It’s Janine Molinari’s boundless energy that keeps her students motivated as they audition and get cast in roles on Broadway and television. Although she is the founder and artistic director of Dance Molinari, to call her a dance teacher is somewhat of an understatement. Before auditions, Molinari, whose former students include Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas, gives the kids advice on what to expect. “I always say, ‘No matter what happens, fake it ‘til you make it. And just smile. Because if you’re having fun, they’re having fun and they’re going to want to work with you.’”
After moving to Manhattan upon graduation from college, she was cast in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” and started giving dance lessons to adults in the show. One Saturday, fate stepped in- literally- when a bunch of Broadway kids came into her room because their teacher was a no-show. “I was a little freaked out thinking how they were going to keep up since it was a relatively advanced tap class…But they were amazing and all the adults were a little intimidated,” she said, laughing.” And then they never left,” she added, with a smile.
How old were you when you started dancing?I started when I was about two-and-a-half. Apparently I jumped out of the stroller as my father was pushing it on Staten Island because we passed a little dance studio where girls were dancing. I ran inside and he had to follow me in. They enrolled me and I was the youngest one in class. I went to a cool dance studio where they also had singing. I sing as well. Part of the whole process is that you have to be able to do everything on Broadway. You have to sing, act and dance. So my dance classes are really loud cause most of these kids are singer/actors who have to learn to dance. And I want them to be vocal because on Broadway you’re dancing and singing at the same time. During tap class, we call things out or we sing along which is really challenging for kids coming in from a studio out in Jersey or Pennsylvania to learn to adapt to that.
Do you see kids’ potential right away?That’s a great question because sometimes I think a certain kid is going to be a superstar and end up not being. I think it’s a little bit of everything- definitely personality, but perseverance is number one from the parent and the kid. And it really has to come from the kid because in the end, kids will rebel if they don’t really want to do it. Ariana Grande had her eye on the prize at a young age and knew what she wanted. One of my first students was Nick Jonas and he was a little tyke in “Annie Get Your Gun” and he came in with a bunch of kids to tap dance. There’s a little light behind their eyes that you kind of know. But it’s such a fickle business. Some of the first kids I taught are now in their 20s and out in LA doing great and some others are struggling trying to get auditions. I try to tell them to become well rounded and find their other great passion.
Since it’s such a hard business, how do you keep the children motivated?I try to make it really fun and not be a strict dance teacher. I really am not that way at all. I want it to be fun and for them to know that they’re doing this because they love it. They might get all the way down to the finals for something and not get it, but there’s always another show. And I always say, “If it stops being fun, you shouldn’t do it anymore.”
Explain the web series you’re working on, “Tap Out of It.”It’s completely fictional. I’m in it. I’m playing Gina Marinara. Some people are not teachers in my company; they’re actors. The director is Anthony Patellis and a lot of our kids are in it. It’s all based on this show coming from Iceland that they’re going to do on Broadway and it’s called “Carmelita.” It parallels what we do- things that happen- we can’t make this stuff up. All the sudden a show is announced and we’re just packed with trying to get kids ready for these shows.
You’re also a choreographer. What a memorable show you’ve choreographed?I did something with Debbie Gibson. Last year, we choreographed a show here in New York called “Totally Tubular Time Machine.” It took place in the 80s and she starred in it. So that was really fun, meeting my teen idol and getting to work with her. That was kind of crazy, going back in time and having to do all the choreography that I haven’t done in years like “Thriller,” Electric Youth and Vanilla Ice.
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