We're so excited for you to meet Broadway Dance Center teacher Lizz Picini. She's a bundle of energy who does it all: she performs, choreographs, and teaches. She's worn Emily Hsu Designs throughout her career and we recently got the chance to ask her some questions about her path to NYC, teaching virtual dance classes during a pandemic, and what advice she has for aspiring professional dancers.
When and why did you start dancing?
I grew up in Fairfax, Northern VA, just outside of Washington DC. I was actually born prematurely, and my hips were not fully formed in my hip sockets. My parents were told I may not be able to walk let alone dance like I am now; truly a miracle! My doctor put me in triple diapers as a baby, allowing the placement of my legs and hips to aid in development and miraculously, it worked! My parents then put me in dance to keep me active and moving; I fell in love with it! While I was definitely a child who enjoyed dozens of extracurricular activities, there was no question I would be dancing forever. I still pinch myself today, realizing that dream has truly become a reality. I never pictured myself not dancing. Such a gift!
Why did you move to NYC? What were your Big Apple dreams?
I moved to NYC in 2011 just four days after graduating from Towson University with my BFA in Dance Performance. Ironically, I was going through a tricky time in my life personally; I was planning on taking the summer to "recoup" at home, but I am eternally grateful that my parents encouraged me to take that energy and head straight to NYC, as vulnerable as I was. I have no idea where I would be today if I hadn't launched myself into the city using that graduation momentum. I had auditioned into the Broadway Dance Center Professional Semester and dove right in, head first. My focus was set on Radio City Music Hall. After years of training to be a Rockette (involving private instruction, numerous auditions, auditioning for and being selected to be the assistant for all their outreach classes, and more), I was typed out after a double pirouette and a battement. As heartbreaking and jolting as it was at the time, I am forever grateful for that moment, allowing me to widen my focus and therefore realize my true calling: all I am doing right now! I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of the artists affiliated with RCMH, but I am so thankful for the ability to step back, quit obsessing over what I thought was my purpose, to then fall madly in love with being a "unicorn" in the industry today... boldly "wearing all of the hats!"
What's the key to juggling all those hats? We know you are not only a performer yourself but a choreographer and teacher.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I am still learning how to not "spread myself too thin" and ensure that my workload is qualitative and not quantitative. I am thankful for brilliant mentors who have helped coach me in regards to juggling all of these beautiful aspects of the business; I will always remain a student in hopes of being the best leader possible. Finding balance is essential. I am continuously making certain that I am refueled and refilled, by working out, taking class, resting, enjoying some wine, unplugging, stepping away, praying, meditating, etc... BALANCE is key!
What has it been like teaching and working during a global pandemic?
Teaching has been an absolute gift during this pandemic. The blessings of having a schedule, connecting to a community, inspiring others and therefore being inspired myself, having access to a studio, dancing nonstop... the list goes on and on. At the same time, there have been extremely difficult days when I have found it tricky to pour into others when feeling so unstable and discouraged myself. I found it essential to lean into God, my community, my family and my absolute love for dance... I soaked in so much fuel from all of these places and I am beyond thankful! I have fallen more in love with teaching over the past 12 months than I ever have in my life.
(Side note: Lizz promised her students a brand new combination for every single zoom class to keep herself challenged and her students inspired. To date Lizz has surpassed 100 new dances!)
What is your advice to young dancers who want to dance professionally?
I always encourage dancers to keep three things in mind:
1. Be a genuinely good person. This business is small. We all want to work with wonderful humans who happen to be incredibly talented.
2. Persevere. Keep. Going. Continue placing one foot in front of the other even when it feels difficult. Tenacity, resilience and perseverance are essential elements to sustaining longevity in this ever-changing field. Just keep swimming!
3. Celebrate your uniqueness. Musical theatre and the Broadway circuit are full of individuals. Casts are full of diverse, spectacular, unique individuals. "Be yourself" has never been a more true, accurate, applicable phrase. Stick to you!
Recently you’ve been active and vocal about the Black Lives Matter movement on social media and what you call "doing the work"… can you talk about that a bit?
I have taken a dive, headfirst, into racial reform in areas of my life and business. After choosing to open my eyes to the complete lack of involvement in racial justice, in my life, I have made an about face. It doesn't matter if I was unintentionally uninvolved, the point is, I was uninvolved in working towards equity and even uninvolved in choosing to be aware of the lack of it. Fueled by my faith, my family, my boyfriend, my community, and the commitment to actively love others better than myself (action words), I have been doing the work to make changes in my life, teaching, views, approaches and more. I am actively tuning in to Broadway Advocacy Coalition talkbacks, diving into racial reform meetings with my BDC colleagues and bosses, having the real/intense/needed conversations in my personal and professional life, choosing to commit monthly to nonprofit work highlighting and serving members of the BIPOC community, and much more. Basically, when I realized that I could have easily marched, spoken up and posted in June 2020, and then "gone on with my life" unaffected due to my white privilege, I was blown away. That is privilege. That is why I am called to graciously, actively, lovingly, boldly, openly use my platform, time, energy, money, faith to take steps forward and move towards a more equitable business and lifestyle, period!
It's so amazing that you met Emily and became friends because you were a customer of Emily Hsu Designs.
From the first time I tried on Emily Hsu Designs clothes, it was crystal clear that the designer understood dancers (understatement)! The fact that Emily represents Broadway royalty is evident by the make of her clothes. They are comfortable, stylish, breathable, well-made, glamorous, and flattering. I have fallen in love with her brilliant sets as there is nothing more convenient, fun and pleasing than grabbing one matching outfit to take on the day! I will confidently and happily wear Emily Hsu Designs until the day I can no longer dance.
You can learn more about Lizz and her classes on IG at @lizzpicini