Dancer to Dancer

Ben Hartley gives young dancers The Broadway Experience

Students break out in dance class at The Broadway Experience. Photo by Robert Petkoff

In the six and a half years that English-born Ben Hartley has lived in NYC, he’s become a Broadway staple. Watching him take turns across the stage as a seagull, butler and sea creature in The Little Mermaid on Broadway, it’s hard to believe he was once so far from the Great White Way. Now the 31-year-old has a mission: Give young dancers a taste of what it’s like to work on Broadway. Last summer, as 28 dancers ages 11 to 19 spent six days dancing, singing, acting and learning, Ben fulfilled his vision.

Ben’s Background: In the studio and onstage

Ben first came to NYC in 1998 as a ballet dancer in a touring production of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, and felt as though he’d burst into the heart of the dance universe. “There were so many styles that had never really come to London before,” he says. “I plowed into jazz, musical theater and a lot of Fosse [style] classes.”

When the last curtain fell on Swan Lake and it was time for Ben to go back to the UK, he promised himself he’d one day make NYC his home and forge a career on Broadway. “It was a world of optimism where you literally felt like you could do anything or be anything,” says Ben. Three years later he made the move. But in an unexpected turn, Ben found himself teaching, rather than dancing on the Great White Way.

It turned out that while Ben would need a green card to work on Broadway (which he didn’t have yet), he could still dance off-Broadway and work as a teacher with the visa he already had. “I taught from time to time in London, but I don’t think I truly discovered my passion for teaching until I moved to NYC,” says Ben. For five years, he taught on the faculty at Broadway Dance Center and took guest teaching spots at Peridance and Steps on Broadway. After he got his green card and started working on Broadway in 2004, Ben knew he also wanted to teach his own unique program that would allow students to “experience what I did 10 years ago,” he says. So he created The Broadway Experience.

The Road to the Workshop

The teaching company was formed in 2006, and the full program launched in 2008. But it was a long journey in between. Deciding which instructors would fit well was the easiest starting point, as Ben’s career had put him in touch with fantastic choreographers, dancers and directors.

Next, Ben tackled finding an appropriate space for the inaugural summer. “A high-end program needs a top of the line professional environment,” he says. “Upon touring the facility of Mr. Baryshnikov’s 37 ARTS in midtown Manhattan, I immediately knew this was the place I wanted to present TBE.” The sprung floors, climate-controlled studios, column-free spaces, natural light and inspiring views fit Ben’s needs—and vision—perfectly.

Marketing the workshop, however, proved to be a big challenge. “TBE is an international program so not only did I need to advertise in the US, but also in the UK,” says Ben. Fortunately, his friends, colleagues and program staff-members helped Ben get the word out to prospective students.

Once dancers were in the know, Ben focused on what type of pre-professionals he was interested in teaching and in what manner. The program, says Ben, “is geared around being a triple-threat performer, but it’s not a performance-based program.” This means Ben’s not interested in dancers spending a week learning a routine to perform in a grand finale. “These days students have a lot of opportunities to perform but not to work with the kind of teachers that I’ve hired,” says Ben.

The instructors—an impressive list of Broadway performers, choreographers and directors, plus musical director Kevin Cole, a concert pianist who has worked extensively on Broadway and on the symphony circuit—help students hone the skills that might help them nab jobs later on in life. “It was a lot of mentoring, and we had some tears, but there was a lot of encouragement to climb over these obstacles,” says Ben. “The walls were broken down by the end of the week.”

At the Experience

A typical afternoon at TBE includes 30 minutes of Kevin teaching students to sing a Broadway number, and then on to Ben for the steps that go with it. “They had to memorize words and music in a half hour,” explains Kevin. “Then they would have to sing and move at the same time.” He adds: “They realized how difficult and different that is and what you have to do to make it work with your breathing. It showed how quickly you have to process information and give a performance and how the song can't suffer because of the movement or vice versa."

Students rest between classes at TBE. Photo by Robert Petkoff

The six-day program also includes Q&A sessions with Broadway performers who share tips and insights about their lives on the stage. Susanna Daly, a 17-year-old TBE participant from New Jersey, says that meeting these professionals—like Spamalot’s Tony Award-nominated choreographer Casey Nicholaw—was the best part. “It was like, ‘Who gets to meet these types of people?’” says Susanna. For some of the students, hearing that even the most talented performers don’t always make it was “a little scary,” she adds, “but Ben always said, ‘If you’re meant to do it, you’ll do it. If that is your dream, then you have to follow it.’ So it was all very positive.”

Most importantly, Ben wants the students to leave the program having answered some important questions for themselves: “Can I do this for a living? Am I good at this? Do I like this? What don’t I like?” he says. “I want to give them an experience that might help change their lives."

Now, Ben’s working on the 2009 version of TBE and is looking for corporate sponsors who will help aid dancers who can’t afford the program. He wants to share that magical NYC experience that led him to fulfill his own big Broadway dreams.

Dance News
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ballet BC's Alexis Fletcher says experimenting with structured improv can make you more comfortable with risk. (Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)

The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.

But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?

Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.

Keep reading... Show less
Screenshot via YouTube

Look out, 'cause here they come!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.

In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.

The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."

Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Leah Morrison in Trisha Brown's If You Couldn't See Me, in which the soloist never faces the audience (photo by Julia Cervantes, courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company)

Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.

She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.

Keep reading... Show less
Blankenbuehler (far left) with the rest of the "Hamilton" creative team

So book your tickets to Tulsa already, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Mark your calendars, bunheads! On Monday, January 29th, at 2:45 PM (EST)/11:45 AM (PST), Pacific Northwest Ballet will be streaming a live rehearsal of Act II of Kent Stowell's Swan Lake.

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox