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Series: Dancing Shop with Judine Somerville

Broadway Inbound

Riding the elevator up to the 16th floor of Ripley Grier Studios, I’m nervous. The night before, I had sent off a flurry of text messages to my dancer friends, lamenting that I no longer owned a leotard, and would it be okay to wear ballet slippers to a jazz class?

It’s been so long since I was a trained dancer. My jazz shoes are so old that at my most recent jazz class earlier this year, they literally disintegrated. The teacher had to stop the class and get a broom to sweep away what was left of my shoes (and my dignity.)

“You’re going to be great,” my colleague-turned-photographer assured me.

Our teacher for this particular workshop was to be Judine Somerville. Judine’s resume is impressive: she was one of the first black women to join the ranks of The Rockettes, one of the legendary Dynamites in both the Broadway and NBC Live productions of Hairspray, as well as a current teacher at The Ailey School.

Refusing to shirk my journalist responsibility, I stepped off the elevator and into class. My fellow dancers were a group of fresh faced, energetic teens from across the pond, students from Princess Helena College. The girls have been attending different workshops through Broadway Inbound, most recently coming from a Stage Combat class.

They were all at ease with each other, chatting excitedly while stretching their limbs. I stuck out like a sore thumb. My colleague, sensing my unease, shoots me a thumbs-up.

Suddenly, the atmosphere changes. Judine walks in and immediately commands the room. All eyes are on her and her fun-and-funky green dance shoes. While the music is getting set up, Judine tells the class, “We’re here to have fun. Dancing is about having fun. Leave everything else outside these studios behind; it will be waiting for you when class is over.”

We begin the warm up and I notice some girls are like me, a little unsure and cautious. Others proudly placed themselves in the front, their bravado evident from the get go. Judine teaches us a little combination, and then tells us to “put some seasoning in it. Give me some salt, pepper, hot sauce, don’t hold back!” We all giggle, but some of us relax a little, incorporating our own style in to the choreography. We rotate lines throughout the class, giving everyone a moment to shine.

Judine is teaching more than just choreography, however. She’s teaching us how to be comfortable as ourselves. Her energy is hard to ignore, and soon the whole room is dancing confidentially. Girls who at first were shy were now standing in the spotlight, showing off leaps and cartwheels. I had to admit, I was feeling like a Broadway star at this point.

Then, things got interesting. Judine asked us if we were familiar with the part in Hairspray where the cast does roll call. A bunch of heads eagerly nodded up and down. Judine explained that we would be doing something similar, putting the class in to two groups and instructing us to run, dance, strut down the room before saying our name and doing a signature move.

After the last girl leapt off stage, Judine said, “That was good, but now put some seasoning in it. You know, the salt, pepper, and hot sauce I was talking about earlier.” We went through it the second time transformed, leaving behind any doubts or insecurities and embracing our new personas.

After more than an hour of dancing, Judine leaves time for a Q & A session. The girls want to know what inspires her, how she got to Broadway, what tips would she give them? Judine admitted that there is nothing else in the world she would rather do, and once you figure out what that is, to pursue it with all your heart. She said that something she has always done after an audition is to send a thank you note, stating that she has landed “more gigs than I can count” from just that simple action.

Sweating, but smiling, the girls and their teachers thanked Judine, and were off to their next appointment. I stayed behind to chat with Judine for a bit, when one of the girls quietly came back into the class. She came up to Judine and said, “Thank you for that class. You made it something special and I had a really great time. I won’t forget it.”

Me too, kid. Me too.

There’s no better way to enrich your Broadway experience than with a customized workshop. With Broadway Inbound’s wide variety of classes, ranging from dance to voice to audition technique and beyond, there’s a perfect workshop for every type of group. You can see the variety of workshops that Broadway Inbound offers and book your own experience by visiting our workshop page.

Author: Chanelle Cotton