Ep. #37 Marveling with Marguerite Derricks

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #37 Marveling with Marguerite Derricks
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Even if you tried, you could not duplicate the career of Marguerite Derricks, but with this peek into her thought process, you’ll want to try things you’ve only ever dreamed of…and you may walk away with a new definition of success.

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Marguerite Derricks: https://www.instagram.com/margueritederricks/

Marguerite on the set of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIP1IsfjWv4

CLI: https://www.clistudios.com/

KC Monnie: https://www.instagram.com/kcmonnie/

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.

Dana: Hello, my friend. And welcome to the podcast. I am so excited that you are here and I am so excited about this episode. I really cannot emphasize enough. This is a gem. Get ready to be inspired. Um, before I get into this interview with the fabulous Marguerite Derricks, I will start this episode as I always start, but this one comes with a warning. I always begin with wins because I think it’s very important to celebrate. What’s going well in your world.  

I want to be very clear. This week’s win is not a copout. This is really truly my win. And when I say this, I mean this episode and this day, this day is my win this week, because in the course of this, you know, this the last 24 hours, I have experienced actual pain and embarrassment. Um, I started my day by falling. You guys, literally hands and knees on the concrete fall. I fell down on the ground. Um, and that doesn’t happen very often because you know, dancer coordinated, but I really ate it today. I hit the deck. There was a guy with a leaf blower who actually like ran over and tried to help me up. But social distancing it’s okay. I got up on my own and I didn’t even spill my coffee because I know what’s important and what should be protected.  But I, you know, I don’t know if you can recall the last time you actually fell, but there’s this flush of heat in your body. I started sweating it. I was really checked in like, Whoa, what a Swift warmup. I don’t think it’s possible to actually get that warm any other way than a real true, honest fall. So I ate it. I felt embarrassed. I felt pain. Um, I felt low literally and emotionally. And then I experienced some extreme technical difficulties in the moments leading up to this interview with Marguerite that I had really prepped for and was planning in my head, the way that it would go down. Of course, nowhere in my plan was zoom difficulties. I really thought I’d had that figured out, but alas, I fell. I had the technical difficulties and then I had this conversation with Marguerite. Tremendously inspiring and informative, and wow, just took me on a ride. So today’s my win. Because today I experienced the full realm of human emotion. Well, maybe not full, but a wide spectrum. And that just feels so great. So that is my win today. What is yours? What’s going well in your world.  

All right, let’s do this today. Marguerite and I talk about gratitude. We talk about readiness. We talk about climbing and when it’s time to jump and we talk about setting the bar high. Marguerite is much more than a choreographer. True fact. She actually carries the title producer of dance. She is a teacher. She is a leader and she is an example of what is possible. She brings the marvelous to all that she does, and she’s been doing it for a long, long time. So please enjoy this conversation with the marvelous Marguerite Derricks.  

Dana: Alright. Yes. Marguerite Derricks. Thank you so much for being here today. I’m thrilled to have you. I’m so thrilled to get to talk to you. Oh my goodness. 

Marguerite: Thank you. I’m really happy to be here. All right.

It is par for the course on my podcasts that my guests introduce themselves. So have that. What would you like us to know about you? 

Oh my gosh. Well, my name’s Marguerite Derricks and I’m a choreographer sometimes producer aspiring director, um, at one three Emmy’s um, currently, well, I was currently working on season four of the Marvelous Mrs Maisel season four of GLOW before we hit this lovely pandemic. Um, but I work in TV and film and commercials and videos and Broadway and Vegas. So I get to do it all and I love doing it all. So I guess that’s it. 

That was a gorgeous introduction. Um, and I love the way that you have framed our pandemic as lovely. I think there are a lot of hidden gems in this moment in time. Um, I understand the magnitude. I understand that it is awful in so many ways, but I also do see tremendous opportunity in this moment 

When I say lovely, um, you know,  I try to find lovely every day, I guess, you know, um, it is horrific cause a lot of people are suffering. Um, and you know, so I, you know, I feel there’s so much going on right now. That’s so heavy. Um, but I do every single day, I wake up with counting my blessings and finding gratitude in the day and in my life. And, you know, trying to find a lovely, I guess for sure. 

I love that. Um, I did a little listen to the podcast that you did with Tony Selznick, um, the Hollywood dance project you mentioned in that episode, starting your day with gratitude. What does that look like for you? Is it a mantra a meditation, a journaling moment? What’s the process there? 

I wake up every day and I start, I just, I give thanks for, I just start counting my blessings, remember, my dear friend, Doug, Doug Caldwell always ended everything with counter blessings. And so I, I wake up and I start to pray out loud and just think to give thanks for everything that I’m blessed with. And then I go and I press go on the coffee machine and I come back and I say, my prayers, I literally get on my knees. And I say my prayers and I put it my intentions into the universe. And then I there’s, um, I open up my, my phone and there’s, uh, two books or like they’re daily inspirational books that I’ve been reading the same two books over and over for about 10 years. They’re both from Joel Olsteen and they’re, you know, just one is a daily, you know, their daily blessings, but there’s something interesting about it. It comes from, “Your best life now”, um, which was a book that my friend Tyce Dirorio gave me years ago when I was going through a really difficult time.  So these are like scriptures and little verses from your, uh, your best life now. And it’s so interesting. I literally, as soon as I finished the book, I started again, but it’s very interesting on the days that I read something I’ve read before that all of a sudden has so much meaning on a specific day for me. So I, that’s how I start every single day. If I have to go to work at 5:00 AM I get up early so that I can do those things. And I, I don’t ever miss a day. And that’s how I, I kickstart my days is with gratitude and prayer and, you know, intentions, manifestation. Yeah

That’s super powerful. And I’m sensing a little bit of an overlap. I did read a long time ago, Twyla Tharp’s the creative habit. She mentioned being a creature of habit and a person who religiously does certain things that put her in this space where she’s able to create freely and create freely, but also create on demand that creative muscle is exactly that. So I think, I think perhaps gratitude also is a muscle. The more you practice it, the more accessible that is for you.

For sure. Absolutely. And I’m, I am definitely a creature of habit. I do things the same way. Always like sometimes change is almost jarring to me. Um, so there is something I think for me, that’s empowering about that.  

 I’m so curious. What are the things, what are the, the habits? The alwayses

Well, just, just how I start my morning. Like it’s, it’s you could almost, you know, it’s almost like Groundhog Day. You saw me wake up every day. You would go, Oh, you could say, okay, now she’s got a, you would know what to, what exactly what it is that I do. It’s a ritual 

Opening sequence of all that jazz. 

Exactly. It’s a, it’s a, it’s my spiritual ritual that starts my day. And then, you know, the, the, you know, I create, I have a, a certain way that I create, like, I like to start, like there’s an ABC and D to how I do each job. Um, yeah, I’m just kind of a creature of habit. I find things at work and I get very comfortable with that.  

Well, the things that you have found that work work very well because you’re at work is some of my favorite, some of the most memorable dance on screen that I have ever seen. And this is not to discount the live shows as well because La Reve is one of my favorite shows in Vegas, but my husband is not a dancer. He is an engineer, he’s an optical specialist in lenses, cameras, camera displays, arrays, all sorts of technical things. When we met, he didn’t know who Justin Bieber was, who I was working for at the time, very far removed from the entertainment industry. And when he asked who I was talking to today, I was like, if you have seen movies, like more than one that have dance, chances are Marguerite choreographed that movie, or one of those movies and the breadth of your work. And in addition to the different, you know, the amount of work itself is incredible. You’ve been working as a choreographer for 35 years and not just in commercials and not just in music videos and not just in live shows, but I call it a diversified portfolio, which is one of your keys to longevity. And we’ll talk about that in a second, but, um, I think the most memorable dance that I’ve seen on camera is likely yours. So I wonder what is the most important thing while you’re making and do you seek to make something memorable or, or are you seeking to make it something else. 

You know, I, I never, I never approach a project with that in mind. I never think about it being memorable or it like ha like escalating to a certain place. I try to, I just try to find something magical about everything that I do. Um, and I, I really, you know, serve whatever the project is. Right. And I work really hard. I do a lot of research. I try not to repeat myself, although I’m sure I have many, many times. Um, but I never really think like, Oh, this is going to be, you know, memorable, or this is going to, people are going to talk about this for years and years to come. And it is, it’s always surprising to me some of the things that are, and some of the things you think are going to be super successful, they’re not. And then the thing that you think is just this little thing that you did is it’s just like, it’s, it’s huge. Like when I did that gap commercial, that GAP, Gogo commercial, I became a, like an overnight celebrity and literally it, it opened up more doors for me. Then my three Emmys did, that GAP commercial, a 60 second commercial, a little spot. I did big movies with big stars that I thought were going to be very successful. And then along came this little indie film, Little Miss Sunshine. It became this thing, you know, so I now, like I’ve learned early on, cause I, I got really hammered, you know, not just me, not me, but me because I was a part of it. I felt very hammered early on when I did Show Girls and Striptease, I felt, I felt the pain of even though Showgirls then turned around to become a whole different thing. Um, but when they came out, like I, early on, I learned, you know, all you can do is your best, and then it’s not in your hands anymore. You know? And after, after Striptease and Showgirls or Showgirls and Striptease then came Austin Powers and that was so, so hugely successful. Um, and I didn’t know, like the first Austin Powers was an indie film. I think I got paid a nickel and a dime for the first one, you know? And, um, but you know, so I learned early on and I’m so grateful for that, not to expect anything, um, to do my best and to have a good time doing it, to really try to like, enjoy the process, which I’m learning more as I get older to really kind of like take it all in and breathe it and just go like, Oh my God, like, this is so amazing. Like, I, I think when I first started, I like, you know, it kinda, I got on a roll pretty like once it started, it started, I was doing always like three, three or four movies at a time. So it was hard for me to go look what I’m doing, look who I work, you know, like it was just, I was just hustling and getting it done. So I’m in a different space now where I breathe it in and I, I kind of like try to like go, Oh my God, look what I get to still do, you know? But yeah, 

The, the first thing that I’m relating that to in my mind is my wedding day when everybody’s like, breathe it in, just take a moment and pause and just breathe it in. It is such a big, exciting day and a big, exciting moment. And I think if I were to practice that type of excitement, as often as you are practicing the exciting role of being, living your dreams or the exciting role of being first in command of this massive dance number on this massive project, then yeah. You would probably get more practiced at that moment.  

It’s just a part of the gratitude, right? It’s like, you know, really just, just because it all, everything goes by so fast, like your wedding day, it probably felt like a second to you, you know? Um, so life goes by really fast and you know, the more we can slow it down. And I think maybe that’s one of the lovely things that we can come out of this time with this, because we are all slowed down to almost a stop right now. And, you know, I, I hope that, um, when we go back to the life that we know, however, that’s going to look that I hold onto some of this, of this kind of like being in the stillness and you know, like I lived in my home for 20 years. I have enjoyed my backyard. I never went out in my backyard before I have friends. Like people come over and say “such a beautiful backyard.” I’m like, yeah, it is. I, I never really came out here before, you know, so just enjoy the simple things and, you know, to just take it all in. And I think that I know, Oh, I I’m always the first one rush. Like when, like the minute I’m done with work, I rush off the set. I don’t think I’ll be rushing off anymore after this. I think I’ll stick around and, you know, just like take it all in. Even when my work is done and just watch everybody. And I don’t think I’ll be rushing out anymore. I know that’s something that’s going to change on this when I go back.  

Oh, that is a beautiful sentiment. I love that thought  

My dancers are not going— like dancers are not going to believe it. Cause they know. I, I always say like, well, we’re getting ready to do the last shot. Okay. I’m going to say goodbye now because it won’t be that anymore. I think I’ll slow it down. And you know, like, like maybe do at the end of the day, how do I start? The beginning of my day is slowly leave and count the blessings and the gratitude as I’m ending the day.  

Oh, I love that. Taking stock on the, on the, in and out. Um, uh, my several years of life on tour with pop stars, we, we call it a quick out, after the show, you don’t even have time to shower. Well, I still consider the baby wipe head to toe a shower, but I’ve embraced that. I brought that into my social life. Occasionally like guys, I’m doing a quick out tonight, I’ll see you later. And there is something effective there, like efficient, trust me, I can talk a podcast is exactly where I should be living. I could talk forever goodbyes. A quick round of goodbyes can take an hour and a half. So I do see the value of a quick out, but I really like the idea of taking stock in and taking stock out. Um, so this, this thought of being grateful in this thought of taking pause and taking a moment to witness yourself doing the things, um, that’s powerful to me. I really I’m right now, 34 years old transitioning from being primarily a performer to primarily not a performer. I am many things. Podcast hosts, choreographer, movement coach, um, movement director on several projects, which I love that role by the way. But I really right now am interested in the power of our thoughts and how those guide our actions. So on, on your podcast with Tony Selznick, you talked about a lot of the actions that keep you in this position of continuing doing a thing and continuing to love it. You talked about a lot of the things that you do that have perpetuated a career of longevity. For example, being really diverse in the type of work you do. Commercials, TV shows, award shows, um, Vegas, movies, all the things you talk about being prepared and being a champion of having all the options. You talk about understanding money and understanding how productions are looking to dance team leader, as a guide for how much time things need, how much money they require, how many dancers does that actually take if we want this and how do we, this you’re the person with those answers.  Um, and this is so great. I love the actions I love like, Oh, just listening to the way you talk about your team and how you utilize time. And, and people is very inspiring, but I would love to know some of the thoughts that keep you in your, in your ongoing love of dance. And is it always been love? Is it, has there ever been love, hate moments of, of this thing in 35 years?  

Nope. Never, never hate. I think I’ve always loved what I do and I still, I still do. I know there’s a lot of people that, um, they want to go to a different level. So they, they, there becomes this negative thing about the thing that they love.  

Mm. The level that they’ve been. Yeah.  

Yeah. So like, you know, wanting to go here, they hate where they are and I don’t, I still love what I do. I still love, I love being with dancers. I love creating movement. Um, I love what I do. I do want to do other things, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop loving what I do and going, well, I’m not going to do that anymore. I did that when I was a dancer, I stopped dancing to be a choreographer. I felt at the time that I started doing choreography, that there weren’t, it was way different than it is now. There, there, there were only that the top dogs there, weren’t a lot of young choreographers coming in. That wasn’t a thing. So now it’s a thing it’s like, you know, they’re there, there’s a more openness to young choreographers, you know, now than what there was then.  So I felt like I had to stop dancing and just go into choreography to be taken seriously. And, um, Debbie Allen has never forgiven me for stop dancing. She’s always tells me, you know, we got to get you to dancing. I’m like, Debbie, if it’s in a rolling chair, sure. I’ll do it. But I honestly, I’ve never regretted it. Um, I loved dancing, but I, I think that I, I do know that I was meant to do what I’m doing now. I was doing it as a young girl. I just didn’t realize what I was doing. I didn’t, I didn’t know that I was choreographing, but I was creating dance. So I never thought, Oh, I want to be a choreographer that just happened. But when it happened, I went, Oh yeah, this is what I’m here for. This is why I’m here. Like, it just fits so well.  

Oh, that’s a power thought. This is why I’m here. This is why I’m here. 

Yeah. So that, that I knew that right on. And, um, it makes sense the way I’ve been guided through, you know, through magical moments by the universe, you know, big disappointments that led me to, Oh, pushed me onto the track that I was supposed to be on. I always tell people, you know, have a focus in a dream, but be ready to really open it up because, you know, you may think you’re going down this road, but this road over here might be so much grander that you just didn’t even see it. So, um, you know, by just, I think by just, just keep moving and keep doing your thing and being open to a shift, there’s been a lot of shifts in my life. There’s been things that I’ve thought, Oh, that is going to be it, that’s going to change my, no, it wasn’t that it’s always the surprising things. So I try not to attach myself to anything anymore. Like I don’t, Oh, this is going to be huge hit. Is it, you know, you never know, Hey, I did so much TV. I think Maisel and GLOW.  

are The first TV shows that I’ve worked on that have gone beyond one season. 

Really?

There  have been so many TV shows like bunheads and shows that I love so much. They were the first. And now they’re both in season four. I just remember thinking, hearing of like, you know, shows that would go on for three or four seasons going, Oh my God, that would be amazing. Cause I really love doing television. And I love being on a TV series where you really, you know, you get in there and you, you know, the characters, you know, you get to know, you know, the voice of the show and like with Maisel and GLOW, I know the voice of the show, I am part of that voice. And I, I just remember always like, Oh, that would be so cool. You know, to have a TV show that goes longer than a season. And you know, I’m feeling that now. And you know, I never knew it would be Masiel and GLOW You just don’t know what it’s going to be. Right.  

