Ep. #84 Replay: Ep. #5 Is Fear Keeping You Alive, or Eating You Alive?

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #84 Replay: Ep. #5 Is Fear Keeping You Alive, or Eating You Alive?
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This week is the first of our replays for the month of August! Starting out with Episode #5, and it is frighteningly good.  It digs into concepts of FEAR.  The kind that keeps you alive and the other kind that keeps you from LIVING!  Give a listen and cut the ties to fear that are holding you back.

Quick Links:

The Power Of Vulnerability – Brené Brown

The Call to Courage – Brené Brown

Daring Grately – Brené Brown

Failing Your Way to Success

How To Be A Successful Failure

Gift of Fear – Gavin de Becker

Brooke Castillo’s Thought Model

The Farwell – Akwafina Movie

Episode 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 artists story, then sit tight. But don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.

Hello, Hello, My friend and welcome to Words that Move Me. I’m Dana and you are catching the words that move me team on vacation after 85 plus episodes, including several bonus jams. The words that move me team is taking some well-deserved time off and reminding you of some of our favorite episodes. Today’s replay is one that I get the most feedback about. And when I teach and when I coach themes from this episode, show up almost daily. So yes, today’s replay is addressing fear. One of my favorite subjects so much fun. Uh, what’s really fun actually is that this episode is a very early one. I recorded it pre pandemic, and it’s really interesting to consider what people might’ve been afraid of then versus now so much has changed. And yet so much is the same. What do you think? Do you still have more to learn about fear? I’m willing to bet that you do, and I’m willing to bet that this episode will help. So I am so glad that you are here and I am so excited to share this episode, but before I do, I want to let you know that when we get back from our little break, we’ll be talking about fear and managing your mind around it a lot. So be sure to subscribe now so that you don’t miss anything later. All right, with that, everyone enjoy this replay of episode. Number five is fear keeping you alive or eating you alive? I’ll talk to you soon.

Hello and hello. Welcome back to the podcast. This is episode five. Can you believe it? Episode five already. I’m stoked. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for tagging me for communicating with me on the socials. Um, a lot of real creative types popping up there. So hip, hip, hooray for all my daily doers. Um, if you are not daily making jump back and listen to episode one, very inspiring, exciting stuff back there. I am daily doing in some way, shape or form working on this podcast. Whoa, podcasts are way more work than I thought, but I’m learning so much about myself. The things that I know, the things that I don’t know, the way that I speak. I’m also learning about, for example, right now how to transcribe my episodes and leave you guys all the awesome show notes so that will now be available to you on all previous episodes as well as this one. If you are listening via Apple podcasts, you click the three little dots in the top right corner, you’ll be able to access shownotes from there. If you are not listening on Apple podcasts, go directly to my website, Thedanawilson.Com/Podcasts and you’ll have all my show notes available there.   

Cool, so if you are digging the podcast, I would love if you would re, ha, reeve a leview you love if you would reeve a leview, or leave a review, whichever suits your fancy. The more reviewed a podcast is, the easier it is to find and I really would love for all our creative types to be able to find these episodes easily. Sharing is caring. Oh, speaking of caring, quick shout out to my mom for calling me up and calling me out on a made up word that I used last week in episode four. She said de-motivated is not a word. Also super shout out to Google for letting me know that I did not make up a word. It turns out de-motivated is a word. Um, unmotivated means that one being lacks motivation. De motivated means that motivation has been taken. Right. That distinction. Very impressive. Also, I had no idea of the difference of those two. I think I really meant unmotivated. De-motivated came out. Google backed me up. Thanks anyways, mom, really appreciate you having my, uh, best interest in mind and really looking out for my grammar. Hmm. Um, let’s see. In this past week I worked on another music video. I taught a great class at movement. Lifestyle. Had so much fun. If you are listening to this on the day of its release, which is Wednesday, I’ll be teaching again this Friday, which is January… Wait for it. Wait for it. 31st, last day of the month. Oh my gosh.  It’s going really fast. Is it just me or is that everyone? Gosh, man. Um, so this past week in my class, we channeled what it means to be attractive. Um, which reminded me of last week’s episode talking about our dancing birds and mating dances and all sorts of fun stuff, but it was really, really challenging to have like Heidi Klum in the mind, but a Muppet or a Fraggle in the body. So much fun. Um, I don’t know if we’ll do that again this week, but I do know that we will have fun again this week. So if you’re in LA, stop by movement lifestyle, I will be teaching at 1130. Killer. Um, let me think. Any other updates? Oh, big one. The nails are off. I got acrylic nails for a job. I don’t remember what episode I talked about this and, but I got my acrylic nails removed. The first thing I did was take out my contacts because I couldn’t do that cause they were too long and Oh my gosh, that felt so good. For all my optometrists out there, please don’t worry, I do have the contacts that are the type that you’re supposedly allowed to sleep in. But Whoa, I had slept in my context for many, many nights. Eyes feel great. Fingers feel great. I feel great in general, crushing it at 2020 again this week. 

Today, However, I want to talk about a specific thing that might be keeping you from crushing it in 2020 and that is fear. Yes, good old fashioned fear. Insert the dramatic Halloween scream right there, which turns out, actually this is an aside, I found out recently that the director of photography from In the Heights, the film that I worked on over the summer last year, Alice Brooks is her name is the scream from scream.  

That’s Alice’s scream. That’s the scream that I want to put in my podcast right now, when I say this episode’s about fear. So now, you know. 

Moving on a couple of weeks ago, I put out a survey on Instagram. Thank you so much for responding by the way, those of you that, that hollered back. Um, I asked what scares you, what are you afraid of? And it was very cool to take a look at my responses. I’ve basically sorted this out. I’ve determined that there are two types of fear, the kind of fear that keeps you alive and the kind of fear that eats you alive. The first one being of course the animal instinct that gives you the freeze, fight or flight response. And then the other one is literally everything else. So let’s talk very quickly about the fear that keeps you alive. Our animal instinct fear has really served us well.  It’s helped us get to the point where most of us are not afraid for our lives on a daily basis. 

Do you remember the game, the Oregon trail, by the way, speaking of fear for your life, it was a computer game that taught us about the early settlers and all of the ways that you can die in the 18 hundreds for example, your wagon might break an axle and you might have to walk yourself to death or you might get dysentery or cholera. Now that is some really scary stuff. Even before that time though, you might’ve been afraid of being trampled in a stampede or you might’ve been afraid that your child might be eaten by a saber tooth tiger. That stuff right there. That is real fear. Now, there’s still a lot of real danger in the modern world. It’s just that our stimuli have changed. We don’t have saber tooth tigers or wagons anymore, which is kind of a shame cause wagons are darn cute. So next week I’m going to talk about one of my favorite books called the gift of fear. And we’ll talk about reading subtle signals in our modern everyday life that could really save your tail. That was an animal instinct pun. Um, especially if you live in Hollywood or if you’re a person that tours frequently

But for today we’re going to discuss in depth the kind of fears that eat you alive or what I referred to in episode 0.5 with my friend Nick Drago as creative fears. So these are the fears that are not really life threatening, but I was shocked that when I put my survey out to Instagram, like 99% of the replies I got were these type of fears. So that’s what we’re going to dig into today. Buckle up, let’s go.  

 8:39 Okay, thanks again for submitting your responses about things that you are afraid of. Please don’t be afraid right now. I’m not going to call anybody out by name. I’m going to actually kind of group some fears together based on a few trends that I noticed. So two things in particular. Almost every response fell under one or both of these two umbrellas. Those two umbrellas are judgment and failure. So I’m thinking if we can tackle these two little guys, we can step into some real big power. Now, last week I introduced Brooke Castillo’s thought model and I’m going to really quickly review on that. But if you haven’t listened to episode four, I really encourage you to do that. The model starts with a circumstance which is a neutral fact about your life. It is provable. It is uncontestable incontestable? Which one is it? Mom, call me.  Circumstances trigger your thoughts. Thoughts are just sentences in your head, which you actually can control. Thanks to your prefrontal cortex. More science words. Thoughts cause your feelings, which are sensations in your body. And those feelings lead to actions, which are what you do or don’t do with your body. And your actions create results, which are always proof of your initial thought. So it’s really important that we choose our thoughts wisely. Okay, so on the subject of fear, I’m not encouraging you to simply not think the thoughts that frighten you. Actually quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that you understand the thoughts that frighten you. I’m suggesting that you get to the core of them. I’m betting that at the core of these fears, you’re probably wrestling with your thoughts about judgment and or failure. And I’m telling you right now that the tiny seed inside the core of the big, big fear is just a feeling, probably an unwanted feeling.  So you see, fear is actually the avoidance of unwanted feelings. It’s your body and your mind’s way of keeping you from experiencing unwanted stuff. But thoughts create your feelings and we get to choose our thoughts. So what if we choose thoughts that lead us in the direction of wanted feelings? One of my favorite ways to illustrate this. There’s a little exercise in metacognition or thinking about thinking, if you’re funky.

 I’d like you to invite an imaginary friend to sit down beside you, preferably a very curious friend, somebody who’s very compassionate, but asks questions that have five-year-old would ask. Maybe this imaginary friend is a five-year-old. They ask a lot of questions like, why? And so what if or what does that even mean? So this imaginary young person is going to ask me tons of questions about my thoughts, and I’m going to rattle off answers as if I know everything.  And once a feeling shows up in the answer, then I’ll know that we’ve gotten to the root of the issue. Let’s start with a a fear of being injured. So if I have a child sitting next to me and I say, “Man, little one, little nugget I am, I’m afraid of being injured.” And that child might say, “why?” And I might say, “because then I won’t be able to do the thing that I love.” And they might say, “why?” And I’ll say, “because I’ll be in pain, if not physically then mentally for sure.” And they might say, “why?” And I might say, “because dance is a part of who I am without it, who am I?” And they might say, “I dunno who are you?” And then I might say, “well, I am an almighty dancer and I can do a unnatural things and I can do anything. And I am indestructable, except for when I’m injured, when I’m injured, I feel mortal and I prefer to feel indestructable.” Okay, ding, ding, ding. There were the feelings that just showed up. When I’m injured, I feel mortal, but I prefer to feel indestructable. So there’s my key feelings there. I’m actually afraid of being injured because I prefer to feel indestructable. Well what if you could be injured and still feel indestructable?  Would you then have the same fear of becoming injured? 

Okay, let’s take a look at a different fear. “I’m afraid my work will be bad.” The child might say to that “why?” And I might say, “because that might mean that I don’t know what I’m doing.” and then that child might say, “when I don’t know something and I ask about it, my teacher calls it learning. Or sometimes when I’m playing, I don’t really know what I’m doing and that can be really, really fun. So what’s wrong with not knowing what you’re doing?”  I might say to that, “well, I really like to play too, but I don’t like feeling unskilled. “ Aha. Here’s my feeling. I’m afraid my work will be bad because I don’t like to feel not good at something. Well, how do you feel about yourself after you’ve learned something really difficult or how do you feel about yourself while you’re playing? Is it possible that you might not be afraid of making bad work if you thought of your work as play, if you thought of it as learning. 

All right, how about this one? “I’m afraid people won’t understand me or won’t get the work. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m bad or stupid.” Kid might say “why?” And I say, if feeling very honest “because I want people to like me. I want people to relate to my work. I want them to think I’m great” and that kid might say, “so what if they don’t?” And then I would probably get real real with myself and I would say, “well then I would feel unwanted. I would feel uncool and I prefer to feel cool. I want to feel appreciated.” Okay, great. So it’s not that I’m afraid of people not understanding me, it’s that I want to avoid feeling unappreciated. Well, what if you felt cool and wanted and appreciated no matter what other people thought of your work? Would the fear still be there? I’m thinking, no.

Okay, here’s one more. What if I told the kid the very, very smart kid, by the way, “’i’m afraid of going to auditions.” Kid might say, “why?” And I’d say, “well, I don’t completely love putting my all on the line in front of hundreds of judgy eyeballs, including a couple pairs of eyeballs that ultimately decide if I will fail or succeed in getting this job or not.” And then the kid might say with all of his wisdom and experience, “isn’t that what being a dancer is putting your all on display for a bunch of eyeballs to look at?”  That smart little sucker. Got me. All right. I’d probably say fine. “Smart little sucker. You got me  I guess it’s not the audition that I’m afraid of. It’s getting cut.” The kid might say “with a knife?!” and I’d be like, “no, we use the word cut as another word for being dismissed or rejected and I guess it feels pretty crappy to be rejected.” Ding, ding, ding. We have a feeling there. Feeling rejected. Well, what if you could go to an audition and not feel rejected no matter what? What if instead of feeling rejected, you felt genuinely sorry for those poor sons of guns that don’t get to work with you? Like what if? What if getting cut actually felt like a surprise birthday party for you? Like what if everyone in the room erupted in applause and there was confetti and streamers and cake every time you got cut, would you still be afraid of going to auditions? Mm. Probably not. I would go all the time.  

Now if you’re like me, you might be getting a little suspicious right around now. Like all of this power of positive thinking stuff. Is there really any grit to it? Like is it real? I remember specifically when that book, the secret became very popular. I had some big questions about that. Like does taping a dollar bill to my ceiling and looking at it in the morning and at night before I go to bed really turn me into a millionaire. 

Now, I could be wrong here, but I highly, highly doubt that this work is a bit different. It’s more systematic and it requires action, some effort and a lot of consciousness. So let’s do that work. Let’s put in a little effort and let’s get real thoughtful about judgment and failure.  

Okay. What is judgment? The internet says and the internet knows that judgment is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. Well, that doesn’t sound so bad actually. I kind of loved the idea of being a person that can make considered decisions or sensible conclusions. I wish we could just leave it at that. But the internet also offers an alternative definition and that is misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment. Huge, huge range there. How did we go from sensible conclusions to divine punishment? I don’t know exactly, but considering that judgment is part of what’s kept us humans around for so long, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, thankfully. I’m going to opt to think of judgment as the first definition. I’m already hard enough on myself as it is I don’t need to think of everyone else in the world is passing divine punishment on me. Gosh, that’s terrifying. All right, so that’s the what of judgment. Now let’s talk about the who. Who gets to pass judgment? Well, one of two people. You or someone else. So let’s talk about judgment from others. At least in dance, I’ll speak specifically for dance. There is no bar exam, there’s no MCAT. There is no one institution that says, all right, you’re good, you’re a dancer, you pass, go on, go dance, go make money doing dance. And I actually think that’s a great thing. I have no student loans because of that thing, and that means that everyone gets to dance even if they can’t afford to go to dance school or take dance test. But here’s where that gets a little bit tricky. In the absence of an almighty dance deity, that gets to click a price tag on us and deem us valuable. It can sometimes feel easier for our minds to give power to literally anyone else instead of keeping it for ourselves.  In other words, instead of saying, I’m great and I know that I’m just getting better, we say, ah, I don’t know if I’m any good. What do you think world? See, I think that seeking validation is not so uncommon. It’s human and I think it’s a result of how we were all raised, but what’s unique to dancers and people making art, especially in entertainment, is that we and our work stand at the epicenter of our pop culture’s screen addiction and fascination with view counts and clicks and engagement. It can be really challenging to separate popular opinion from your opinion. And that can be dangerous because then you have a bunch of people who don’t deeply understand the work determining its value. Yikes. So does having a lot of likes mean that something is good? No. Does having very few likes mean that something is bad? No. So what does make something good or bad? Your thoughts about it. That’s what. And that brings us to your self judgment, which can be a tough one. So I’m going to call on the old thought model.  

If the circumstance is my work and the thought is people will think my work is bad or stupid or somebody’s work will definitely be better. Then the feeling that that thought creates is disempowered. Checking in mom, is that a word? The action that comes as a result of feeling disempowered is actually inaction. You don’t make work. So the result is no work, which proves the original thought is correct. Somebody else’s work is better than your work on a technicality because your work doesn’t exist. So here’s the new model with a little bit of flexing of my prefrontal cortex muscles. I know your brain is not a muscle. I just, it’s an analogy. All right, so the circumstance is still my work, but what if my thought about my work is that I am a person with the tools and determination to make the work that I love. That thought makes me feel empowered, that thought makes me feel motivated and feeling motivated, sends me into action. That action is making work. A lot of it and probably failing a bit along the way. And the result then is that I will have work that I love and I’ll have stronger tools and determination to make even more of it. See, the result is proof of that first thought.  

Now here’s something I didn’t touch on much in the last episode and that is that your results are really just yours. In other words, you won’t have a result like everyone loves my work because you can’t control other people’s thoughts, which I think is a great thing by the way. All right, let’s touch on failure now. What is failure? Well, again, I turned to the internet and the internet says failure is the lack of success. Now to avoid going down an endless pit of defining, defining words, I’m going to skip success, which we’ll talk about in another podcast and I’m going to jump straight to the second definition, of failure, which I really, really like by the way. The internet says that failure is the omission of expected or required action. See, it’s all, it’s not this death, destruction, awful, the worst. It’s just the lack of, or the omission of expected or required action. To me, it’s just simply missing the mark. So some people are so afraid of missing the Mark that they never even shoot. For example, people who would love to become a dancer someday, but they don’t take class because they’re afraid they won’t be good. You know, they’ll miss the mark of greatness so they don’t go. Some people are afraid of missing so big that they set the mark real low, like you know, keeping it real safe, freestyling at a nightclub or lounge or party, but never entering a freestyle battle.  

Did you hear that? That was me raising my hand. Oh, failure.  There is one other way that a lot of us choose to avoid failure. That’s kind of special and that is self sabotage. I say that it’s special because this is a type of avoiding unwanted feelings that actually feels really good, at least in the moment. And then it sneaks up and gets you. Here’s some examples, my personal favorite procrastination, putting things off for later so that you can feel good now. My mom has a famous saying, shout out again mom, love you. Uh, she says, why do today, what you can do tomorrow and why do tomorrow what you can avoid doing all together. Man, mom, you are a professional procrastinator. Here’s another one, another form of self sabotage and that’s drinking or self-medicating and other ways that might seem really harmless or even helpful to an extent in that moment, but man, they can lead straight into the arms of some really undesirable results. Another one might be lying or faking sick, or here’s one that you might not expect. Overworking is total self sabotage the whole time you’re thinking, look at me crush this. I am crushing it. I can totally work until 4:00 AM every night and then wake up at six and then go to the gym and, and and, and, and until you exhaust yourself to the point of injury or inefficiency. Self-sabotage is a sticky one and it deserves a podcast all to itself. So let’s jump back to failure. 

There is a metric ton of research and a boatload of really great talks about failure and specifically failure and its relationship to success. I’ll link to a few of my favorites on my website under the show notes for episode five. Just go to theDanawilson.com/podcasts and click on episode five to get all that good stuff. But for now I want to just point out a couple of my favorite thoughts about failure. Here’s a real popular one. The idea that the more you fail, the more you will succeed. I really love that and I like to think about if there were a number, like what if you knew that exactly 25 fails equals one win. Like a really big win. I bet you’d be down to fail 25 times. If you knew that right after that you would get your big win. Well, I also think that it’d probably take way less than 25 fails to get a win. So just jump in and find out. Another one of my favorites is this, and it’s a quote, and I don’t know who to credit for this quote. ***(post edit) this quote is by Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt Therapy.** So if you do, please let me know. The saying is, “The only difference between fear and excitement, is breath.” Consider that people actually pay money to see scary movies and go to haunted houses and go on roller coasters.  

In a way, fear has been rebranded in our minds as fun. So take a deep breath, put both arms up and scream your whole way to that audition. You’re going to have a ball at some point in there for even just the second. You’re going to have fun, I promise. Oh, here’s another quote and I do know who wrote this one. It’s from the movie the Farewell which is written and directed by Lulu Wong starring Akwafina. And it is one of my favorite movies of 2019 please, please see it. Akwafina’s character’s, mom, whose name I’m blanking on at this particular moment, says, “Chinese people have a saying. When people get cancer, they die. It’s not the cancer that kills them. It’s the fear.” Please go see the farewell so that you understand this powerful context, and also, please don’t let your fears eat you alive. Watch over them with the curiosity and compassion of a young child. Get to the root of them and rewrite them and keep it funky. hahahaha, How come I can’t say that without laughing. Oh, it feels good to laugh. That was a serious one. Whoa, boy.

Me again. Wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never. One more time. We’re on the podcast. One more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating or review your words move me too. Number two things I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye.

