and in the general public.
  • serve on the boards and committees of national and international dance medicine associations and journals.
Injury Prevention Assessments:
"The Harkness Center offers one-hour, free-of-charge injury prevention assessments for dancers. During the injury prevention assessment session each dancer is seen individually for an hour by a therapist who reviews the dancer's complaints, medical and nutrition histories and performance during a battery of tests. The screening is designed to evaluate the risk the dancer is exposed to and to discuss the dancer’s concerns before an injury occurs. At the conclusion of the assessment the dancer is given an individually tailored injury prevention exercise regime with recommendations for modification of their technique, training strategies, footwear and/or dance environment. The aim of the screening is to maximize each dancer’s potential for wellness." 

Interview with Leigh Heflin, administrative coordinator at the HCDI:

When was the Harkness Center founded? 
The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries (HCDI) was founded in 1989 in partnership with the Harkness Foundation for Dance and the Hospital for Joint Diseases in response to the New York dance community's critical need for specialized and affordable health care.

Why is the Harkness Center different from a standard doctor’s office or physical therapy clinic?
HCDI caters to the unique treatment needs of the dancer. Our physicians and rehabilitative staff combine their medical and research experience with their expert knowledge of dance and dance science to provide highly specialized care to the dancer patient. 

What services do you provide for dancers? 
We have many services including weekly dance clinics, physical therapy, FREE injury prevention assessments, injury prevention workshops, functional capacity screenings, ergonomic evaluations, etc. You can see a full list of our services with descriptions at
  • Dance Clinic: The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries holds weekly dance clinics by appointment.  Dancers’ injuries are evaluated and treated by a specially trained team of orthopaedic surgeons, primary care sports medicine physicians, physical therapists and/or athletic trainers.
  • Physical Therapy & Athletic Training Services: The Harkness Center has a staff of physical therapists and athletic trainers specially trained to care for the dance population. These clinicians have had a minimum of two years of orthopaedic, sports medicine and manual therapy training and have participated in in-service training dealing with the occupational and psychological stressors of the dance environment.
  • Free Injury Prevention Assessments: The Harkness Center offers one-hour, free-of-charge injury prevention assessments for dancers. During the injury prevention assessment session each dancer is seen individually for an hour by a therapist who reviews the dancer's complaints, medical and nutrition histories and performance during a battery of tests. The screening is designed to evaluate the risk the dancer is exposed to and to discuss the dancer’s concerns before an injury occurs. At the conclusion of the assessment the dancer is given an individually tailored injury prevention exercise regime with recommendations for modification of their technique, training strategies, footwear and/or dance environment. The aim of the screening is to maximize each dancer’s potential for wellness.
  • Injury Prevention Workshops: The Harkness Center provides injury-prevention lectures to community groups upon request. These programs are intended for dancers, teachers, parents, and/or management, as requested by the individual organization.  Topics can be chosen from a list of most-often requested, or custom-made to meet the specific needs of the school/company.   Examples of popular topics include: injury prevention, cross training, nutrition & hydration, pointe readiness, anatomy, and environmental safety.

What if a dancer does not have health insurance or the financial means to cover his/her treatment?
The NYU Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases strives to provide medically necessary care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. The Hospital's financial assistance program is available to New York State residents and individuals, regardless of residency, who receive emergency services and who formally demonstrate an inability to pay their hospital expenses.
Additionally, the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries offers financial assistance for dancers thanks to the LuEsther T. Mertz Advised Fund of the New York Community Trust who made a challenge gift in 1997 to the Center to create an endowment that would ensure a long-term solution for providing access to healthcare for dancers without insurance or financial means.
Both of these financial assistance programs require the dancer to formally demonstrate financial need by completing an application that includes submission of proof of income, savings and expenses.

What are the most common injuries you see in dancers?  What preventative measures can dancers take to avoid these injuries? You provide free one-on-one injury prevention screenings for dancers.  Why do you do this and what do the appointments consist of?
Injury type and occurrence will vary dependent on the genre of dance; however, most studies show that the foot and ankle are the most common injury site for dancers.  If you would like to prevent injury the best thing to do is to make sure you are taking care of yourself, cross training to properly prepare your body for the demands of dance technique and allowing enough time to rest. To learn more about your body and get exercises that might benefit your health and career longevity call HCDI to make an appointment for a FREE Injury Prevention Assessment at 212-598-6022.

Does the Harkness Center provide educational workshops for dance students and professionals?
Yes, to schedule an Injury Prevention Workshop please call 212-598-6022 and ask to speak to Leigh Heflin. She will help coordinate and plan a workshop specific to your school/companies needs.  (More info above under services).

What would you recommend to a dance that is interested in studying/pursuing a career in Dance Medicine?
Currently, dance medicine and science is only defined by the actions and ideas of various health professionals, dance educators, alternative practitioners, and researchers that practice in the area of dancer health. Each discipline brings a unique perspective and body of knowledge to the health concerns of dancers. This diversity of perspectives is rightly perceived as a strength. However, this diversity prevents a simple answer to the question, “How can I learn about dance medicine and science?” The short answer is, “It depends.” Students should be asked, “What unique skills, abilities, and knowledge do you currently possess and which ones do you want to acquire? Precisely how do you see yourself contributing to dancer health?” Focusing on the students learning objectives will clarify which discipline associated with dance medicine and science they should pursue.
For a listing of possible careers please visit the HCDI website (

To schedule your free injury prevention assessment at the Harkness Center, call 212-598-6022.