Follow the lead. Um, I heard a BTS interview or video that you did on the set of Maisel and you, you mentioned that the first step in that process for you and there all the processes will be different, but on Maisel your first step is always to talk to Amy, the director and Dan the producer. So my question is what, what will your first step be when you are the director or when you are the producer, what’s the, what’s the first step then when you’re just, when you are driving.  

When I’m when I’m directing, I will have a really good long talk with myself before I get to set.  

So the same, the same first step, different audience.  

So my first step will be, you know, um, having that, you know, I’m a team player and I really do believe it takes it. It, you know, it takes a village, right. To create greatness, and it would be, um, surrounding myself by, you know, some great, great, great talent. And I think it would be, I would then be an Amy and Dan’s position where I would be talking to my people and getting them on board with my vision. Um, so that would be the first step. I would just be sitting in a different seat  

Or sitting with a mirror. I love this. So on the subject of teams and the importance of like having a really solid team, you have a rep reputation for using A plus plus talent and for running a tight ship, if you are not A plus, plus you can’t hang. And I respect that. I think that is brilliant. And I am not the same. That’s not to say that my team isn’t A plus plus, but I’m so interested in error in humanness, in, uh, the mess ups in being exposed um, my taste in art is very rarely the modern, sleek, pristine, clean, minimal. It’s the thing that has like, you know, epoxy dripping out of the side, or like a smudge over here. And it looks, it looks homemade or manmade. Um, I know because I know a lot of the people that work with you a lot, your work is polished, pristine, exquisite, but your process, your working with you is human and, and open and accepting, and kind of like this, this homemade feeling, this, we are a team we’re doing this together. I am wondering personally, professionally, how you navigate that balance for yourself, the maintaining of this ridiculously high standard simultaneously nurturing the team, being a teacher, a lot of like your, your you’re training, your dancers and your assistants. You’re, you’re teaching simultaneously as you’re creating.  

Absolutely well, that’s, that’s the thing. It’s that? I I’m number one. I am a teacher and I love teaching and I, I keep that going at all times, no matter how busy I am. Like when I’m in New York shooting, Maisel on my days off, I’m at Broadway Dance Center, teaching class, I’m a teacher. I love teaching. Um, I think it probably is the most joyful thing that I do. And I think that I am a great teacher. I know that that’s where my, I really have greatness. Um, and so that’s where I find my team. All of my assistants start in class, you know, they start in class and a lot of the dancers I hire, I’d meet them in class and it’s in class where it’s, it’s a more loving, nurturing space, it to see how I work and really get to feel the way I want my, the movement to be, you know?  And, um, they get to know me and I get to know them. That is always the beginning for all of my, all of my assistants. My assistants are, I mean, A plus plus plus plus plus plus plus like they are, and they’re insane and they’re wonderful. And, um, they’ve been doing this, there’s this thing that I’ve just really started to recognize and acknowledge. I’ve always recognized it, but I’m really speaking on it. Now, my assistance train, the new assistants that come in and they’ve been doing it since the beginning of time, you know, Michelle Elkin, she trained Jen Hamilton and Shea Spencer. They trained, you know, they, they just pass, they pass it along and they, they, they send, cause they know all my choreography that I do starts in class. Everything that is on film that I’ve done was in a routine that I did in class.  Le Reve is a routine I did in class. A lot of those, I created 15, 20 years ago when I was teaching so much and I had this teen company at Tremaine. And, um, so they, they have old videos that they send each other so that they know my background and the stuff I did because they know, Oh, I’ll go wait. There was something I did in Sarah Smile that would be great here. And then boom, we start doing the old routine and you know, then we start to flip it and change it and use it. So, um, then coming to class and knowing like this summer, I’ve taught nine classes at CLI and for the first time, in a long time, I had the time to go in and create new choreography for class. And I’m so excited to take all this new choreography that I have now, this ball of choreography.  I can’t wait to put it on film. 

That’s awesome. 

That’s all I, you know, I’ve had the time to really go in and, Oh, it’s just, that’s been probably the most joyful time of, of the pandemic for me is getting into the studio with my assistants and creating new class choreography. Cause I know it’s gonna go on film. I know it’s going to go on stage. Um, and yeah, so it all, it all starts for me in the classroom and I’m teaching and learning. I learned from everybody that I teach. So it all starts there and it’s, it’s such a more relaxed atmosphere that auditions and you know, really a place for us to all really get to know each other. Yeah.  

Oh, that’s awesome. And I cannot wait to see, I did drop in on a couple of your CLI classes that looked like so much fun and I can’t wait to see those sweet moves manifest on some silver screen or some cell phone screen somewhere. Um, okay. So from, as you take from your classwork, put it out there in your, whatever. I mean, they’re both professional work, so it’s weird to say classwork versus industry or, um,  

It’s definitely.. people view it differently, but yeah. Yep.  

If I were to cross section your early class material say 30 years ago or 20 years ago, and something from this –  from this past summer, what do you think would be the biggest difference between these, these two moments in your creative vocabulary, your movement vocabulary, or maybe the easier question if we want to segue with an easier question is what’s the same? What is your work? Always  

Technical and strong. Yeah. Yeah. Technical and strong, um, lines, clean lines, you know, um, and you know, really heightened and pushing, but making it look easy and effortless. You know, I like, I look, I, especially when I was doing CLI my assistant Lonnie and Bobby, like wholly, they were sweating, they were working their butts off. It was not easy, what they were doing.  

They are so capable. They are so good.  

They did it, it looks so easy, but I know how hard it is. I think the best thing that ever happened to me is when I, um, busted up my knee early on in my career in my early thirties, I blew my knee out. I had major knee surgery and I had to learn to choreograph without using my body for a while. And then I stopped using my body and I just saw, saw things in my head. So I like, I’m like, can we do five turns? Like I never could do five turns, but I can choreograph five turns. Do you know what I’m saying? So I took it off of what I could physically do into what these two young. So I think that’s, what’s different. The ability of the dancer as they’re, as they’re getting higher and higher, I’m able to do higher and higher  

Well said. And Holy smokes. Yes, I am constantly, I’m shocked. I mean, a triple pirouette at when I was a junior coming up in competition was like, wow. And now holy smokes. Like it’s, it’s unreal. The things that these young dancers are capable of. And so cool.  Mmm,  Where do I want to go next? I could, I could tell a story. This is a fun one. So because the dance world is small. I know a lot of people that have worked with you very closely, KC Monnie is a good friend.  

I love him so much. 

I Love KC Monnie so much. And, uh, so we were having a chit chat as I was preparing for this. And he was like, you know, Marguerite gave me my first job. Right. And I was like, no, I had no idea. Well, you’ve been that for many people, which is actually contrary to what most people say about, which is you only hire people that, you know. Nobody would have their first job with you. If you only hired people that you knew. So I think that’s very cool. Number one, number two, KC mentioned that when he walked on set, I’m gonna abandoned my family friendly language just for a second. Cause I have to quote him specifically, I’ll bleep this out. But KC said, “I was scared as ** ***” I was like, I bet you were.  You know, we talked a little bit about what that project was for him. And then he said at the end of it, I felt truly loved and supported. And in that moment I knew that it is not just your work that I admire, but the way that you work, that I admire. And I think that probably speaks to the longevity as well. If you’re able to create a space like that and you’re able to come with all the rest of the, the technical preparedness, the, the knowledge, not just what it takes to do something great, but the knowledge that you yourself are great, but you’re sharing that greatness with your team. I’m just like, Ooh, that is a sweet spot for me. Um, so I’m wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about what your dancers mean to you and how they get from, I guess you mentioned class as an entry point in a big way, but you do hold auditions occasionally. What is it that you look for in your dancers?  

Well, you know, once again, like I love well-trained dancers. I love strong technical dancers, even if, you know, like just really, I love well-trained dancers. I just, I just do, um, and KC is all of that. Um, and I like people that are respectful of, of, you know, that there’s sometimes, you know, you have an audition, I’ve know dancers that will go to an audition and they show you one thing and then they walk into rehearsal and you’re like, I’m like, who is that? You know what I mean? So I want whoever I, whoever auditioned for me, that’s the person I expect to come to my rehearsal. Um, I always on time, I’ve always early looking at the clock. The minute it hits, I start I’m so efficient with time. I don’t like to waste time. Um, so I, I want really wonderful dancers that, you know, have a great work ethic and I love to have fun, but I like to get the work done.  I’m super intense day one. Cause I like, I want to please Amy, like if I’m, if I’m doing something for Maisel, I want to get it done, film it, send it to her, get her okay. Or get her notes. So it’s day one is like that. And then we glide, then we have fun. We have breaks, you know, we get to know each other, but day one is like really important to me. Um, so any dance, any dancer that has worked with me knows that about me. They know I come in prepared. It’s always usually choreographed. So they’re not standing around while I’m trying to figure out 8s and very efficient that way. So I like, I like to dancers that come ready to get it done. Cause then they might be done in an hour. They’re getting paid on a side contract for 12 an hour. You know what I mean? And then we can have lunch together, whatever. Like I just like to get the work done because I, you know, there’s people that I want to show it to and, you know, get approval by it. All of that. Um, you know, I was different when I was younger. When I, when I first started to choreograph, I was, uh, a hard-ass I was young. I was, uh, hiring my peers. So there was I, there was a wall that I put up. I was known. I used to wear dark glasses all the time, even though they were prescription, like I always had this wall up. I don’t have a wall up anymore, but I think there’s something lovely about my urban legend because people dancers come in and they know they gotta get it done for me. Like, yes, I am a sweetheart. And I do love you. I love dancers. I love them. And I would do anything for them, but I expect everything from them. And so knowing that like Amy, Amy, we do, we’ve been doing a lot of interviews, uh, you know, lately. And she talks about me as like this little blonde sargent girl, you know, like, you know, like there’s nobody, you know, like, you know, she gets it done. Like I like, I’m not mean I don’t have to be, but people, but people respect me so much and they know if it’s not good, I’m gonna let you know. And I’m not going to be happy with that. I don’t need to scream. And like, and humiliate, I’m not that kind of person, but I expect greatness because I bring greatness, but we can have fun and I can be loving, wrapped all around that. And anybody that’s worked with me more than once knows that about me, my dancers they’re like my army. They protect me. I remember I was doing the Emmys one year and I had Brandon Henschel and I can’t, I remember what there were a couple of my guys, I was, I was dealing with Conan O’Brien and he was nervous. They were like, they were standing at the door to make sure like that. I don’t know. Like I just remember seeing them stand there to make sure I was okay. I don’t know

Your angels 

Angels. So dancers know how much I respect them. They know how much I really do love and care about them. And yes, if I love working with you, you’re going to get a call. I’m going to give you jobs. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to hire somebody new. But if you are in my circle and you’ve been an angel to me, why would I not hire you again?  Like KC Monnie you know? And sometimes I’ll say, guys, you might come into the audition. You’re going to get the job. But, but there’s always room for new people. But you know, if people are mad at that, I’m sorry. Like they’re like Amy Sherman Palladino has hired me for bun heads, Gilmore girls and now the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and we have a relationship and she knows that I know how to get it done. She says one word to me. It’s like, uh, like having to say, talk to somebody for 10 minutes, why would she want to go there? She’s got this person that’s in her brain that knows. So that’s how I am with dancers. Always room for new, especially with Maisel because I’m in New York and I’m starting to get to know all the New York dancers, which is great. And I got some angels there now. I have so it’s just, um, there’s, that should be for me, any dancer should want to be somebody’s angel because that’s a relationship. And then you can count on my people that have worked with me. I’m sure when they hear I have a job, they probably perk up because there’s a very good chance. If they’ve worked with me before that, I’m going to try to get them the job because we’ve had a great relationship and I know what they’re going to do on set. I know what they’re, how they’re going to be in rehearsal. Um, that’s a beautiful thing. And you know, if you, if you have a good experience and you do a good job, you deserve that. You just, and not every job, I can’t like guarantee them every job. Cause sometimes it’s a typecasting thing. But if I can, I do, if there’s something wrong with that, then I’m just going to be wrong. 

That me tearing up Marguerite, you’re dropping the, the, um, uh, what are they called? Dramatic pause.. soundbites. Good Lord. That was tough 

Right now. The word. And.. is sometimes I can’t find it. 

I’m searching. I’m searching. Um, it’s funny. I do the same thing in podcasts as I do in the room when I’m creating, I search with my eyes up here. Like that’s apparently where I look for them. 

I always look off to somewhere. Yeah, yeah. 

Like it’s there. Yeah. That’s funny. Um, I really love what you just said about expectations and respect. High expectations equals high levels of respect. And I really love the idea and I’m faced with this. So often, almost every time I positioned myself with, well, it’s either this or that in this, in this case. Well, you’re either a softy lover friend of all dancers who doesn’t, you know, run a tight ship or you’re the drill Sergeant that you mentioned, and you are reminding me as I get reminded all of the time that it is not an either or conversation you can have and be both.  

Yeah, absolutely. 100%. 

That’s so refreshing and inspiring to hear. And to see that example, 

When we walk in the room, we all know that we have a job to do so all of those dancers that know me, that I’ve worked with before that I’m very, like, I call, I’ve been calling KC every couple of weeks just to check up on him through this time. I’ve been calling a list of my dancers just to check up on them cause I care about them. But when we go, when we walk in that room, we are all there to work. And like, you know, KC and those people that are close to me, they got their eyes on me. Even if I’m working with a different grouping, KC is focused. Like what can I help her? Like they all become my assistants. They all be. They all, I get that from them. They’re there. So they, they, they care for me and they take care of me. And I, I do the same for them. It’s it’s a mutual respect. 

Yes. And this idea that when you do well, they do well. And when they do well, you do well. I do not understand how you could be disrespectful or use demeaning language in a rehearsal process. Although I have been in there as it happens and I’ve heard terrible stories and I just don’t understand how that has a place still  

Look it. Nobody deserves that. I think that, you know, um, we have a choice whether we put up with that or not. And I understand sometimes you need the job, so whatever, but I, I, I don’t, I don’t think anybody deserves that. And I would hope that they could just flip it off and walk out the room because it’s nobody’s deserves that. 

Well, Hey, with more examples like you, then I would say that the time is running out on that end of the, on the spectrum. Um, okay. I have one more theme that I would love to talk about. Although I think people are getting way more than their time dollars worth in this conversation. So I want to talk about readiness because you’ve done a lot and you’ve done it in some kind of unusual ways. You did act as an assistant for a short time, but you didn’t necessarily, you know, like find the artist that it worked with and just stuck that out or like find me a person that you assist well and just assist them forever or come up through a really successful company, you know, from the core to the principal, to the, you know, those traditional ways of getting places. I don’t think were your ways of getting places. So I’m wondering how you navigate the moment or how you make the decision between when it’s time to fall in line and climb the ladder. And when it’s time to just jump and try something you’ve never done before.  

Hmm. I don’t know the answer to that. Actually. I think that I’ve been, I I’ve been climbing the ladder by whole career, but it’s been a steady climb. I always like, yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know.  

Well, we can, we can find out together we can be a buddy system because I’ve always got my finger on the pulse of like when to jump and when to climb.  

I mean, right now during this time, my son and I have are creating some projects together. It’s cool. Yeah. I was supposed to direct a movie last year that he came in and was helping me. We were like really flipping the script upside down and, and we worked so well together and the project fell apart and we looked at each other and we’re like, well, let’s just come up with our own. So we have a couple projects right now that we’re developing and I think I’m ready to jump, but you know, um, yeah. So I guess I’m ready to jump, but I’m still, I don’t know that a lot, I guess I’m, I guess I’m, I’m I’m as I’m climbing, if this, when this thing goes, I’m ready to jump so  

Well, there, it goes to the saying, one of my favorites. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. So if the entire time you’re climbing, you’re ready for the ladder to be gone.  

Cause I used to, I there’s something that I said that somebody thought was genius. I don’t know the thought behind it, I think is important right now. The difference right now with all of the young choreographers that are working, it’s different now they’re not climbing a ladder. And so I fear that they’re jumping and they may fall off the other side because there’s something about climbing like that, you know, building, working your way up, just that the wealth of knowledge and this, the situations that you have to make you get through, like, as you keep going up, you’re ready for the next level because you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re taking it step by step. I fear sometimes some people that get there too quick, they don’t stick around for 35 years. Tell me how many choreographers are still at the top of their game. After 35 years, there are some, but there’s not a lot of them. So that’s what I would rather do the climb, the climb has been a blast and a good time, man. Like I, I have loved everything that I’ve done, you know? Um, it’s a blast. So  

Like a beautiful hike and less like a, like a cargo net. That’s terrifying.  

It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s really beautiful. So I think there’s something wonderful about that. But if you do have a desire now what you did now, I jumped here was my big job, 23 year old Marguerite and the back of the addition, like a lion back and forth. Should I audition? I don’t know. Should I addition? I don’t know. I was starting to work. I wanted to become a choreographer. I was a couple of jobs as a choreographer and I would still go to the auditions and I, cause I was on the fence and then I finally just took the leap and that was, that was my big leap. I haven’t, since then I’ve been climbing the ladder, you know, I found what, like what my real purpose was and it’s just been a joyful like journey for me. So that was my big leap was when, early on, like I was a really good dancer, but I was ready for something else.  

Uh, and, and willing for whatever pain might come along with falling. 

That’s right. 

That’s something I’m working to practice in my, um, in my daily practice, I call them downloads. Um, I suppose you could call it a meditation or like a, a free writing exercise, just like a check in with myself, really focusing on my willingness to feel all the fields. And this is a perfect moment to be doing right face to face with a lot of discomfort and uncertainty and, and, and, and um, and so I’m really learning the value of simply being willing to experience a fail or a humiliation or, uh, um, a missing of the mark, like so down, what is the worst thing that can happen to me in that case? The worst thing is that I feel a bad feeling though, we’re saying, is that, yeah, that’s it like, even if you told me that the worst thing is like, well, you lose your friends still.  It’s just a feeling of being lonely or you could not get hired again, that’s a feeling of being unrecognized or useless or incapable. Like those are all, this is just feelings. If I’m willing to feel all the feels I am unstoppable. So from that place, I can jump when I’m, when I’m willing to be okay with whatever feeling happens, where wherever, whenever, however, I land 

Thats a beautiful way to put it. 

Willingness. Hi, well, um, I’m exercised. I feel great. My face is numb and tingly in certain places from just having been smiling for an hour. Uh, is there anything else Margaret you’d like to add or, um, that my audience really truly is a mixed bag of creative types. Some of them are dancers have been dancers for a long time. Some of them are in other areas of entertainment and art. Um, some of them have left dance and are coming back, I think, as a person who wears many hats and has a tremendous amount of passion. Anything else you might say to people who are looking for information and inspiration in, in this moment? 

I think, you know, just never give up, you know, manifest, put out, put out into the universe, what it is you really want. And this is a good time to get quiet and really see what it looks like. You know, what is it that you really want and, and manifest it and just don’t give up, like, there’s, it may come in such a different package. You know, it may come in like in such an odd way. So be open to the delivery of your dreams, but don’t give up dreaming.

And on that ladies and gentlemen, we will round it out. Thank you Margaret so much for your time for your wisdom wisdom and for your work. That is so great. And I just can’t wait to see where it goes from here all the direction. Oh my goodness. I can’t wait. I’m so excited.

It was my pleasure.  

Okay. What did I tell you? Good one. Right. So insightful so wise, and I really was taken aback at how willing and ready Marguerite is to share at all times her, her insights, her wisdom, her experiences, um, her wins. I really, really loved what she had to say about building her team, a team that supports each other. Thank you all as listeners. Thank all of you listeners for being a part of my team. I hope that you got as much out of that conversation as I did. And I’m going to go ahead and venture a guess. You’re going to want to download that one. That is a conversation that I want to have in my pocket at all times. If you’re digging, what you hear, don’t be shy. Please share and leave a review or rating if you’re loving what you’re hearing. Thank you guys so much for listening. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day, night, week, month. All of it, keep it funky. Everybody. I’ll talk to you soon.

Thought you were done. Now, I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website, theDanawilson.com/podcast finally, and most importantly now, so kickball change over to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join. All right, everybody. Now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. 

Ep. #36 The Assistant

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #36 The Assistant
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Whether you ARE an assistant, HAVE an assistant, WANT an assistant, or want TO BE an assistant, this episode is for you. The (many) roles and responsibilities of assistants are often not discussed out in the open. Well, I’m here to start bringing this conversation to the forefront.  What makes a great assistant? When is an assistant NOT an assistant? Let’s talk collaboration, ownership, and all about assistants!

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Watching Smiling: https://www.instagram.com/p/CELBTJXFv27/

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place. 

Dana: Hello. Hello and hello. I am Dana and I am jazzed that you are here today. I’m stoked on this episode because it is dense. It carries a lot of value in a little bit of time. So whether you are an assistant or a person who has an assistant or a person who is looking to have an assistant, I think you will get a lot out of this episode, by the way. I think we all could use an assistant at some point.  

So this episode truly is for everyone. So much value so much goodness, but first let’s talk wins. This week, coincidentally, I am claiming a win. That is a video project I created in collaboration with my podcast assistant Malia Baker. She choreographed it, I directed and edited it. And it is a video homage to Louie Prima and Keely Smith called “Smiling.” It was influenced by the golden age of movie musicals and our cast and crew was golden to truly such an awesome time capsule of a project. I loved every part of making this video and, um, man, we, we shot it just days before the lockdown was enforced and I’m so proud to be sharing it with the world right now. I think it carries a very important message and a handful of very fun surprises as well. So check that out. It lives on my Instagram @DanaDaners and also on Malia’s personal page. She is @MaliaBaker. Get into it. Do your face a favor, give a smile. Okay. Now speaking of your face and your smile, what is your win this week? What’s going well in your world.  

Okay. Awesome. And congrats. Keep crushing it. If you are listening the podcast chronologically, you have just emerged from four back to back episodes about auditioning. This episode is coming at a very timely time because I want to acknowledge that auditioning for work is not the only way to get work. In fact, possibly the most fruitful way that I introduced myself to the industry was as an assistant, an assistant choreographer to be specific. Now I opened this episode by talking about my win with my assistant Malia Baker. That was unintentional, but coincidentally, very, very appropriate to this episode. Now there is a hot button conversation happening in the dance world right now. That’s probably happened in other industries forever. Um, sort of as language changes and our professional landscape changes. This conversation will continue to happen. Probably forevermore. The subject, broadly is the roles and responsibilities of assistants. Is the assistant the person that gets the coffee is the assistant. The person that remembers the steps or teaches the steps or cleans the steps or contributes steps? Question Mark.  When is an assistant, not an assistant, what makes a great assistant we’re digging in to all of it. So buckle up.  

Alright. So I have been an assistant and I occasionally still assist for about 15 years, world tours, movies, commercials, music, videos, award shows you name it I’ve assisted on it. I’ve also danced and assisted on the same project, which can be really, really challenging. I’ll explain why, as you’re about to find out the role of an assistant is very, very broad. And the role of a performer is very, very specific. Sometimes it can be challenging to have the bird’s eye view and the worm’s eye view at the same time. All right, let’s talk first about what an assistant does. Well, as I mentioned, it’s always a little bit different, not just from project to project, but from boss to boss, from person to person. So let’s consider what assistants might do. They might, depending on the project or the person, edit video, edit music, go pick up coffee, go pick up lunch, take lunch orders, book studio space, manage and coordinate schedules. That’s a start, but they always, they always facilitate a vision. They facilitate the creative vision of their boss or of the project that they’re assisting on. 

Now let’s talk about the different types of assistance. A personal assistant, for example, might organize travel, like actually book the flights, the cars, the hotel reservations, they might run personal errands or organize a personal schedule. I have known personal assistants to actually buy the Christmas gifts and birthday gifts for their bosses, families and friends. Um, I’ve even known of a boss who trusted their assistant to decide on their future home. Yes. Like the house they will live in the assistant went and saw it and said, yes. Very wide range of responsibilities there for a personal assistant. And of course it depends on the person. Let’s talk now about a choreography assistant, a choreographic assistant or a choreography assistant or a choreographer’s assistant might be a moving body in the room during the creation process and during the rehearsal process. Occasionally they’re responsible for retaining the counts in the choreography, teaching choreography, cleaning choreography, even giving feedback on the choreography itself, If asked. I have also used and served as a technical assistant, this is a person that might film, edit and upload tutorial, videos, rehearsal videos, so on and so forth. Those are just a few examples of titles and responsibilities of assistants. I could really go on for probably a day about the things that assistants do. So why don’t we actually shift our focus to this question? When is an assistant not an assistant. First of all, I want to state that I see assistants as collaborators and possibly the most important part of the team. My assistants know my every move. They know my schedule, they know my values, they know my vision, they know how I like to work. And it is their job to work, to facilitate my vision. In the choreography space on a choreography team, by my definition, an assistant is responsible for facilitating a creative vision. That may mean tactical tasks, physical things like setting up the studio, organizing the schedule, organizing video footage, tutorials, et cetera. It might even mean systematic work, streamlining a process, making sure that things go smoothly with that being said to me, the moment an assistant crosses into another realm of collaborator is when they’re asked or expected to contribute their own creative vision for the work. I know many choreographers are totally okay with feedback when it comes to their choreography or process, but this is not the same as bringing a creative idea to the table. I’ll give an example. I know that many choreographers are okay, and even encourage getting feedback from their assistants. Feedback, for example, on things like weight transfers, transitions, or even presenting a step like, Ooh, it might feel better to ball change right left instead of left, right, Because my weight is already on the left side or, Ooh, I love that step. It reminds me of this. Or to get into that turn, it might be better if I start from this position instead of that one, that way I can move quicker and give you what you want, which is covering a lot of distance in a little bit of time. To me, that’s very acceptable and expected feedback from an assistant. And to me, that is absolutely not the same as bringing a creative idea to the table. To me, when a person is asked or expected to bring their own idea or vision, they are an associate or possibly even a co choreographer, not an assistant. An example of bringing a creative idea to the table might look something like this. Is there a world where instead of our hero woman being in love with peanut butter, she is actually in love with a frog that turns into a can of peanut butter. Example of creative vision, opposed to facilitating the creative vision and wow frogs and peanut butter, Welcome to my mind. Welcome to my very creative mind. 

All right, now let’s talk about what makes a great assistant. I’ll give you a hint. What makes a great assistant is also what makes a great relationship. That’s really what we’re talking about here today. The relationship between boss and assistant. In my book, these are four qualities of a great assistant. Number one ESP, mind reading capabilities. In the event that you do not possess mind reading capabilities, which none of us do. Um, here is a great way to read somebody’s mind, ask them what they think and write it down. Great way to read somebody’s mind is to actually put it on paper, get a clear idea of expectations. And then you are so much better set up for success. 

Another quality of a great assistant to me is somebody that has a good memory and mindset for not only managing information, but mining it. This is a person who knows how to ask the right questions. This is a person that knows where to look for information and how to get it and how to organize it. Another quality of a fabulous assistant. It sounds weird to say this, but customer service. The assistant establishes the flow of the project, the flow of information. And oftentimes when people think back about how the project went, it will be the work of the assistant that they remember, that they walk away with, that they think of as being either remarkably positive or not so much. Oh, here’s my favorite. My favorite quality of a great assistant is somebody that over delivers, under time. I love looking for the habit of somebody who over-delivers, because that’s a quality that I seek in my own career. And I like to think of my assistants as an extension of myself. If I do, they do too. 

Moving right along, let’s talk about how to be a great assistant. There are notions that an assistant is akin to a servant role or a secretary role. If you are an assistant, what if, instead of believing those stories, you chose to believe the following. What if you chose to own your work and not do their work? What if you owned the value that you bring? What if you facilitate the zones for genius? What if you make the space and maintain the space for brilliance? What if that is your job? Instead of doing the jobs left undone by others, you make the space, you maintain the space, you make the zones for genius. What if instead of getting walked on, you wanted to grow. What if you wanted to be the best at what you do, not the second best to your boss, but the best you, this is abundance mentality.  This is ownership, and this is very attractive. 

Now I could not talk about how to be a great assistant without asking you to pay attention to the details, study, to learn the likes and dislikes of the person that you’re working for. And I don’t just mean what things do they like and dislike out there in the world, but what qualities do they like and dislike about themselves? Where can you supplement and help enhance the person that they already are with the person that you already are? For example, do they like knowing people’s names, but are terrible at remembering them? Do they have a preference for the way that tables and chairs are set up? Do they have a vibe that you can contribute to? Do they love the snacks that you brought? do they have any food allergies? Do they prefer their music loud or quiet? Do they like hearing your opinion? Do they work well with tech or do they get easily frustrated with tech? Are they an iPhone or an Android person? Do they prefer large or small groups of dancers? What are the tough parts and flow states of their process? In general, if they mentioned liking or disliking a thing, make sure that you note it, but don’t wait for them to say it. Most of this stuff can be very easily perceived if you are perceptive. 

Alright. I think it’s really, really important as an assistant that you manage your mind. It’s important to remember that, although yes, you may be working for someone else. You are also a leader. People are looking to you as number two, to establish the tone. They’re looking to you for cues about what is trickling down. So be responsible for the way that you lead as well as the way that you follow. Lastly, I kind of touched on this before, but represent your boss. Try to show up always as the best version, not only of yourself, but of them as well. This preserves your relationship with them, as well as the relationship you have with yourself, show up as the best version of you. 

Alright, now this might be sort of an unexpected spin on this episode, but I do want to talk about how to have assistants from the perspective of somebody who’s been one for 15 years, and now has a few of my very own. First don’t expect anyone to read your mind. You’re welcome assistants. For those people that seek to have the help of others. It is extremely beneficial to know what you want. It’s even more beneficial. If you write it down, say what it is that you want ask for exactly what you want. Now, to me, the first phase of a boss assistant relationship is establishing trust. I usually do this through a series of simple tactical assignments that an assistant can follow through on these are measurable they’re visible sometimes they’re actually physical. Make this order, pick it up, set up these chairs in this certain way, post this specific post at this specific time.  

It’s very simple to see if these markers have been met. As the trust is established, as those markers are met, then the relationship between assistant and boss turns into one, that’s less about simply doing things and more about ways of doing things. Now you can delegate the process of getting things done, not just ask people to get things done for you. This is where real true collaboration comes into play. This is where you build systems together based on what works and what doesn’t work. Creating a process together and tweaking it together. Keeping a tight feedback loop is a step in the agent boss relationship that sometimes is expected to fall only on the assistance lap, but I see this as being truly a collaboration and when done well, this is a make or break step that can truly multiply your results your output exponentially. And here is why when you delegate a task to somebody, especially somebody who wants to do the task well, it’s usually met with a hundred questions at that point, you might be telling yourself, by this point, I might as well have just done it myself. Well it’s possible, but it really, really pays to invest in these systems and in finding ways to answer these questions early on so that you don’t have to later. Here is the critical step. I asked my assistants to come back to me, not only with their questions, but with what they think I would answer to those questions that helps me not only get to know them and the way they think, but it helps me get to know the way they think I think, and somewhere within that, I might even be presented with an idea that’s better than my own ideas. I love this step. Here’s an example. If I ask somebody to book a rehearsal space for me, I tell them the dimensions of the studio that I need. I tell them the hours that I need the studio and the preferred location, but perhaps they come back to me wondering what my budget is, instead of just saying, what is your budget? They might say, I think you’d prefer this budget, but these are the price ranges available. I love this answer because it shows me that my assistant has an idea of what they think my values are. They think that I value money in a certain way. Now, perhaps they’re wrong. Perhaps I value being very, very frugal when I rent rehearsal space, but it’s possible that I don’t consider money at all. I will pay any dollar amount as long as the dimensions are correct. There is adequate parking for example, um, and it’s within five miles of my house. Like maybe those are my values, but by responding to me with the answer that they think is best, then I’m informed of, of perhaps a blind spot that my assistants and I have in our understanding of each other and our values. This is essential. This step, I really, really strongly recommend this. I really also recommend that you treat your assistant as the most important part of your team.  Take care of them, take care of them financially and otherwise. This is the person closest to you and your work. It’s essential that you hold them closely with care. 

