Life After Competition – StarQuest Spotlight with Jayme Wappel
May 17th, 2017 by Roy Patterson
For this month’s StarQuest Spotlight, we choose to feature a familiar name in the StarQuest family – Jayme Wappel. The daughter of StarQuest’s President and Founder, Steve Wappel, Jayme trained at her home studio in North Carolina and The Conservatory of Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, PA before embarking on a professional performance career. Since graduating from the competition circuit, she has built a career not only as a performer but also a choreographer – working with many studios and theatres across the country. I had the opportunity to speak with Jayme to learn more about life after competition and how her career in competitive dance continues to influence her today.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from competing?
I learned so much! It’s hard to choose! I would say my greatest lesson for onstage-Jayme is to be instantly forgiving. I would invest a lot of my time at my studio each week; between taking class, attending rehearsals, working on my technique, and learning my dances for that season, I wanted to improve, and I wanted that reflected on stage as well. Each year, I had more dances than the one prior. But not every dance was perfect each time we performed it, because it was live! It wasn’t fair to put myself under pressure when perfectionism isn’t realistic nor attainable. Whether or not it was my fault or even within my control, I learned to forgive and forget.
The greatest offstage lesson was a bit easier – be kind. My teacher and studio director always stressed how important it was for her dancers to treat others with respect both on and off the stage. This respect translated to performances as more cohesive routines and to great friendships outside of the dance world!
How do you continue your dance education?
I chose to continue my education after high school at Point Park University. Today, I continue to take class at professional studios in New York City. I also like to rent out studio space to play around with choreography with my friends and join them if they are teaching a class or need bodies to set a piece. Collaborating is so fun!
Do you feel like your experiences in the competition circuit guide the choreography you develop or your business model as a choreographer?
Definitely! I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many different genres of dance in the competition world! I learned a lot about choreography by watching other studios’ routines at competitions: what worked and what didn’t. My choreography is still influenced by the versatility I gained during that time. For example, my jazz choreography often works in fluidity from my contemporary training and strong musicality from my tap training. It’s also allowed me to better serve the studios & theaters I choreograph for, because I am able to adapt to their needs.
When choreographing for studios, what are some challenges you experience? How do you overcome them?
Oftentimes, I’ll get a group of dancers with a wide range of ages or levels of experience. I like to teach the most difficult part of the dance first so that they have more time to practice it. This often means I’ll start in the middle or at the end of the routine and will build the dance from there. I always do my best to highlight the dancers’ strengths while still pushing them outside their comfort zone. This makes them feel confident, accomplished, and proud when they step onstage.
Since graduating from competitions – what has been your dance highlight?
There have been so many! I performed in roller skates, and my costume lit up, when I was in Starlight Express during my first contract out of college. I loved the work I did as an aerialist for Royal Caribbean – it was just as artistically fulfilling as dancing on the ground, but nothing compares to the exhilaration of performing while hanging sixty feet in the air! Joining the Actor’s Equity Association was also an exciting and rewarding milestone.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for dancers currently competing?
Never stop learning. About dance. About the world. Say YES to new adventures! Don’t define yourself as just a dancer, because audiences want to watch performers to whom they can relate. Jason McDole, one of my instructors at Point Park, emphasized how experiences and relationships outside the studio influence your work as an artist. As I grow older, I understand this more and more. Go to the park, a new restaurant, the zoo, a museum, travel the world, see shows of all kinds – concert dance, musicals, straight plays, operas, movies, comedy shows. You never know where you’ll find inspiration!
What is your motto?
I actually have two!
I can. I will.
Catch Jayme in a new Off-Broadway show – Attack of the Elvis Impersonators – opening for previews June 1st – and choreographing West Side Story for Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ, which runs June 2 – 4.
Do you know an exceptional member of the StarQuest family? Email firstname.lastname@example.org the dancer’s (or studio’s) name, state, and why you think they should be featured! You may see your nominee interviewed in a future StarQuest Spotlight blog!
Mariel Pauline Rosen is the StarQuest social media concierge. She likes shiny things and believes in your sparkle!