Cupcakes & Conversation with Jim Nowakowski, Demi Soloist, Houston Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Well on Monday’s Houston Ballet does not work, so I would have to say the luxury of planning my own day and doing whatever I want, be with my friends, or just have “me” time.
If ballet chose you, as many dancers say it did, what is it that has made you stick with it ?
I started at a young age doing tap, jazz, and gymnastics at a local school. Those came more naturally to me. When I went to a formal ballet school at age 11, I felt as though I had been introduced to a whole new world. I didn’t know classical variations, or a lot of the ballet curriculum/terminology and the challenges of it all made it really appetizing to me as well as the beauty of the art.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
Maria Kochetkova. She is such a powerhouse and would challenge me to want to be the absolute best I could be dancing next to her. I have no idea what we would dance.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I don’t have a particular place, but I can always be dancing and performing in NYC. I love the city itself, the energy, and the appreciation for dance. But, maybe some random place would be the Kodak Theatre, just to say that I have danced there.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
I had ankle surgery in January, so at the moment, my routine consists of rehab in the mornings, and then I go to the ballet’s body conditioning room to do my own work out. My routine consists of healing, getting healthy, and back into shape. I am in recovery mode!
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I always eat a big breakfast, something including a protein and a carbohydrate, to get my fuel for the day going. My lunch is not as big a meal because I hate feeling full while having to dance. During the day I will just try to snack to keep my energy going.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I will go over my material for the show and my corrections for the pieces I am performing that night. I usually take a power nap and put my headphones on and try to zone out and relax to calm the nerves. Then I will transition into a good stretch and warm up, makeup, and then go on the stage to feel out everything one last time before curtain.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2014 ?
Everything! I have been off for a while now, so the thought of being back on the stage dancing sounds so exciting and fulfilling.
How do you deal with the stresses of performing ?
Stressing about a performance is only natural. I like to think of it as “good anxiety”, because that is what makes it exciting sometimes. For me it depends what you’re performing and what it is that is stressing you out about that particular piece. I try to go over on the stage whatever it is that is stressing me out, but I am still working on that myself.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
That’s difficult…off the top of my head, Ellen Degeneres, Lady GaGa, Johnny Depp, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Kristen Wiig, and the film director David O’ Russell.
What would surprise people about you ?
I am a kid at heart. I love amusement parks, and Disneyland. I love playing in the park with my friend’s children, going to arcades, and seeing animated films.
Who inspired you to dance ?
I started dancing at a really young age because my older sister was dancing, and I would want to do everything she did.
How would someone else describe you ?
This question makes me nervous…you would have to ask them 😉
What is your best piece of advice ?
Do things that make you happy and fulfill your soul. It is your life and it’s short, so make the most of it!
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
I think every role has tested me a lot, depending on the role. Sometimes it tests me more technically, other times heavier partnering, stamina, or acting wise. And roles that come more natural I try to find ways to make it more challenging for myself.
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
That depends on the piece I create, but probably something very minimal and simple.
A phrase I use far too often is …
-“So stressed” (I use it when I’m not even stressed. I could be shopping for jeans and not find a pair and be like “Ugh I’m stressed”)
What is your favourite quote?
“For some life lasts a short while, but the memories it holds last forever.”
What’s on your iPod ?
Everything! I listen to all genres of music, from top 40 to some rock, musical theatre soundtracks, classical and relaxation music, and since moving down to Houston I love country music as well.
Who would you most like to dance for, and why?
Mostly myself, honestly. Mikhail Baryshnikov was in the audience and saw me perform once, and that was pretty cool.
What makes you a good dance partner ?
I try to find that chemistry between one another, feeding off of one another, in order to balance out each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and challenging your partner in a positive way to bring out the best in them and to make them look great, but also as a team look great.
Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
Describe yourself in just three words.
Dedicated, Open Minded, and Artistic.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
Healthy and healed and back on the stage dancing.
Who would you like to have a conversation with ?
The founder of my ballet school Timothy Draper passed away in 2003. I would love to speak with him more about his dance career, his knowledge of dance, and just his life.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
I don’t have an exit strategy. I think when the time comes it will unfold the way it’s supposed to. But, saying that, I would want to have finished getting my degree and help run dance galas or competitions.