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.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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