Jessica Polsky came to the University of Arizona School of Dance to follow her dance dreams of a career on Broadway, but an experience abroad in Italy, caused her to take a 90-degree turn into something new.
Polsky (BFA ’98, Dance; BA ’98 Italian), who has enjoyed a successful career that’s stretched from Broadway to Milan, was honored by the College of Humanities as its 2021 Alumna of the Year. She gave a presentation at the Tucson Humanities Festival on Nov. 5 entitled, “Luci, Telecamera, Azione: An Acting Life from Broadway to Milan,” discussing her journey.
“I was very lucky, at birth, I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a dancer,” Polsky said. “Hands down there was nowhere else that had a dance program to the caliber of the University of Arizona.”
The University of Arizona School of Dance program is unique in that it provides conservatory-like training, at a large public university, allowing students opportunities to pursue more than one interest.
Polsky’s endeavors in the world of entertainment have allowed her to combine her love for Italian and performing arts into a fruitful career in the Italian entertainment industry.
This passion was born at the University of Arizona.
She spent long hours doing what she loved as a dance major, but she wanted to find a way to add balance to her college experience. After freshman year, she knew she wanted to pursue other interests in tandem with dance, the question was, in what?
So, she “did what you did in ‘96, you went to the study abroad office and flipped through brochures.”
She found a brochure about Italy.
“I only knew two things about Italy, really good food, and really cute boys,” Polsky said.
So off to Italy it was for Polsky, she went the fall semester of her sophomore year, and had an incredible experience. In Tuscany, she found a sign that she was on the right track in the form of a rock show. Polsky, an Austin, Texas, native came across a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert in Tuscany. Vaughan, a guitar hero from Austin, Texas, is memorialized with a statue in downtown Austin.
“It was the beginning of what was to come. My worlds were colliding, but I didn’t know it.” There are moments that are so formative in college and going abroad was one of them for Polsky.
Polsky remembers being in Florence and being uncharacteristically quiet.
“I was mute, I didn’t talk, but when I was dancing with the company she could communicate” Polsky said this is because dancers speak a common language, the language of movement. “As artists we are communicators.” While abroad, she was able to dance with a company in Florence as well as continue her academic studies.
When she came back from her semester abroad, she was supposed to just go from Plan A on to Plan B, the New York Chapter. But something had “taken root” in her. She wanted to pursue another degree, in Italian.
“There are moments like that that change you, give you a new understanding of yourself.”
Polsky follows her dance dreams to Italy
She added a new major. Studying Italian, with an emphasis in humanities, gave Polsky more than language skills in Italian.
“Studying humanities removes that ability of one to see others as ‘the other,’” Polsky said. She affirmed that it prevents you from seeing “anyone as anything other than a human.”
“There are people like me, who think they are A to B, but they wind up finding something that makes them take a 90-degree turn and discover something they could have never seen happening.”
“(College) leaves a crumb trail where you can pick things up and discover that you are interested in new things, discovering new things constantly.”
Polsky’s time at the university is glittered with fond memories of both pursuing her passion in dance and learning about herself through her newfound love for Italian. She says that the relationships that were born at the University of Arizona were pivotal in her life and made a large impact on who she has become.
After graduating with a BFA in Dance from the College of Fine Arts and a BA in Italian from the College of Humanities, magna cum laude in both, Polsky pursued her dreams.
She went on to perform on Broadway in big name shows such as West Side Story, Grease, and Sophisticated Ladies. When her career called her to Italy, she answered. Polsky has since become a well-known TV personality, has started as leading roles in theatrical productions, and has taken part in all corners of the entertainment industry.
“It’s crucial that people find their independent fire and passion.” She stressed that everyone has something to bring to the table, that they are passionate about as an individual.
“You need to take your ingredients,” Polsky said, “and make them into your own cake.”