Alright, now, speaking of care and holding things closely, I have decided to much debate that I would like to share with you. Some of my assistant fails. Yep. I’m telling you all about the times that I have fallen so that you don’t have to fall down to. My first story is when I was assisting the one, the only, Toni Basil, who is still a dear friend and mentor of mine and a dance legend. I might add if you’re not familiar with Toni Basil strongly encourage, you hit pause on this episode, go do a little research. And then come on back. I was assisting Toni on an award show. I believe it was the Soul Train Awards.  And I believe the year was like 1600 BC. It was a really long time ago. And I remember the director of the award show asked Toni a question. Toni paused and seemed like she was struggling to find the answer. So I answered for her because the answer to this particular question was right on the tip of my tongue. I did not exercise any restraint. I jumped in with all of my enthusiasm and willingness to answer and speak for my boss. Holy smokes. She was standing right there. A fully capable, fully responsible fully.. Did I say capable? Yeah. Toni Basil is one of the most capable human beings. I know she knows this industry and several industries I might add inside and out. She is, as I mentioned a legend and I thought it would be a good idea to speak for her. When for two seconds, she took pause to consider her answer. Oh yes, this was a fumble. And I knew it immediately. When Toni Basil’s daggers in her eyes shot back at me and almost physically zipped my mouth for me. I remember I wanted to just crawl into myself and die and never speak again. Instead I apologized and I’ve learned pretty well. Although my instinct to talk quickly has helped me in the past. It’s also hurt me time and time again. Take pause, consider, and always let number one, speak first. A piggyback lesson on that is that it’s also good practice to let number one, have the last word too. All right. Assistant fail number two. Oh, this one is cringy. I was assisting Marty Kudelka on a project for Justin Timberlake. We’re hiring dancers. I remember a table full of headshots. Some of them, my friends, none of them were me. Um, we’re discussing the people that would be the right fit and it fell on my lap to hire the dancers for the job. That means call the agents, make the official booking and make sure that the dancers have all the information they need to start work on the start date. Well, start date rolls around. We begin rehearsal and Marty looks at me and he says, we’re missing a girl. I look at my notes. I look at my outgoing email. I’m like, Nope, this is everybody. And then Marty said to me, yeah, but where is dancer X? My gut sank and hit the floor was I really that sloppy that out of like eight dancers. It wasn’t even like 56 dancers. It was like eight dancers. Out of eight I missed one. Oh my gosh. That’s definitely failing status right there. That is an assistant fail. Marty was extremely gracious. And let that one slide. I absolutely have not lived it down, but for that project, we made seven out of eight work.  

Holy smokes. Do I still feel awful about that? So awful about that. Compassion, Dana, compassion. It’s okay to mess up. Okay. This one’s subtle, but I think it’s very important while I was working with Christopher Scott on, In the Heights, he pointed out to me one day that my feedback even nonverbal is very, very visible. I’m the guy that likes to report the news. I speak quickly. I speak my every thought, usually, podcasts, very appropriate place for me to land. But even in the room, the thing that I learned from Chris is that yes, especially in an associate role, my opinion is valued, but Dana, come on. It does not need to be given 100% of the time. I remember Chris making a joke about the bill of my hat, being my tell, that he could see it from across the studio, either nodding vigorously up and down or holding very, very still. The nodding bill of the hat obviously would suggest that I am in favor of this idea, this take, this pass. The stillness means I’m not buying it. Now. Here’s the important thing there oftentimes as an associate, as an assistant or as anyone other than the director, your opinion is not the most important thing happening in the room. I am constantly learning the value of being neutral, the value of allowing people, the space visually and audibly and otherwise to have their own opinions. Before I attempt to change the temperature of the room with mine. Exercise, it is my exercise, neutrality. Look out neutrality. Here I come. Wow. What a goal? Huh?  

All right, everybody. I hope that this information is useful to you. Whether you are an assistant or someone who has an assistant or someone who is looking to have an assistant. And because there are so many different ways of working together because I’m an assistant and I have one, I would really love to hear your feedback on this episode. So head over to Words that move me Podcast on IG to leave a comment on this episode, and don’t forget to subscribe and download these episodes If you’re loving and finding value here, please share it. Let me know that you’re digging the goods and please don’t forget more than anything to keep it funky. I appreciate you go have a funky rest of your day. I’ll talk to you very soon. 

Thought you were done, No, I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website though. theDanawilson.com/podcast Finally, and most importantly, now you have moved over to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more. All right, everybody now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. 

Ep. #28 How to ask Good Questions

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #28 How to ask Good Questions
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If the Question is the Swiss Army Knife of Curiosity, then this episode is the user manual to the Swiss Army Knife.  This episode might have you thinking twice before you raise your hand again, BUT, once your hand is up, get ready to catch the good stuff.

Show Notes

Quick Links:

CLI Registration: https://members.clistudios.com/dancers

James Baldwi: on Dick Cavett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fZQQ7o16yQ

James Baldwin: The moral responsibility of the Artist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlnDbqLNv-M&t=488s

Sean Evans and Charlize Theron on Hot Ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgQMW4eVrzw

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.  

Dana: All right. All right. Welcome to the podcast. Welcome back. If you’re a regular mover and shaker and welcome. Welcome. If you are new, I am so glad that you’re here today. I’m really stoked about this episode as per uzhe. So I, I, I want to get to it because I’m excited, but I also want to let you know that my win this week is a special podcast related when I am so jazzed to announce that words that move me is teaming up with our friends over at CLI. And we’re doing a small number of live interviews. I’m going to link to CLI in the show notes, because if you are not already a member, you should be dancers of all levels of all styles, really, truly, especially in quarantine times, CLI is a digital dance experience that truly offers like top, top, top tier education. So, um, yeah, go dig into that. And if you are a member, you’ll be able to watch live a handful of interviews that I’m doing in the next month or two, um, starting in July and into August. You will still get those interviews here on the podcast, just a couple of weeks late. Okay. So that is my win. What’s going well in your world.  

This kills me. Cause I really want to know, like, I actually want to hear you say it.  

Awesome. I’m so glad that you’re winning. Please do keep it up. I’m stoked for you. Okay. Now, in this episode, we’re talking about how to ask good questions. I mean, good as in not bad and questions as in a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information, at least that’s how the internet defines a question. One more time. That’s a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information, now that is all fine and good, but I like to think of questions as a Swiss army knife of curiosity. I say curious a lot, by the way, on the podcast, I think curiosity or curious are the most used words on the podcast, except for maybe jazzed and possibly ultimately I say ultimately a lot, and I had no idea that I did until I started podcast. Okay. Anyways, I think we can all agree that a Swiss army knife is a single tool that has many different tools in it. And it’s used for one goal. And that is to help the user function. You can use a can opener to get the food out of the cans so you can eat the food. You use the bottle opener, so you can open the bottle and get the drink out of the bottle. You use the knife to cut, open a box and access what’s inside or a little tweezers to pull out the splinter from your toes so that you can walk without pain. In this metaphor, the question is the Swiss army knife and the challenges of your life are like the bottles and boxes and splinters. So I’m saying that a question is a tool that helps you function. Now, you know how people say there are two types of people in the world? Well, I’m going to give you my version of that cliche. I believe there are two types of people in the world. One, the people who are told what to think, and the other type is the people who are told what to think and ask questions. Now, if you’re like me, you don’t much like being told what to think. I’m here to tell you that the answer to not being told what to think is to think for yourself, the answer to not being told what to think is actually a question. The question is the tool to help that human function. Now, before I go any further, I want to address those that don’t mind being told what to think. And I am raising my hand. I am part of this party as well. Now, if all I was ever able to do was believe my own original thoughts, I might actually be in trouble. So what’s wrong with being told what to think. I actually love school. I miss it tremendously, especially right now. Um, I love seeking information. I love finding people who are great at what they do, asking them what they think, what are the thoughts that drive them to doing great things. And then I’ll occasionally adopt those thoughts as my own and see how far they take me. Um, sometimes that’s pretty darn far, pretty darn far. It’s hard to say pretty darn far. 

