This year Broadway Dance Center celebrates its 35th anniversary. In those three and a half decades, BDC has trained and inspired thousands of dancers, and also cultivated professional performers and talented teachers. For one such eager student-turned-adored teacher, Neil Schwartz, Broadway Dance Center has always been home.
“I’m the baby of the family,” says Neil. “I always mimicked what my siblings did, and I started watching MTV at a young age.” Neil vividly remembers being inspired by the music videos of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. “I’ve always loved female entertainers,” he explains. “There’s something so bad-ass and powerful about strong female characters.”
At 7 years old, Neil began taking dance lessons at a local studio on Long Island. A family friend recommended Neil train at Broadway Dance Center. The rest is history!
12-year-old Neil would take class every week from Bev Brown and Chio. He continued taking classes throughout high school before heading to the University of Maryland to pursue a degree in Psychology. “I knew I loved helping people,” says Neil. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt very lost.”
On a spring break vacation, however, Neil’s life completely changed. “At 21, I suffered a blood clot in my right leg that caused pulmonary embolisms in my lungs. I was very overweight at the time, and doctors told me I had a 50/50 chance to live. At that traumatic moment, I vowed to turn my life around.”
Neil’s health journey began with one simple thought, “As soon as I get out of the hospital, I have to dance,” he recalls with a solemn conviction. “I have to do what makes me happiest.” After graduating college, Neil returned home to Broadway Dance Center to participate in the Fall Intern Program (now the Professional Semester). “It was a huge eye-opener,” Neil remembers. “It was scary in a good way. It was my first taste of the ‘industry,’ and I realized I had so much to learn.” Neil trained with his mentors, Sheryl Murakami, Rhapsody James, Luam, and Eric Jenkins. He also credits ballet teachers, Dorit Koppel and Peter Schabel, for helping him accept and understand his body.
It was during his internship that Neil also began choreographing for BDC’s Student Showcases. “The BDC Intern Program guided me in a lot of ways,” says Neil. “I realized my place in the industry was as a choreographer and teacher.” Neil admits he’s happiest when he’s creating, connecting, and inspiring others to be themselves. His goal…to teach at his home, Broadway Dance Center. The journey wasn’t easy. As a former student, Neil had to prove himself not only to the senior faculty at BDC, but also to himself. “It took me a year and a half to sub at BDC and another year and a half before I got my own slot,” he recalls. “Luam, Brian Green, Rhapsody James, Candace Brown, and Eric Jenkins all took my class. It was so intimidating. But I had the determination and patience to stick it out. I know that fight made me a stronger teacher.”
This year, Neil celebrates his 10-year anniversary teaching at BDC. “I don’t teach anywhere else,” Neil reveals. “I’m grateful to have been raised at Broadway Dance Center. This is my home.” Neil teaches all levels of Street Jazz, a style of dance inspired by the culture of hip-hop and fused with elements of jazz funk and contemporary influences. “I challenge my students both musically and emotionally,” explains Neil. “Music is like therapy. It impacts me in such a positive, energetic way. I encourage my students to connect to the music in their own way and to exude those feelings in their movement.”
Last year, Neil helped launch “BreakThrough: The Series,” an intimate, intensive workshop where dancers practice performance execution and gain confidence. “This was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been a part of,” Neil gushes. “We became a family in those two days. Dancers get the chance to be filmed, watch the footage, receive notes, and do it again. It’s an incredible opportunity to experiment, learn, and grow. I hope to host another BreakThrough workshop soon!”
For Neil, dance is all about communication. “Whether in the classroom or in an audition, it’s not about perfection,” he says. “I want to see your blood, sweat, and tears. I want to see why you have to dance–how you connect and communicate through your movement.” Neil’s ultimate test? “If my mom can understand, I know I’ve communicated through my choreography,” he laughs.
This idea of connection goes far beyond the “steps” Neil teaches in class. “I try to create a safe environment where dancers feel both challenged and empowered,” Neil explains. “For me, students are number one and I try to give my attention and energy to each dancer. I want them to know, ‘you matter.’” As a teacher, there’s no greater feeling for Neil than watching students achieve goals, push past limits, and break free from adversity. “I had a student once who told me my class empowered her to leave an abusive relationship.” That’s the sign of a truly great teacher, making an impact that goes far beyond the studio.
Whether you’re embarking on your own dance, professional, health, or emotional journey, Neil has the same advice: “Surround yourself with a good support system of friends and mentors. There is no shame in needing help. Dance can be the best therapy.” And remember that Broadway Dance Center is always your home away from home.