Wiggles sing, dance their way into little tykes’ hearts
Like many children born “Down Under,” Emma Watkins recalls watching “The Wiggles” as a child.
“I was quite enamored by the Irish dancing and costumes and curly hair. I have curly hair,” Watkins says in a telephone interview.
She’s now one of the Australian foursome — and its first and only female member — making up the children’s music group that records, films and tours.
The Wiggles will bring their “Party Time Tour” to Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater for a 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28 show.
Can you spot Anthony Wiggle in this photo? Loving this throwback form our 2017 Big Show!! We can't wait to see you all this year! Every year the show gets bigger and better! Come & join us at our Party Time Big Show Tour! 🎉
— The Wiggles (@TheWiggles) August 20, 2019
Watkins, 29, who calls Sydney home, is known as the Yellow Wiggle for both the color and the big hair bow she wears.
Sometimes better recognized by their shirt colors than their names, the line-up also includes original Wiggle Anthony Field (blue), Simon Pryce (red) and Lachlan Gillespie (purple).
As a child, Watkins studied ballet, Irish dancing, contemporary, hip hop and tap.
“I’m just a trained dancer,” the bubbly redhead says.
A new path
While attending The McDonald College of Performing Arts secondary school, she was injured during a dance move.
“After that, I was quite devastated. I couldn’t dance,” Watkins says.
Her career path sidelined, she began reading to kindergarten students, sewing costumes and editing film.
“I made a film for my end-of-year final and it won a film festival award. That led to a scholarship to Sydney Film School,” she says.
While studying film, she resumed dancing in movies, including with Bollywood stars. Then she saw an audition flyer for a ballet dancer.
Not knowing it was for The Wiggles, she auditioned, was called back to read a script and instead was offered the part. She was cast as Fairy Larissa in 2010 and also played the characters Wags the Dog, Dorothy the Dinosaur and a Wiggly Dancer.
By 2012, she was Yellow.
Having grown up watching the band, she was familiar with many of the songs and dances.
“A lot of the time, especially for children in Australia, and in America for a while, a child’s first musical experience might be going to a Wiggles concert,” Watkins says.
Some Wiggles songs, like “Hot Potato” and “Big Red Car,” are staples. Classic children’s songs such as “Hokey Pokey,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and “Simon Says” also are part of the band’s repertoire.
Band members all bring their own musical gifts to the table, Watkins says.
“We play all of our music live. They (children) see each instrument being played separately and know what it sounds like,” she says.
Watkins, who has played keyboard, violin, flute and piano, knows how to read music and learned to play the drums for The Wiggles.
“We didn’t want to be karaoke Wiggles,” she says.
Kids are kids
“Anthony (Field) recently said that, over the last three decades (The Wiggles formed in 1991), children are really the same. The thing that changes around them is technology,” she says.
“One key message of The Wiggles is interaction,” Watkins says.
They encourage children through both their recorded and live appearances to get up and sing and dance along.
Children in wheelchairs can move along to the beat, she says. Some parents have told band members that their autistic or non-verbal children respond to the music.
“I never really imagined being a role model. But when I used to watch ‘The Wiggles,’ I looked up to them and watched them as pre-school teachers,” she says.
“We would love everyone to come to the show if they could. It’s really a family show — there is dancing, singing, excitement,” Watkins says.
“We try to go out into the audience as well to see everyone,” she says.
Although The Wiggles’ target age is 3-to-5-year-olds, Watkins says younger and older siblings also enjoy the music and the shows.
“I feel like the target audience has gone to 1-to-8-year-olds. It’s kind of fun for everyone,” she says.
Almost 10 years in, Watkins says recording, filming and touring help keep her job fresh.
“I most enjoy the live experience and having the chance to meet families all over the world. … I love to watch the children during (a performance), and the parents watching them,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .