Why the University of Utah’s Jay (Jong-Hoon) Kim Wants His Students to Reach“Conscious Freedom”
August 31, 2023

Jay (Jong-Hoon) Kim wants to help his dancers at The University of Utah find freedom in dance while maintaining physical and emotional safety. Kim began dancing at 10 years old at a studio in Gwangju, South Korea. He then went to a nearby Gwangju arts high school and, when he was 17, began training at a studio in Seoul that specialized in Vaganova training. After graduating with a dance degree from Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea, he moved to the U.S. to attend the Kirov Academy in Washington, DC.

A year and a half later, Kim moved back to Seoul, where he danced with the Universal Ballet Company for 10 years. With the troupe, he performed in 14 countries and 100 North American cities (including in DC, at the Kennedy Center). After wrapping up his contract at Universal, he and his wife, Victoria Stocki-Kim (who was also a dancer there), moved back to the States, where they spent time at the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre before he got his MFA from the University of Utah. He’s been on faculty at the university ever since (15 years in total).

Kim began his teaching career on the side while attending Sejong University, but quickly stopped after deciding he didn’t yet have enough pedagogical knowledge to support his students. “I decided to wait until after my dance career—once I’d have the time to train as a teacher specifically,” he says. While he was dancing with Universal, both the Mariinsky Theater and Vaganova school’s ballet masters offered a truncated version of their four-year teaching-training program to the dancers. “I’m so glad I didn’t really start teaching dancers until I had the knowledge from that program,” he says. In fact, he didn’t really dive into the deep end of educating until he had his master’s degree. “Teachers can hurt dancers if they don’t know how to teach properly,” Kim explains.

When it comes to his teaching philosophy, Kim says his ultimate educational goal is to guide his students to reach for what he calls “conscious freedom.” “I want my students to express their thoughts and feelings through the medium of their bodies. It’s about helping them reach a state of enjoyment onstage while also expressing themselves clearly.”

Here, he shares how he avoids injuring himself while teaching, his go-to teaching attire, his favorite teaching tools, and more.

His injury-prevention plan: “When I teach young children and I have to demonstrate clearly, I must be warmed up. I never miss a day of yoga to maintain my flexibility, and I’m always sure to do some stretches before class. I also go to the gym so that my muscles are strong and I don’t get hurt.”

Go-to teaching attire: “In the Vaganova method you are called a professor, and you elaborate your thoughts with your voice rather than demonstrate. (It is thought that the dancers will simply mimic their instructor rather than truly understand the concepts if they demonstrate too much.) So, when working with advanced students at The University of Utah, I don’t go to the studio looking like a dancer. I wear black Lululemon pants that are flexible for coaching, but still professional. I also wear black Capezio teaching shoes and Under Armour shirts. The outfit looks like regular clothing but still shows my lines.”

Kim performing with principal dancer Ahn Ji-eun from Universal Ballet Company. Photo by UBC, courtesy Kim.

Teaching tools: “I use a foam roller to instruct during pas de deux class. We have to be very careful when it comes to contacting the physical body of a student. If I don’t feel comfortable touching the students to demonstrate correct hand placement, I will use the roller to point.”

Energy-boosting nutrition: “My diet is primarily vegetables and fruit. My favorite snack is coffee and a banana, so I don’t get cramps in my calves while teaching.”

His favorite nondance activities: “I like outdoor activities like camping, canoeing, and collecting survival tools. I also love spending time with my wife, Victoria, and our two daughters, Zoe and Mia.”

His guilty pleasure: “Sugar! Lots of Starbursts and Skittles. Even my students know about my addiction and bring them to class for me.”

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