Rebekah WolfsonKilayko

2019 Ambassador Rebekah WolfsonKilayko

Emily Running: (00:16)

Hello, my name’s Emily Running and I am the founder and director of Dance Wire. I’m here with Rebekah, oh no, I forgot to ask how to pronounce your name, Wolfson-Kilayko. It is March 17th, 2019, and we are going to talk to her as part of Dance Wire’s Artist Stories series. So welcome, Rebekah. First, I don’t ask all of my ambassadors this, but tell me your age.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (00:53)

I am fourteen right now.

Emily Running: (00:53)

You’re fourteen. Can you give me an overview of your current titles?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (00:59)

I dance with the Portland Ballet and where I’m a youth company. I participate in our holiday performances, our spring performances and our spring recital. I have danced for a long time, and I’ve been here about four years. So I do that, and then I go to different summer intensives each summer at different schools in New York, all the way across the country, just to get different training and experience something new.

Emily Running: (01:27)

Cool. And you recently auditioned for a summer intensive this year, and where will that be?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (01:32)

I will be going to Ellison Ballet and Ballet Academy East this summer.

Emily Running: (01:35)

Okay, cool, and those are in New York?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (01:37)

Both in Manhattan.

Emily Running: (01:37)

Awesome. Tell me, when did you start dancing and how did you get into it, and did you love it right away?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (01:47)

I did not love it right away. My mom put me into dance because she always wanted to be a dancer. And so I was at a smaller studio. I have a distinct memory. One of our tasks, I was about two-ish, one of our tasks was to jump over a puddle quietly. So we wouldn’t wake the sleeping teacher, and I jumped too loud, and I woke the teacher, and it traumatized me. I left dance for two years, but eventually my mom convinced me, and I went back into it, and that’s when I fell in love with it. I’ve been seriously dancing since I was four. I’m 14, so that’s 10 years, and I started The Portland Ballet four years ago.

Emily Running: (02:27)

That was probably creative movement at age two. So lots of just doing whatever you want. When you went back at age four, was that ballet specifically as well, or did you?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (02:44)

It started to become ballet probably once I hit about third grade, and I think once I started to become really serious and thinking about, do I want to do this as a future, was when I went on point I was 11 so I’ve been on point for three years. That was at The Portland Ballet it was my second year here. That was really my entrance into real serious dance.

Emily Running: (03:06)

I remember that moment of being able to go on point, and I think I quit dance early on, and then came back to it for that purpose, like, oh, I really want to do that. That looks fun. Talk about that. That experience.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (03:23)

I went to point earlier than most of my fellow classmates and I was a year younger, so it was sort of a, wow, maybe I actually have a future in this kind of moment. And it was also, it was sort of just scary because I was putting these random blocks of wood on my feet. Suddenly I could dance around, and I look like the people I see on social media and the magazines, the principles of the huge companies. I always wanted to do that, and suddenly I could.

Emily Running: (03:52)

So putting those shoes on, the shoes themselves, transformed you into this dream that you had. Cool. And what is your process, do you wear a bunch of stuff in your shoes? Or do you tie your feet? Lamb’s wool?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (04:09)

Lamb’s wool, tie them up. My feet hurt, but oh well.

Emily Running: (04:12)

Totally, it comes with the program. Then we just jump right into the big questions around here. What does dance mean to you, or has meant to you in your life?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (04:25)

I think it’s really about connection. When I went to a American Ballet Theatre over the summer, we got to see a performance of them do Whipped Cream. And it’s an original ballet, so it wasn’t one of the classics that you see all over the world, but it was something so special because it was so weird. There was candy and there was just dancing like deer or whatever. It was the weirdest thing, but it made me so happy. It put a smile on my face from the very first note and the very first step. And it was also, I was able to see the principles of ABT, some of my role models, but it was just about that. If I can achieve that, putting a smile like that on someone else’s face, I think that’s what it truly means to be a dancer.

Emily Running: (05:12)

I might come back to some follow ups with that, but what are the challenges you faced in your pursuit of dance?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (05:25)

Motivation. How do I get up every day? I get home from school everyday when I have homework and I’m like, I’m going to go to dance, because one you’re in class, especially in ballet, it’s very difficult to stay motivated. If your feet hurt, if you’re not nailing your double pirouettes, your teacher isn’t telling you good job. Like, how do I just stay focused and put myself in a box and think about how am I going to improve and turn this class around. 

And when I can turn that class around, when I’m not doing my best or what I think is my best, but I continue to persevere. That’s one of the greatest challenges, because it’s totally mental. It’s not really about how you’re actually dancing. It’s about how you think you’re dancing. And if you can turn your dancing into something that you are proud of, then you have overcome that obstacle.