Ep. #78 Teamwork Makes the Dream Work with the In The Heights Choreography Team

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #78 Teamwork Makes the Dream Work with the In The Heights Choreography Team
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When people watch the In The Heights movie and ask me “How did you guys DO THAT?”… I’ll spare myself the struggle to explain it, and simply send them the link to this episode.
I’m thrilled to be joined by the film’s choreographer Christopher Scott , my fellow associate choreographers Ebony Williams and Emilio Dosal, the associate Latin Choreographer: Eddie Torres Jr., and his assistant Princess Serrano AND our choreo team assistant (AKA the glue that kept us all together): Meghan Mcferran. This episode is more than a peek into our process… It is a seat at our table.  This is a time capsule of memories and lessons learned  that I will cherish forever.  I hope you enjoy this episode and if you haven’t yet, be sure to catch In The Heights in theaters and on HBO Max!

Quicklinks

New York Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/16/arts/dance/in-the-heights-dance.html


BTS Video Package: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNbvu5gIVfY

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: Hi friend, welcome to the podcast. I’m Dana and this is it. The time has come and the time is now the moment that at very least I have been waiting for. The rest of the, In the Heights choreography team will be joining me on the podcast today. And I am so, so, so excited to share this conversation with you. Um, I’m hoping that you’ve seen the film already In the Heights so that you have a bit of context for what we’re going to dig into. If you have not seen In the Heights. No worries. No judgment. And also, I don’t think there are any spoilers in this episode. So do keep listening, but please get to a theater or support on HBO Max, please, please, please go see this film period. I’ll leave it there. And I’ll, I’ll um, leave you on the edge of your seat to hear this conversation for just one more second, because before we get to the conversation, uh, we’re going to do wins. If you are new to the podcast, I do wins. I start with wins. This is something that I do. So I’m going to celebrate something that is going well in my world. Then I will yield the floor to you. You will take it away. Um, I think this is, this is something that is important. So I go, you go, um, let’s see. This week, yeah, I think this is it. This is, well, I know this is it. This week, I am celebrating the New York times article featuring the, In the Heights choreography team written by Gia Kourlas , um, Man oh man. I could talk about it forever, but, um, I’m about to let the choreo team speak for themselves so I will leave it at that, that article is so beautifully done. It is a beautiful peek into, uh, the family that is the, In the Heights choreo team. I think you’re going to really, really dig it. If you are interested in checking out the article, I will 100% be linking to it in the show notes of this episode. So check that out and enjoy. All right. That’s my, when New York times no big deal. Very, 

I’m stoked for you. Keep it up, keep winning. All right. Are you ready for this? I hope so. But before we dig in, I’m giving an audio disclaimer, here. As I’m sure you can imagine. It is not easy to get the seven of us in one place at one time, let alone a quiet place at one time. So we are welcoming you to our zoom room and we appreciate your understanding of the less than stellar audio quality. Uh, we aren’t the audio or music department after all. We are the dance department and we are so, so, so proud of that. So pull up a chair and enjoy getting to know the choreo team from In the Heights. 

This is Christopher Scott, Eddie Torres Jr. Ebony Williams, Emilio Dosal, Princess Serrano, and Meghan McFerran enjoy. 

Dana: What the heck In the Heights choreo team. Welcome to Words That Move me.  

**Cheers** 

Um, this is the first time I have ever podcast interviewed more than two people at once. So number one, thank you for that. But number two, y’all are on the heels of one of the biggest films of the year broadly. So I know we’re all in different places, doing many things. Thank you so much for being here right now. I’m thrilled to talk to you and I’m thrilled to share a little bit of what our experience of making this film was about. Um, I do have, I have two goals for this episode. Number one, it is my goal to create sort of a time capsule, a place for us to put our most precious memories of this time and these people and these places. And just kind of talk about what happened because it happened really fast. Um, and that does feel sort of like a lifetime ago.  So that’s a very selfish thing of me. I just, I want to have that for myself and I want to have that for us, but I also know that I have so many people listening, maybe some listening to the podcast for the first time that are simply dying to find out how we did that. So I do want to talk shop. I want to talk a little bit of the nuts and bolts of how you make a movie musical, how you Chris, assembled this team, how we all showed up, how we might do our work differently in the future. Now having added a whole lot of tools to our tool belt. So we’ll get into that. But first probably the hardest part of this whole thing is going to be this. I’m going to ask each of you to introduce yourself and simply tell us what, what you want us to know about you. It doesn’t need to be your credits. It could be. Um, but we’ll start with Chris and then, uh, I’ll just call them out from there. Chris, what do you want us to know about you? 

Chris Scott: Oh man. Um, I want you to know that I am, um, changed from this movie. I think, I think the most, and I know that we’re going to talk about all that stuff. And I was like, well, maybe I’ll say something more personal about like my personal life, but I’m like, no, really, you know, this movie really changed me and affected me. And, and, and I’m looking at, everybody’s face on this zoom moment. I know you guys will just hear our voices, but it’s like, you know, it’s just really cool. Like, like seeing everybody’s face that, you know, helped to change and shape me. Um, so, you know, I think that’s what I want people to know about me is I’ve been shaped. Every job you do, kind of shapes you. And I really feel proud to have been shaped by every job I’ve done and none more than this one. Um, and I’m just really grateful to be here to talk about it.  

Dana: Word, Yes.  Eddie you’re up. 

Eddie Torres Jr: Hi, my name is Eddie Torres Jr. But my real name is <inaudible>. Okay. So yeah. Um, I’m, I’m blessed. I am blessed to know each and every one of you it’s been, it’s been, uh, almost two years since we’ve been United, right? I mean, it’s just really, it was a blessing to have crossed paths with everyone on this team. And I tell Chris, and I tell all of you all the time, but for those who are listening, meeting them has just really changed my life. And we’ve become family since then. And everything has changed for me in the best possible way. My dream was to always represent, um, cultural arts, not just of course street dance, but cultural arts and just get that as respected as any other form of dance, because we really deserve that. And that’s what my passion was for In the Heights is really putting everything on the map, representing everything authentically and, um, yeah, just pouring my heart out to each and every dancer to all of you that are listening. And again, thank you that I’m Eddie Torres Jr. 

Dana: Yes. Eddie George Jr. Moving right along. To your right Eddie Torres Jr the lovely Princess Serrano. Princess, tell us what you’d like us to know about you. Hi  

Princess Serano: Hi everyone. My name is princess Serrano. Um, a lot of people think that my running is a nickname, but it’s actually my real name. And what I want everyone to know is that I truly believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m excited to see what happens with this movie. And I’m excited to see what happens with all the choreography team where life takes us and everyone that was in the movie and watching the movie so  

Dana: Lovely. I love this. Um, all right. Ebony, what would you like us to know about you? 

A thing that I think is important for people to know about me is that I feel like I’ve been in a space where as artists, um, we’re always giving so much of ourselves. We don’t always feel validated by the things that we have done, you know, or are doing, um, not in, uh, in the most genuine space. And I feel like for this, because it’s such a, uh, a big project that celebrates something more than just you it’s, it’s so important. It’s about a community about, um, a culture. It’s the importance is just bigger than just one person, um, or your history or your own past traumas. Um, I feel like I’ve grown so much from it and I feel like I’ve had to face so many of the things that have absolutely gotten in my way or made me afraid or made me doubt. And a lot of this gave me a huge sense of Paciencia y Fe, and I’m so happy and grateful for it and grateful for the room and the people that are a part of my life now based on and through this journey. So, um, I guess I want people to know about Ebony Williams, that Ebony Williams again, and still, and forever is growing, is changing and evolving and okay with that. And we’re grateful for every piece of that moment.  

Dana: Let’s go. Okay. Emilio Dosal, what would you like us to know about you?  

Emilio Dosal: Hello I’m Emilio Jesus Dosal um, you know, um, just, uh, I’m just a short little Hispanic boy from Houston, Texas, you know, I never, uh, I never found myself to have an identity and, uh, to be quite honest, when I, when I started this process with In the Heights, uh, I found myself seeing who I am and who I want to be. Um, and I feel really grateful to have been in a place like New York city to find myself, um, and now moving from New York city going everywhere, I go to find myself a little bit more, has been a wonderful experience. And, um, and, um, that’s what I would take as a me.  

Dana: Thank you for that. I’m so glad you’re here. This is great. All right. Last, but certainly not least miss Meghan McFerran what would you like us to know about you?  

Meghan McFerran: Hi everyone. My name is Meghan McFerran. I am a dancer and a celebrator of movement. The number one thing since I was so little is just to use movement as a celebration of life. And so through auditions, through classes, through dancing my whole life, that’s what I saw movement as a celebration of yourself that you’re here, that you can move your body, that you can inspire others by doing that. So through my experience and my passion of celebrating, I was able to meet mentors like Ebony Williams, who, um, brought me to this place where I was able to get this job with In the Heights and meet all of really special people who continued to use movement as a celebration of life. And that’s literally what we did every single day. And what I continue to now do as an entrepreneur every day is to use movement, to celebrate who we are as people celebrate our differences, celebrate dance.  

Dana: Yeah. That was a beautiful wrap up. Okay. So, bye. Thanks. Um, uh, we’ll continue. Only because I know there’s a lot of good stuff to come, but I’d like to ask one more question to the whole group. Um, and that is, again, it’s a selfish thing, and this might be challenging to pick one, but I’d love to just drop in the time capsule, your favorite moment during the rehearsal process or shoot, or the, the premiere process, which was like a week long of parties and events and things. Um, but what’s, what is your favorite highlight from the, In the Heights chapter of your life?  

Chris Scott: I could start. I mean, honestly, it’s not that hard for me in a weird way. It’s funny. It’s like there was so many great moments like that. The biggest highlight of the experience for me was shooting Carnaval del Barrio. Um, it was just surreal, man. It was like a crazy experience. Even the audition, the rehearsal for even rehearsing for, it was like really special, that that might even have topped actually shooting it just because it was such a beautiful thing. And, you know, I remember it being one of the scariest ones because it’s like a seven minute long number, like eight minutes long. It’s really long. And we didn’t have a lot of time for that. You know, John knew, he was like, okay, well, if we’re going to spend the time to do 96,000 at the pool, we’re going to have to give somewhere.  And we looked at the calendar and I remember it was like, John was like, I think it’s kind of all. And I think we just have to keep it, make it raw. Like I think it’s okay to be raw. It’s okay to be a little like, you know, run and gun. Like we’ll figure it out if we have to on the spot, even for certain parts. So there was something about that freedom and that expectation, knowing that it was going to be raw and be real that ultimately kind of transcended everything. It became like not a rehearsal, but it really became, uh, like this crazy, beautiful moment in life, the celebration of culture and ancestry, and like just like spiritual. And it was like, you know, you couldn’t have called it from the beginning, I think. But when we were in that room, you know, I’ll never forget the moment we did. One of the, the tape we did one of the first run-throughs that we did really stands out to me. Um, you know, because we had two pieces, we had the beginning piece and then we had the ending piece, but the whole like, uh, you know, moment with Gregory, you know, um, with Sonny, we didn’t even rehearse, but when we press play on that, that, uh, you know, that track, he just jumped up and started doing it. And it was one of those things where you realize like, oh, this number is going to be incredible because these actors, they know what this moment is. And they’ve been dying for this moment. They’ve been waiting for this moment. So we got to live in, experience it with them. It wasn’t a rehearsal. It was really like this crazy, surreal moment in life that I remember thinking like, wow, this is what happens when music can really like hit you in the soul and, and, and push a story forward and just push actors to just be in the moment. And, um, it was like watching a improv. I mean, it was, it was really, really special. I mean, Lin’s like crying, everybody’s crying and, and, um, yeah, that was that’s my standout,  

Dana: Mine is the same. And I’m going to guess everyone else’s is to show of hands,  kind of all everyone in the zoom room. Yes. The, the shoot day was untoppable, but Chris, yes. I agree. The rehearsal process for that number, getting to spend time with, with each group that gets represented, getting to hear the side conversations, um, watching people wear the flag, hold the flag, share the flag. It was a truly, uh, a remarkable top to bottom. And I think I’m glad that we landed on this moment because this kind of segues nicely into a nuts and bolts question. I think one of the challenges that almost everyone who’s aiming to make a movie musical will face is the challenge of achieving a feeling of spontaneity when you absolutely must be planned. Like you must know where the camera will go. You must, you know, people don’t just spontaneously do the same steps at the same time.  So how do you marry absolute authenticity and a feeling of spontaneity with preparedness like that? I think is one of the biggest challenges that we faced on this project and carnival in that, in the case of that number, the answer was in the music and in the people. Like the, the challenge of planning was more playful than challenging. And when you have a cast as talented as our cast, when you have music as supportive as the music that we had, I’m not going to say it was just like show up and it’s great because it was, we got very strategic. We could run that whole eight minute number top to bottom and we did, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t as challenging to bridge the gap of, and now we dance as some other numbers can be. Yeah.  

Chris Scott: Can I shout out, Eddie Torres Jr and Princess? I mean, really when you’re talking about that, it was like their talent. I mean, they’re incredible. Like it jumps off the screen, the entire film, like you feel privileged to be in the same room with them. Cause they’re all just so they could do the whole movie on live if they had to, you know what I mean, from top to bottom, because that’s just who they were. Um, but you know, Eddie, I remember a big, big thing with this number was like, it was casting those dancers and you know, how important they were to it. And, and every single day we were casting up until really the day of rehearsal. I think even we haven’t rehearsed a little bit and they were still getting where people could make Eddie find, we need more. Um, I’ll pair that too. It’s just like, you know, Eddie’s and Princess, their knowledge in the different Latin styles, knowing what this, uh, moment really needed because in the music there’s stuff embedded. But then also I think Eddie went above and beyond with the Latin styles. Like when we all saw, you know, the Colombian style, the Caleño style, you know, it was like crazy. So, you know, Eddie, um, you know, that was really like a key factor. So I don’t know where that came from. How you, how you did it sometimes I’m still like, how did you find everybody? I don’t know  

Eddie Torres Jr: Dana I’m sorry. I would love to just piggyback off of what both of you just said, going back to the actual, like making it work strategically, but free. I mean, it was easy when you’re under pressure to get things done quick, like we’re talking about, we didn’t have like a week or two weeks to call these people in. It was like Eddie call who, you know, now for tomorrow, they need to be here and they need to represent, and then it’d be down for the cause. And that’s who, everybody who showed up understood that from the get, and that, that, that energy walked through the door, like ready to go. That’s what really happened.  

Dana: Thank you for bringing up the idea of, of a time constraint being a helpful factor. I think all of us in the room right now wish we had had more time, I think, relative to other films of the same scale, like the same footprint, um, rehearsal time would have been more, but we got so much done so quickly. How, how did we do that? Yes. A lot of it is like the right people, having the right people in the room, massively important, Eddie, your community, Ebony, your community like this, the right people came together. Um, but man, if I could have given us one more month, I really would have. 

Eddie Torres Jr: It Would’ve just been fun. 

Dana: It Would be just more fun. Yeah. Maybe not even better,  Maybe not even better, but more fun.

Chris Scott: Um, and can I piggyback on that too? And just say, you know, for me personally, I knew very early on how little time we had with, but it’s weird. Cause I wasn’t like freaking out to be honest, like John might think there might’ve been like a lot of stress, but to be honest, getting you guys as a team was really everything. And I’m not saying that lightly. Like it was really like once I, when I knew I was like, okay, I got to have Ebony Williams, She’s going to be there for anything, contemporary ballet Afro like all those, all these styles, like we’re going to cool. We’re good. Emilio. I know. It’s like, you know, we’ve done this for how long now? Like, you know, when you have a team of people that you’ve worked with, like that, you know, Dana, you were a piece of the puzzle that walked into the room and it was like, oh, this is perfect. Like you clicked in like nothing, you know, from skeleton crew. And it was like, beautiful. We have a partner storyteller with us that’s versed in like, I don’t even know how many styles you can do. But every, every day I was like finding out a new one, you know? And then Eddie and Princess, like, I really do, you know, this, this whole kind of campaign afterwards, you know, I’ve always been like very passionate about making sure that you guys there’s light on you guys as well, because I know as like the head choreographer or whatever it’s, it’s, it’s been, uh, I’m going to have my shine at it. I’m speaking of shines, but you know, but I really do like, and it’s not lightly that I say  you guys as a team, you know, really deserve everything because that’s how you do it. There’s no other way. It would have been impossible. If there’s one thing I wished outside world could get a peek into. It was really the, what, uh, what our dance studios look like. Um, you know, I think the amount of prep that we had being able to in, in, in like a divided way, and then we all come back together and it was really something beautiful that, that nobody really gets to see, you know, and it’s not, I don’t know to me, it was like, it was stressful, but I’m looking at these faces right now and having you guys, um, you know, and Meghan, even just having this piece of the puzzle, because coordinating this, that’s another thing too, like people will never understand, you know, I really do feel responsible to educate people on what a team does in the choreography realm, because it’s not often talked about and it’s not often seen. Um, but you know, like Meghan was brought on to this team is like a, you know, like, like a PA, but it’s not, it’s not what she’s doing. She’s coordinating these massive numbers. I mean, there’s over 200. How many are we at? Like 280 dancers or somebody that you told me the other day you can go through in that, because it’s, I was that many, people’s that much to coordinate, you know, we’re a department, we’re a huge department. Um, you know, and that that’s really a big factor I’m going off now. You know,  

Dana: I’m glad that you mentioned that it’s something that I like try to talk myself through all the time, because I’m stuck between believing that time is this fixed thing that I cannot change or multiply or divide in any way. But when you stack talent, you actually do multiply time. Like that’s what having a team is all about. So it might feel like we don’t have enough time, but there are ways to multiply time. And it’s by dividing talent, it’s by stacking many things happening at the same time, um, in different places and, and, and towards different, uh, on different tasks towards the same goal. And that’s, yeah, that’s how, that’s how we did it.

Chris: What a bunch of talent we stacked, boy, cause there’s a team. Let me tell you something, the talent on the zoom right now.  

We stacked. Uh let’s um, I’m coming to you then Meghan, cause I would love to know your answer to this question you probably received if, okay. So if we hired 288 dancers, you received at least 10X times that emails, while you were working on this project, you were, uh, like helping us rent space. You were coordinating people’s schedules. You were looking to see if anybody had aunties and uncles or, or grandmas that were available to come shoot with us. Like you did a lot of, um, uh, structural work and helping all of the pieces fall into place. And what I would love to know is what you think the hardest thing for you was to do and how you did it.  

Meghan McFerran: The hardest thing for me to do was probably honestly keep communication with Chris on everything while he’s working so hard in the rehearsal room with all of these dancers and I’m on the phone with Warner Brothers, coordinating everything on our end agencies, production dancers. And when me and Chris found time, it was awesome because we were like, boom, boom, boom, get this done, get this done 15 minutes. But then when he’s doing his thing in the rehearsal room and I am doing my thing here, it’s hard to connect the pieces and be like, wait, but we need this to happen tomorrow. And I’m like, well, I’m going to need a few hours. Cause this I, the processes happening. And I am out here out at my computer and we just can’t make this happen right now. We can make it happen. Oh, trust me, our team’s going to make it happen. But it’s not at that very second. So that was hard day in and day out because it was like a daily thing. There’s a dancer that needs something. Production has a question about what props we’re using. And I’m like, great. And what I learned and what kept me going through is just to keep calm because it’s like, you know what, yes, we believe in this team from day one, we’re like, we’re going to make this happen. We are fine. But being able to stay calm when I’m getting texts at two in the morning when I’m getting emails post 12 hour rehearsals emails about this and that I’m happy to answer because we’re here and I know that this team is going to get it done. But I think that that initial connection of phone, emails, computer versus dance, rehearsals counts, choreo, and trying to fuse those two together was hard. But we did it.  

Dana: Yeah, we did. I think that was something not a lot of people consider. Like when you have an eight hour rehearsal day to get steps done, where do the magical hours where you have to be communicating with wardrobe team, communicating with music team at communicating with studios to find rental space, talking with casting over at Telsey. Yeah. Like where you have to make time and find time we are time multipliers. This is what we do. Um, okay. Emilio, I’m coming to you next because holy smokes, you are in damn near every scene of this movie. And you had your hand on the choreography of, I mean, I think we all really did hands-on all pieces. At some point there was nothing that none of us were involved in, right? That’s not how this movie got made, but you’re in almost every scene and you were in every single rehearsal with us for all of the other scenes. So I guess what I am wondering and what I am assuming, people who are listening are wondering are, what are the tips? What are your tricks for being on both sides of the camera? How did you wear both of those hats at once? 

Emilio Dosal: I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s necessarily a trick. I can just tell you that on my end, I just didn’t put a lot of pressure into it. I feel that in many cases, even though I’m a little older now, I still have a very naive sense. And so I try not to look at things as like they’re so, um, you know, huge. And if I fail this and I failed everything right. And like, oh, I have to get this done. I have to get this, I gotta do this. I gotta do this. I don’t apply that sort of pressure. I just kind of like, it’s kind of what I say to everybody. And everybody knows the saying, it’s like, it’s too easy. Right? Because technically what I’m trying to tell myself is is that if this is as hard as it gets, that’s pretty good. And so being on camera was the easiest part of my day If I’m gonna be quite honest, because that’s where I get to perform. That’s where I get to do the thing that I, I absolutely love doing. That’s what I went to into dance for I’ve always been a showman. I’ve always been a performer. And then being behind camera and, and running back and forth, um, actually was exhilarating. Um, I enjoyed the process. I wanted to do it more. Um, and yes, there was, there was stress and, you know, there was a lot of times where I felt overwhelmed. Yes. But that would always come back to it being just too easy. You know, again, it’s, it’s, it’s what you make it. And so I’ve just found myself really in a good place when I would go back and forth to each one. Um, if I wasn’t behind the camera watching to help safeguard and make sure that it looks right. I knew that my job being in front of the camera was to make sure that spirits were up, that we were good to go. I kept every dancer enlightened, ready to like move forward and keep it pushing, you know, because it does get exhausting, you know, as you, as you’ve heard, we do, you know, eight to 10 hour days on concrete and grass and train stations and all the elements. And I just found myself being that person that, you know, what, I have this infinite amount of energy that I need to evolve to my peers so that they can feel enlightened and remember what they’re doing, you know, we’re, we’re on a film showcasing ourselves. I would, I would suggest to everybody who is going to participate in that sort of work, um, bring a little bit of naivety into it, you know, have fun, be, be that inner child that was naive throughout the whole thing. It’s not a bad thing to be naive in those circumstances is actually quite exhilarating. Um, and it gets the job done job done really well. And honestly so much more exciting to be honest. 

Dana: Too easy. Thank you for that as an important moment to like call on perspective. Right. Um, and that can a perspective shift like that could really take something from feeling impossible to actually feeling easy by shifting the way that you’re thinking about it, a more childlike, uh, approach. I appreciate that. Um, okay. So, uh, Chris, we have done a few, um, screenings for like dance community and there’ve been Q and A sessions at the end. You and John, You and John talking together is one of my favorite things to eavesdrop on you understand the way each other make. And I think you’ve grown to be making in really complimentary ways. I think this film is a huge testament to that. Um, but one of the questions, uh, one of the questions that has come up, I think in both of those screenings is how did you find this team? And you spoke specifically about the first conversation you have with Eddie and how it, it turned into an education. Like it didn’t, it didn’t, it wasn’t an audition or an interview. He sat and he, and more, he, more or less schooled you. I mean, stop me if I got the wrong interpretation of that.  

Chris: 100% 

Dana: Um, so what I would love to hear from you, Eddie is if you remember that conversation, if you remember for sitting with Chris, um, if you remember what you told him and if you would share it with us today,  

Eddie: I mean, it’s something that I actually kind of repeat every day just to remind myself and keep it in shape. So I’m glad this is my practice today, basically. Um, you know, when Chris, when Chris and I first met, it was in Brooklyn and we met at this office where he was discussing me possibly dancing in the film, you know, and we just got into a good conversation, you know, first time meeting each other. And somehow we just, you know, we sat down and we were just talking about what I do. And I was saying, Hey, you know, what I do is something called Mambo. And it basically is the truth behind what we call salsa. What we know is salsa. And he’s like, what do you mean? And that led into a whole beautiful conversation, um, which we had to get a pen and paper and draw this triangular slave trade, which dates back to the 15 hundreds. So basically we were just talking about how the Spanish conquistadors, they went to West Africa, took these people and sent them to all different parts of the world, right? So basically you have two sides of the coin, the slaves that were sent to the Caribbean, they allow their music on Sundays. They allow their cultural practices. So out of that was birthed many rhythms, you know, on the, on the, in music. So that’s why we have Bomba y Plena, which is all singing and just drumming, you know? And so, and on the other side of the coin, you have the slaves that were sent to the new world, which just like the US they took away all of the drums. They took away their names, their religion, everything. And by that, we lost Africanism in general. So out of that, they put these slaves to work in plantations. And out of that was born the classic blues. So we had a full-out conversation with drawing with every single detail and showing how all of this evolution created, what we know as salsa, which again was created, by Fania Record Label in the 1970s, basically just to, um, market the music better, you know, they wanted better business and they wanted more popularity of this music all over the world, which they succeeded they did, that they did that 100%. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a success. The only problem is we lost a lot of that. You know, that pure knowledge, the roots. Each rhythm has a dance and you have to respect that. And not only that, but when you put it all into one, you know, it’s just not what it is. Salsas not a rhythm, Salsas not a dance. But on the flip side, we have cha cha, cha, which is a rhythm and a dance, Mambos is a rhythm and a dance that’s song, you know?  So, and w why was this all important? Because this whole film needed a foundation to work off of. We needed roots in every single scene and the music itself, you know, you have the clave right from the beginning of the movie, you have the clave, which is an instrument that was born on the slave ships in the 1500s. So right away, there’s evidence of this beautiful history that we have, but it just never got the chance to be told in its raw form and its authentic form. Chris basically opened the door up to a whole culture that needed to have been seen and heard. I’m talking about specifically Mambo, you know, my family, they worked their whole lives for this moment. You know, my aunts or many of our ancestors have worked for this moment. And here it is, Chris gave me not only me, the opportunity and Princess, but he allowed us to cast you know, a lot of these people in Carnaval, which was so much fun, right? We had to call every Viejito, which is an old man and, or an old woman. We called every single old dancer that we knew. We call the youngest of the babies. And we called all cultures literally to come in to gather in one room. And that’s why it was so fun because I mean, now I’m going into carnival for a second. You didn’t have to really do much. And these people were just happy to be there. They were happy to celebrate their culture. We just, we just said, Hey, who’s Puerto Rican, boom, you have a group. Who’s Dominican. Boom, you have a group. And a lot of, a lot of them, I mean, we’re all related. We all have these, these bridges to each other’s culture. So anyway, just because it became a very natural, organic process and it was just so it was so natural, I would say. And not, not, not that we had to sit there and practice and technique and know this was just like a, Hey, I like that move. This is something we do at the house. Boom, let’s do it here. But again, it’s just, again, rewinding for a second. I know I went on a tangent, this, this film, and it means so much to so many communities, so many cultures who never, ever, ever felt represented. And I’ve gotten so many beautiful messages from people I don’t know people, I haven’t people, I do know who I haven’t heard from years to people that I speak to on a regular and just exchanges in the street. Honestly, just the other day somebody was like, oh my God. Yes, I thank you. And I was like, for what I think for, thank you for, you know, I feel I’m proud to be a Latino and proud, you know, I feel represented even my neighbor, I don’t even know her.  She said, congratulations. And I’m like, and she’s Puerto Rican. She’s like, that’s what we need. You know? So it was we again, and this is just Carnaval but we have so many scenes, so many cultures that are represented in this one film. And that for me was all I ever wanted. 

Ebony: Absolutely. But I think that’s what brought the authenticity. I think that was what it was because we had to rely on the spirit of the people because it does, that’s what makes up the community, you know, like if we had to literally take every piece in every inch of everything and say you be this, you know, like when it’s really in their soul, then it would make it, would’ve made it so dry and technical. It’s just, it’s in them. They were born with it. And so all we had to do was allow them to shine, you know? And that’s you, you say that all the time in the salsa, like, Hey, do the shines, what does, I mean, Eddie you can speak on that part, but like, you know, and I, I think that that’s what made it great is that we just had to really rely on the soul of the people. 

Eddie: Ebony I love you, you know, how I feel,  You know how I feel about you Ebony. I love you so much. And again, that’s, that’s even without Salseros, I would be in front of b-boys and other hip hop dancers and, and, and just telling them, Hey, listen, the undertone of everything, what we call Latin is African that’s. The, that’s what, that’s the full root of all of this. Basically I was telling everybody that I knew on set, listen, do you know that we’re, we’re connected? We’re not separate. Um, you know, the vision is just what that’s, it’s just by style, which I’m not a huge fan. I don’t like the idea of being divided by styles because at the end of the day, we all have the same root, anything that has a drum is African. Anything that has a beat is African. Period. Doesn’t matter, RNB, jazz, hip hop, whatever you Salsa, uh, Mambo. That’s what we all had to understand and bring to this film and through ourselves. So really we wanted this to be felt this wasn’t something that was always pretty, this was something that needed to be felt. And we fought for that. We went for blood  

Dana: I love this notion that learning not need to be a cerebral thing, but a physical thing, a felt thing. And I did really feel like I was learning every day, learning from you all the time, Eddie learning from each of you every day. Um, and maybe this is a good segue actually, uh, Princess, you, I think you are the youngest of the choreo team and you were still in school while we were working on this film, learning so much in, in two different modes, right? Like in the, in the four walls of an institution and also in the real world, if we want to call the movie world of real world on a movie set. Um, so I would love to hear what were your most unexpected areas of growth? 

Princess: I love that question. Oh man. That’s I feel like there were so many, first of all, I just want to start off by saying that, um, since I was in school, Monday through Friday, and at the time I was a freshmen, I was at school Monday to Friday and I had to ask my professors, can I miss class? Like I won’t be in class the whole semester. Can I just turn in work? And this was like, I cannot believe to this day that I was able to miss an entire semester and I had to email everyone and tell them, Hey, I’ve been given this opportunity. And this is a dream that I would, I would be crazy to pass it up. Like, can you please consider me giving out, I would go the extra mile to show up when I can, and I will reach out office hours. I will do whatever I can just give me this opportunity because it’s something that I can’t give up this is my passion. And all of them understood that. And they were able to allow me to go to rehearsals and miss class, which I, I can’t believe it, you know? And so I went into rehearsals. I went into, you know, with you guys to practice and on set. And I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I was there for a reason. And I learned from every single person in this movie. And I think the most important thing that I learned was to was to no matter how hard something is just, you’ll never grow or learn how to deal with that until you throw yourself in the water. And so you throw yourself in the, in the fire, you’re, you’re never gonna, you’re never gonna learn until you, you just have to do it.  

Dana: Thank you. Thank you for that. I really hope that all of my school goers listening are inspired by your story. And I hope that any professors or admins who might be listening can see the value of exceptions for exceptional people. And speaking of exceptional people, Ebony, you’ve been in damn near every pocket of the dance world, that there is from Broadway stages to concert stages, to music, video hall of fames. I’m referencing single ladies, but it’s not the only one, um, to on-camera in films and now behind camera in films. So what I am dying to know is what is your favorite place to be and where do you want to be next?  

Ebony: I love this question because I don’t have a favorite. I wish I could say that I have a favorite, but really all of those things make up Ebony Williams. Um, I’m not one thing, honestly, I don’t think anyone in the world is one thing. So, um, yeah, I, I love a piece of all of that. And I have hopes to be able to make possibilities for younger artists to be able to do the same thing, um, to feel like they are able to jump into creative portals. Cause that’s, my goal is to make creative portals that set free and allow them to not feel like they have to be put in a box ever. Um, so that means chorea, choreographing, directing, um, acting more. That’s something that I really, really want to do. I am also an actor and I feel like most dancers are because we have to be. Um, and that’s something that I’ve been stepping myself into quite a bit. I’ve been training and acting classes and just doing all the things that will set me forth so that I can do new things, new challenges, and, uh, you know, be a new Ebony every day. I think it’s important for us to try to reimagine ourselves. And that means that Ebony yesterday is not Ebony that’s today this Thursday here with you right now. And I hope tomorrow is a new piece of Ebony. So yeah, that’s where I’m at. 

Dana: Yes. I love that you loved that question. And I loved that answer. I know that a lot of people listening have subscribed to the idea that they need to pick one thing to be or one place to put their talent. And you’re such a, an exquisite example of that not being the case. You can put all of your talent in so many places, so congrats and thank you for that. That’s fabulous. Um, all right. Y’all I w I think we could talk for hours and maybe someday a part two will happen, but for now I want to do one more round Robin, the Twitter version, if you could, one thing that you did well, and one thing that you would do differently. If we got to do this all again, I’ll start. Um, one thing I did well, um, I, I did become a person who was better with names and it’s true. I don’t know as many as Meghan McFerran, but I did a pretty good job in the retention of names. I was surprised in my past has been a huge area of insecurity for me. And I knew that in making a movie that is about the people of a place, that it would be helpful to invest in the people of the place and to call them by their name. Um, one thing I would do differently, man, I Eddie, having you in a room for six months and walking away, feeling like I would probably still drown at a club, makes me feel bad. I wish I had practiced the social dance. We, we, we built a movie, we planned it, we structured it. We strategized, we organized, and I don’t think I walk away feeling like a better social dance partner. Um, and I think, I think, I think I got really good at listening to voices, but I would like if I did this again, I would like to get better at listening to my body to become a better partner.  Um, and to spend more time with the social elements of these dances versus the, the organizing and the, the building, like we had to build it. And then in building this movie there wasn’t, or maybe this is just what I was thinking, but there wasn’t a — this isn’t the Twitter version. Let’s be honest there. I didn’t, I didn’t build, I didn’t build a technical foundation for myself that I wish I had, but we built a damn good movie. So that, that is what I would do differently. I would steal you away for at least 20 minutes every day and, and dance with you. 

Eddie: Dana, actually remember we, we, although we were super busy, right? We had to divide and conquer like Chris said, We did have that beautiful moment of the waltz, and that was one of my earliest days. And I remember Emilio, um, but one of the first people, first people that pushed me into the, into the fire, into the flames, you know, between Emilio and Dana, you both really pushed me to like, you know, for me, my first movie, I want everyone to know that right now, it’s my first movie ever. This was something that I was looking at the whole choreo team. I was studying you all as I was choreographing and learning.  

Dana: I know, that’s why I have to ask. I have to ask that I want to make an example that we should all be doing that and celebrating ourselves all the time. And I love that reflection. Um, okay. Ebony, what did you do well, what did you, what did you do that you loved?  

Ebony: I do think that I listened well to the things that I need for my future. Um, I recognize a lot of the spaces in which I need work, and I think that was really important to me and for me. Um, things that I would do differently would be number one, be kinder to myself. I would say a similar to you similar to you. I would say that I, as someone who’s always been looked at as a versatile artist, because I have been in several pockets of the lands, um, I think I would try to investigate deeper some of those spaces, because I think that what I have done well is be a good chameleon in a space, but that’s because it’s out of survival, you know, I think living in the moment and finding spaces to enjoy it instead of just go and making it work and figuring it out, I think I would find more space of joy, um, in the moment, you know? So that, that also a part of the memory forever not taking any of those moments for granted  

Dana: Well said. Beautiful. Um, okay. Uh, Emilio, what do you think? What did, what did you do well? What would you do differently if we got a second pass?  

Emilio: Uh, I’ll keep my short, uh, what I did well is, uh, I just, I went hard every single day. You know what I’m saying? I left everything on the table. Um, um, I’m not that kind of person that’s going to come in and do, you know, the easy feed I’m going to go hard every single day. And I’m going to apply that because I want to be the example every single time. I want to be the smallest, the fastest, the most joyous and the most exciting every single time I step in the rehearsal space. And I did that. So I’m excited. I’m happy for that. Um, if I were to go back and redo it again, I would honestly go to more light feet events, but I I’ve only went to like two and I really wish I could go back and go to more events and immerse myself more into the culture of light feet and Harlem, and be a part of that because it is something that I truly love right now. And, um, you know, yeah, knowing that the Mecca is there, New York, I really wished I, I got to take advantage of that more.  

I hear you, my friend. I hear you. Thank you for that. How about you, Meghan?  

Meghan McFerran: Hmm. What did I did? Well, I know this one. Uh, I made sure that I gave every dancer a hug in the morning when they came in and I did it every single day. And I think it set everyone up for no matter what was going on. Like we were about to step into like a 12 hour dance day and people are freaking out. Like they might’ve just been called in at three in the morning by me and having no idea what they’re stepping into. Like, what are we doing today? I don’t know I’m here. And I was just like, hi, gave everyone like a good three second hug and was like, let’s go.  

Dana: Um, and something you would do differently.  

Meghan: The diversity of people that we worked with, and then me being on production side dancers, side cast side, I think I could have fit in one really important, special question that I could have asked each person that I worked with in order to learn more about literally everything, film, dance, cultures. I wished that I had written down just a single question every single day that we either rehearsed or once we’re on set and just was like, Hey, been meaning to ask you this. And I could have learned I think a lot.  

Chris Scott: Yeah. You can ask the questions right now because you still got to text people. You gotta, you got everybody contact info, you can reach out. The movie is over, but the relationships are there forever. So get those questions together and then shoot them off. 

Dana: It’s so true. Yeah. Yeah. Group, group texts, please. Um, okay. Princess, what do you think?  

Princess: Um, something I did well would be just going with the flow every day. It was something new and you just have literally just go with the flow. And so something I would do differently would be to voice my opinion more. Um, I feel like I was a quiet most of the times and I wouldn’t voice my opinion. And then someone would say something I was thinking, I’d be like, damn it. You know

Dana: It’s one of the it’s, it’s one of the things that they don’t teach in school in any dance class is the knowing when to talk and knowing when to shut up and dammit, I am still learning it every single day and sometimes its the hard way,  And y’all have been there and seen it. And, you know, but having your finger on the pulse of your voice and the temperature of the room is something that I think is a obviously very valuable, but B takes time to, uh, to really become sensitive to.   

Eddie Torres Jr: I love that you said that is, can I go? I want to go, yay. Okay. I know I answered, so, okay. So something I know I did. Right, right. So I know for sure when it came to representation, I know I did a hell of a job representing every single part of the Latin choreography that I could, I would literally, cause I I’ve been, I’ve been preparing for this moment. And then when I finally get the chance to do that, um, and you allowed me also like really just go full out with all the dancers and in certain parts of the, of the process, I’ve just, I couldn’t be more proud of course of them, but just like, I never thought I would even do this. I never thought I would be able to lead a whole community to, to a glorious representation of our dance, you know? And, and that for me is it was beyond what I ever dreamed of to be honest, you know, and then something I know something I would, I would change. I would, uh, I would always bring, if I could, I would have brung swimming shorts to every damn rehearsal, because there was, uh, there was some mean ass times, man, I, it was rough for me. I did not have no swimming shorts and I could not flunk out of rehearsal. And Chris said, we all need to be there at the pool. You gotta be there. So I’ve, I remember every single time I would go to the pool and I would look at everyone and everyone’s so prepared. Everyone was so prepared when we got there, they had some nice, cute shorts, swimming shorts, and you know, I would just roll my sweat pants up, just slip into the corner. And my, my, my sweatpants look like, yo, it looked crazy on the water and nobody  

Dana: Yo swim sweats.  Yo that’s, that’s a, that’s a corner of the market. Eddie. You could be the first Kanye did leather, leather sweats, you got swim sweats. You got, you have an angle on the market. And the commercials, you know, would be fabulous. The dancing would be great. You know, stop it.

Chris: I thought this podcast was sponsored by NYC mambo swim sweats Is that right?  

Dana: It is now we’re doing, I will be photoshopping flyers. Don’t you even use it? 

Eddie: Well, the worst part was how it got revealed. That was the worst part. Like I was, I was okay. Rocky, my sweat pants on the water. Um, until one day we were in the pool. I think I had gotten away with it at least twice. So I’m like, this is great. And we’re all dancing in the pool. And for some reason I battment, my right leg up and then I put it back down and Chris looks underwater. He’s like, wait, what? And I’m like, shut up. He’s like, wait, nah, hold up, everybody what’s. And I’m like, bro, stop please. And he starts dying, laughing. And I’m like, you’re just, I’m giving him that look. I’m like, please, please do not do not. And everybody I’m talking about, like everybody looked under water just to look at what I was wearing. And there you go. I had a thick ass pair of sweatpants on that were rolled up to my upper thighs, suffocating my legs. It was, it was so embarrassing.  

Chris: That’s so beautiful and so brilliant. And there was no way I was gonna let that go man.  One of the highlights I was between that and carnival, I was like, I couldn’t really decide what you want to say. Um, I won’t count them all, but that was a close second.  

Eddie: No, real quick, because this is also the ending of Carnaval was insane. Insane. We were all like, I think we were all bleeding, gut blood was gushing out of our knees from Rudy’s elbow and everybody was crying and laughing and celebrating and jumping. And, but that for me,  

Dana: And that was after everybody got wrapped. Like nobody went home. It was the hottest day. It was the smallest area. There was the, the holding area where was holding area that day,  

Eddie: 181st street.  

Dana: So we, yeah. And just nobody left at the end of a what? 12 hour day, how long was that day?  

Chris: It was the longest death that I was like 14 or 16. It was crazy. It was like, as long as they get a year with the sun, like the sun. Wow. It was crazy  

Dana: That that is why that moment  

Chris: When we were over time. And I remember the, you know, David and Nick say shout out to him to, you know, our producer, um, for letting us stay. Cause a lot of times they don’t want to do that because it’s like, well, we got a ton of money. Like, let’s go, you guys gotta go. 

Dana: Um, thank you for saying that, 

Chris: To stay on set to celebrate this huge moment. You know, it was worth every penny to him and I, and I’m just so grateful that he did that. He did let that happen as it was so necessary after a day like that. And you need those moments like otherwise, why are we doing this too much hard? And if you get shut down from those molds is so important to a film like this, when we so hard to make,  

It was essential. That moment was essential. I’m so glad you brought that up. Thank you, Chris. What did you do well? 

Chris:  I think I Did this well. Um, I think it took me a while to really understand how important it was. And I think once I understood it, I started to do it even better. So I think listening was like a really big deal as a choreographer for this film, because like, you know, I knew, I already knew like when Eddie came in, like we talked about it when he came in with him, I knew like anything cultural is like, no, you, listen, you listen to, who’s telling you from a culture. Like I knew that going into it, there would be other incidents where it’s like, I would have an idea that I’d want to try And one of the actors, for example, well, I don’t know. I don’t connect to that or whatever. And in my mind, I’d want to just like, I just want to do it. But then like I started realizing, you know, what? These actors are like super brilliant. They’re really smart. They’re really talented. Um, so I, I like kind of, there was like a moment I remember shifting and I started every number I went from just like having my ideas and the ideas that even I talked about with John, you know, we’d have ideas together. Um, and I would just like try stuff or John would give me room to play and whatever. And I remember like around like No Me Diga, for sure. I remember being like, it’s really important to listen to the actors and give them room to, to, to explain to you what they think even before you really get into the rehearsal. So I started doing that everywhere. I didn’t make like a big deal about it. I wasn’t like, okay, this is what I decided doing it. And like, Hey, what are you like when you think, and you know, there’s gonna be moments where, like I had my thoughts that would, um, I’d want to, I want to have the space to try and everything. And then, you know, you just find the balance or whatever, but, um, you learn really quickly as a choreographer. Like when you’re in it with these storytellers, you know, everybody, all the actors, everybody’s a storyteller when you’re making these films and should treat everybody like that. And when you hear what they say, they will give you gold. Like there were so many times, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re sitting next to Anthony Ramos in a bodega, and you’re, you’re going to try to give him things to do in a bodega. Sometimes the last thing is just let him tell you what happens in about like, how he feels in a bodega, because Anthony Ramos knows what it’s like to be in a bodega, you know, more than I’ll ever understand. So I think that was one thing I really started to do better. As the, as the time went on, it’s something that I’m proud of eventually like, like listening to Abuela Claudia, you know, Olga explained Paciencia y Fe, you know, I’ll never forget that rehearsal. It was like a big one. I tell all the time, I’m like, you changed my life that I know. And, you know, I would just never forget that day of like, I started to explain the number to the dancers and like within 30 seconds I was like, wait, I just stopped myself because now here’s Olga her first day. So I’m like, oh the, do you mind, would you explain what the sensor that your face is about?  And she’s like, sure, she goes into this thing. And she says, you know, I’ll tell you, Chris, when you get to be my age, you stop thinking about the future because there is no more future. Everything comes up, becomes about the past and the decisions that she made that led you to where you are today. And I was like, oh my God. I mean, well, that’s what the numbers I saw. I didn’t even understand really the, the root, the heart of this number, you know, and that’s what it became. And then, and then you just listen and you listen to me and just everybody, um, you know, but at the same time, it’s kind of the same answer to what I could do better. You know, I think in a, in a weird way as like now that I have that like, perspective and I’m like, oh, I’m proud of myself.  Like having those moments of those revelations, you know, I, I would, I could go on, you know, if I could go back again, it would just be from day one. That’s all. I would just really start the process like that. And just, um, you know, because I think for me it was helpful. I’m, I’m a builder. Like I like to build off of things and build off of people. And the more information you have, the more you can build, you know, some people aren’t like that. Some people want to have their, their moment, their time of ahead to just create blank space and then, and then adjust as they need to. But I really do love, um, as much input from the beginning to really just shape and mold something that, that, that, that everybody kind of has a voice in, because I think, you know, that’s when one everybody’s invested a different way, you know, and, and everybody, um, it brings everybody to the same page a lot quicker because you can’t have somebody performing choreography that they don’t understand because it comes from your mind. It’s just beneficial. So, you know, that’s not too complicated. Does it say, you know, I think my, my something I’m proud of myself that I did well, I think ultimately is also the thing that I could go back onto it and even better. And there you go,  

It makes so much sense. Yes, yes. 100%. This is what I wanted. This is what I needed. Uh, well, thank you all so much for a lovely walk down memory lane, uh, ****  eating grin on my face from ear to ear for over an hour. Um, I really appreciate you doing this and it feels great to still be sharing this thing and still be learning from this thing. Like we learned every single day on the job. So many things. And now every day that the movie is out there in the world, we’re learning different things about how it’s received. We’re learning different ways about how to, um, how to do work moving forward. Like what a tremendous gift this has been. And you all are a gift in my life. Thank you so much. I don’t have words. Appreciate you all tremendously. I love you.  

Well, there you have it. And there, I have it a time capsule of one of the most precious and important chapters of my life. Um, and also a peek into our world of dance in nights. I really hope that you enjoyed that. I hope that you watch the movie 180 trillion times, and I hope you get out there into the world, into your community and keep it very, very funky. Thanks everybody for being here. I will talk to you very soon. Bye

Me again, wondering if you ever noticed that one more time almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe, and leave a rating or review because your words move me too. Number two thing, I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

Ep. #77 Times and Rhymes with Tyce Diorio

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #77 Times and Rhymes with Tyce Diorio
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Emmy award winning choreographer, Tyce Diorio and I cover A LOT in this episode.  We talk about finding and being friends in a dog eat dog world, we discuss our processes and passion for movement coaching, and of course we talk In The Heights (in theaters and streaming on HBO Max NOW!)  Like so many, I have looked up to Tyce for years, and this episode feels a whole lot like sitting down with my hero… and then winding up having a pillow fight and braiding each other’s hair (yes, games will be played!)!  It’s pure fun, ease, and openness.  ENJOY!

Quicklinks: 

Get Tickets to In The Heights Here: https://www.intheheights-movie.com


Katie Holmes “Get Happy” So you Think Piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNV4VxIVW7I


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, good people and welcome to Words That Move Me. I’m Dana, I’m jazzed that you are here and I am so, so, so excited to share this conversation with one of my favorite people in the biz, Mr. Tyce Diorio who I have known and looked up to for years and years, because if you do not already know Tyce, you are about to find out his career is truly remarkable, um, and vast, so wide reaching. Um, and finally two summers ago, Tyce and I got to work together on In the Heights, which we’ll get to chatting about in just a second. But first let’s do wins! Let’s do wins! Because In the Heights is my win. This week in the Heights, the film is in the world. Please go see it. If you are healthy, if you are comfortable, go see it in a theater because dang it this is the stuff the big screen was built for! I’m  Celebrating in a crazy way inside and outside being a part of the production. More specifically the choreo team that put more than 280 dancers on the big screen. Many of them for the very first time I’d like to add, I genuinely don’t have words, which for those of you who listen a lot is, you know, is saying a lot. I don’t have words, um, to explain my gratitude or my pride in being a part of this project, but I will try to find them soon because an In the Heights choreo team episode is coming through the pipeline. So buckle up. It’s going to be so great. I’m very, very excited. I hope I have more adequate words to explain the way I feel about this project. And of course, we’ll be talking a little bit about the process, but In the Heights is in the world. That’s my win. Please go see it and share this, win with me. Um, if you’ve seen it, then heck that can be your win too. But if you haven’t seen it, I’m dying to hear what is going well in your world. It’s your turn. 

All right. Awesome. Congratulations. I’m so glad that you are winning. Now. Let’s dig into this Tyce Diorio Ooh, where do I begin? Tyce is a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor and also in the business. But as you’re about to find out that is balanced with tremendous kindness, a gentleness that is difficult to find in this industry and also an appreciation for the simple things like, you know, genuine human connection and friendship. So for those reasons, this episode is strong, but also super, super soft. And you will 100% on a stick around for the laugh attack at the end of the episode, because Tyce and I have a gift that we would like to share with you. And it’s so much fun. You do not want to miss it. Your quality of life is about to go so far up. So get ready and enjoy this conversation with the one and only Tyce Diorio 

Dana: Tyce Diorio! I am so excited about the conversation that is about to ensue. Thank you so much for being here. 

Tyce: Thank you For having me. I’m a fan,  

Dana: Um, mutual fandom. I love mutual fandom. Um, most of my listeners, people who know me probably know that I really love versatility and it is possible my friend, that you are the most versatile guest that I have ever had. Um, I think, you know, from being an educator to a movement coach, to a choreographer, to still being a dancer, um, even still dancing in films, shout out In the Heights, which we will definitely get there. Um, but you choreograph for TV, film stage and beyond. Uh, that’s the very small nutshell. Now I’m going to ask you to do something. I ask all my guests to do some of them hate me for it, some of them it’s awesome. But I’m going to ask you to introduce yourself and simply tell us anything you want us to know about you.  

Tyce: Hi, I’m Tyce Diorio. I am a dancer, I’m a choreographer and I’m a really good friend.  

Dana: And it’s important that your listeners know that. And I will co-sign or back that up with this strong, friendly stamp of approval.  

Tyce: I say that because it’s really important to me, you know, through dance, you know, I have an amazing tribe of people here in Los Angeles. And so, yeah,  

I think that’s a really great place to start actually, because I only recently learned that you’re born in Brooklyn. Um, and I have a lot of listeners in New York and I have a lot of friends in New York as we’re speaking of this. And I know it’s a goal for so many to become bi-coastal. Yeah. I’m so curious about how that happened for you and any words of wisdom or tips that you might give somebody who’s who’s eager to live that life.  

Yeah, I mean, growing up in New York, as you know, New York is so fast paced and like, you know, New York and LA are like the leading capitals of dance. So being in New York city, uh, growing up that way, it w you know, it came from a local studio, danced in Manhattan, went to the high school performing arts, the famed high school, performing arts, you know, I was the lucky guy just to be there. And, and, and so, you know, and I have theater right in front of my face. So I, I just, I immersed myself in all of that, as one would do, being in New York city, taking advantage of all the, all of the privileges that came along with that coast. And so, you know, um, I, you know, obviously in New York city, you have to like sing, you have to dance, you have to act. And so it just, it was just no choice. And you have it all available to you. And so many amazing people who, who do that and who educate and who can be a mentor and who can inspire. So, yeah, I spent most of my life in New York City, and we learned a few things about, you know, dance, being a dancer. We learned there was no stability. You know, 

You are the stability, you have to find your core, you have to find your leg because you are the center of a very, uh, spinning world. It’s important that you know how to spot.  

Absolutely. You know? And so, yeah, I, I mean, and then I came to LA and because I was so intrigued by Los Angeles. And  

Was it just curiosity at first that that brought you out?  

I was on a television show early on, and I had seen what Jackie Sleight was doing for a male dancers. And I, and I was intrigued because I had never, I mean, I was dancing like, you know, New York Dancers dance, we go into a class, we dance our it’s an hour warmup. Do you know what I mean? And, and it’s just very different. It was very different. And it was like a rivalry rivalry between New York City and LA at the time, and who’s better and all that stuff. So I came to LA, I saw Jackie Sleight and I saw the way, you know, like Bill Bole was dancing and Bubba Carr and all that Aaron Cash and all those incredible people. So I came to LA and I just jumped in the water. 

Oh my gosh. I love that Jackie Sleight is part of that origin story. She’s part of mine as well. Um, I was a young convention dancling when I first met Jackie Sleight and I will never forget her, her teaching style, her way of engaging people with words, as well as with her movement. I am still riveted by her to this very day. She’s got to come on the podcast.

That woman has so much 

Legendary. Coming for you, Jackie I’m coming. Um, thank you also for dishing out some more legendary names. I hope our listeners are taking notes and doing good Googleage after this. Um, well, I’m thrilled that you, you wound up here. I wonder if our paths would have crossed otherwise, but, uh, you and I met through, I think we met personally through a mutual, uh, that’s a made up word, a mutual friend, Melanie Benz. And I think that speaks to like the interconnectivity, the importance of relationships in the industry, because it wasn’t work that brought you and I together, but work has come since then. Um, and I love that about what we do, but I think it’s unique. You know, I think in other industries, let’s say the skill is truly the most important thing. And I don’t know that that’s true for our industry. I think that on par with that is personability, professionalism, um, um, uh, uh, contribution to the process. Um, so I, yeah, I don’t know what I, I don’t, I don’t think there’s a lesson there. I guess what I’m encouraging in people is that if you’re a good person consider that, a credit on your resume, because it is helpful in the long run.  

Absolutely. A hundred percent. I think, even though I came from New York, I came to LA and I instantly met some of the greats. Like I ended up crazy enough working with Michael Peters and like, you know, Paula Abdul, yada yada, yada Vince Patterson, all the greats. And it was, I just felt like my path and I think we all as artists or dancers and we get, we get coupled up with the right energy. It’s like a matched energy. I feel so it’s like what I was putting in and what I was desiring, all the, all the, the people that came into the pathway were direct matches for me. So I think I knew about process and I, I, I loved process because it is the most important, so I wasn’t results driven. So that was really good. And I, I managed to maintain and stay that way. And through today, you know,  

Uh, yes, I do know. Um, okay. I want to talk about this idea of matching number one. I want to talk about you matching with Paula Abdul on star search. Um, is that not how you got your break? Was she, how, how did that moment work?

I was on star search, uh, you know, um, and then Paul Abdul, funny enough was one of the judges. And, um, I was, but I wasn’t on as a soloist. I was on with like two girls. So, you know, that was the connection. And then I went back on star search as a soloist, and then I had won the whole thing. And then I came to LA and Julia McDonalds set up a private audition for me and Paula and I went into a room with her and she, she put on our music and she made me dance. Right. And improv right there. 

How old were you at the time? Do you think it was, 

I was 18 or 19. Yeah. Wow.  

Does it feel oddly full circle to now be involved with a show? Like, so you think you can dance and giving that first break moment to so many dancinglings  

That was, that was an interesting, uh, connection and believe it or not that connection. And I say it all the time. That was because of Marty Kudelka. It was Marty Kudelka actually recommended me. He was on Marty was on the first season, I believe. And, um, and I was in New York actually doing, I’d been in Los Angeles living, but I went home. They asked me to do Chicago for a few months. So I did Chicago for like six months. And so I was doing that and having a great time and got a call from Nigel Lithgoe and Jeff Thacker and said, Marty, Kudelka recommended you to choreograph, um, a Fosse piece. And so I flew out to LA on Marty’s recommendation, and I never forgot that because, you know, truth be told, not everybody is, is, um, uh, giving enough to recommend people in our industry. And that’s just kind of the truth of it all, but I don’t, I don’t, I just come from, oh, Hey, you have to call so-and-so. You have to, this is that I come from that. So it’s, you know, so it’s not uncommon to me, but, uh, Marty Kudelka really showed that, you know, um, because our connection with Janet Jackson and then, and how he ended up working with her, you know, um, after I had done some work with her on tour and, and videos and stuff, so,  

Thats Right. I’m so glad that you mentioned him and are singing his praises because it reminds me, I think his name is possibly the most mentioned on the podcast. Um, and he is the person that extended a similar kindness to me. Um, and, and many, many, many kindnesses actually throughout my career, I safely can say, I wouldn’t have this career without that person at all, not even close. Um, Marty is, you know, people call this a dog eat dog world. And although Marty is my dog, there is, there is nothing dog eat about that person that Marty gives credit where it is due. He’s the first to, uh, to share space and make space for other people and their talent. Um, I’m so completely grateful for that. And I actually wonder, do you remember what season that was that you,  

So you think I went on the first season. My first show was the finale of the first season. So I went and did a Fosse piece, and then they brought me back season two, and they were like, can you do contemporary? And I was like, yeah, can you do jazz? I was like, yeah, Broadway. I was like, yeah. And then I, I did, like, I did an African Piece and, you know, and when you talk about versatility, I just throw it back to my, the way I trained at my dance studio, my local, the local dance studio. I went to, we were doing all of that at 10 years old. I mean, I had an African dance teacher named Luanis Luanis from Africa and we were dancing. So all these things, all the tapes are still in my mind. So it never leaves you what you were exposed to from your dance studio. And I think that’s so important, you know, cause we all come from dance studios and you know, they give us that.  


Well, not all of us, but most of certainly most of the people listening to this podcast, do I think they’re like me, you know, you talk about finding your people. And I think, yeah, like attracts, like, and I, I grew up a studio kid as well. No African in my dance studio, unfortunately for me. Um, I’m, I’m very jealous of that because the more I learn about what I do, the more I learn the roots and all of it stems from African people. Um, and I am mesmerized by that and I’m always eager to be growing and learning and also sharing and making space for people to get excited about that. Be introduced by that. Um, I think it’s a gift to be exposed to many styles that early on, especially African, um, I do want to ask though, because this comes up a lot with friends of mine and it was a part of the story that I told myself early on is that it was not a good thing to be a generalist that LA especially loves a specialist. We’re not looking for somebody that’s decent at all styles. We’re looking for the best Krumper and the best Popper and the world’s greatest B-boy like those were what the castings were looking for at the time that I moved out here anyways, which is way, way back in 2005. Um, but did you ever struggle with being categorized a generalist or not as a specialist or were you really just that good at everything?  

You mean me as a dancer? You mean me as a dancer? Right. I came to LA and I feel like, um, I was a certain kind of dancer and I w and I think in all of the projects that I, most of the projects I did, I was probably, I was always singled out for a feature or this, or I could, you know, I, I feel like I brought more to the table than just dance. Cause I felt like coming from New York, you were always telling a story and you were always acting and you were always like there was purpose. So it was, you know, it was celebrated, I think, you know, by a lot of different choreographers, you know? So I felt lucky. I felt lucky  

You’re echoing a few sentiments from a previous episode with Miguel’s Zarate where we were talking about the value of not fitting in. And yes, it’s great to be a specialist, but let’s remember how special it is to be you who’s exactly from where you’re from and exactly exposed to all the things you were exactly exposed to. And that, that made exactly you and holy smokes. I’m so thrilled that I know you and get to dance with you. Um, so let’s talk about that. Okay. Oh, wait back up, back about book before we go forward, we go back just one second on the subject of Marty Kudelka one of the graces that he extended to me was asking, uh, if I would like to collaborate co-choreograph a piece for, so you think you can dance with him is the only time I ever choreographed for the show, we got to work with Jose and Comfort who I, adore and we had an absolute ball. And I remember meeting you on the show. So you must have been there in season seven. 

Yeah. I, yeah, I’ve done a lot of seasons.  

I actually know that you’ve done a lot of seasons because I know that you’ve done 13 seasons.  

Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I, I, yeah, I’ve done a lot.  

