Mega dance company created a culture of silence, sex and dancers saying

One of the most prestigious dance competition companies in the world sells Hollywood fame every year to thousands of young dancers who want to make a career on TV, in movies, and on stage.

Mega dance company created a culture of silence, sex and dancers saying

According to a joint investigation of The Associated Press with the Toronto Star, some dancers claim they were sexually assaulted, harassed, and manipulated by the company’s powerful founder and renowned teachers and choreographers.

The problem dates back to Los Angeles-based Break The Floor Productions. As the company grew into a major industry player, its leaders encouraged sex and silence. Interviews with dozens former staff members and students revealed that this culture has been perpetuated.

Break the Floor has a global reach and includes some of the most prominent names in television, music, and social media. Alumni and faculty have performed on stage with Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and other stars at the Oscars as well as the Super Bowl. Instructors from company companies have been featured on "Dancing with the Stars," and "Dance Moms." Break the Floor used social media star Charli D’Amelio's TikTok account to record instructional videos when COVID-19 locked down suspended in-person workshops.

This story was published as a collaboration between The Associated Press (AP) and The Toronto Star

---

Gil Stroming, a charismatic and talented dancer, launched the company 22 years ago. He was a star performer in "Tap Dogs," an off-Broadway musical that was described by The New York Times, as a "beefcake tapa-thon."

Break The Floor attracts around 300,000 students from as young as five to fill hotel ballrooms across America and Canada for weekend workshops or competitions.

Stroming, however, announced in January that Break the Floor had been sold and that he was stepping down as CEO.

Russell Geyser, the new owner, stated that the allegations are not related to the company and that the people accused of misconduct no longer work at Break The Floor. He said that four people were "let out" in his first 10 days of being CEO.

The first allegations of sexual misconduct against the dance company were made in October when the Toronto Star reported allegations that Break the Floor instructors had engaged in widespread sexual harassment and predatory behavior.

Toronto-born teenager claims that a well-known choreographer propositioned him for sex after judging him at the 2012 Break the Floor convention. A dancer from Ottawa who works as an assistant to the company claimed that the same choreographer had groped him.

A Star investigation in partnership with AP has revealed alleged sexual misconduct dating back to the early years of the dance company and includes Stroming.

According to more than a dozen former students and staff, Stroming was involved in inappropriate relationships with students from the dance program he ran.

Four of these sources claim that he brought Break the Floor participants along to company events or parties, where they were introduced to him as his girlfriend. According to seven sources, Stroming was seen with students in inappropriate and intimate interactions. One staff member claimed Stroming showed him a naked photo of one student.

These sources all spoke anonymously out of fear of retaliation or damage to their careers within the close-knit professional dance community.

One dancer claimed that she first met Stroming as a high school junior when she was 16 years old, at one of Break the Floor’s first events. She said Stroming was three-years older and was a charismatic 19-year old who ran the entire show. She said that Stroming and her at their first company event were 17 years old.

Stroming flew Stroming to New York a year later, just after her 18th birthday. He told her that he had auditions for dance jobs. They had sex at his apartment that night. Stroming abruptly left for Las Vegas the next morning and gave her $40 to pay for a taxi ride back home. She claims she didn't go to any auditions and was devastated when she returned home.

The Star and the Associated Press spoke with the father of the dancer, who stated that she had told him about her sexual encounters with Stroming over the years. This left her very upset.

Stroming declined multiple interview requests. Stroming did however address his past misconduct during a 2020 inhouse training. The recording was reviewed by Star and the AP.

He stated to his staff that he was "definitely inappropriate" in many ways. "As a student, I was in inappropriate relationships between teachers and students, and looking back, I was like, oh wow! I think many of us don’t realize the power we have in dance.

He told Star and the AP that he was very open about the fact that he started the company at 19 years old, over 20 years ago. However, he didn't address the specific allegations.

Although not all the people in this story were involved in Break the Floor at time of alleged incidents they are referred to, instructors and executives who were accused of wrongdoing played an important role in increasing the company's popularity and revenue.

One instructor in dance said that she warns her students and their children to be aware of potential abuse of power and to be vigilant. She said that Stroming offered her $500 to stay in her hotel room, but she declined. This was around 20 years ago.

