Nikki Swoboda

September 25th, 2020 | 5 Minute Read

If you answered YES, then you’ve probably taken class from Kim Wolfe. To know WCDE contemporary fusion faculty Kim Wolfe, is to love her. Her iconic “Kim-temporary” infuses story development and staccato isolation work with flowing lines and emotional connections. But really it's all her.

“Every teacher that invested in me, every choreographer that I have ever assisted, every dancer that has inspired me, everyone of them helped form me as an artist. Yes I teach dance, but it is so much bigger than dance class. People pass through my life from ballroom to studio. I want them to leave with anything that makes them a better human.”

What you may not know about Kim is she cut her professional teeth assisting choreographers throughout Hollywood, as well as a long-standing mentorship from legendary and still wildly relevant, Marguerite Derricks and convention industry “teacher’s teacher” Jackie Sleight.  We sat down with her to hear her story and find out why she believes her path has always been blessed. 

Best Lessons
Kim has an incredible story for every seemingly simple question. Ask her when she started dance, and you’ll hear about how her single mother found a dance teacher who would teach her and her sister for long as they never quit. “She made my mom promise she would pay her back every penny if she ever took us out of dance. That’s how my career started. That’s why I believe in giving back.”

Ask her about her transition from home studio to professional dancing and she will take you through the time she took the money her grandmother gave her to get a cap and gown to walk at her high school graduation, and instead moved to L.A. with $200 cash in her pocket. “She was okay with it, I promise!” When she got there, she looked up Marguerite Derricks who had said to her while she was in LA on a month-long scholarship, “reach out to me when you come back to LA.”

“Marguerite took me under her wing and I started assisting her classes - this was before she exploded in movies and television. She liked me because I wasn't scared to try anything. I could hit choreography and I would go for it with gusto. From Graham to breakdancing, I was versatile. I wanted to be a great dancer. But it was 1989 then and look at her now. Still the most working choreographer out there. But that’s what she taught me - longevity, hard work, dedication, commitment, persistence - she never held back. She gave me a backbone. People used to say what they thought, what they needed, right to your face. She gave me the most valuable lessons I could have ever paid for. ” 

My Dancing Is My Security
As Kim’s reputation for being an excellent assistant to choreographers across genres grew, she found work steadily on set, in classes, dancing and cleaning. “My memory and brain could do anything - Reliable and dependable. My security has always been in my dancing. Not my looks.“  The lessons she learned continue to remain true for professional dancers today.

Her advice to dancers hoping to assist, include: “Know who you’re assisting. Know their likes, their style. Be hyper-focused on your choreographer - it’s not necessarily about being the best dancer in the room - it’s about being attentive and approachable. Your job is to show your choreographer off as their best. Do your research! Know when to be quiet, when to step back, because expectations change with each artist. Know your person.”

Kim then tells an amazing story about a day of crazy auditions and this incredible dancer blowing everyone away only to have the casting assistant walk in from the hall, slam the dancer’s headshot on the table and tell everyone what a horribly rude human they were. That day, the best dancer did not get the job. Kim smiles that smile and puts her arms out in a shrug and says, “Kindness goes a long way.”

More and More
Soon Kim joined Jackie Sleight on the convention circuit as an assistant and this experience brought a whole new set of lessons.

“STAMINA - Marking was out of the question. You go full out every time. You’re not on time - you’re early. If you’re not ready to be full out the first minute of class for your choreographer, you shouldn’t be there. It shows that you care. Be focused on the job at hand. Don’t show up like you just rolled out of bed! I see that too much in recent years. Be present at all times. Your job is to make that teacher look their best. That’s what’s gonna make them want to hire you back.”

And then in true Kim fashion, she lays down some wisdom bluntly that makes you stop. “If you want a career in this - it’s not about that video you got for instagram, it’s about relationships.”

Next Level
Kim has the unique viewpoint of not only being a long time instructor on the convention circuit, she’s a full-time choreographer at her home studio in Birmingham, Alabama. This crossover of experiences hits differently for her after her years of L.A. dance work.

“One world benefits the other very well. For students I teach on the convention circuit, I remind them, the dance teachers you work with every day know you best. Always keep connected to your homebase. When you’re young - life experience wise - you don’t know much. Stick with the people who have invested in you. Stay grounded. Convention sees you in moments of greatness, it helps you see what you’re aiming for. Your home team sees you in years with all the ups and downs. Communicate your desires. They can help you get places too.”

Getting places has always had a way of surprising Kim. “I have crazy luck.” (Again, if you’ve ever had a conversation with Kim, you know that… who can live in LA without a car and just a bike?)  But she feels deeply connected to her spirituality and sees evidence in her life of God’s presence.

“At some point, I just felt God say, You keep following your passion and I’ll take care of you. It would just come out in different ways.”

She feels that when she’s teaching. “It’s not about being the best - it’s about shining. I put it out there, I pray, I’m shown what I’m supposed to be shown. I’m led to the person that needs me. When I’m off on a tangent, it’s because someone needs it. If my heart’s being pulled somewhere, it’s not me. It’s a higher power.”

While that all sounds lofty and like a stretch, for Kim Wolfe, it’s just how she operates. “It’s so much bigger than dance. My job as a teacher is way beyond teaching - I am that person who cares, no matter if you ever do another dance step or not.”

And does care - every single time.


For more information on this season of West Coast Dance Explosion, check out 

Have you ever taken a class where you leave feeling sweaty and spent from dancing, connected to the universe in a wild way, and also like you’ve just been through a TED talk about how life really works?