Ballet dancer Jim Nowakowski reached the top six and was the top-three stage dancer on this past season of So You Think You Can Dance. Now in its 12th season, the Emmy-winning competition show recently launched a tour and Nowakowski has hit the road as part of the top 10 finalists. Windy City Times talked with Nowakowski about his dance inspiration, winning awards and the anti-discrimination ordinance repeal in Houston.
Windy City Times: You were adopted in South Korea at age 6 1/2 months. When were you told that you had been adopted?
Jim Nowakowski: At no specific time. I was always being told that, as I was growing up, "We're your family because we adopted you." It was always something they would talk about with me so it was always something that I knew.
WCT: Is it true that your sister, who danced, inspired you to get into dance?
JN: I wanted to do everything that she wanted to do and I would copy her and I would do all the routines that she would be doing in the living room. My parents thought that I was quite impressive for a 2-year-oldbeing so active and coordinatedthat they decided to put me in dance classes. At such a young age I couldn't say, "Oh I love this!," but as I got older they would ask me every year, "Do you want to do dance class again?" And I would say "Yes."
WCT: Why did you audition for So You Think You Can Dance?
JN: I was with Houston Ballet for eight years and I wanted something different and I thought, "What better way to enter a world that I think I know." It was one of those things that I always wanted to try but I was too scared to do because you are exposing a lot of yourself. I thought that, at the end of the day, if I were to not try, I would just regret looking back and saying, "I wish I would have tried that show just for fun."
WCT: You have won quite a few awards in your career, such as the Gold Award at the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts as well as the senior men's gold at the Youth American Grand Prix. What do those awards mean to you?
JN: It kind of validates all my hard work. The art world, in general, is subjective and that's a beautiful thing because what is beautiful to mewhat I likeisn't the right way always to somebody else. Having an award like thatno one can take that away from you.
WCT: You have been quoted as saying that coming out as gay "is the best decision I ever made." Why is that?
JN: I work in an environment where it's totally okay and I can be myself, which is very liberating. I get to love who I want and I don't have to apologize for it. As artists, all we want is for viewers to be able to peel back these layers of ourselves and to share with other humanswhat makes us who we are and what makes us special and unique. Some of the greatest artists are the ones who are so honestnot just in what they say, but what they do in their dancing.
WCT: The anti-discrimination ordinance in Houstonwhich turned into a battle over gay and transgender rightswas recently repealed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. As someone who once lived in Houston, how do you feel about those who refer to the ordinance as the "bathroom ordinance" and say that the measure would allow men to claim to be women, to go into women's bathrooms and inflict harm?
JN: That's always a difficult thing because the world can't please the world and there's always going to be some type of conflict. That's the evolution of life and I think, as a worldand especially the art worldwe're learning and we're all being educated slowly and we're being more accepted and accepting of situations. I am very optimistic and I always try to look at both sides so I'm very neutral with the situation. There's never a right or wrong, and it's always one of those "agree to disagree" situations.
WCT: What's the difference between auditioning for Nigel, Paula and Jason on So You Think You Can Dance versus auditioning for a ballet school at the age of 11?
JN: For So You Think You Can Dance, you know what you're signing up for. You know that it's a reality television show and that they're looking for something obviously special, but it's more than just about your dancing. It's about the work or maybe your personality or maybe they already have three Asians. They're trying to make good TV at the end of the day.
If a director of a [ballet] company really likes youwhether or notthey don't have a contract for you or they have enough money for you or they already have two short dancers, if the director really wants you then they will find a way to hire you.
So You Think You Can Dance will be at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., on Friday Nov. 27, at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, visit www.thechicagotheatre.com .