A Moment With Jill Wolins
By Jill Wolins
TheatreArtLife was created by the live entertainment and theatre industry for the industry. Our contributors are industry professionals working about the globe on shows and productions. In our A Moment With series, we give the opportunity to our contributors to tell their story and share their personal journey working in the entertainment industry.
How did you get started in your career?
Getting started was a series of unknowingly doing prep workshops and auditions while in college. I went to a typical dance studio and did dance competitions. But I longed for more meaningful work, so at the time, University was great for me. My summers while attending college were spent at modern dance festivals like American Dance Festival at Duke University, Giordano Dance Chicago, Steps on Broadway. I attended an audition while attending a Dance Masters National Convention, and was offered my first official job at Disney, Orlando. It was an Equity job, so I left college to get my card and begin my professional career. I later returned to school to complete my degree in my thirties. After I finished one contract, I moved to NYC, where I had already spent two summers.
What is the best role/job/gig have you done and why?
This is not a simple question. Best is measured in different ways. Best to other people or on paper would probably include being a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall, on and off, for ten years. I was proud doing the first national tour of the Producers, but witnessed some less than respectable use of power. That was when I learned that the “best” gigs are not always the best personal experiences. I loved the gigs when I worked for choreographers like John Dietrich and Tony Stevens, who respected dancers and created learning atmospheres. I also love any experience that requires people to collaborate. For example, live musicians, choreographers, directors, performers and tech staff working together make magic happen. I also love live TV because there is so much pressure in the moment and it is so exhilarating.
If someone were to ask me this question when I was in my 20’s, I would have answered with my contemporary performances. I now realize I was working out a lot of emotional issues through my “craft,” and after years of therapy I really don’t need to get emo in front of a crowd.
Now that I am the elder dancer, I am lucky to have gigs teaching, setting choreography, and giving professional and pre-professional seminars. I often have to work quickly, and with dancers I don’t know, which is a cool challenge. It makes time and comfortability seem like an unnecessary luxury.
What was the worst task you were given when you were starting out?
Starting out? Being a dancer who has made a living doing mainly dance related jobs, I have found myself doing wild things my entire career! I had the good fortune of starting my career with some great gigs, but anyone can have a good year or two of dance jobs. Being a lifer is the challenge. So the time in between good contracts has been filled with moments of dressing like an elf, a zombie, or a giant wall flower to make a coin. And I was grateful for those gigs too! Great fun and hilarious times with friends.
What do you think is your best skill?
My best skills I consider to be qualities. Resiliency, versatility, and the ability to reinvent myself have served me greatly. If I were to name my best skills as a dancer, teacher or choreographer, that might get weird. My striking dynamic quality or clear technical execution? Oh Pulease. I have been humbled a thousand times over, and my best skill has been replaced by that which makes my heart happy. I could say that a good skill I have learned to develop involves working quickly with others, and working well under pressure.
What do other people think is your best skill?
Who Knows? Taking a guess, I would say it has something to do with likability. I get along easily with people, am grateful for work, and if someone hires me, I always try to make a good representative of the company. I try to be low-maintenance, and don’t pitch fits.
What advice would you give your 18-year old self?
Take good voice lessons, save/invest money, and don’t fall in love with the wrong people. I would also have a lot to say about self worth. I wasted more energy worrying about all the things I wasn’t, as opposed to recognizing what I had and who I was. I would also tell myself that just because people are in positions of power does not mean they are more evolved humans. Lastly, I would emphasize the old line about Show Business: If you don’t know the business, you don’t get the Show.
What is your job now?
I am fortunate to wear all kinds of creative hats. I am marrying into the dance competition industry, as my fiancé owns and operates dance competitions, conventions and workshops. It was a somewhat easy transition. I danced competitively as a kid, and always judged dance competitions between gigs as a pro. I now set choreography, teach workshops and seminars, and host events nationally and internationally. I am lucky because I love kids, and that is a quality you can’t teach. I have a dream of setting up an agency, or management team for child performers. I have access to thousands and work with hundreds of kids 7-18 each year. I would love to help guide and prepare today’s youth for the professional world. There is so much undiscovered and marketable talent out there!