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Long Island dancers benefit from Manhattan choreographer

Charles Smith, a celebrity choreographer who has worked with the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat dance teams, and is an instructor at elite dance training studios in Manhattan, hosted two free hip-hop classes at Layla's Dance & Drum in Valley Stream on Sept. 8, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Charles Smith will teach any dancer regardless of skill level or age — on one condition.

“As long as their spirit is there and they’re eager to learn,” says Smith, 29, a professional a who has taught emerging and established musicians since his teen years.

These days, Smith choreographs for the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat dance teams. He is also an instructor at Broadway Dance Center and Brickhouse NYC — both elite dance training studios in Manhattan. And as of this month, Smith, who has worked with Chaka Khan and hip-hop stars Jidenna and T-Pain, is sharing his talent with students on Long Island.

Smith partnered with Anayo Michel, owner of Layla’s Dance & Drum in Valley Stream to bring his expertise on street jazz and hip-hop to ambitious dancers. He’s hosting classes for children and adults in the respective genres through June at a significantly discounted rate than he would command in Manhattan. Smith’s street jazz and hip-hop courses run once a week at $50-$60 a month, or $80 for both.

“A lot of people of his stature wouldn’t agree to teach this class,” says Michel, 44, of Valley Stream. “He’s teaching a mixed-level class, which is challenging in itself.”


At Layla’s Dance & Drum, Michel says she is always trying to introduce new forms of dance to Long Islanders and to tap top-level talent to help do so. Earlier this year, Michel offered a course on roller-skate dancing at her studio that was taught by a renowned international performer. The studio is among the few that offers instruction on African and Caribbean dance styles. Also uncommon is street jazz, a blend of hip-hop and jazz and a style you would see in a Beyoncé video, Michel says.

Martine Perrin of Baldwin says she enrolled her 8-year-old daughter, Alexandra Francois, in Layla’s three years ago because of its curriculum.

“They have a variety of dance styles, including Caribbean, which are not offered in most dance schools,” Perrin says, adding that she has witnessed the social benefits of her daughter’s participation. “Her confidence level is way up and she has a camaraderie with the kids in this class that she doesn’t have with the kids in her school.”

Perrin was among more than a dozen parents sharing in their children’s excitement in signing up for Smith’s new classes at the Valley Stream studio this month. The parents hope it will prime their children for future opportunities as professional dancers.


“With Charles, they learn how to train their brains,” Michel says. “He’s training them to have the precision to follow a lot of intricate movements that a Broadway audition would require.”

At typical dance studios, students prepare for recitals over a matter of months — essentially practicing the same routines week to week.

“That style of teaching doesn’t prepare you for auditions,” Michel says, which is on the minds of the nearly two dozen young women and men who are already enrolled in Smith’s and other classes at her studio. Smith and Michel ultimately hope to make Broadway-level training more accessible to and affordable for Long Islanders.

“You can go to the city, but she brings the city to you by bringing these teachers right here,” says Kquelya Gilmore, whose 9-year-old daughter Kiah Bernard is in her third year as a student at Layla’s.

Gilmore travels twice each week from St. Albans, in Queens, so her daughter can take advantage of the courses. This year, she says, Kiah made it to the final round of auditions of the Brooklyn Nets Kids dance team. Gilmore attributes the accomplishment to the level of training the youngster has received right here on Long Island.

Layla’s Dance & Drum

2 E. Merrick Rd., 2nd floor, Valley Stream

INFO 646-539-8934,


3-D Dance Studios

770-06 Grand Blvd., Deer Park

INFO 631-595-2618;

Daphne Williams, 55, of Huntington, landed on “The Scene” — Detroit’s version of “Soul Train” — at age 14. She has gone on to make a career of dance, opening 3-D Dance Studios in Deer Park nearly two decades ago.

Now in its 18th year, the studio offers African, ballet, hip-hop, jazz, Latin, modern, tap, salsa, Zumba and modern dance classes. Instruction is available for recreational and competitive dancers whose ultimate goal is to dance professionally. “It’s like family. We’re into nurturing the talent,” Williams says. “I’m not into being mean or nasty to the students. When they get out there, they’ll get enough of that.” Williams’ students start as young as 2 years old and move well into their 90s.

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