Frank Hatchett founder Broadway Dance Center passes December 23, 2014
Frank Hatchett passed on December 23, 2013!!! What?? He is so very missed!! He kept me going as a young actor at his Broadway Dance Center on Broadway and 54th St. when I first came to NY after graduating at National Shakespeare Company Conservatory. After school I had some acting singing and dance skills, but I was very much alone and even lonely until I found places like Broadway Dance Center, Frank Silvera’s Writer’s Workshop, The Negro Ensemble Company, The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, American Indian Community House, where I could meet performers like me and practice my culture and craft.
Hatchett founded Broadway Dance Center in 1984, just 4 years after I graduated and 2 years after The NEC was taken over by Philip Rose and closed for a short time. I could come to Broadway Dance Center and know it was owned by a beautiful Afro-Native man and knew, then, I could do it too!! Now its on us!! Frank Hatchett created a sustainable arts business steps away from the nearest Broadway Theatre and Central Park! HUGE accomplishment! You could meet and have long talks with Maurice and Gregory Hines, and realize how famous that little kid Savion Glover was going to be as a 14 year old teacher! We were on the cutting edge of Hip Hop dance and met M.C.’s who were our underground heroes. People like Spex, Crazy Leggs and Bev Brown were pioneers of the art form in their classes there and Fazil’s Dance Studio was just a few blocks away where you could learn hip hop, flamenco and belly dance in the same day and listen to legendary Flamenco musicians. And over at St Luke’s Church you could go to worship with singer/electric violinist Noel Pointer, stage manager Stephanie Hughley of The Negro Ensemble Company, actor performer of The Wiz Ben Harney all performers or in the theatre!
I could come to Broadway Dance Center and know it was owned by a beautiful Afro-Native man and know I could do it too!! He brought funk and finesse to fill the lives of all children with jazz dance, the tap of Honi Coles through Maurice and Gregory Hines, Savion Glover..Finesse Jung Ballet, Cecelia Marta Jazz. He made Hip Hop and Jazz Global. Asians, Latinos, Native, African and European Americans were collaborating, wearing baggys and backwards caps and all were dreading and corn-rowing. All of a sudden hip hop and jazz were valuable skills that could take you to Tokyo or Barcelona.
Frank Hatchett gave many their start! From him we got many the famous dance savvy music videos R&B to Hip Hop! Japanese dancers came to him to learn dance and gain emotional freedom! I remember talking to Noriko and Tomoo about the way dancing gave them the ability to express their emotions. In Japan at that time laughing to a “gaphaw” and shouting Hey!ho! was frowned upon, but it soon became the rage as many dancers traveled overseas to teach their talents. Dancers connected across continents! They had a place to “wake up in the morning to find, they (I) have somewhere exciting to go!”(-quote from Cassy Chorus Line)” It was a place dancers, actors and singers could challenge their fears of physical and ethnic worth and dreams while looking through that huge window at others dance, when you might not have had money enough to dance that day
Frank Hachett was funny, a charming, big muscular dancer and CEO, which in itself revolutionized what was possible in the dance world. Frank grew up in East Hartford, and studied dance in Philadelphia. He performed at Club Harlem, in Atlantic City, with entertainers Sammy Davis Jr., in Las Vegas, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Pearl Bailey. He had a down home accessibility while he was revered by people from all walks of life. He made African American culture important to everyone.
I strikes me that Frank Hatchett fulfilled the words of Douglas Turner Ward was quoted in the New York Times, August 14, 1966 saying about The Negro Ensemble Company, which opened the year Frank began his first school:
“A theater evolving not out of negative need, but positive potential; better equipped to employ existing talents and spur the development of future ones. A theater whose justification is not the gap it fills, but the achievement it aspires toward –no less high than any other comparable theater company of present or past world fame.
A theater concentrating primarily on themes of Negro life, but also resilient enough to incorporate and interpret the best of world drama –whatever the source. A theater of permanence, continuity and consistency, providing the necessary home-base for the Negro artist to launch a campaign to win his ignored brothers and sisters as constant witnesses to his endeavors . . .so might the Negro, a most potential agent of vitality, infuse life into the morbund corpus of American Life.
Frank Hatchett accomplished this with Broadway Dance Center.
Hatchett shared and developed a dance culture, and people came to study with him from around the world. Frank’s grandmother, Mamie (Kirby) Brandon, raised him. In her Quincy Street home, Hatchett gave his first dance lessons, then in his own Frank Hatchett School of Performing Arts. It opened on Eastern Avenue in 1967, the same year The Negro Ensemble Company was in full swing creating its first productions. At Dunbar, enrollment reached 700 students, in classes for tap, jazz and African tribal dance.