CONVENTION BOYFRIEND, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT

Break The Floor organizes conventions across North America. They host events in hotel ballrooms each weekend for six months. Stroming has branded the events as JUMP, NUVO 24seven, RADIX, DancerPalooza and RADIX. They attract hundreds of schools and studios from smaller communities. The ultimate goal is to win first place at the annual Dance Awards.

Break The Floor conventions, which range from $200 to $350 per student, offer dozens workshops under strobing lights to thumping music. These events often end with parents taking photos of their children, who are dressed in leotards and makeup and striking poses with famous choreographers or dancers.

Jeremy Hudson is now a professional dancer. He was born on the convention circuit, and won Outstanding Dancer Of The Year at the JUMP Nationals 2004. Break the Floor was a major step in his career, but he is still haunted by an alleged attack by one of its stars.

Hudson enjoyed the weekend parties when he was 16. He was not comfortable when Mark Meismer (a dance teacher in his 30s) repeatedly said to him how attractive he is. He accepted the opportunity to help Meismer in various studios and conventions. Hudson joined Break The Floor's NUVO convention in its first year as an instructor. Hudson remained with Meismer a year later.

Hudson recalled Hudson saying, "He called me his convention boy." Hudson recalled, "He called me his convention boyfriend," but Hudson didn't realize how inappropriate it was.

Meismer invited the 17-year-old dancer to his home.

Hudson stated that he is optimistic. It could be his chance to break into professional dancing. Meismer was an icon already; he had performed with Britney Spears and Madonna, as well as Paula Abdul.

They didn't talk about work at Meismer's home. Hudson claims Meismer shoved him against a wall, and then performed oral sex. He recalls Meismer pushing him against a wall and performing oral sex on him.

Hudson stated that Meismer pursued him for sex throughout the years. Hudson claims that Meismer would lead him to the bathroom stalls to perform oral sex in dance studios. Hudson claims that Meismer would sit in Hudson's seat and grope him on planes. Hudson claimed that Meismer would buy matching outfits for him and Hudson, surprising him.

Hudson stated, "I didn't know enough about myself to see how dangerous it was."

Now, Hudson is a well-known dancer with a long list of notable performances, including mega tours with Pink and Lady Gaga, as well as appearances in over a dozen films, including "FAME" and "La La Land." He kept his story quiet for 17 years. After speaking with the Star and the AP in February, Hudson made his story public in an Instagram video. He did not name Meismer.

"I believed the choreographer was helping me to build a career in dance. Hudson stated that he was not, in his video, which has been viewed more than 6,300 times.

Meismer was then removed from NUVO's website the next day and left abruptly. According to Break The Floor, he is no longer associated with the company. Multiple requests for comment were not answered by Meismer. The MSA Agency representatives also denied any comment from Meismer.

Marci A. Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and author of "Justice Denied": What America Must Do To Protect Its Children, stated that dance is one of the few forums in which adults can have unsupervised access for younger students.

She said that dance organizations offer many opportunities for adults to pick out children, groom them and then sexually abuse them. "The dance industry, it's nothing different from any other world. It's just that they have been able to keep them secrets longer."

Hamilton said that perpetrators in youth-focused organizations also use hotel rooms to exploit power imbalance between students and teachers.

Gary Schaufeld said that this is what happened to him. As a teenager, he was helping Danny Wallace, a tap dancer who wasn't at Break the Floor, but would later run one of its affiliated conventions. Schaufeld fell in love with tap when he was seven years old. He had the opportunity to help Wallace and raise his profile.

Schaufeld claimed that Wallace forced oral sex on Schaufeld one night by pushing him against the wall in a hotel room he shared with a female assistant.

Schaufeld stated, "I was frozen in myself, I didn’t know what to do."

Schaufeld stated that Wallace had told him not to say anything, as it would have been bad for their careers. Schaufeld kept his mouth shut. The secret began to eat away at Schaufeld. His mental health began to decline. He said that he stopped sleeping and eating, and was suffering from panic attacks. He confronted Wallace in person 14 years later.

Schaufeld made his accusations in a series text messages that were reviewed by the AP, the Star and the Star. Wallace responded that he could not remember any details but was sorry.

Wallace wrote that "I'm not an evil monster, but I feel like one," and that he had "a lot of hazy memory" and "a large list of regrets/mistakes from that period.

Wallace, in an interview with the Star and the AP earlier this year, denied Schaufeld's allegations. He said that nothing sexual or physical had ever occurred between them. However, he stated that he did recall an "inappropriate attraction” to Schaufeld. He referred reporters and his lawyer to Schaufeld, but he didn't reply.

Schaufeld has stopped dancing since a long time ago and does not plan to return to the studio.

He said that it was his church, but now the "everything dance scene feels dirty" and "tainted."

CODE OF CONDUCT

Dance was mainstreamed by the appearances on television of shows like So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing With The Stars in the mid 2000s.

Gil Stroming's company capitalized upon all that studio growth. According to IbisWorld market research, the industry grew to approximately $4 billion by 2021 and employed more than 120,000 people. He expanded his business into Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean by adding new conventions and new locations.

The television dance shows made Misha Gabriel, Travis Wall, and Nick Lazzarini famous. They also became Break The Floor instructors. They have all since left the company over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Stroming took Lazzarini to the convention circuit at the height his fame, where he taught hundreds of thousands of young dancers. Stroming fired him in 2019 after he posted, then quickly removed a video of himself masturbating online, as The Star reported previously.

The Star previously investigated allegations that Lazzarini had made unwelcome sexual advances to at least six of the Break The Floor dancers. Three of the dancers were aged under 18. One claimed that Lazzarini had groped him through his pants. One said that Lazzarini sent her a nude selfie while she was 16. Another said that Lazzarini sent her a nude selfie when she was 16.

Gabriel, another choreographer and dancer, is alleged to have sent a nude snap on Snapchat to a 16 year-old dancer. She claims she was so shocked that she threw her smartphone across the room. Gabriel, who performed with Mariah carey, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce, was recently expelled from the JUMP faculty. Although his profile and picture were removed from the website, there was no official announcement about his departure.

Since she was 10, Lilli Maples has been taking classes with Gabriel. Gabriel invited her to his hotel room when she was 18, and sent her a text message with a photo of herself in which he had included a shirtless photo. Maples shared the screenshots with friends, who then shared them on social networks. Gabriel sent her a text message, threatening to end her career, she stated.

When asked about Maples' accusations, Gabriel stated in writing that he had been drinking heavily the night before to quell fears about his family's health. Gabriel said that he was probably unconscious and had no memory of the text being sent. He later apologized, stating that he was himself a victim to abuse as a teenager and that the texts he sent to Maples were only a brief exchange.

These messages were deleted by Maples, and neither the Star nor the AP have seen them. Maples' mother told news organizations that she did see the photos after they appeared in shared photo albums on Maples' family computer.

She said, "My heart fell,"

Gabriel, who was 16 at the time, denied the claim that he sent the photo. He said he never engaged in inappropriate behavior that could lead to the sending of something like this to a teenager.

According to industry leaders and child advocates, sexual abuse is a widespread problem in the dance industry.

Jamal Story, a professional choreographer and cochair of The National Dance Committee for The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, stated that the combination of sexual dance content and close contact between the adult teachers and young dancers makes for an environment ripe for abuse.

"Professional dancers are subject to a variety of sexual predation, from annoying flirtation to complete-out devastating attacks. It happens to children, which is a shame in light of conventions. He said that students should not feel like they are under the predators in education.

Former Break The Floor instructors were accused of sexually abusing young dancers. Eric Saradpon is currently being tried on charges of committing lewd acts against minors at a private studio. Five dancers have filed a lawsuit against Dusty Button, ex-star of Boston Ballet, and her husband alleging sexual abuse. Button was a Radix teacher. Requests for comment were not answered by Saradpon lawyers and the Buttons.

Four people who were removed from Break The Floor due to alleged misconduct continue to work with children in other settings.

Break The Floor released a new code earlier this year after Geyser became CEO. It prohibited students from staying in hotel rooms and stated that instructors should not call students their "daughter or son." Additionally, it encouraged online discretion regarding "Religion and Social Justice Discrimination Politics Love and Romance Abuse Mental Health Bullying and Terrorism."

The new code of conduct states that educators are mandated reporters in the case of suspected child abuse.

___

This story was published in partnership with The Toronto Star.

Yorum yapabilmek için üye girişi yapmanız gerekmektedir.

Üye değilseniz hemen üye olun veya giriş yapın.

NEXT NEWS