Dancing leads one to travel – certainly across stages, through studios, and across cities and towns. Can it also lead one around countries, and even the world? It’s certainly led Jill Wolins of Star Dance Alliance to that. Wolins has travelled to Australia several times, for one, and will soon be returning to teach and present at VDF in Melbourne this April. She also currently splits her time in between Orlanda, FL and NYC. Dance has also led Wolins to travel in the metaphorical sense in her career, crossing various fields of work from writing to film production to judging to teaching. Here, Wolins shares her experiences and insights with Dance Informa.
What’s your role at Star Dance Alliance? And what helps you to balance it all?
“I currently consider myself fortunate to play numerous roles at the Star Dance Alliance. For those who do not know what the SDA is, it is a group of dance related companies including large internationals dance competitions such as Starpower International, Nexstar, Revolution, Believe, Imagine, and DreamMaker, the workshop conventions Wild Dance Intensive and Starpower International Ultimate Dance Workshop, the World Dance Pageant, Power Pak summer dance camp, and The World Dance Championships. The SDA also now includes Star Travel, a travel agency dedicated not only to shipping staff and faculty around the world for SDA productions, but also to making group travel easier for dance studios around the globe.
All that said, I am lucky to have my hands in a number of the above endeavours. I started working for the mother company, Starpower as an adjudicator in 2001. I loved having the balance of being a professional dancer but also communicating with young dancers. Gig life as a dancer would find me having contracts that lasted a year, a few months, a few weeks or for a night. Living in NYC allowed me to gig as a dancer, train as a teacher and dancer, and also travel to teach and judge dance competitions.
My favourite jobs always include working with young dancers. I teach for Wild and Starpower Ultimate Dance Workshop, I choreograph, teach and give seminars at the Power Pak summer dance camps and set numerous opening number acts, I co-direct the World Dance Pageant in NYC, and I sometimes host events like the World Dance Championships and the Battle of the Stars. I have enjoyed helping launch most of the competitions in their first year of tours. I also get to contribute to building new brands, and discuss marketing plans.
I absolutely love playing various roles, and that creates a balance in and of itself. I get to challenge myself in different ways. I get to work on the creative side with my teaching and choreography, but I also get to look at the organisation as a whole and try to make it even better for dancers and studio owners alike. Because the Star Dance Alliance was created by a dancer, master teacher and studio owner, I feel we are always trying to help dancers and teachers in the best ways possible.
This is a good time to mention to anyone reading that every single thing a young dancer or professional learns goes into a bag of tricks and can be utilized later. For example, my collegiate training, which could be comparable to full-time program training, was used in teaching and choreography. My years at the dance studio as a young kid prepared me to be a compassionate and passionate judge, understanding the demands and expectations of young competitive dancers. My public relations training at the Rockettes and live TV/film work as a dancer for jobs prepared me for hosting both live and on camera. My education prepared me for the books I wrote. Experiences I thought nothing of surely came into play in my later years.”
What other roles do you play in the dance world? How did that develop?
“The Star Dance Alliance keeps me quite busy, but I also enjoy assisting the casting directors of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Christi Coachman and Ryan Saab. Here is another example of where long time friendships, credibility and integrity in the industry come into play. The SDA has a partnership with the casting team, and because I have known some of the casting team for years as professional in NYC, I am able to work with this esteemed panel. I find it to be a great honor to work with them, and I know the company cares very much for dancers. I know first hand that a dancer’s professional life is limited in years as a performer, and I want dancers to get gigs!
I also still teach and give seminars for Dance Masters of America, a membership required, educational based organisation in the states. Because I grew up as a member of this organisation, my teachers involved and the organisation itself will always hold a special place in my heart.
I also love to write – anything, anywhere. I contribute to a number of art and entertainment industry based sources. I also wrote two books in the ‘Are You Ready?’ series: One is ‘Dance Competitions’, and the other is ‘Are You Ready for the Next Step’. I am most proud of the latter, as it includes tons of information young dancers and their parents should know getting into the dance world in any capacity. If one doesn’t know how much money dance jobs make, how to get jobs, or what to expect, it is a great read. Essentially, all my mistakes and young dumb years helped make this book good.”
How did you become connected with VDF?
“All of the major players in the dance world attend events together around the globe, and as you spend more and more time in the dance industry, it quickly becomes small. And that’s really the awesome part! I believe those who truly love dance, the industry and young dancers will align themselves. It just happens. SDA and VDF love dance on all levels. Both entities maintain many aspects of dance and are complementary. Sometimes networking is easy if your heart is in the right place, and your intentions are the same as others.
The Star Dance Alliance and Starpower International are gaining a presence in Australia, and I absolutely love Australian dancers and how they train. I love the studios as well as how the dancers train in full-time programs. I would love to see more and more beautiful Australian dancers continue in the industry in any capacity, and especially get jobs as dancers. VDF is an incredible tool for dancers to take their training and dance lives to the next level and I am 100 percent about leveling up and making it happen as a dancer.”
What will your visit to VDF entail?
“My visit to VDF will include a master class workshop, possible Professional Seminar based on my book “Are You Ready for the Next Step?” and plenty of Exhibit time. It will be my third trip to Australia in less than a year, and I look forward to many more.”
Where to from here – what are your longer-term plans and goals?
“I have so many ideas, and I will take them one at a time. The major goal is to create more specific environments for young dancers and studio owners to expand and flourish.
I want to continue to create environments in the SDA to help young adults be ready not only for their best dance lives, but for their best lives in general. Young dancers need to train like athletes, maintain and nourish their creativity, but also understand the demands of the practical world. One can be an incredible dancer and book one tour or one amazing gig. If you don’t know how to manage money, maintain a professional demeanor as well as your physicality, and be easy to work with, you will be the good old ‘One Hit Wonder’.
I want to give dancers the tools to thrive. This may take the form of more workshops, forums, intensives…anything. I know I have the intention, and the rest will take specific form in time. I also want dance studio and dance school owners to create the best programs possible, each with their unique essence. I want to continue to help create environments that help these businesses grow and be at their best.
I would also love to create more online tools and videos that aide young dancers. These will contain workouts to keep fit on the road, to help tutorials to ensure success. Lastly, I will continue to write. I can feel a third book brewing.”
What are your top tips for dancers?
“A few tips for serious dancers, people who loves dance, or really anyone who wants to succeed are:
#1. Take yourself seriously. Even if you feel you have much to learn, or if you feel you aren’t ‘the best’. Work hard. No seriously, work hard. If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to work like you are in the big leagues. Learn all you can, even if you think something is not ‘you’.
#2. Be kind. Sounds dumb, right? I completely sound like your mother, but I have seen people get cliquey around the dancers who excel or who win competitions. They run into the ‘less popular’ kids down the road in powerful positions and get passed up for jobs. The dance industry includes many types of jobs, including technical positions, casting positions, creative teams and even business/admin positions. You never know who will end up in positions of power 10 years down the road. No one wants to help a snob. There are just too many talented people out there. Now, that sounds incredibly self-serving to be kind for your own benefit. So if it is not in your nature to be kind, I just gave you another reason. It ends up being a small world.
#3. Do not compare yourself to others. It’s not going to end well. It’s a waste of time and energy. There are so many factors taken into consideration when it comes to decision-making at auditions. Or any job interview really. You as an applicant or person auditioning do not ever fully know the casting scenario. Do your best and move on. People are often hired or chosen based on their type.
#4. Live your life, love your dance. Dance should make your heart happy. But if you get burnt out, find a way to remember why you love to dance. The business and industry can easily suck the love from your dancing, so don’t let it. Time goes by fast. Enjoy it while you can.”