Emily Running: (06:17)

And so, what are some of the tools or methods that you use to do that?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (06:22)

I always try to find the humor in it. I fall out of the pyramid, well, that was kind of funny, I just remember what’s the end goal and this class, even if it turns into a bad class, it’s not going to matter in the end goal. As long as I get up the next day and I repeat the same process and work just as hard as I can. I just try to work hard, I do my best and that’s all I can do.

Emily Running: (06:48)

Awesome. Any other challenges that you would say you face?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (06:53)

That is my main challenge. I think that it’s that mental capacity to overcome. What hurts when you’re sore, when your feet hurt, to overcome that mental and be able to keep dancing.

Emily Running: (07:06)

I want to ask you about the physical balance, because I think that most dancers physically can’t live without dancing. But, it’s also really strenuous and hard on your body. It hurts a lot. How do you manage that balance of needing it, but then also dealing with the pain that comes with it, and the exhaustion and struggle.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (07:36)

It’s really about taking care of yourself. I try to stretch as much as I can, nightly, I get to the studio early so I can warm up before class. I consciously think, am I doing the best thing for my body right now? Am I doing the best thing that will help me in the future? I go to PT pretty regularly if something’s hurting. It’s about consciously reflecting. What hurt today, is this normal? How can I make sure it doesn’t hurt again?

Emily Running: (08:03)

How about nutrition?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (08:05)

Nutrition? Well, I’m not going to say that I am the best eater, but I do consciously strive, especially before a class before a show, how am I feeling in my body with something that’s going to get me through this.

Emily Running: (08:17)

I think that it is a tricky topic because it’s not just about what you eat, but it’s about the timing of when you eat. And even something healthy at the wrong time, often just doesn’t work with dancing. That is also what I’ve found in my experiences. Also, there’s a consistency, a constant that you’re always monitoring that and trying to, you have to feed yourself everyday, and you have to think through it all everyday. That’s a big one. What resources, people or opportunities have helped you the most?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (09:06)

Well, I have to say thank you to my family because they’re the ones who drive me here every day. They put up with me wanting to get here ridiculously early to the studio. They’re the ones that have helped me stay motivated. Like I said earlier, sometimes you can’t do it all by yourself, sometimes you need to go to another resource and say, I’m really struggling. Can you help me? They are the ones that have helped me do that. Help me say, you need to back up, you need to take a step back when you don’t go to dance today, just take a breather, but they’re also the ones who have said, no, you need to go. And that has helped me. It’s amazing. 

I’m at the studio. There are amazing teachers here. The artistic director, Nancy Davis has been a huge mentor to me since I got here, since I got on point all through my training and she will continue to be whatever happens now. I think also this studio is such an incredible community. I have some of my closest friends here and that really helps, especially with that humor aspect. Like I was also talking about earlier, when you can laugh with somebody. That helps, that really helps get you through each day.

Emily Running: (10:11)

Would you say that the vibe around here is like everybody is working to achieve something very big, but mistakes are okay? And you know, there’s not a super strict, like, you’re in trouble if you do something.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (10:29)

Definitely not.

Emily Running: (10:29)

There’s a good vibe here.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (10:30)

It’s very communal, it’s very familial. We want to uplift each other. We are proud of each other when we achieve good things. And that’s so important for a studio.

Emily Running: (10:42)

How many of the dancers here do you go to school with as well?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (10:47)

I don’t go to school with any of them.

Emily Running: (10:48)

Any of them. So this is its own little, cool. How is balance, seeing this work with your academics?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (11:00)

I don’t have as hard of a time with that as some of the people I dance with. I am an academic. I am skilled in academics, but I am able to finish most of my homework at school. So I get it all done, and I go home, and I’m like, time to go to dance. I try to keep them pretty separate, I don’t really mix the two.

Emily Running: (11:19)

Sure. And is the school you go to, is that specifically chosen or is it just the closest school or?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (11:25)

Closest public school. I’m in the Summa program for academics. So, I am there specifically for that but yes, just the public school.

Emily Running: (11:34)

Cool. What stage do you feel like you’re at in your career, and how do you want to move forward and, what are your general goals?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (11:47)

I’m always looking for the next step. Once I’ve reached my time somewhere, where am I going to go next? When I switched to TPB from my first smaller studio, it was just because I was at that point where that studio had given me all they could give, and I needed new challenges and new experiences. I needed to meet new teachers, new people. I needed to step outside my comfort zone. You know, start at the bottom of the ladder again and have to work my way up, because that’s how it is when you’re in a company, and those experiences are what’s going to prepare you for that. So, my goal is really just to be able to continue challenging myself, always being able to find that next step.

