Teaching Tips

Jill Wolins Always Leads With a Compliment Before a Critique

Jill Wolins (center, in pink). Photo courtesy of Wolins

"The best judges come from the competition circuit," says Jill Wolins, who trains adjudicators for the Star Dance Alliance and Starpower National Talent Competition. "If you competed as a kid, you have proper respect for how hard these dancers work. It's not easy to do what they're doing."

Wolins began judging competition events in 2001 in between dancing as a Rockette and performing on Broadway/national tours of The Producers, The Will Rogers Follies, Sweet Charity and Grease. And, yes, she came up on the circuit herself, before earning a BFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

"The most important thing to remember is to be respectful of another person's process," she tells aspiring judges. "If you speak in a supportive tone, your information will be received. If you speak in a condescending tone, dancers and teachers will put up a wall to your feedback."

One of her strategies is to always lead with a compliment before giving critiques. "As a judge you can immediately tell what it is the teacher is emphasizing in each routine," she says. "For example, if you have a tap routine with really strong and precise arms, you know the teacher has worked hard on that with their students. I like to compliment them on the thing they are doing a really good job at, before helping them with the technical or showmanship details I think they could improve."

Her advice extends beyond the actual judging to self-care and managing logistics. "When you create your schedule, don't plan to work every weekend or you'll burn out," she says. "On those 13-hour-long competition days, everyone needs different things to survive. For example, sugar is bad for my long-term energy, but for someone else it's exactly what they need."

Her thoughts on staying interested through endless hours of contemporary numbers? "If you're good at your job, you won't get numbed out by them," she says. "Every kid is proud to show you what they have been working on. Every kid deserves your attention. This isn't about you."

Also, remember you're dealing with children. "Be constructive and help everyone, not just your top-10 scorers."

AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOST "Collagen powder and bone broth. I know that's a fad right now that not everyone will agree with, but they work for me."

FITNESS FAVORITES "I like Barre classes, doing my own ballet barre and streaming fitness videos."

POSTCOMPETITION RELAXATION "I like to get with girlfriends and laugh. I don't want to be around anyone who hasn't worked as long hours as I have that day—don't show me anyone fresh!"

BEVERAGE OF CHOICE "Green-tea latte with almond milk—if Starbucks ever closed, I might not survive it."

MUST-LISTEN "Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations podcast."

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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Higher Ed
Courtesy Benny Simon

It's safe to say that the 2020 fall semester was a learning experience for college dance departments and students alike.

While Zoom and socially distanced dancing had their obvious frustrations, professors met many of them with creative solutions that not only served as satisfactory replacements for "normal" learning, but also gave students valuable new perspectives that will last beyond the pandemic.

Dance Teacher rounded up four of our favorite examples:

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