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Life & Work with Jenna Solkow

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Solkow.

Hi Jenna, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I started dancing when I was nine years old, and gradually through my pre-teen and teenage years became more and more hooked on the art form. By the time I entered high school, I had joined a competitive dance team and was training anywhere from 15-20 hours a week. I decided to pursue dance in my college years and eventually received my BA in Dance at California State University, Long Beach. While studying at university, I began teaching dance and choreographing shows at Braver Players Musical Theatre Foundation, a local youth theatre company. There I discovered my passion for creating my own works and teaching dance to students of all ages. Post-college, I continue to teach, choreograph and perform professionally, and have now expanded into the fitness industry, where I instruct Pilates and Barre Fitness classes.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It certainly has not been a smooth road, but I am eternally grateful for the journey. When I started dancing, I lacked almost every natural ability and was the clumsiest and least flexible person in all of my classes. It took years of in-studio and out-of-studio training to become a well-trained dancer. Professionally, this career path is uncertain and constantly changing, and sticking with it not always easy either. I am constantly searching and preparing for the next opportunity, juggling schedules from multiple jobs, and saving money for times when I am not certain about my next paycheck. My lifestyle is a stark contrast to my peers who, by this point, have ONE consistent job, with a salary they can count on every month. At times, it feels like a hefty price to pay, but the reward of doing what I love every day always manages to keep me locked in.

As most dancers do, I have experienced a ton of rejection throughout my dance career. I’ve found over the years, however, all the best things in my life came from the biggest failures. When I was cut from my first competition team audition at 12 years old, it lit a fire in me, and immediately doubled my weekly classes to prepare for the next year, and made more progress in that one year than I had in my first three years of dancing. In 2020 when the world shut down, I spent months unemployed and instead of throwing in the towel, I anxiously applied for jobs and booked my first ever payed dance gig. I could say that “everything happens for a reason,” but I actually don’t believe that is true. I simply believe that resilient people have a great way of overcompensating by turning “failures” into opportunities for growth.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Today, I consider myself to be many things; dancer, choreographer, teacher, and student. I don’t ever put myself into just one of those categories because, quite frankly, that would be incorrect. I am teacher with many students, but I am also a student who practices and learns from others. I work in settings where I perform the works of others, and I also work in settings where I put my works on others. As a dancer, I am dynamic and committed. Years off training have given me physical and mental strength that my 9-year-old self never could have imagined obtaining. As teacher and choreographer, I am very passionate about bringing out the best in my students. Nothing in the world is more rewarding to me than helping people discover strength within themselves, and I strive to be like the teachers who pushed me become the dancer I am today.

Of all the things I consider myself to be, the most important is a student. It is a fault to think that you are ever master of your craft, there is ALWAYS room for more. I am constantly taking dance classes, learning new technical skills, and finding new physical endeavors (a recent one for me is Aerial Arts). I am a teacher to my students, but in many ways I am a student to them, adapting to their needs and learning how to mentor them more effectively. I believe this is what sets me apart from others. As a student to ALL of my work, I am always getting better at my craft, I am receptive to the knowledge that others around me have, and I know that every “failure” an opportunity to learn more. This mentality has given me the resilience to withstand a career in the arts and outlast many people with more talent and training than myself.

What does success mean to you?
I don’t think there is one definition of success, even for myself. Success varies from person to person and from situation to situation. Success for one person may be a promotion at work, for another it may be recovering from trauma. Success to me could be booking a new dance gig, but it could also be helping new students discover something new within themselves. Success is not one tangible goal in my life, it is a constant journey.

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Image Credits:

Adrien Padilla, Madison Stonefield, Elenna Derkach, Beth Goad Meines

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