Emily Running: (12:29)

Currently, where is the edge of your comfort zone? What is something right now that kind of scares you?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (12:40)

I think one of the things that scares me the most is my school friends are always like, Becky, you should dance ballet for us. And that freaks me out. It’s not because I’m at school and I’m wearing sneakers or whatever. It’s just dancing in front of people who aren’t dancers. It’s not as hard in performances, because those people have paid to see you there. They want to be there. That’s why they’re there. But people who are more prone to judging because they don’t have experience in that dance world. That really scares me.

Emily Running: (13:08)

Interesting. What about inside the studio? Where is your comfort zone edge here?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (13:23)

I am scared of throwing myself into something that I’m not ready for. Because I like those challenges, and I do like throwing myself into stuff, but I’m always scared that, what if I went too far.

Emily Running: (13:40)

But you want to build up to it. Yes. You need to have a strategy.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (13:46)

Versus just jumping. So that scares me. What if I’ve gone too fast, but so far, everything’s worked out.

Emily Running: (13:53)

Do you have a particular ballet company that you admire a lot right now that would be your goal, or are you wanting to get to that professional level and see where it goes, or do you have somebody really specific?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (14:23)

I love a ABT. I feel like, not just so much because I went there over the summer, but even before that, they seem like such a community and that’s what I found here at TPB. I feel like wherever I go, I definitely want to bring that, and if I feel, if I’m in a place where there’s not that community where it’s a hostile environment, very competitive, I’m not going to do the best I can because I’m going to spend more time worrying about others than worrying about how I can support others. Worrying about others trying to take my spots or whatever. I love ABT in the fact that they uplift each other, and they support each other and it’s not like, oh, you’re a principal. I can’t talk to you because I’m a core member. It’s just, we are a family and we are together for the purpose of dancing, because we all love that. There are companies all over the world that I’m sure have that aspect, but I love ABT because it is so blatant. We are a community.

Emily Running: (15:22)

Cool. So it sounds like you have experienced both that judgmental, competitive version of a company or a studio, and then you’ve also experienced the community version. Describe what that feels like to dance in the opposite version, in the competitive, judgmental version.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (15:45)

I haven’t experienced such a competitive environment, so much as I mentally turned something into a competitive environment that it wasn’t necessarily. At the ABT I spent a lot of time, there were only five weeks. I spent like a good half of that, just comparing myself to other dancers. Like, am I as good as her? Do I have a future like her? Why am I here when she could have, you know, when she could have my spot. And so, it’s not so much that it was a hostile environment. It wasn’t at all. Everyone was very nice. But it was that I was so scared that what I was doing wasn’t enough that I turned it into that. And I made it into something very competitive where it really didn’t need to be. That I think was something that I regret, because I took that experience and I chose to focus on other people instead of focusing on my own growth and how can I improve from this experience? Towards the end, I figured it out. But, I still feel like I want to redo that experience because, or in other intensives too, because I can’t do that, I have to be able to focus on myself and how I can grow, not how the other people are growing.

Emily Running: (16:57)

Absolutely. How did you come to that realization? Like, when was it somebody from the outside, again, a mentor or a family member, something that pointed it out? Like, hey, you don’t seem like you’re yourself in this moment, or did you just come to a realization, I don’t want to compare myself. I’m doing this for me. How did that happen?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (17:20)

It was really because of some of the teachers there, just giving me a good job. Like that was good job, nailing that double. You know, it was just that, I am supposed to be here. I am here for a reason. I got into a ABT for a reason. I came to ABT, I got into this level, I’m here everyday dancing for a reason because I am supposed to be here. Yes. All these other girls are supposed to be there too, but so am I. I am just as equal as them to be able to come to this space and learn and grow.

Emily Running: (17:53)

I feel like when you watch dance can you tell the difference between the people who are simply technically competent and the people who are giving themselves to it? 

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (18:06)


Emily Running: (18:06)

Even if the person doesn’t have their extension quite as high as the girl next to them, you want to watch them more.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (18:16)

I strive for that too. Because I don’t have extensions up to my ear. I don’t have quadruple pirouettes, but I just want to show that I love to dance and that’s why I do it. Just because I love it.

Emily Running: (18:31)

So you recognize that, and also want to give that level of performance and connection and bring that as a dancer. Awesome. What is something about dance that you wish more people would know or understand?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (18:48)

It’s so hard. So many people, especially from my school, people who aren’t connected to dance say, oh that’s so cute and fun. Let me try to imitate dance. And they twirl around on their tiptoes or whatever. And that’s not what it is. It’s a discipline. It’s about persevering, getting that motivation. It’s both athletic and art because you have to combine those things in order to make ballet. Ballet is a sport, but it’s also an art, you know? So, it’s so hard. That’s what I wish people understood, that I come here everyday and it’s so hard, it’s not easy.