“Springfield was my on-the-job training,” Hatchett said in an 1990 interview with former Republican reporter Tom Shea. “I saw all this talent, all this energy, and it was all mine to do with what I wanted.
In 1985, Hatchett moved to New York City, where he continued to study dance. Many of his pupils rose to fame with his help, eager to to study with him at his Broadway Dance Center. Hatchett’s former students went on to influence the Arts world. Tracy Thomas taught many students at her Kick Step Step Studio of Dance, and Springfield native and Broadway dance star Mamie Duncan-Gibbs returned to Springfield in 2010, to attend a benefit retirement event for Hatchett. The benefit featured master classes by several dance greats, including Hatchett and Duncan-Gibbs, that August, at the Dunbar Community Center.
Duncan-Gibbs appeared in such productions such as “Chicago, Cats,” “Jelly’s Last Jam” and “Kiss Me Kate.” Savion Glover, Hatchett’s former student and the Tony Award-winning choreographer of “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk”.
Of course, on 8th Ave we took classes at Clark Center with geniuses like Pepsi Bethel and Fred Benjamin, who passed with the week of Frank Hatchett’s passing.. The studio later became Shetler Studios, now the site of The Negro Ensemble Company Workshops on 54th Street. But while Clark Center with its old wood floors and creeping steps had a bohemian feel, Broadway Dance Center was the first studio to have a large accommodating lounge with big couches and a huge picture window allowing you to sit and watch the dance classes. Old and new movies of dance greats like Cyd Charisse , Katherine Dunham and the dancers of West Side Story played in each corner of the lobby lounge for a state of the art experience.
Hatchett worked as a choreographer, and was dubbed “The Doctor of Jazz” by ABC’s “Good Morning America, while encouraging many young choreographers and fostering known choreographers like Milton Myers, Daniel Tinazi and Cecelia Marta. Many of those choreogaphers became the backbone of the emerging R&B and Hip Hop music videos. Feature films like Beat Street employed many Broadway Dance Center dancers (including myself) and it was just the beginning.
Dancer, actor, print model, Bruce Hawkins says,
“I was two years old when I began learning how to tap my left foot & change.. I was 7 or 8 when I said I wanted to dance with the Guys & Dolls. I was 11 when I made Junior Company, 14 when I made Company.. This man who I lovingly call Papa Frank taught me & my friends that I will have for life, how to be great dancers, great friends, & left us with a style of dance like no other! For all that prayed thank you! God remains in control & on today His will is done! To ALL my Frank Hatchett Center for the Perfoming Arts Family, we were a blessed group of young people! Frank gave us so much to be grateful for. I have so many great friendships because of dancing school! Love you Papa Frank! My Hatchett sisters, brothers & mothers… I love you all too!”
“He expected the best, and that is what we gave him. His legacy was allowing everyone, and anyone to know that the art world is open to them. So many of us came from single parent homes,” said Kimberly Norrington, who was with Hatchett, along with his cousin, Springfield resident Shirley Walker, when he died.
“His students ranged from lower to middle to upper class. He made dance accessible to everyone. He allowed young men to feel masculine, but to be artistic and creative with movement. He birthed a love of entertainment into every student he touched,” added Norrington, whose 19-year-old son Trevor is also a dancer.
“So many of his students have gone on to do fantastic things in every aspect of performing arts.”
Norrington, 50, owner of Kim’s Danceland, began her dance studies with Hatchett, at the age of 4. He would pay out of his pocket to take students to New York City to meet dancers like Debbie Allen. They would see Bill Cosby at the Springfield Civic Center, and take road trips to assist in teaching at summer dance conventions.
“He wanted his students to experience everything the dance world had to offer, and if someone could not afford to travel, he would just going into his own pocket to give.You would walk into his place, and it was his obligation, responsibility to make you better for having met you. He would tell you to stand up straight, look people in the ey and show you are worthy. He did this for thousands of people, and he was so loved.” Norrington said.
She added, “Frank had two families. His biological family, and his dance family. I was fortunate to bridge between the two, and thankful that his family allowed me to be a part of this leg of his journey.”
A memorial service for the legendary teacher, who students included Maurice Hines and his late brother, Gregory, as well as Khandi Alexander of ABC’s hit series, “Scandal,” and Ludlow native and TV and film star Gretchen Palmer, wias held on Jan. 3, from 5 to 7 p.m., at Progressive Community Baptist Church on State Street.