I like to compare being told what to think with eating fast food. It is very convenient at times it is fast and it is also heavily processed. So consider that for a moment. That is why it is important to ask questions. We can also probably agree that questions are important simply by imagining life without them. Here’s an example. Hey girl, hi… The end. Life without questions is not a life that I am interested in living. So let’s get better at asking questions. We’ll start with the assumption. A. that words are important. I probably don’t need to illustrate that to you because you’re listening to this podcast. So you probably already agree, but let’s take a look at what that means. For questions specifically, here are a couple of different ways of asking basically the same question. Let’s say I’m holding an audition and somebody in the back of the room raises their hand. I call on them and they might say, “nobody can see you back here. Can you do that again?” Or they could say, “I can see that your arms are in high fifth on one, but what’s the lower body doing for that eight count” or maybe I’m holding a Q and A and somebody might say, “what’s your favorite style?” Or they could say, “tell me about the style of dance that nobody knows you love?”  Another example with regard to costume, perhaps somebody might ask, “are you for real?” Or they might say, “what does that costume contribute to the piece?” Here’s another favorite least favorite question. “What’s it like trying to become a famous dancer?” Who yikes. There’s a lot to unpack there. An alternative might be. “What part of your training are you most passionate about?” Can you imagine how the conversation that follows each of those questions would be dramatically different? Good questions lead to good conversations, good conversations. Lead to good learning. Alright, here are my golden nuggets for asking golden questions.  

Number one, share how much, you know, not how much you don’t know. The example that I gave of the audition earlier is a true story, except for I was not holding the audition. I was a dancer in the back of the room. It was not the dancer that asked that question. However, and when the dancer asked that question, my stomach hit the floor. I felt awful because here was this person saying, nobody can see you back here, but only I could see enough, enough to guess enough to make a well informed guess. Now this specific audition was pretty high stakes. The choreographer was Liz Imperio a legend, shout out Liz. And there were probably 500 people in the room. The project was an award show and it was the first time this particular award show was covered by a SAG/AFTRA contract, which means dancers who booked the gig were eligible for healthcare and pension contributions from the work that they did on this project. Anyways, it’s a big deal. The stakes were high. The room was full. I get where the dancer was coming from. But as soon as she said, nobody can see you back here. Can you do that again? The answer that came was certainly packed with emotion, more packed with emotion than information actually. Liz told her to wait. So actually no information came back at her at that time. The lesson that I learned in that moment is that you can either stand out as being a person who doesn’t know what they’re doing and blames that on others. Or you could stand out as being a person who’s responsible for knowing what they’re doing. And that is the person that I want to hire. So in general, do everything you can to be informed. And don’t ask a question that’s already been asked. How do you know if it’s been asked already? Well, listen, or simply Google it in short, do your research and avoid asking questions that your subject is likely to have answered a thousand times already, for example, “what’s it like being on tour with JT?”  That question lends itself to what could be a pretty closed ended answer. Really, really fun. All right. Next question. Versus “what was the one experience that you least expected when you were on the 2020 experience?” First of all, points for wordplay and craftsmanship. This is definitely a question that I’ll give more thought to answering because I can tell that it took a lot of thought to create. Here’s another example, “what’s the secret to becoming a successful dancer?” This question, I get a lot and honestly it sounds a little bit like the person asking it once the fast pass to the top. Here is the equivalent to that question that I would actually love giving an answer to “Dana, one of my favorite things about your work is the use of humor. Can you talk a little bit about using comedy in dance?” Ah, yes. This shows me that they’ve done a little bit of research. They know who they’re talking to and they are interested in the work, the process, not the result, not the perceived pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. First of all, the pot of gold doesn’t exist. And if it did, there is no one way to becoming a successful dancer. And even if I told you exactly how I did it, it would take the entire hour to explain. And you could recreate every single step of the way and not achieve the same success because we are infinitely different people coming up at different times. We’ve got different skills, all the things are different. So the next time you find yourself wanting to ask for the secret to someone’s success. First identify what you think is successful. What you think is interesting about their work and then ask them questions about that. 

Alright, that brings us to golden nugget.  Number two, ask questions that might lead to new ideas instead of revisiting old ideas. Now it’s very common and totally practical to ask questions in review or to refine your understanding of something. This happens in dance class a lot. Now, a little less common, especially in a dance class are the questions that lead to new ideas instead of revisiting old ones. In the example of the Q and A that I mentioned, “what’s your favorite style” by simply watching or taking my class. You might be able to answer that question for yourself, but in asking a question like “what’s a style of dance that nobody knows that you love.” You’re likely to learn something that not only you couldn’t have found out, but that nobody knows tell us something that nobody knows is a really good one. It’s one of my favorites. I also really, really love what am I missing here? Or what am I not getting? Now, let me be real, when you’re asking a question, like, what am I missing or what am I not getting buckle up and get ready to learn. Because the answer that comes back at you will almost certainly be news to you. It will be an idea that is completely new. And sometimes those are hard to chew, but also so fun and so much growth here. Yes. Ask these questions. 

All right. Golden rule. Number three, simple questions, get simple answers. Usually this is why the minis like age seven to 10 are my favorite group to teach. They ask simple questions like my favorite, “Why?” sometimes? Why is the best question somebody can ask, please. Don’t be afraid to ask why, but when you do also be patient and get ready to ask good followup questions, because “why” can be a tough, tough question to answer. Now. Sometimes the simple questions are the most obvious questions. Like the example I gave regarding costumes earlier, “are you for real? Or why do I have to wear that?” For example, now I’ve had people especially minis. Ask me a lot of questions about my clothing. I can’t really explain it. I kind of adore it. And it’s also a little bit annoying. Here’s an example. “Why do you wear those weird pants?”  Well, a simple answer to that simple question might be because I think they’re funky. All right. Now, sometimes a simple question. Like, “why are you wearing those pants?” Could get a complex answer like this one. I wear these pants because the essence of ballet is to be lifted light as a feather. Um, having the quality of weightlessness or floating and for hip hop and many other street styles being grounded is the value. I think you can imagine the visual that I’m painting here for you. The visual center of gravity of a ballet dancer is very high, especially relative to somebody dancing, hip hop or another street style like locking or popping, baggy clothes make the visual center of gravity look lower, think MC hammer and hammer pants. Visual center of gravity is almost on the ground versus a Tutu, which is basically the shortest skirt that somebody could possibly wear. A Tutu makes the visual center of gravity look high, hammer pants, baggy clothes, Zoot suits, they make the visual center of gravity look low. If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable, dancing a street style or watching somebody dance street styles in a leotard and tights. That’s part of the reason why. And there you have it. My very complex answer to a simple question. 

And that brings us to golden rule. Number four, complex questions get complex answers usually, except for when they don’t, right. Now, if you can avoid asking overly complicated questions, practice what you preach. Wilson. I love asking compound questions, questions within questions, and then just straight up multiple questions at once I’m working on it. I’m really working on it because I get more focused answers. When I ask more focused questions again, complex questions beget complex answers, except for when they don’t. For example, my favorite example of this there’s a James Baldwin quote, a student asked him once to give advice to a quote, young literary genius end quote to this James Baldwin replied quote, let me tell you one thing, Young literary geniuses, don’t take anybody’s advice, end quote and end of conversation. Listen, if you want real good answers and a great model for asking questions, please, please, please listen to the words, the voice of James Baldwin. Read. Listen. Oh man, I have linked to a few of my favorite talks of his in the show notes for this episode. Oh, and on the flip side, very, very flip side of that same good question asking coin is one of my favorite interview hosts. Um, his name is Sean Evans. He hosts a YouTube series called Hot Ones. Um, some of you may know it because it is wildly popular, but um, if you don’t already know, Hot Ones is a YouTube series where the host Shawn and his guests eat 10 hot wings with different hot sauces on each wing. They eat them in escalating Scoville order. And, um, it’s just simply so entertaining.  Anyways. I think Sean has a research team helping him ask questions at this point, but, uh, he is very, very famous for asking his very, very famous guests who do interviews all the time. Questions that leave a pause, his guests are stopped mid chew and, and they reflect, wow. That’s such a great question. I really admire him for that. Hats off or should I say caps off to you? Sean Evans. Thank you for modeling what it means to ask really good questions. All right. So between James Baldwin and the 183 episodes of hot ones that are on YouTube, you definitely have your work cut out for you if you want the good, good answers. Please start by listening as always then remember to ask questions that highlight how much, you know, not how much you don’t know, ask questions that will lead to new ideas. In addition to simply refining existing ideas, don’t be afraid to ask simple questions and know that complex questions will get complex answers except for when they don’t. And with that, my friends I’d like to leave you with an ancient proverb. He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask a question, remains a fool forever. So keep listening, keep learning, keep asking good questions. And by all means necessary. Keep it funky. Thanks everybody. I’ll talk to you soon. 

Thought you were done. No. Now I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website, ThedanaWilson.com/podcast finally, and most importantly, now you have a way to become a words that move member. So kickball, changeover to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join. Alright, everybody. Now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon.