JoJo Smith, Broadway and Film Star, Dies at 80

JoJo Smith, known as "The King of New York" for his extensive contributions to Broadway and the dance industry, has died. He was 80.

Smith, who died from complications resulting from a major stroke suffered late last year, had been credited with giving some of Hollywood's most notable dancers their rhythm.


With a career spanning over six decades, Smith's credits include eight Broadway shows, hit TV shows, feature films and major domestic and international tours (including West Side Story). He was a trendsetter and socialite whose students included Debbie Allen, John Travolta and Barbra Streisand.

"JoJo Smith was a giant on the international dance scene. His technique defined The Wave. He staged the biggest musical acts and TV specials that gained him national prominence. I was so lucky to train with him and be nurtured by him. We will ever be grateful to have known his genius and generosity," says Debbie Allen, a former student.

Even with high-profile friends like Eartha Kitt and students like Barbra Streisand, Sylvie Vartan, Barbara Walters and Diane Von Furstenburg, Smith was best known as dance consultant for box office smash hit musical Saturday Night Fever (John Travolta). He will also be remembered as the founder of Jo Jo's Dance Factory (currently Broadway Dance Center) with then-wife Sue Samuels. Broadway Dance Center is one of the largest "drop-in" dance training centers in the world.

Smith's unique style has influenced generations of greatest dancers and entertainers all over the world, including the late great Michael Jackson.

"My father was an exceptional dancer, musician that created a new style of jazz dancing. His unique personality and musicality are the fabric of his choreography and his contagious energy. A true classic and a legend. I will miss our hangs, but I am forever inspired by the man that brought me here," says tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, an Emmy Award winner.

Born July 20, 1938 to dancers Anna Margaret Grayson and Joseph Benjamin Smith (influential to the careers of the famous Nicholas Brothers), Smith is survived by children Michael Smith, Monica Richard Smith, Elka Samuels Smith, Jason Samuels Smith and Rocky Smith.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021