As we wrap up Breast Cancer Awareness month, we want to honor one of our own and someone very dear to our heart. Meet Jacquelyn Sutkowi.
Jacquelyn Sutkowi is the sweet and bubbly girl you see at registration, merchandise and backstage during competition. Prior to coming on board with Hollywood Connection, she was a prestigious dance agent at DDO Artists Agency in Hollywood! In addition to working at Hollywood Connection, Jacquelyn judges dance competitions, as well as teaches and choreographs all over the world. She has a passion for dance and a zest for life that rubs off on everyone she meets. Kids, parents and teachers absolutely adore her! And we think she’s down right super!
In 2013, Jacquelyn was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 years old while on tour with Hollywood Connection. Although the news was devastating, it didn’t stop her from living each day to the fullest, creating a life filled with dance and traveling the world!
The beginning of a life long love affair with dance!
When did you start dancing? I started dancing when I was three in Michigan. We moved to Orange County when I was eight and I started dancing at a local studio. Disneyland was looking for children to perform in the Holiday parades. I went to the audition and I booked it! So at 9 years old, I was a working dancer. After our first performance, I knew that dance and Disney would be a part of my life forever. At 16, I auditioned again and continued to work at Disney for five years until college life got too busy and I started an internship. (more to follow on the later…)
You went to the prestigious Chapman University. What did you study? I majored in Dance Performance (BFA) and minored in Communication Studies.
How did you become a dance agent? During my junior year of college, I injured my knee during a performance (and I had knee problems my whole life) which forced me to re-evaluate my options. I knew I still wanted to be involved with dance, but maybe not physically dancing. Bill Bohl’s dance department at DDO Artists Agency was looking for interns, I applied and got the job. I commuted once a week and loved it. I was working at the agency and auditioning professionally at the same time, so I had a lot of insight and perspective that I could provide to the clients. I dove into learning everything I could about the agency and I realized I loved helping dancers accomplish their dreams. The day after I graduated, DDO offered me a full time position and I moved to Los Angeles. I worked myself up from intern to agent in a few short years. I thought I wanted to be a professional dancer, but my injury guided me down the path of my back up plan, which I came to realize was my true passion! I wanted to be the most helpful agent, guiding dancers in a kind and inspiring way.
What is the best advice you can give to a dancer that is about to embark on a professional dance career? Keep your options open! You may have an image of what your dance career will look like or the jobs you want to do, but life doesn’t always happen the way you think it will, especially in this industry. Be a risk taker, let the ego go. The dancers that have the most success are the ones that keep their options open to every experience, opportunity and take the jobs when they are offered. The best clients are the ones that audition for EVERYTHING. They are the ones creating a career for themselves. The dance world is very small and one simple job could lead to another and another…..
When did you start working for Hollywood Connection? The same week I was offered a position at DDO, HC was looking for someone to help with nationals! I was hired and thrown into the fire so to speak. The following season in 2006, I started traveling with them full time.
What is the best advice you can give to a dancer attending a convention? Be respectful to everyone you meet. The person helping you in the dressing room, the judge at the competition, the sound guy backstage….they may be in a position to hire you someday. Leave a good, lasting impression.
It must have been hard having a full time job with the agency and working every weekend on the convention. You didn’t get a day off for months. What kept you going? I loved being part of the process. Meeting these kids at convention, signing them with the agency, and being part of their journey was everything! It made me so happy to help them and be a small part of their dream to dance professionally. To watch the kids grow up and see their dreams become a reality is very special and to this day, means so much to me.
The news that shocked us all….
Two years ago, at the beginning of the season, you received some shocking news. Please tell us about that. I was in a hot yoga class, I was upside down and adjusting my top and felt a big lump in my breast. It was actually protruding from my body. I totally freaked out and called the doctor immediately. He sent me in for tests and it was confirmed in a few days that I had triple negative breast cancer. I was also positive for the BRCA 1 gene. The next year of my life was turned upside down. It was so shocking to me because I was in the best shape of my life! In a matter of weeks, I had a lumpectomy, started chemotherapy (which lasted about three months), then a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery followed. I was 28 years old.
What kept you going through all of this? During the breast cancer treatment, the support of doctors, family and friends really kept me going. They worked so hard to keep me healthy and pushing me forward with their positivity. In some ways, I wanted to get healthy for them as much as myself. Also, I knew I wasn’t finished with what I needed to do here on this planet. I had so much I wanted to accomplish in my life and that really kept me moving forward as well as always looking towards the future. I still have a lot of lives to change before I am done!!! Being there for the kids, working for Hollywood Connection during my treatment, having everyday tasks to get done like booking travel and making schedules for the convention kept me busy. It made me feel useful and capable. There were difficult days of course, but knowing people were counting on me to get jobs done kept me motivated.
Living life to the fullest!
You just returned from Spain. How is life today? Spain was incredible. Barcelona was such an exciting city and Ibiza was a beautiful island, both were so full of life. Besides the jet lag, I woke up with a smile on my face. I am so thankful to be healthy and have the ability to travel. After such an epic adventure, I am looking forward to seeing my family this week and jumping back in the dance room tomorrow. As simple as it sounds, life is good!
What would you like to say to the readers? Always be self-aware. Do monthly breast exams. If you are worried about something, go see a doctor. I am shocked by how many people ignore signals from their bodies because they think it will go away or they are afraid of what the results might be. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the better. I did everything the doctors told me to do because I wanted to move forward and get on with my life. And today, I am healthy!
Also, a smile goes a long way. There is so much power in a smile, it can be contagious. A smile could brighten my day and it could brighten someone else’s. So I SMILE a lot and I encourage everyone to do the same!!!!
Your courage and grace inspire us!
Thank you Jacquelyn. You have given us so much by sharing your story. We are thrilled she will be in every city on the Hollywood Connection tour this year. She is such an inspiration to us, not only because she is a survivor, but also because she teaches us to live every day to the fullest. We wouldn’t want to do this without her, and we LOVE her smile too!!!
Breast Cancer Organizations
Jacquelyn is very fond of these websites! Always do your research when choosing organizations to support. Make sure their mission statement is clear and for a great cause!