Emily Running: (19:30)

There’s just a general perception you think in the world of, or in school of, it just being a cutesy thing, or just a hobby or a side thing or a fun, something less than it is. How would you describe the current dance scene in Portland? In the context of just what your experience has been, as well as in comparison to how you felt in intensives and things. When you go to an intensive, do you feel like your training has brought you to a level that is similar to that or, you know, where do you fit into the mix in those contexts? So, I asked you like 10 questions in a row and you can answer any one of those or all of them.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (20:26)

I feel like the vibe in Portland, especially the smaller, there’s some bigger studios in Portland, but the vibe, the whole vibe, is very communal in Portland. I have friends from all different studios. Our whole goal is to dance. When I go to an intensive, the environment is more competitive, it’s not necessarily hostile, but it definitely is more competitive, just because in those bigger places, there are so many more dancers. The competition is just logically so much higher because there are just so many people that are there trying to get that one spot. In Portland, there’s not as many dancers. And so it’s easier. There’s more opportunities to get that one spot, because there aren’t as many people going for it.

I think in bigger places, like, especially in ABT there are, you can still find those communal environments, because you know, those people are everywhere. Those people are what make up the dance world. I feel like the hostile environments are less common, because more people just want to be there to dance. It’s not necessarily about that competition for every single person. I feel like when I go to intensives, my training has definitely prepared me for that. Maybe not for the whole social aspect, but my training here and my technique and my artistry has definitely, it brings me up to the level of those dancers in the bigger cities. The studio’s so fabulous, because it prepares you for something bigger, you know?

Emily Running: (22:08)

Cool. My final question, I like to ask you to paint an idealistic version of what you want dance to look like in the future 10 years or so, but I actually want you to address it in terms of how would you like to see that stigma around dance as just kind of a frilly thing like, how would you like to see that changed? Or, what are ways that you could help with that as well?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (22:46)

I just think it’s about respect ultimately, because when you have someone who’s like, oh, I’m a soccer player. Everyone is like, oh, that’s so cool. Because they have respect for that sport. I feel like with dance, people don’t have as much respect for it because it’s more abstract, with a lot of, other than ballet, with a lot of modern dances, it’s not as easy to see where the lines are. What is this trying to tell me? It makes people think more. And I feel like some people might be afraid of that because it’s not as easy. It’s just harder. You have to think about it. 

I think one of the things, not necessarily in Portland, but all over the world that people could see dance, it would just with more respect. With more, this makes me think, and I want to be able to think about it. And also, it’s hard, I want more people to recognize that. I don’t know exactly how to achieve that, but I feel like if we can achieve that it would be better for dancers and it would be easier to bring dance to the community in a way that makes people think, because ultimately that’s the goal, thinking and connection.

Emily Running: (23:59)

Thinking and connection. Yes, nice. Is there any else you want to say, or any final messages?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (24:07)

Open classes should be free. That’s another thing about the dance scene. 

Emily Running: (24:08)

What’s the purpose of that?

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (24:10)

To get more people in.

Emily Running: (24:13)

Okay. Get more people, just welcome people in.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (24:19)

Yeah. And it’s expensive. I want to go to open level classes, I love them. 

Emily Running: (24:25)

So, open level class or beginning class, or what? Just, there should be open classes.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (24:30)

There should be open classes. And they should be free. That’s the bottom line.

Emily Running: (24:35)

Dance Wire, I, myself and Dance Wire have a theory that you have to invite people in too. And that at something sports, I think people feel is more accessible. And yet with arts, you have to invite them in and remind them that whatever they bring is the appropriate thing to bring. So whatever they think about it or whatever they experience from it is the right thing and it isn’t as intimidating as it feels.

Rebekah Wolfson-Kilayko: (25:17)

No, I agree with that. That just because it makes you think, whatever you’re going to think isn’t wrong, because it’s about connection. We want to make as many diverse connections as possible. We don’t want everything to be exactly the same. So that’s what dance, because it’s so powerful when everybody is dancing the same movement, but it’s all in such a different way. That’s one of the things that make you think when there’s a group of people doing something together, but they’re all doing it separately.

Emily Running: (25:43)

Yes. All right. Well, thank you. It’s been really awesome to have you as part of Dance Wire’s ambassador team, and I think it’s really fun to have your perspective as somebody coming into it at a younger age, coming to Dance Wire, giving that perspective, we appreciate it.