Um, I suppose I could ask for outstanding moments. Do you want to talk at all about your Emmy win or is it,  

That was absolutely wonderful and sort of crazy, but just to wrap it up in a, um, brief little story of that, I’ve  

Always for a second, I thought you were going to say wrap it up in a tortilla. Cause that was the shape you were making tiny little burrito out of it. This is what it would be into  

I’m into it and I’m totally up to it. Um, no, I, I think maybe, uh, I don’t know, dancers might be inspired or anybody could be inspired by, um, I always saw myself. I always have these movies in my mind. I think I always saw movies or like this mini movie in my mind. Like I always knew I was, was going to dance with Janet Jackson or I knew I had, but I knew that I was walking up some stairs. I knew I, I saw this movie in my mind. I was walking upstairs and I, I had this gold award in my hand and I was speaking about all the people that I, you know, that helped in that process and, and that, and, and yeah, I didn’t know it was going to happen at, So you think you can Dance, but, but it ended up happening and it was a beautiful, magical moment.  And, um, yeah, and the fact that I was able to create a library, I, you know, I, wasn’t a choreographer when I got on the show, I, I actually landed that, you know, television show and I just so happened to be dancing the Fosse work. So they felt like I could do this Fosse piece. And I did that. And then I just, I kind of just stayed in each moment and I didn’t really get ahead of myself. And I was just kind of like, yeah, I can do that. Cause I knew I just needed to work on my craft and at least find a little tiny voice of as a choreographer. So I did that like a lot. So I took every episode they gave me and I just worked on it. And so eventually it paid off and I started to find a little voice in there. And um, yeah, and I, I met so many people like, you know, Chris Scott, who we’ll get to who some of the loves of my life at, at, uh, so you think, and we all, you know, Sonya Taya, Stacy Tookey all these beautiful people, all of them, you know.

And, and what a great way to make your muscles as big and strong by helping others to become big and strong. I I’ve heard, you know, a lot of experiences from the show, from the contestants point of view. And of course it’s a ringer, of course it’s a challenge. That’s the point, it’s a competition show and it is also a reality show. So circling back to, it’s not always, no, if at all, about your talent, um, which I remember being so frustrated about that show in the beginning when I was, when I was younger, when I was like contestant age, I hated that about the show. And I was like, that’s not real life. If this is, if this is a dance show, the best man or woman or person should win. Um, and then I noticed that this was about America’s favorite dancer and those aren’t always the same person,  

Right? Yeah. You know, and from the choreography standpoint, you know, the choreographers are in this, uh, um, little pit, like, you know, we’re, you know, we all want to do well. We all want to, to rise to the occasion. So it’s, there’s the dancers. And then there’s the choreographers because yes, it is a reality show. It’s television, you know, it was about the pieces that they performed, you know, and the connections between all of us, like I had been there from season one, you know, and all the new choreographers and the great people that I ended up meeting, like Nappy Tabs and Chris, you know, they’d come in and they’d be like, oh my God, I like, or what are they going to say about my number? And I was like, and I remember telling them that because I had been there a bit and went through that same thing. And so I felt it important to say, Hey, listen, you know, they can say what they want about your number, but the truth is is that you leave here with that, that’s your work and next week, no one’s ever going to remember what they said. So it’s like, you just stay, stay, stay with you. You know? So, because I have learned that I’ve learned that, um, early on there, cause it’s, it’s a daunting experience because  

For sure. And I think that actually spreads beyond that show into, into everything. I think the, the work is what people remember. Um, I’m thinking about myself, like YouTubing specific numbers from that show, I would scrub right through all the chatter at the beginning and I would not stick around for the chatter at the end. Um, I thought that I was alone in that, but I don’t think I am. I think you’re spot on. Um, so maybe let’s stick on that theme for a second on the subject of competition. Um, we talked about the choreography worlds being kind of a dog eat dog world. And we are a community. We are an industry that’s working desperately to organize and find ourselves a home, find ourselves some, some semblance of collective bargaining somehow. Um, and it’s challenging to do when, when there isn’t a sense of unity. Um, I know it’s possible because the dance community did it. And I came up through the dance community, which was also dog eat dog, tremendously competitive. And I think there are more dancers than choreographers. So if the dance world could do it, I think the choreography worlds can do it. Um, but I would love to hear your thoughts on competitive nature within our industry. Is it useful? How do you manage it? 

That’s an amazing question. I’m glad you asked. And, um, I guess after, after, after 2020, um, but even before that, I think for me, I think I was starting to formulate. I’ve never, you know, I grew up, you know, in the competitive world for a little bit, you know, I, I maybe did competition dance world for like four years, you know, and I grew up competitive and you know, I’m competitive with myself, but I do remember being like seeing some great dancers, like male dancers when I got to LA and never, I never felt the better you were and the more talented you were, I was like, we’re going to be friends because I, I need what you have. So I re I never remember being like sharky about any of that ever. The better you are, the more talented, the more we were going to be friends. And I have so many friends that are so, you know, talented and have all those great qualities. So, um, I feel about competition in the industry. I feel even after last year, I, I think, you know, we all have a whole different perspective on life in the world. And so many things that I just decided like, yeah, I know, no, no. 

Yeah, no, I’m not going to do that. Oh,  

I mean, I mean, I’m an adult, but like, I don’t, you know, I just think like, to be competitive and, you know, it’s just, that’s just not important. It’s just so it’s so not important. It’s so 10 years ago, 

it’s not in fashion, 

It’s not even important. Oh God. Like even more so now it’s just, yeah. And especially the industry being as hard as it is, you want to add another layer of a layer of competitive newness on it. I just think it’s, doesn’t serve it. Doesn’t serve me. That’s for sure. You know, and having to like, yeah, just all the things you have to do in this industry, like, you know, putting the pressure on yourself or, you know, feeling like I have to achieve this by this. I I’m like no, none of, none of that, none of that is important at all. You know? Cause again, it’s really about process. It’s about connection. I think it’s about, um, you know, just get, getting, losing yourself in your art and, and, and not being so results driven because that’s, that only can equate to one thing and, you know, and just, and think, think about all the artists you love and that you admire and respect. I think it’s really important too, that you know, that the, the, the artist meets the person to, you know, like where the artist meets the person. Cause it’s like in our industry, as long as we’re talking about industry and the, the reality of it is, is, um, you see things on a TV screen or, um, you know, on, on your phone and it looks as if it’s a certain way, but that is not the reality. The reality is, is it’s not everything is, as it seems is what I’m saying. So when you, what’s great, is that when you meet an artist, whether it be an actor, a singer dancer, choreographer director, yada, yada, yada, that the person actually meets, uh, the artists they’re as great as a human, as their artistry, you know? And I’m just keeping it real. I I’m just trying to keep it real just because we’re having a conversation. So we’re going to talk for real about, yes,  

Let’s go! There are a lot of smoke and mirrors and that, and actually, and nobody’s trying to hide that it’s an industry that’s based on making things look like something else, the actors are doing it, the set designers doing it, the lighting team is doing it. There’s no mystery. Like we are in the business of making something that isn’t what it is. Right. So really useful to be what you are to know who you are, so that you can do that with, with clarity and go home and get a good night’s sleep at the end of the day. However, it was that you spent your day before that point. Um, okay. So now let’s get into talking about how we got to spend some of our days during the summer of 2019. Um, you, you talked about finding a friend in Christopher Scott, and you talked about, you know, the pressure of being on. So You Think You Can Dance the pressure of having a great number. And I think that Chris is somebody who balances being a friend and being a professional who has a seriously high bar of expectations. Um, during the process, it was like no end to achieving the dream. Yeah. It was very rare that he felt like we’ve got it even up to the days before the shoot or during the freaking shoot. It’s still like trying to make it that much better. And one of the, one of the ways I remember you coming into play of this film is we were casting this number. That’s very special number in the film called Paciencia y Fe and we, uh, he, he wanted real looking humans, different ages, different sizes, different shapes, but like real looking people that have magic and charisma. And he said, Tyce has to do this. Tyce would be so perfect. Um, and this was, you know, not a, not an easy or natural step for you. I’m sure you were in the middle of other projects and life and work and things. So how was it that, how was it that the project came to you? How did you feel about doing it and what are your thoughts about the process?  

Well, um, wildly, you know, I’m wildly a fan of Chris Scott because it’s, it’s so rare. Um, Chris is, is rare in this industry. And so when you find those golden nuggets, you hang on to them and we really connected at So you Think as people, as people and we just really respected each other’s craft and artistry, so that was good. And we just became friends and then, um, cut to, um, you know, I, I had been choreographing at the time. Uh, well I worked with Taylor Swift for about nine years, you know, on yes,  

That’s right. That’s an overlap. Okay. Yes.  

And I, um, and we had Chris come in on the 1989 album and do like two or three numbers. Um, and so we connected even more there. And so, uh, it’s always been a, uh, uh, like a love fest, like just, you know, and so I was in New York and I got a call and he was like, Hey, um, I think I saw, he might’ve seen from my Instagram that I was in New York or whatever. And I was like, yeah. And he had mentioned, he’s like, I really want you to do In the Heights. And I was like, oh, okay. I was like, I was like, definitely. Absolutely. And the dates ended up working out. And so of course always, always always know, you know, like when, when there’s an opportunity to dance and it’s people you love and admire and respect all day every day. And I’ve always done that, you know, as like somebody who’s got a project and they asked me, you know, you’re more selective now that you’re, you know, you know,  

Now that the cartilage in your knees is wearing out.  

I mean, listen, thank God. My knees are good, but you know, it’s like, but I just, I just, um, I love to dance. So, and I love to be with good people that dance and create, so,  

Oh, we had so much fun and you’re going to be so proud Mayor LaGuardia.  

I’m sure. I’m sure it was amazing time. It was amazing. You were so brilliant and perfect as always. And it just like damp that in for sure. It’s like a process and process of that was so beautiful and so great. It was run so well, everything was just, it was just such a great experience, you know? And I, I definitely will remember that and, you know, and I got to meet Ebony Williams. And so I was so like enamored by her. I was like, wow. And then I watched her dance and then I was like, wait a minute. I was like, hold on everybody. 

Yes, everyone. Hold on. 

Did everybody just see that? I was like, we’re not just gonna like keep talking after she just did that. What a amazing dancer.

Incredible there is. I’m convinced nothing that she cannot do.

Wow. Now and I saw her in, um, um, jagged little pill.  

Yeah. Okay. So you’re a unique person. Well, you’re unique in many ways, but you’re unique in one specific way, which is that you have been a Broadway dancer who has also been in Broadway film adaptations. I am so curious because I don’t have, um, I’ve workshopped, I’ve skeleton crewed, a few shows for Broadway or off-Broadway to become Broadway shows, but I am so curious to hear your thoughts on what the biggest difference is in terms of being a dancer in each of those spaces, because you take In the Heights, for example, with a few tiny script changes, it’s the same show that was on Broadway as it is on film, but what’s the difference for the dancer. I would love to hear you thoughts.

To be honest with you when I was in New York working on that film, particularly it did, it felt, um, like a product exactly like a Broadway show. What made it feel that way? Well, because there was so much because you’re, you are dealing with a theatrical piece that has a, you know, it’s a script with song and movement and all the things, all the elements. And for me, I was, I was, and as being in New York and with all those beautiful New York Dancers, um, I just felt like, Hmm. I mean, with the difference of there’s no, there’s no live orchestra and you know, it,  

Or a live audience.  

So, um, for me, I mean that particular experience was unique to its own because it felt, it, it felt like we were working on a Broadway show for sure. Yeah, definitely. Because it was just so, um, you know, well thought out and just had so much purpose and  

And so much plot. There are so many stories to tell. Um, yeah. And everyone did it. Every ensemble dancer was dancing the story of a main character. Um, and in many cases it also is their story in, in our case, how lucky did we get to have such giving dancers talent in general, who brought themselves their struggle, their success to this process? I mean, I get chills thinking about it. And when I tell you you’re going to lose your mind. That 191st street tunnel, uh, you taking that step into that line, in that hat, in that fit, shout out, Mitchell Travers come on, killed the wardrobe. It’s one of. Paciencia is one of my, uh, one of my favorite parts of the film. It really feels like the heart to me. I hope that you love it.  

Um, sh I’m sure. I’m sure. I mean, it was like when you see the trailer it’s, um, in the casting and you hear the music, it’s like all the, all the elements have to come together seamlessly. So that it’s one thought. And that I felt like, I felt like when I saw the trailer, it’s like, you know, you just know, like, you know, when I’d walked down the streets in New York and I’d go see shows all the time you go in, you hear the overture, whatever you’re listening to, you, you know, you’re in the presence of greatness right away. It doesn’t take long, you know, especially in theater, because there’s so much, there’s so much of the puzzle that goes into making that one overall piece and picture and thought. And so I think in the I’m I know that with In the highest, and I will say I was highly impressed, highly impressed with John Chu and his, and the way he walked by and addressed and spoke to dancers and people and the way, and I was like, it starts at the top  

Trickle down.  

And he, like, he came over, we were on the train and he was like Tyce. And I was like, what, how do you know my name? And so like, just, and this is where, this is where I go back to saying where the artist meets the person. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m talking about because not everybody, not everybody is that human, you know? Yeah, it’s true. But John Chu was, I don’t have enough words.  

I, uh, I love the way he leads and damn I love the way he makes movies. Um, okay. So I, while we’re kind of, while we’re on the subject of character and working on, on movement, that’s human, right? That, that part of the film is a very human moment with a backdrop of beautifully crafted contemporary, and honestly, a gorgeous collision of styles of movement. But the moment itself is a human moment. The backdrop of dances is it is inhuman in a very beautiful way, but I, I, a part of my work that I really, really love is working as a movement coach, much less to do with 5, 6, 7, 8. 1e and a 2e and a. And, um, but I love story. I love characters and I love non-dancers. I know that you also movement coach, and I would love to hear a little bit about your approach to being a movement coach. Um, you’ve worked with Cameron Diaz, Megan Mullally looking at my notes, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Christina freaking Applegate, who I simply adore Queen Latifa, Toby McGuire. I mean, come on. Um, so yeah. Are you, are you open to talking a little bit about your approach to that kind of work.  

I absolutely love, love, love working with actors and, and just, um, you know, I mean, working with Toby McGuire, let’s just say, you know, he’s an such an actor’s actor, so, you know, but, but the great thing about actors, as you know, it’s like, I love approaching it from that perspective. Do you know what I mean? So it just, I always say when I’m teaching, it’s like we have to lose the dance in order to get to the dance, you have to lose it. You have to be willing to lose it. And it’s very hard for a dancer, especially a dancer to lose the dance because we train to dance. But when you’re talking about a story and you’re talking about why are we all here? What is the point for us to all be here? And when we’re looking at this movement, why are we looking at it? Because it can’t be because you do it well, you have to come at it with, what’s your, what’s the reason for moving? What made you want to take that first step? What is it about the music? What is it about the story? What is it about you, your intention? What are all the things that make you, we want to see you? Yes. So, so I try to approach it that way. And you know, I’m working with Katie Holmes, who’s a dear friend. And I mean, I remember working with her very closely and, um, she wanted a dance. She wanted to dance more dance, and then we had done a couple of TV shows and, and then, um, I actually had this great idea put her on So You Think You Can Dance with a bunch of guys and Nigel gave us some funding to do this. Um, and I recreated Judy Garland’s Get Happy. And so, and I got to direct it. And so it was absolutely beautiful. So,  

Oh my gosh Tyce! We’re going to link to all of the performances that you’re talking about in the show notes to this episode. I haven’t seen that. I cannot wait to see that. I cannot wait to find it and share it with the world. It  

It was a wonderful moment. And, and, and working with someone, I love Katie Holmes. I love Toby Maguire. And, you know, and even Taylor Swift, who is a, um, a recording artist, a writer, uh she’s, you know, and working with her in movement. It’s like, it’s so interesting because she’s not, she’s not a natural dancer. And, you know, she would tell you that, but, but what what’s, so, and I’ve worked with her for so many years and I’m fascinated at, and I wouldn’t change a thing because she is such a storyteller, such a storyteller. So when she moves at, when she approaches something, she’s always like, well, why am I doing that?  It’s and she really is such a great artist. I mean, such a good writer. And so it was really, I loved, loved every second of every album and tour I’ve ever, you know, and we’ve always done great work together. And so I, I, um, I love it. And Megan Mullally is, is completely different. And Megan is like, you know, she’s like, okay. And I love people who are interested in how the dance gets made. She called me, I wanna, I want to know how you’re gonna approach this. Let’s talk about it. She’s like, because the way I dance is not the way everybody else dances. And I was like, amazing, great. We’re on a, we, we’ve got a, we’ve got a base that we can work with. So it’s sort of, she’s like, and, and, you know, each person comes with their own set of ideas that adds to the it’s a real collaboration. And, you know, I mean, it’s, and it’s, I think it’s all, it’s also as well. It’s all in the communication too. It’s all in how you communicate, how people are going to move and why, and, you know, because it’s a very haunting experience for some people to move, right?  

Oh, they’ve got ideas about what choreographers are and what dances. And I don’t know who is responsible for this, but somewhere along the line, dance and choreographers became terrifying for many actors. I don’t know who was, who was responsible for that, but it’s, that’s the thing that happened for sure. I see one of my, one of my many roles in being a movement coach is like deconstructing what those beliefs about what is dance and what is a choreographer kind of breaking those down to be far more human. Yeah.  

When someone walks into the room, whether they dance or don’t dance, or, um, I usually, I usually take how they walk, how they talk, how they are in life. And then you go with that grain. And when you’re approaching movement with someone, because you don’t want it to be scary, you don’t want it to feel like they’re, they’re having to like, like climb up at it and like not achieve it. And you want to empower people, you know? So you highlight how they walk, how they talk, how they behave, how they are in it, just in life and how they speak. You know, I, I always find that it’s helpful that you find out who they are and how that works together with the movement, you know? And, and so that’s always helped me tremendously.  

Thank you for sharing that. I think we overlap in our, in a lot of ways there. Um, one of the things I love most is explaining, you know, you talk about the importance of communication, and I love the creative challenge of explaining dance in non dance language. Um, it’s a creative, it’s a way for me to actively be creating when I might not be creating phrases per se, but, uh, creating new pathways in the brain and new ways of understanding a thing. I might be explaining a step in a way that I have never thought of it before, because this person doesn’t know the way that I’ve thought of it before all of the ways that a pas de bourres used to make sense to me, I’m now getting to question in order to help it make sense to somebody who’s never heard about it. It’s some of my favorite words. I love it.  

And I’m sure you do it so well. I mean, yeah. I mean, I, I got to see you work up close in, In the Heights, which was amazing, you know? And so you’re like a force and I got to dance right opposite you.  

Oh, I, yeah. I didn’t mention that is one of the only two numbers in the movie that I got to perform in and how much fun. Yeah. We have, uh, we have a moment you and I walking dead on towards camera. It is a very fleeting moment. It happens extremely quickly, but there we are. That’s our, it’s our, um, secret, secret duet where we have a lot of people around us. Um, okay. Well, I, I know that your time is valuable. I do want to do one more thing at a time valuable. That was a weird thing to say. I know your time is valuable, but I could talk to you for five hours. Um, I’ve noticed that five-hour podcasts only do well If you’re Seth Rogan, I always say Seth, by the way, Joe Rogan, that will tell you what kind of podcaster I am. I’m the type of podcast or that doesn’t know Joe Rogans name.  

It’s all perfect. There’s nothing you can say, Dana.  

That will not be perfect. Okay. Well, I’m so glad you said that because do you know how I want to close out right now? I’m grinning so hard. I’m about to cry.  

No, no, I know. I know what you’re going to do. What you’re going to do. Okay. Go do it. It’s like. 

I saw Will Loftis last night and I told him that I was going to be with you today. Immediately. He was like, it’s like the, 

I just had a heart attack. Okay. Give me, give me a word. I’ll start with your word. Um, cup. 

It’s like the cup without the water. It’s like a mother without her daughter.  

You so good. Its like a candle. 

No, you have, have to start, right? 

I have to start with the last part. I got you.  

Start with a word that I finished with. Oh. And then make the, um, it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like a cup without the straw. It’s like a courtroom without the law.  

It’s like the law without the judge. Its like the steeple without the justice. You have to rhyme!

Yes. I know. But you have to rhyme. The last one has to rhyme the second one. Oh man. Okay. So for everyone that is confused right now, this little rhyming game is the game that on the night we were shooting Paciencia y Fe shoot, which turned into a morning shoot because they were lighting the 190 first street, uh, tunnel. They were lighting it for probably six hours. So we were all in a holding area and Will freaking Loftis starts playing this rhyme game. And he is so very good at he’s extremely good at this game. Um, and Tyce, you were newer to the game and I cry, I cried off my makeup, laughing at how willing you were to be playing this game that you were not any good at. And that spoke to me. And I think that that is a life lesson that we could all glean from. You can have so much fun and you can be the life of the party and still be new to something.  

So hideous said that, and I’m like, why? Everybody’s a rapper And like, oh my God,  

Do you want to try one? Do you want to try one more?  

Yeah. Okay. Always. I should practice for the rest of my life. 

Here’s how it goes. The first word. And the second word are related. They’re related, but they don’t rhyme. And then the third word is not related at all to the second word. It doesn’t rhyme with it either, but it is related to the fourth word and the second and the fourth word must rhyme. Second and fourth must rhyme. Your first word is my fourth word. Whatever my fourth word was, we’ll go super slow.  

Yeah. Or how slow, like turtle slow.  

I won’t even keep a rhythm by the way. The rhythm is the fun part. The rhythm picks up. And then, and then your Will Loftis and you’re actually a rapper. Oh, he’s so good. He’s got to come on the podcast. We’ll do a full episode of, of just this game. Okay. Uh, blah, blah, blah. Okay. We’ll go. Thematic. It’s like the podcast without the host. It’s like the breakfast without the toast. Yes, yes, yes. Okay. Now toast to you. 

It’s like the toast without the jam. It’s like the it’s like the, um, wait. It’s like the, oh God. Yeah. You know? Oh, skillet without the spam. 

Yes. You’re frying the spam. I get it. So right. You did  

Okay. Okay.  

Okay. I’m kind of on your tip now. Okay. Yeah. So you had spam spam to me. It’s like the spam without the salt. It’s like the milkshake without the malt. Malt is a tough one. Malt is tough. I would have definitely, probably won that round malt malt.  

It’s like the malt. It’s five o’clock apparently it’s fine. Yay. It’s five.  

We made it to five. It’s like a malt. It’s like the  

Malt without the,  

You can use, you could, you might use ball like a multiple, like a melted milk,  

Milk ball. Like the mall without the ball. It’s like, uh, it’s like the, the school without the hall. Okay. Now I got you. Dana, 

You Got me. It’s like the hall without the lockers. It’s like the electric shock without the shockers. I don’t know that didn’t make sense. Does that makes sense at all? I would have lost that round. It’s like the electric shock without the shockers, whatever. Tyce It’s five o’clock it’s time for us to park today, but not forever. I’m so excited to see you again. Soon. Let’s go see In the Heights together. I would love to be like elbowing you in the ribs for, for an hour and a half. That’s what I want. Um, so thank you again for being here. I just had a ball. I smiled the entire time. My cheeks hurt. 

That was amazing and terrifying all at the same time. 

Are you sweating? I always sweat. Sweating. 

Sweating. So fun though. So fun.  

Fun. Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to set a schedule for us to meet and play that game. And then just without telling Will we’ll be like, Hey, Will, do you want to have lunch? And then we’ll meet we’ll for lunch and we will crush him.  

Okay. So now I’ve got a little, little seed of good things to come because you taught me now slowly. You also were playing and all were excellent. Oh,  

That’s true. You jumped into the deep with us. Yeah. Oh God phenomenal. All right. My friend have an amazing rest of your day. Thank you again for doing this. Bye.

I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Tyce. And I really hope you take this rhyming game and become a master of it because it is genuinely so much fun hours, hours just flying by and makeup melting off from tears. So much fun. Don’t piss off hair and makeup. You don’t want to be that guy. Try to preserve your makeup as best as you can. Um, all right. Y’all, that’s it for me. I’m going to get out into the world. I am going to encourage every single person whose path I cross to go see In the Heights in a theater. So Latin people receive only 4.5% of speaking roles in films like dialogue in movies, only 4.5% of it is spoken by a Latin person. Yet Latin make up 40% of the audiences that is so wildly out of balance. And as frustrating is that is to me right now in this moment, I’ve got this kind of like super, super sad satisfaction, knowing that studios listen to dollars. And so if people show up at the box office and the box office doesn’t lie, studios will see that people want these stories. People want to see these people in leading roles and people will pay for representation. I think that is the ticket. If you can, if you’re healthy, if you feel safe, go see In the Heights in a theater and bring as many people as you possibly can. That’s me asking you straight up because the box office is where you, the audience member get to ask for what you want and you ask for it with your ticket admission. That’s how you do it.  So please go out there, go see In the Heights. And of course go keep it exceptionally funky. And you know what else though? Keep it saucy because holy hell the sauce, the heat that comes from that film. Oh, yep. You’re not ready. Or maybe you’ve already seen it. You are ready and you just want to keep filling the cup. Please go, go and go again. All right. That’s it. That’s it for me really. But I want to keep talking about it. I’m going to reserve for Choreo team episode coming so-so so soon. Thank you guys for listening. I hope you’re great.  Thank you guys for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. 

Me again. Wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating or review because your words move me too. Number two things, I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, That’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

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. #33 Casting Director Download – Kristian Charbonier (Audition August Episode 2)

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #33 Casting Director Download - Kristian Charbonier (Audition August Episode 2)
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How do you get your headshot in front of a casting director? How does a headshot turn into a booking?  How does a booking turn into a FULL BLOWN FEATURE FILM? Collaboration, that’s how! I loved having casting director and collaboration king, Kristian Charbonier on the podcast this week!! We go deep on diversity and collaboration in the casting process. We talk In The Heights, inclusivity, representation, and organization so I hope you brought your highlighter…

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Kristian Charbonier :https://www.instagram.com/ktcharbonier/

Telsey and Co. Casting: https://www.telseyandco.com/

In the Heights Movie: https://www.instagram.com/intheheightsmovie/?hl=en

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me. The podcast were 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 everybody. And welcome to words that move me. I’m Dana and I am stoked that you are here. Yes. This is week two of audition August all this month. I am talking to different people from all sides of the casting table about what the audition process is to them and what usually works. What usually doesn’t, how are auditions changing and how might we change to ensure our ability to create work for ourselves? It’s a big month.  And at the end of this big month, really big event, I will be hosting a virtual workshop event via zoom on how to audition. Yes, I will be dishing out almost all of my personal tips and tricks. Come on. I’m no fool. And I will go deep on the art of the self tape as that is the primary way people are submitting for projects right now, the workshop itself will be on August 31st from 4 to 5:30 PM Pacific. More details and info about registering. It can be found on my website, the Dana wilson.com. And you better believe I will be shouting about this loud and proud from the gram I’m @danadaners and the podcast is @wordsthatmovemepodcast. So check out all of those spaces for more information, so jazzed about it. Okay. Let’s move on to wins. Yes. This week, I am celebrating a project, a new seaweed sisters project. If you do not know what and who the seaweed sisters are, I strongly encourage you take a google dive and watch our video work, but also give a listen to words that move me episode 15, where the sisters and I sit and chat about ourselves. Very, very special. Anyways. Yes. The seaweed sisters have another video in the works. It is in the camera already actually. And, um, I always celebrate my time with the sisters, but this one is particularly special, not just because we are creating with our dear friend and longtime collaborator, Isaac Ravishankara who also directed us in number two, the sequel and number three part tree. And not just because we shot it socially distant and, um, corona compliant. But also because we got the ball back rolling on this one. Now I’m sure that everyone listening has experienced an unusual pattern in their motivation. At some point, during 2020, for me, this is a matter of momentum, more or less when things especially projects are rolling, they stay rolling. But when they’re on pause, it can be extra hard to get things moving again. So I’m celebrating this project as a win because it is an awesome example of people coming together to push things into motion. And I’m so excited for it to exist. And I’m excited to share it with you. Okay. What’s going well in your world. What’s moving.  

Okay. Killer great. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Congratulations. I’m so glad that you are winning. All right. Let’s dig into it. This week’s guest is Kristian Charbonier. He is an associate casting director at Telsey and Company. One of the biggest casting offices in New York city. And we met on In the Heights. Um, the feature film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda is Broadway hit, In the Heights. Uh, we met last year and Oh, yes, don’t worry. We’re going to talk plenty about In the Heights, but this conversation really looks into what a casting director does and what you can do to create memorable casting and audition experiences. We talk collaboration, we talk inclusion and equity on Broadway, on stage and behind the curtain on screen and behind the camera. Oh, we talk a great many things. So let’s dive in. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Kristian Charbonier. I’ll talk to you guys later. 

Dana: Kristian! Welcome to words that move me. Thank you so much for being here today. I’m jazzed about it. 

Kristian: Thank you for having me I’m jazzed as well. 

Dana: Yay. Um, okay. So one of the things I like to do on the podcast is I have my guests introduce themselves. So tell us a little bit about you and what you do. 

Kristian: Yes. So my name is Kristian Charbonier. I reside in New York city. I’m currently, given the circumstances, in Miami, Florida with my family, where I was born and raised. Um, I am a casting associate at Telsey and Company casting in New York. Our office is a little different from most casting offices, just considering we do a very big collaborative situation of all the projects we work on. We work on TV shows. We work on films, broadway musicals, Broadway plays, commercials, any sort of situation where we need a cast dancers for fashion week. Like we’ve done some time. Throw us something we’ve probably done it. We’ve cast people for video games before. Um, and I have worked there for about four and a half years now. I started there right as I graduated college and I’ve been there since, and I have learned so much and I have grown so much as a person, as an employee. I’m sure we’ll get into it. 

Oh, we’re going into it. We’re going into all of the things. Um, so I’m glad that you kind of dropped the line about all of the different things that casting directors, casting associates and casting assistants do. Um, but before we dig deeper on that, could you touch on the difference between those three titles?  

Absolutely. So you typically in casting start as an assistant, which is the way I started as well. Um, assistant sounds just like it is, you are assisting on every single thing that the project calls for in regards to casting. So you’re putting out the appointments, you’re helping cut the sides for the auditions. You’re prepping the audition with the casting director and with the associate you’re uploading the tapes to send to the team. Um, you’re really the main point of focusing in terms of organization. I say to all of our interns and the assistants who come in and out of our office, that our main job there is organization. The best associates were amazing assistants as well. If you move from assistant to associate, then as an associate, you really take a lot more responsibility than you did as an assistant. You’re the one in the session, reading with the actors, coaching the actors, you’re really discussing with the creative team on a more personal basis, a lot more than an assistant would.  Um, I think this is really the point in your career where you’re really formulating yourself into being a casting director, which the director is the face of the project. The person who’s on all calls is negotiating. The deals with the big agents is giving you the ideas that you might not typically think of as an associate. Um, you’re, you’re the main source of collaboration in that specific field. Um, I’m sure you know this because you are so collaborative in everything we’ve done together. Um, the collaboration is so key, especially in those relationships. You have to have an open form of communication. You really have to be able to trust each person that you’re working with because when you fall, they’ll pick you up when they fall you’re supposed to be there to pick them up. 

I love this notion that behind every individual role, there is a team. Like there is no such thing, especially in terms of making a movie or a Broadway show of one person carrying all the weight. It might be one person carrying all the post its or highlighters, but it is absolutely a team effort and you have to be a collaborative person to succeed. So, okay, this week on actually not just this week, this month on the podcast, I’m talking exclusively, almost exclusively about auditions. So that makes me talking to you really, really exciting because not many people get a direct line of communication with the casting associate or the casting director. Um, other than that quick 20 minutes in the room. So I think this is an awesome opportunity to hear a little bit more about A. what you do B. how it works behind the scenes and, um, C. kind of what you look for, what stands out to you in the process.   Um, so I, I guess let’s dig into it. You mentioned that Telsey does everything from Broadway to film to fashion week. All of the things. I know that in the past they’ve cast, um, actually current Broadway shows Hamilton, Wicked, West Side Story, Frozen to name a few, but in the past, everything from American in Paris to Fiddler on the Roof to, I mean, quite literally all the things Oh, in the Heights obviously, um, which transitions us into film, you guys were the agency behind, um, is that correct? The agency? What is Telsey? The agency. 

The office 

Oh, okay. Great. So, so Telsey was the office behind, um, casting In the Heights. The film that I worked on with Christopher Scott, Emilio Dosal, um, Ebony Williams and Eddie Torres jr. What a dance team, shout out friends team, um, Telsey also was responsible for casting the Greatest Showman, Mary Poppins, the one with Emily blunt, which I love. And one of my favorite movies of all time Across the Universe directed by Julie Taymor, which between you and I, and now between us and the world, there is not one thing that I would change about that movie. I would not change a single character casting. I wouldn’t change a step. I wouldn’t even change the one part where the guy with the briefcase kind of slips and falls a little bit. I love it. I would, I love it all. It’s so great. Um, but you guys don’t just do musicals. I guess one thing I’m curious about is the difference in process. If there is one from casting, a Broadway show that involves singing, dancing, all the things to casting a dramatic film or TV series, um, I mean, obviously you would audition one for singing and dancing and not the other, but other than that, is there a difference in process for different mediums?  

It depends on the medium. Um, I would say that in TV and film, there’s more structure to the process in terms of deadline and when certain things have to happen, because there are so many moving parts in that regard. Um, whereas in a Broadway show, there is a structure and a deadline, of course, because we have dates. We have first rehearsal, we have the presentation, we have all of those outlying dates. Um, but I do think that in terms of a Broadway show, there is a little more time to really amp up the pace. Whereas TV and film, you really got to go from the start just because you know, that that first day of principal photography is not moving and you have to get that that day, um, which is something you and I learned very well together.  

That is exactly why I found myself in the middle of times square at Telsey and Company. Well after hours, I don’t even remember what time it was, but there was nobody there except for In the Heights choreography team and you and we were sitting in an office with probably a hundred headshots on the floor and magnetism or pinned to the walls. And we’re just moving people around, having conversations, imagining this person with this person, no, that person with this person, these people, as a group, this person as a standout individual, you know, all of the different combinations of people. And that was because we were pressed for time, extremely pressed for time on that project. Would you say that that’s standard when you work on films, does that sort of thing happen often?  

Yes. I will say once we get past the point of the principal players in the film, which that’s not even ultimately true, because sometimes we are casting go, go, go, let’s cast every single principal, that’s cast every single supporting role, let’s cast all the dancers and singers at the same pace. In the Heights was a little different because we really had time to prep for those principles and then once we started together, as we’ve said, five times already, it was go, go, go from the start. Um, that to me is the way I love to work, so it was never anything alarming or crazy to me. It was just like the thrill of sitting there and just moving everything around is like, it’s just, I can’t explain that. I never will be able to. Um, so that, that in regards to again, a TV/film project is more so that way where let’s sit here for three hours at 9:00 PM and let’s go through it all and let’s make it happen.  

Yes. Let’s make it happen. That is the energy. That was the energy of the room. Um, do you have a steel trap memory for names and faces? Are you, are you really like, even outside of your job training, have you been good at that?  

I, I really, it’s kind of weird that I do have that and I don’t think I really realized it until I started working professionally. I still see people to this day who I remember, like seeing them perform it in high school at our like state competitions. And I’ll be like, Oh yeah, that girl sang this song from bat boy, my junior year of high school. And now she’s in final callbacks for Elphaba on Broadway. Like those things happen all the time. Um, which again, I think is such a healthy and good thing for my specific position in the company, because you have to be that person to be able to remember, um, Chris Scott and I had a big joke where he would always be like, who was that girl again? And I’ll say she was wearing the red shirt that I had like a T on the side. And then she had like purple shoelaces, remember? And he’ll be like, how did you remember that? And I’m like, I don’t know. It’s just the way my brain works. It’s the way we work. You know,  

I love that. And in the event that your sticky brain slips and misses someone, tell me about the room that you showed us at Telsey that is literally floor to ceiling binders of everyone that is auditioned for projects in the past. Um, you keep all the headshots, resumes, bios, like that room was such an incredible archive of, of audition history.  

Yes, it’s amazing because we, number one, thankfully have this space for that. And number two, um, we see so many incredible people all the time. That just because they’re not right in that exact moment, doesn’t mean that a year from now two years from now, six months from now, they will, they won’t be the right person. It’s it happens all the time. And the best thing is, is when we get a new project and you’re like, I worked on, I worked on this commercial like two years ago that I needed a 75 year old who could do a pas de bourses, let me go find those schedules and see who it was that got called back for that, because I knew those people again, right now. That’s an amazing archive that we have. And it’s also really fun as an industry slash theater nerd, to just look through those schedules. We do it all the time. We’re like, can you believe that? So, and so came in for this role in 1996 and got like, it’s just, it’s unbelievable. And you saw them yourself. There’s so many. Um, and it’s just  

Floor to ceiling as big as my living room and bigger maybe. I mean, incredible amount of history and information. And yeah, as you pointed out like some super special, uh, like historic moments in terms of transformation and trajectory, the existence of that room in and of itself speaks to a motto that I hold when I go into auditions all the time. And that is, it’s more important to be memorable than to be perfect. And once I lift the pressure of being perfect, once my only objective is to be memorable, I opened myself up to new potential. That’s just not stressed out energy, but also to sticking myself into the mind of somebody like you, who really might remember that moment as being the right moment for something else, trying to be the perfect thing for every project just doesn’t exist, but trying to be memorable enough to stick in someone’s mind so that when the right product project comes along, you’re there at the top of the mind. Like that is so cool. And it’s so cool that you guys have a paper trail for that.  

And I love that motto that you said, yes, it’s perfection. It, it’s not necessary. It’s for that specific, be the best that you can be in that moment. That’s it. There’s nothing more. That moment exists, one time, you leave. It won’t happen again. That’s it.  

I love this. Let’s talk through the role of an associate casting director on the day of a massive audition. Go. 

Great. So typically, because I, even though I just said, you don’t have to be perfect, am a perfectionist in my mind. So the night before I am very excited, but also just thinking about every single thing that I can do to make it go flawlessly, which again, we both know that that really doesn’t exist. Um, but we can try. But, um, so we’ll get to the studio about an hour before we start session, um, with our hundreds of schedules and all the names. Um, two days prior to that, I’ll spend all day on the phone with the agents talking about who’s new that I don’t already know that I haven’t scheduled yet, who they think I should try.  

These are talent agents.  

Yes. Talent Agencts. Um, we’ll get to the studio an hour before we’ll start to get the room going. Everything’s set up our systems. And then once we bring that first group in, it’s go, go, go. As you know, until that last second that the studio director comes and tells us you have to leave. Um, which once again, we have, we have experienced together,  

Probably why we wound up back at your offices. They were like, you don’t have to go home, but you got to get out of here. And we all look at you like, uh,  

And, um, as, as you associate in those moments, really what you’re there to do is to serve the creative team. We’re trying to help you guys figure out your vision and figure out what you think is necessary to achieve what you have in your mind. Um, we’re also there to help you out in the event that you’re not really familiar with someone and maybe you’re, you want some sort of extra feedback about someone that we’re very comfortable with and have tried multiple times and have booked on jobs or are big fans of, um, so there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of, again, the word that always comes to mind every time I’m discussing any of these things is collaboration and the best people to work with are the people who we collaborate with. That’s something that I experienced with you and Emilio and Ebony and Chris, all from the second I met you guys was that it was such a collaboration and it was such a dialogue the entire time, It was never, I want this and that’s it. It was, I want this, what do you think? Right. Which is so important. 

So helpful. So helpful. Yes. Okay. So that’s a big day. Um, so you come in, sorry, you, you talk to the agencies, you make the schedule, you talk to the creative team, you have an understanding of what it is that the creative team is looking for. You have sign up sheets, you make sure everybody is where they need to be at the right time. And then we hit record on cameras. Choreo team kind of takes it away. We start funneling people through, we teach material, we break people into groups, make sure everybody’s visible on camera and that we know how to contact people when we’re ready. And then of course begins the, um, endless watching of the footage, which there was a bundle of. Um, and I love that by the way. I, wow. Can’t imagine how things were done before. Um, actually I can just much more labor intensive on the dancers behalf. Like I can watch you dance 12 times on tape instead of making you dance 12 times in person. 

Exactly. Yeah. It’s amazing to think. And you see these old movie musicals with these hundreds of people in the background and you’re like, how did they do this without a computer. And they danced  

They danced! And they took notes and they took notes and the danced, that’s it. Um, okay. So then you organize that, that footage I’m assuming, and that goes into an archive somewhere.  

Yes. We upload ’em to a system that’s called Cast It, which a lot of TV and film offices use. And that’s another way that everything stays really organized. So that in the event that you’re asking me for tape on a person, I can just easily go into the, into the archive and find that tape and send that to you all.  

So you’ve got all the digital organized, you’ve got all the material, you know, the paper headshots and resumes organized. And then the moment comes where creative has decided that we’re ready to book people in. What is your role in doing that? How does that, how does that work flow pan out from me saying, I want Sarah to Sarah getting a phone call saying show up at this time, on this day for this many dollars. What’s that work flow  

Yes. So that’s the best part about our job is when you get to call someone and tell their agent that they got the job. Um, so once we hear from you and we have all approvals to move forward and hire this specific person, or people we’ll call the agent will say, Hey, so, and so’s getting the job. I’m going to email you all the offer details. We’ll send all the offer details. Once we close that deal, I will say, I will fill out a whole bunch of paperwork, send that over to production. And then production is the person who takes over and then does all the phone calling, sets up their fittings, lets them know what day they need to be where. Um, preps them for any sort of information that they would need in order to be there on that day. Um, and then believe it or not, people show up to set and shoot a movie. And then the movie is made. It’s unreal to me even now, even still, I still work on projects and I, I go to a screening of the film or the TV show and I’m like, they made this movie or this tv show, like it happened  

That got done. That was headshots on the floor. And now it is a movie.  

Yes. And even like specifically for a project like In the Heights where we did do a massive open call and found a whole bunch of actor, actors and dancers that we never would have met coming from an agency just specifically because they didn’t have representation to see them on screen in a trailer or in the film. You’re like, this was a person who just showed up to this audition and he’s now in this movie, it’s unbelievable. It’s so it’s so cool and rewarding.  

Let’s dig in a little deeper on that. That’s one thing I think was really unique about In the Heights is our efforts to be as inclusive and true to the story and the culture and the time as possible. And I do think we made opportunities available in ways that maybe traditionally aren’t, um, you know, in other film projects, it’s probably standard for a casting director to call the talent agency. The talent agency sends their top five that might be a good fit. And then, then some, one of those five gets the job. But what about the people who don’t have representation? What about the people who aren’t uh, uh, the top five? We really had several opportunities for people without representation, people without having done a film or a TV show or an any show. I, I think that this project was very inclusive. I think that this project gave the floor to a lot of people who either haven’t seen it in a long time or aren’t used to taking the floor. Broadway has a nickname, um, the great White Way. And I can understand why, I do think that that’s changing. Um, but I can imagine that the casting directors are feeling a lot of that heat because a lot of people think that it is the casting director’s choice. You just highlighted that the casting director serves the creative team, it comes back to the creative’s decision. Um, do you feel in your role heat from Broadway and film entertainment, not being inclusive enough?  

I have been lucky in, in my personal trajectory that I have worked on so many different projects that have started that very first conversation with let’s find the best person. It doesn’t have to be a specific person. Let’s find the best person, especially in regards to something like In the Heights where all we were looking for were people who would perfectly and realistically portray this very real story and this very real community. And I think that these creative teams and everyone in the industry has just tried to go the easiest route. And that’s why we end up in the place that we are instead of digging deeper and finding these underrepresented communities and trying to give opportunity to these people. Like we said, who have no representation who probably honestly never thought in their lifetime, they would even be in a major feature film. I think that that’s one of the main things that we, again collaboratively did together on this project. And I think it’s something that once you do it one time, you know, that it’s possible.  

I might also add not only do you find that it’s possible, but you find that it’s worth it, especially on a project like In the Heights, which is about your dreams, it is about living your dreams, but more so it’s about fighting for them. It’s like the themes of this film are the themes of today. And I think it would have been a shame to watch that watch the leading roles and the supporting roles to watch the dance, to watch all of it, be danced by people who live on the silver screen and eat from a silver spoon. It just would have so missed the mark. Um, and what I experienced in working with people who have never been on set before, um, and working with people who are aren’t SAG card holders was not that it was a hot mess of disorganization and not that there was unprofessional, um, behavior on set, but actually quite the opposite, extreme respect, extreme enthusiasm, readiness, willingness. And I think that we’ll see in the, in the, uh, in the final cut how important it is to have representation, inclusivity, authenticity, especially when you’re, when you’re telling a story like that one.  

Absolutely. And I started, I love that you used the word authenticity because In the Heights specifically means so much to so many people because it was something that they could see and see themselves on that Broadway stage, which is what we’re doing in the film now as well. It’s showing so many kids from Washington Heights itself that they can be a movie one day that they can be dancers in a film. They can have speaking roles. And if I’m that, it’s all doable.  

I am wondering what are the things, the changes that you’ve noticed in your industry in the last handful of years and what do you hope to see in the next handful of years? 

Yes. Um, something that I’ve seen, which again goes back to something we talked about a little earlier, is this idea of who else is out there. I think that’s always existed in our industry and we always, casting people specifically, like you’re never satisfied until you know, that you, until you see that electricity in front of that camera and you know, that that person is it, you know. How much more are we going to do to find that person? And what more are we going to do to find that person. 

Leave no rock unturned?

Yes. Or just again, like we were saying re-inventing and thinking of things a different way. I mean, Ali Stroker who won the Tony for Oklahoma, um, that’s it, it’s just unbelievable to see Ali Stroker who we have auditioned for years. Like finally be raised up to this pedestal and be like, this is someone who is so talented and so worthy. And I also feel like that’s something we can do even more with underrepresented communities, um, with Latino communities, with Asian communities, with the black community. I think that those are so important and it’s something that maybe we produce more content that centers around these communities. Um, but I think it’s something that, that the, that the industry is in this moment focused on. And I hope that they continue to focus on that  

All different levels, right? Like on the talent, of course, yes. Like the onscreen representation, but also behind the curtain, the writers, as you mentioned, producers, but on Broadway also, literally the people behind the curtain 

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s something that I’ve discussed with a couple of people around my age, how we were all so lucky to end up where we are, because we were able to go places and intern for free and be able to be financially supported to do that where so many people aren’t able to, and that’s why they’re not able to break into the industry because they didn’t have those same opportunities that we had. And we have to find ways to be able to reach those people and allow them the same opportunities that we’ve all had. I think that’s another thing that the industry is really focusing on now is how can we bring people who don’t have the same opportunities that we’ve had into not just in front of the camera or on the stage, but into the costume shops, into the casting offices, into the tech sides of the industry, into the stage management offices, all of those different facets that the, the, the audiences don’t see, but surely exist and drive that product. And that product would never happen without those people. I mean, I, my family is Cuban and I’m so I’m so lucky to be where I am, So I could have been supported by my family. And I told my parents, I wanted to be a casting director. They didn’t know what that was, but they said, yeah, sure, go for it. Why not? Um, and it’s so important and so exciting to see other Latino people in the industry and be like, Oh my God, yes. Like, you know, it’s happening, we’re doing it. Um, it’s something that’s so spotlighted right now. And I think that once, like I mentioned before, once we, and we have started, once we continue to really drive that car forward, we’re never going to look back. We’re going to be like, this was the way we need to continue. And this is the way that we’re going to continue.  

Yes. I’m just like, I wish that everybody could see me. I’m just like nodding perpetually nodding in agreement. Um, so it sounds like you are glad to see the, that casting directors and casting offices are doing more outreach, doing more in terms of going out and finding, but what would you say to somebody that might be listening that wants to be found? What would, what would you say to somebody who believes that they are talented and out there and don’t want to wait for you to come find them?  

Right. Um, we’re lucky enough to be in the age of the internet and the internet has been just, I, I, I don’t know how people lived without the internet truly. Um, number one, I think actors, I think dancers are just the most gracious people because to get up every single morning and go to auditions and put yourself on the line every single time, I think that that is more commendable and more brave than I could ever be. Um, and I think that, that goes for the same, for the same people that you were describing, go to these open calls, we are looking, and we are paying attention. If you, if you see something about a video submission, take the time and make the best video that you can make and submit, do these things to put yourself out there and get yourself in front of all of these people who are looking for you because we are, um, and don’t be afraid to do it.  I feel like there’s so, like, what’s the worst that could happen. You send the video and you don’t hear anything. At least you sent the video, you would never hear anything. If you didn’t send the video at all, you know, um, it’s it’s and again, it’s tried and true. We cast people from open calls. Like we said, so many of those people in, In the Heights where people who we just, I put out an ad and said, Hey, show up at this location on this day and be ready to dance. And that was it. And they showed up and then they ended up in the movie  

Where was that ad. And where do people look to find those?  

So our company has that, I would say, because I help run the social media of our company. I might be biased. So we do post our stuff on, um, our social medias. Um, our, all of our handles are @Telseyandco Um, and again, we, as casting, people are very good research papers as well. So I spent two or three weeks calling every salsa studio in New York, calling all the agents and saying, Hey, do you know this person who like shot this salsa commercial one day? Um, and the agent would be like, I don’t really know them that well, but I’ll shoot them the flyer and see who they want. Um, Eddie Torres Jr. Was a huge source of finding so many organic, authentic New York dancers.  

People that don’t have studios that they train out, they train in clubs. They dance socially, not in, not in little structured pods.  

Exactly. Um, so there’s so much research that goes into it. Um, but again, so many of these calls are now publicized on the internet that you you’ll be able to find them and follow our social medias. And I’m sure you’ll see. I mean, if you scroll for our Twitter and our Instagram, it’s literally all just ad after ad, after ad open call for Wicked open call for In the Heights open call for third, every, every project that we’re looking for, very specific people, it happens

Cool.  Very cool. Good to know. Good to know. Um, okay. Rapid-fire burnout round. What are the things that people who book consistently consistently do in auditions?  

They exude positivity. They are on time. I love people who are on time. I highlight — I highlight them highly. If they’re on time, 

High highlights. 

Yes. I love. There was such a thing. Oh, yes. Amazing. Um, and people who are open and game to do anything, I think that you can really tell that from a person in a room very, very quickly. Um, it’s also so fun to be on the sidewall, the, the choreographers and the associates and the assistants are teaching because you’re watching these people and you really, really get to know the way they work. Um, and the number one thing that I see in so many people, and I find so commendable is if they may, if they mess up, they, you, you’re not really convinced they messed up by the second count because you’re, you’re like, wait, what?  Like they, they just effortlessly go over that. I think that’s something that’s. So especially about dancers. So unbelievable is that you almost think you’re like, did I just blink and miss something? Or did they mess up? Yes. Yes. Because they just keep going. And that is the number one thing, not only in a specific audition, but just in the industry, in the industry in general, you should have to keep going. You have to keep doing it and it’s going to happen if you keep doing it. And if you are being the best that you can be,  

Oh, that’s such great advice. I should have ended on that. But instead, I’m going to ask what, what are the telltale signs of somebody that is not ready to be working professionally?  

That’s a little bit of a hard question, because if they’re not, if they’re not ready for that specific project, like we said before, they might be ready for something else. Um, what I, rather than not ready to work. One thing that I realized in people who don’t audition the best is that they are so in their heads, that you can see the, you can see them thinking above their head. Like you see the word scrolling over their head. Where it’s, I think that, that shuts you down so much, both externally and internally that you just got to roll through it. If you are, if you’re stressed about it, if you’re not having a good time, it’s okay to walk over to the casting person and let them know, Hey, this isn’t the right one for me. 

Not my best take, not my best.  

Absolutely. Or let’s say perfect example, someone who does perform for the camera, we say, thank you. And they didn’t feel that good. Come on over and say, Hey, I’m so sorry. Can I just do it one more time? Like I know that I can be better. I think that knowing that and being that thinking in that space makes you so much more successful. If you don’t think in that space, I think that you just, you’re doing yourself a disservice because the only person that you’re hurting is yourself. In that regard, you have to be your, you have to think for yourself and you have to be your biggest fan. In those moments, you have to trust yourself and know that you are doing the best you can do. And if you’re not doing the best you can do, if you’re not having a good day, come on over and tell us, let us know where we are there. It’s what I always tell people. Especially when I talk to like kids in high school, who I work with, or kids who have just graduated from college, our job is to cast the project. So all we want more than anything is for you to be amazing. Like that’s, that’s all we want. We don’t want anything less than that. So if you’re not being amazing, we want to help you be amazing. Let’s figure out what it is that we can do to help you be amazing.  Lets figure out what we can do to help you be amazing. 

Exactly. You guys are trying to cast the project. You want to cast the project. This is great. And somebody’s performance in an audition really doesn’t have everything to do with their readiness or not to work professionally. So thank you for calling me out on that. Very gently. Um, but also thank you for the perspective of, yes, you guys want them to be the right person. So although it can be tough, I’m saying this from the performer’s point of view, to be both inside yourself, enough to deliver an impassioned performance, but outside yourself enough to have seen whether or not that was your best work, it really takes a multilevel awareness of yourself and your performance be able to say, Oh, that wasn’t it. Let me, let me ask, let my outside self ask for one more time. And then let me go back in and make the corrections that really helped me hit.  And that takes time. It takes practice and it takes permission. So I’m so glad that you opened that line of communication. Like, if you feel like you need one more, come and ask, it’s one of my favorite things to do at auditions. Whether I feel like I nailed it or not. I say, alright, that’s pass number one. Is there anything else you’d like to see differently? I love to be directed. And with that statement, very simple statement, you know, Oh, this is the person who can communicate and talk about their work. Oh, this is a person that wants to deliver. Um, and Oh, this is a person that actually likes feedback because that’s another thing that I know on both sides of the table. I like working with people that are open to feedback and open to making change and getting better. It’s what film productions need and film, especially you have to do those things quickly. So if you see somebody do that in a casting, when the, when you’ve got like a 15 minute window, if they can do that in that window, imagine how much they can do in a nine hour rehearsal.  

Absolutely. And again, you, you said it exactly in the event that someone does ask those questions, you see, you’re like, okay, this is someone who, who does take direction very well and who is open to direction and is collaborative in that regard. Again, it all goes back to collaboration. We all want to work with people who are collaborative because it, number one makes the project more fruitful and you never know what any single person is going to bring and how it’s going to better, any single thing that you’re doing. But also it just makes it easier. Like, of course you want to work with people who are going to be easy to work with. That’s the whole point of collaboration it’s going to be. We’re all going to click where, and like our specific example is all of us together working on In the Heights. We all were there for each other. We were all collaborative in that regard. We were all doing the work together and that’s why we have a great final product.  

Okay. Kristian, final thought before we go, and this is a doozy. So take a deep breath. What are your thoughts on the shutdown on Broadway right now? And what do you think we can expect once Broadway reopens? Give me the real, Real. 

I think that we can expect joyous, joyous, joyous, first curtain calls. I think that people will be just so, I mean, it’s us New Yorkers, especially it’s our, it’s our life. We go to the theater all the time. You know, it’s something that, uh, number one, it’s, it’s a lifestyle for so many of the people who are on Broadway because they are so unfortunately unemployed right now because of the shutdown. Um, what we can expect. I think that there will definitely be a lot of internal look at everyone on Broadway and how we can better the industry. Once the industry picks back up again, although we are already doing that, I firmly believe, um, I think that the industry will look different in that regard. I think we’ll be a lot more discussion regarding inclusion and collaboration and bringing so many other underrepresented communities and underrepresented people into the industry. Um, of course that takes time, but I think that people are willing to put their thoughts and finances towards that. Um, as far as what it will feel like to be in a theater again, I, I, I can’t imagine it just because it’s been so long, but I know that it’s going to be amazing and I know that we need to make it happen because number one, it’s a lifestyle for so many people. Like we said, we need this to happen so that people can survive financially. And how boring would the world be without Broadway or without entertainment at all? Not interested. It would, it wouldn’t, it would not be a good one. My friends and I used to joke when we were younger. We’re like, what’s more important than Broadway, as a joke, of course, now that we’re older, we all understand, but it’s true. What, how, how could we live in a world without any of these parts of our industry and not specifically just Broadway, just TV and film and how all of these films are so delayed now because of the shutdown. And it’s like us, for example, again, I keep going back to us, but we thought the movie that we saw would have been out for a month today, and now it’s another year. You know, I think, I think it’s gonna be a very interesting world to go back to, but I think it will be a more open and more thoughtful world than it was before the shutdown.  

It’s a beautiful way to wrap it up. I truly do believe that after the depression, after the recession, there is a Renaissance and I can’t think of a place better suited for that than Broadway. Because although you did mention it’s part of a New Yorker’s culture. Most of the people in the film In the Heights never saw the Broadway show In the Heights because they couldn’t afford. There are less jobs because if I’ve learned nothing, not every show on Broadway structure was built to exist forever. Maybe a new structure needs to show up probably in order to be fewer disdain. God knows what happens next. I hope it’s not enough pandemic, but I really do think, as you’ve mentioned, surveillance is a time where we get to look deep I and do the more time intensive and thought intensive work. I think that you are a person who is completely dedicated to doing that. I am working to become a person that is totally dedicated to doing that. I’m so grateful for you and getting to meet you. I think we learned a lot today. I’m so grateful that you, uh, decided to chat and share with us. Thank you so much.  

Thank you. I’m so happy I could do this and I’m naturally such a fan and  

Yeah, I would love to do an in the Heights exclusive super podcast someday. So perhaps we’ll get to talk again. Um, yeah. Okay, Kristian, thanks again. Have a great rest of your day 

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 to become a words that move me member, 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. #16 Serious Silliness with Kat Burns

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #16 Serious Silliness with Kat Burns
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Plainly put, Kathryn Burns is fascinating.  The only thing that is more exciting than her choreography, is the work she did before she even owned the title “2 Time Emmy Winning Choreographer”.  From a post production machine room to UCB and beyond,  we hear about how she learned by DOING, and what it takes to do what she does.  Over 160 episodes of scripted TV is just the beginning… 

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Kat Burns

WTMM Patreon

UCB

My Crazy Ex Audition Submission

Raggle Taggle Dance Hour

Totally Unmorganized

The Dance Room

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, hello. Hello. How are you doing? How’s everybody? Man, if you are like me, then these days are going by so quickly. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s, I’m just being inside and so many days are the same. Um, maybe it’s that I’m filling my schedule every minute of it. Uh, but it’s strange, this sensation of time passing and standing still all at the same time. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. Um, this episode, ah, I’m so excited for it. I’m so excited for you to listen to my guest today. Kat Burns. She’s one of my favorite well people period, but also one of my favorite choreographers and she shares so much, um, tremendously valuable insight in this episode. I’m jazzed about it. Uh, but before that, of course we have to do a quick round of wins. My win this week is that I am becoming a person, day by day, meal by meal. Uh, I am becoming a person that is confident in the kitchen. I’m having more fun and I’m having more creative freedom in the kitchen. And I think that’s a win. It’s something that for me has always been a kind of point of insecurity. Um, my husband traditionally is the cook of the household and I’m having so much fun, uh, exploring a bit, really digging that. Okay, so now you go, what’s going well in your world?  

You might need a little bit more time. So I encourage you to pause right here if you’re really, really winning, which I really, really hope you are.  Um, but this episode is just, it’s something else we gotta get to it. We’re jumping in. Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Kat Burns. 

Dana: Yes. Kat Burns. Welcome to the podcast. 

Kat: Yeah!

Yeah! Oh, I love wees and woo hoos and yeas, it feels so good. Just smile and I cannot not smile when I, I think Kat Burns. So welcome to the podcast. Introduce yourself for those who may not know who you are, those fools, 

Kat: Those nincompoops! Um, people call me Kat burns. I’m Kathryn, uh, Kathyrn Burns, AKA, you know, Kat Burns is my like cool choreo alias. I suppose that that is just kind of taken over. And I’m a choreographer mostly for scripted comedies.

Nice. Um, I really love intro asking people to introduce themselves because it’s sometimes a different story than what the bio would read. Um, uh, your bio leads with, and I think it should, your Emmys your double. Is it two? 

It’s two, right. She’s a two timer. 

She’s sure. Just a two timer, a measly two time Emmy winner. Um, and I do think it’s, it’s cool to like acknowledge the wins, but it’s also speaks a lot to you that you do not lead with the accolades, but rather with the work itself. And I love your body of work. I love it so much. I love it. Primarily because it’s funny, but also because it’s diverse. Um, can you talk a little bit about the range of work that you do and what is the difference between a digital or scripted format or you do also a lot of live work. I know you came up through UCB, like what is the difference really truly when it comes to choreography between all those different formats. 

Oh goodness. Well I appreciate your kind words cause you know, I’m a huge fan of yours and I believe I introduced myself on a street corner and I was like, Hi. Hi. You guys are awesome. Do you want to do my UCB show? And you’re like, okay, great.

I recall, I recall. It’s so funny. I do recall, I recall because I, well it was a seaweed sisters related, um, acknowledgement and the seaweed sisters, uh, Jlilian Meyers, Megan Lawson and myself, we don’t get recognized outside of dancers very often. Um, and when we were not in a dance studio setting, we were literally on the street corner. Uh, so it, it made me feel like, Oh my God, pay attention. This is happening. You guys this, the seaweed sisters, are a thing, we’re being recognized. 

It’s like five years ago, I want to say. 

Yeah, it was a while back. Yeah. Oh, cool. Um, so thank you. Thank you for your fandom. We can, this is a safe place where we can absolutely be gushing over each other. So don’t let it stop. Um, but I am so curious about the different, um, uh, places that your work lives. 

Yeah. So there’s, it’s a, it’s a multi folded, I was gonna say two fold, but it’s uh, you know, lots of folds type an origami fold of answers if you will. Um, I, I think what’s really fun about working scripted comedy  or scripted in general is that the choreography is always dependent on the scene. And so by default I’ve been able to hire a lot of experts in a specific genre and then play within story, but still making it proper. Um, and so whether it be like a tango or a musical theater, traditional dance in the street vibe, or a tap dance or a fill in the blank, or even just like specifics that are funny or trying to make, like one of the tricky things was trying to make ’em like a viral video. Like, you know how like video or people like quote unquote dancing bad. Why? What’s the tipping point? Like why is it popular? I need to like recreate those moments as a choreographer when you have two people, it’s like the note was like, it’s too good, it’s too good. And I’m like, it’s not, it’s just like when you have two people dancing together in unison, it’s automatically going to seem more better, more, better. Just the word I like to use because it’s like, I don’t like to say something’s bad. I like to say it can be more better. 

It can be more and better and you are the more better maker. Um, I think part of that recipe is definitely accessibility. Like you don’t want to choreograph steps that only a trained dancer could do. So it’s like every, every man dance. Um, and do you do a good job at choreographing dance on a normal non dancing type characters? 

I like to call them dance enthusiasts. 

Dance enthusiasts. That’s way kinder than what I call them. I call them, I call them normies. 

Normies that’s cute. I just think Norm McDonald dancing. When you say normies.

Many Norm McDonald’s. Normies plural. Um, uh, so how many episodes of television would you say you have choreographed to take a ballpark for me?  

Well, I actually did a show a year ago celebrating a hundred, cause I was like, when I graduated college, people are like, what’s your dream job? And I said I wanted to choreograph for TV and film, but I have no idea how to do it. And you know, I had to celebrate that because I was like, I guess I figured it out. Yeah, you did. And so well sometimes you’ve got to celebrate a little milestones cause we can be so hard on ourselves on a daily basis that we’re not doing enough or creating enough or being disciplined enough or right. 

Girl, I am here for celebrating. Actually I just started a new podcast habit. I start every episode with wins. Were I just talk a little bit about what’s going well. 

That’s awesome. I used to have a thing where I would keep champagne in the fridge cause there was always going to be a reason to celebrate. 

Yes, I am about that life. And now since we’re in lockdown you’re going to need to keep at least five cause you can’t be leaving. The house as often. 

Exactly. 

Um, okay. So let’s back up a teeny tiny bit. You mentioned after college when they asked you that question and you answered, I want to choreograph TV and film but you didn’t know how, what was your next step?  

Uh, well it was more of like that’s a, that’s a fantasy job that doesn’t really exist 

Or not for you. 

Right. Uh, so I worked in post-production for years and thought I could use my degree and be an editor and I worked in post houses and like lob dailies and patched digie betas, for recording. Like lobbied editor’s reels over and was just like in the machine room learning about editing and the more responsibility I got, the more anxious I got. But I started, you know, I studied film in college and Mmm. So I was already doing that. And then, you know, you talked about the difference between scripted and stage and then I started at UCB right when they opened their doors pretty much like I was working next door at the clothing shop, um, when they went door to door to meet their neighbors and I was like changing and I stuck my foot out and I was like, “I’ll be right with you!” and my mom was in town and was like, “Hi, welcome to Native.” I was like, “she doesn’t work here. I’ll be right out”. And, 

And they were like, you’re in. 

And they were like, you’re funny, you should take internships. And I was like, great. And then I just started being a part of that community, like from the ground floor. And so I learned the art of choreographing for a script in a way to like heighten the joke without distracting. And I was already, I’d got a dance agent. I was taking Aisel’s hip hop class. Yes. After like six months of living in LA. So I got the agent, I was dancing sporadically doing like show girly type musical theater, tall girl jobs and realized quickly that I was much taller than everyone else in LA.  

Tiny. We’re all micro types. Yeah. 

They move so fast? How did they get down to the floor and in one count, tiny legs. Tiny legs. Yeah. I was like, I still have my bevel. You know, you gotta have a sensible walk and a good bevel if you’re tall.  

Oh, you ma, you have to have a sensible bevel no matter what I would argue. But definitely if you’re tall. Um, okay. I wa I want to branch in a hundred different directions. I am taking notes. 

Uh, but I very frazzled. I didn’t even answer your first question. 

I’m pretty sure you did. We talked a little bit about formats and the places that your work lives, which is on 160 episodes of television primarily, right. But also on stages because you do that. 

Yeah. And I just did a musical here in LA and I, I’ve done like comedy musicals and LA, uh, which obviously like stage is, is much more collaborative I think is the biggest difference. You have the writers in the room sometimes or you have the director in the room and you have the actors in the room and you have time and you’re playing and you’re creating, I mean obviously like a, the UCB schedule is like, learn it, do it, done. It’s very quick.

And that’s the point. 

Yeah. Yeah. Your dress rehearsals off in the performance cause no one’s getting paid and to learning learning curve. But I just did this musical with a wonderful New York team. The musical was called Found and we did it at, um, it’s, Iama Theater Company ’s musical. It was our first ever done at the LA Theater Group. And it, got closed, you know, three weeks before it was supposed to finish. It was New York team. Um, and they were so collaborative and awesome and I was like, Oh, this is what process is, you get to actually create in a room with creatives. Yes. Often on television schedules. You’re often trying to get into the minds of creatives. Like you’re each department heads given a specific ask very, very quickly and within like a 10 minute or less creative conversation, you have to then go off and do your work, present it, change it on the fly if it needs to be changed and be like, this is what I think you want. And from all your references, ID do deduced yeah. Anyways,  This was the dance pretty much. 

Um, ah, okay. That’s fascinating. So a difference between stage and film being, the amount of time you have and the people that are part of these creative conversations.  

Everyone’s process is different. I mean, I think a lot of choreographers, and this also totally depends on the budget of the show they give. It has a budget for rehearsals and the choreographer can have a skeleton crew. They can kind of like massage the choreography and change it and get it to a way and have a few days and have a process. But if you’re like, hi, hired for two days, you have one day of rehearsal, slash prep, slash casting, slash creative slash, whatever, and the next thing you know is you’re on set trying to like leave this dance with a bunch of people you just met. You’re also trying to figure out their personalities and how not to step on toes, but also do your dance, be professional, be fast, pleasant and you know, protect the dance and protect the dancers but also serve the story and serve the process of that. That is making television. 

Okay. I had to jump out right there because that’ll just happen real, real fast and I want to make sure that you all caught all of that. Kat just gave a lightspeed masterclass in what it means to be a choreographer. Yes, we decide what the dance is, but then we must lead the dance or teach the dance and occasionally that’s to people that we’ve never met. We have to navigate so many personalities, not just the dancers, but the entire teams. Then we have to protect the dancers, of course, meaning looking out for their working conditions and making sure they’re taking breaks and well taken care of, et cetera. But also we’ve got to be fast and I mean we don’t have to be, but it really helps if you’re pleasant or easy to get along with. And then of course there’s the whole serving the story and serving the big machine that makes the TV show or the stage show or the music video or the fill in the blank. I think it’s super important to remember, especially for the young aspiring choreographers that being a choreographer means so much more than making up the steps. Okay. Let’s get back into it. Kat and I talked about the many hats that she wears, the many jobs that she’s had and the thoughts that led her to become an Emmy winning choreographer.  

Dana: What was the, um, what was the step or the chase or the kickball change that took you from editing room to, uh, dance studio or choreography, I guess?  

Um, I was always that kid that did a million things so differently. Like when I was young. It was like suck or student dadadada that every dance class imaginable. I was always booked, right. Like I my and I would like highlight all of my times that like college thing happened and I’d be idea as an adult to just do one thing stressed me out and made me so anxious. I felt like I was making like, like signing a death sentence of being like I’m going to do this for the rest of my life and I was super scared. Um, so I think a lot of times I just did a bunch of side jobs. Just that I wasn’t working towards a career necessarily. Like I went, I went, I went to college. I thought state school was supposed to be the thing that you do. And I was like such a rule follower that I had a hard time listening to myself and people were like, I remember like the advice being like what do you think about when you’re at a stoplight? I was like, Oh like I’m always making up things in my head. And even when I was like bored at concerts, I would just zone out cause I’m like, no one’s dancing. This is boring. And I would like choreograph something in my head and I would feel better. And I just realized if I wasn’t dancing or moving, I was sad. I honestly feel that a lot currently with what we’re going through and like I’ll feel such an angst for the world and my heart would be so heavy. And then all, I’ve been just dancing in my studio for hours on end because it’s the only thing that makes me feel relief and joy. Um, so I, I think, I think I, I worked in posts, I thought I wanted to be an editor. I had a million side jobs, I was a paramount page. And then I would like work at a steak house. And like I served, well when I first graduated college I thought I was going to be a Rockette. I made it through all of the, the cuts and stuff and then they just never called.  

Well, I’m so glad they didn’t because we got to have you instead. I get that dream though. Oh my gosh. And that audition process is brutal. Congratulations.  Holy smokes. 

What was my first professional audition ever, ever. And then at the end of the audition, um, this is the second day,  they’re taking all my measurements and I said, “I just wanted to let y’all know this was my first audition and you were so nice. Oh really? Oh, is it? Okay.” I had a four by six picture. I just didn’t know. I went to the University of Missouri. I didn’t do like, I never went to New York for a summer or anything. I had never taken from like professionals ever. Actually.

I love this. That’s such a great example of all the grooming in the world doesn’t ensure that you will get your foot in the door and at the same time you can be totally ungroomed and come through the side door or the back door and do phenomenally well. 

Yeah, I mean, I envy  people that had all this, this massive education and like mine was just like the local dance studio or the dance team. And that was that. And I just was always dancing in my room. Or like at the time it was recording VHS is and learning the dances of Britney Spears, you know, or whatever, studying for exams while watching Cats,  the VHS recording of the Broadway show. 

All right. Jumping out again this time I had to do it because I think it’s very, very interesting that the thought of doing one thing made Kat anxious and propelled her into doing so many seemingly odd jobs that really stands out to me because to so many people, there’s contentment in doing one thing and having one career and having their job. I think that a lot of people out there would actually feel anxious at the thought of doing all the many things that Kat did from serving steaks and working retail to working as a paramount page, um, pages by the way. Uh, give tours and direct guests and do a great number of tasks on the paramount lot. Um, but dang, she, she even worked in an editing bay. I guess what’s so special to me about Kat and about her journey is that at least from the outside looking in, all of those experiences gave or refined the skills that made her a great choreographer. Yes. Like the dance, the passion, the love of movement and moving has always been there for her. It always brought tremendous joy. But what brought success was the combination of that love of dance plus her many, many unique skills and experiences. Let’s jump back in and hear about the one moment. Well, the one heartbreak that changed the way Kat thought about being a choreographer.

It took a heartbreak. Uh, I was with, I was with someone for eight years, my whole entire twenties, and when that ended, I was so heartbroken that I had no choice but to make myself happy. And that was after I’d been doing UCB classes. I liked dance at Christmas times. I had like dance gigs and I was still doing a million jobs. But there was something about that timing that I was so desperately sad. Like, he kind of was my whole life and when that ended I was like, it was a very clear change of thought. I had been doing this musical that I choreographed and was in called Freak dance the dirtiest forbidden boogaloo at UCB and Matt Besser  wrote it, And the premise is whoever dares dance the nastiest wins. And it was like a spoof of all the dance flicks and like the white girl learns how to be poor so she can be a good dancer they lose the community center and then they have to do this dance battle and they make just enough money to win back the community center, yada yada.  

I’m so glad that exists. 

We did it every Friday for two and a half years at UCB and then one day they were like, we’re making this into a movie. And we all thought we would get replaced by everyone bigger and better. The only person that got replaced was the 20 year old playing the mom and she was replaced by Amy Poehler. So like that makes sense. Um, and right around the time of this breakup, I was filming this movie and they had asked me to like storyboard, what some of the dance numbers would look like. And I was like, I’m not an artist, but I knew it. And there was, there was a something called Work that Butt, and I was like, well, what if there was like a butt flower from overhead? And I was like, butts coming in at like an encapsulated her. And then she had this reveal and was a different outfit, but like storyboarded what these two, they couldn’t afford anyone else. It was also, Mmm. So that was my first job and I was also in it and I also didn’t have an assistant, so it was crazy. And we shot it all in 13 days. It was an original movie musical. With original music with the non dancers as leads and like Drew Droege is one of my favorite comedians and one of the stars and Hal rudnickthey were like the two world’s best dancers. And then we hired, Matt Besser was obsessed with America’s best dance crew. So we hired like Quest crew and The Beat FreaksAnd, um, anyways, so like all of these comedians were like dance dancing in front of all of these crews and I’m just there heartbroken. And I had this epiphany that I was like, Oh, I thought my whole life was supposed to be love and appreciation from this one person. And if they weren’t there I would crumble. And I quickly said to the cast, I was like, I love you guys so much and I need you guys so much. So that was a pivotal moment for me as a creative to have experiences with the people I was having camaraderie with at the time. My coworkers were my family and I would experience and be alive with all of this creative camaraderie that got me through a dark time. And it was just, it’s kind of stuck. It’s kind of stuck with me. Like I, I really, I really feel fortunate that I’m able to like dive into a project with an open heart because I truly look at my collaborators. I mean you like, we’ve gotten to know each other through working together and I have so much love for you but we haven’t, yeah, separate  doing something together really. I mean like maybe a few times, but it’s always like let’s get a glass of wine. Great. I see we’re working together. I’m going to like suck up as much yummy hang time as I can. Cause I don’t know, again, cause we’re both busy as the way LA is. Everybody has something next, you know.  

Well that is the way LA was my friend.  

Certainly people are still like, Oh I can’t, I’ve got a zoom it two. Or Oh I can’t, I stopped like I said 1130 this morning. And I was like, can we do four? Can we push back?  

Kat and I talked for a while about the way the LA and the entertainment industry are uh, maneuvering through this COVID crisis. But the radio waves are pumped and coursing with that talk and there’s just so much other goodness to come in this episode. I thought I might just leap frog over that if you don’t mind. And skip ahead to my favorite video submission ever. And the importance of good lip syncing because why not?  

When you get an audition submission request from your agent for a Kat Burns project, you go, ALL IN, because working for you is such a treat. Really, truly, I am a sucker for a lovely process. So I got this audition notification and I was like, Oh yeah, I can do this. It’s asking for a doo-wop style background singer and she’s singing to her mom. Um, I happened to be in Denver at the time that I got this notification and it was with my mom and it was in my sister’s gorgeous house and it was like, okay, yeah, this is, this is a no brainer. So I taught my sister the shots and she filmed it for me and I lightly choreographed this thing with just like a chain here and a hip hip here. Nothing like crazy cause I had watched the show before and it’s never, um, it’s never meant to be the like, uh, sit down and watch this dance. It’s like you could do this dance  It was a sidebar side side thought of mine to be a dance commentator for dance, YouTube videos in that same, in that same voice. Okay. So made, made the an audition submission sent it in. And I don’t remember if you texted me directly or if my agent did, but you were like, that is obnoxious and hysterical. And will you assist me on this project? Yeah, it was so funny. It was also cool to get my family a peek into my world, right? Like, uh, audition submissions happen or happened pretty regularly and in a very like in a three hour turnaround, I’m expected or asked to create a, create a thing, memorize the lines, make up the moves, capture it, edit it and submit it. And so they got to be there for that. That was super fun. And then  

What I loved about your video too is like, a lot of times, you know, as much as I say like I want good acting, the lip sinking is really important. Like, I trust that dancers can nail a dance step, right? It’s really important to me is how you’re emoting. So I see you as this like 1960s, like, you know, shoo bop, shoo whatawhata to dancer. Um, and you totally embodied that character and the lip sinking is really important. Like, um, I had an audition for Carly Rae Jepsen and it was, um, well holding an audition for her and it was like two backup singers that were dancing. And so in the audition I was like, you guys, you’re moving your heads too much. Like you’ll never believe that they’re singing into a mic to like actually pretend like you’re seeing into the mic. Um, don’t you have to, it’s a strange thing to like not whip your hair around because a lot of times dancers really aren’t that focused on- on being the star and being seen and like with our hair around our face and like make some sexy faces was not really about the face, you know? 

Right. I have this theory that we’re dancers are um, attractive, not necessarily because we’re good looking but because movement attracts your eye. Like if you imagine a jungle setting and a bush rustles over here, your eye goes to that and I think dancers have gotten really are the good ones anyways, have gotten good about being attention, getting when they need to and just the right amount of rustle versus being distracting. And especially if you’re in a tight shot, moving your head around is distracting and its as you mentioned, very plainly, not the way that background singers would do it. Um, that’s a great consideration. I think it’s an important skill and maybe we don’t spend enough time on it. 

And you also the the why it’s hard is that to believe that we believably be a good lip syncer you have to sing out loud so your breath is different. So although it looks like an easy dance when you’re actually singing out loud, the, the, the beats are counterintuitive to like, like the pickups of the lyrics are going to be before the one. And it’s tricky to get your brain around the lyrics and have your body do what the music is doing. As you’re acting, and singing out loud and thinking about your breath, you can’t just breathe through your nose and make whatever weird sounds you need to make to get through the aggression of the dance 

It’s a much different skill. I came across this issue, uh, a handful of times like hands full, like multiple hands, like NBA basketball player hands full of times working on In the Heights where we had huge groups of dancers, a part of musical numbers, but we weren’t the people that recorded the vocals.  

We weren’t the people that um, you know, not all 150 of them have the script, you know, for a chunk of time during rehearsal we would sit down with pages and learn the lyrics. But even that is expected to happen quite quickly. And not a lot of dancers have the same memory for words that we have for moves. So it, it really is a special skill. I suggest that everybody listening to this podcast right now pick a a movie musical moment, whether it’s LA LA land opening number or anything from crazy ex-girlfriend challenge yourself, give yourself how much would, how much time would you say is allocated to learning lyrics for an episode of crazy ex? When we did the tap number? Um, the prescription one, it wasn’t that long. I want to say that was like maybe 30 minutes. 

Well, probably like it was like 30 minutes at the top of rehearsal and I’ve actually had an, I had a big audition in New York.  Um, there’s a really great show out now called, uh, Dispatches from elsewhere. It’s Jason Segel ’s new show on AMC. I worked on the finale number and they’re singing and dancing, spoiler alert. Um, and I had to just teach the lyrics real fast because people saying the lyrics was as important as the dancing and there was this really amazing dancer. And then I looked back at my video because I don’t like making cuts, so I just filmed everybody, I really want to see everybody. I want to properly give everyone a chance to be seen by me cause I don’t come to New York, I don’t have auditions much. Um, so anyways, he was like, I was like booked and then I looked and I was like he didn’t Lip sync, a word. And on most of the jobs I do dancers get Face-time like closeups and like, Oh and I’m so, so for “antidepressants”  and the, it was all, it was all like fluoxitine, fluoxetine, Our lawyers won’t let us say brand names. Like it was very tricky vernacular. Yes. Medical terms on top of that medical terms, you get pills, pills, therms. Um, but, we had, we had a, we have one day of rehearsal so you could like overnight rehearse it. That’s true. I remember on the day Rachel changed, she changed the lyrics. So what’s tricky is that you had to learn it and then on the day after you’ve been practicing, I think you said change the name of the dog and then change this lyric we’ll re-record it in post. So you guys had to say lyrics out loud. This was what was 30 minutes or less. You had to say lyrics out loud that did not match the audio you are hearing all while doing choreography, you’re fast tap dance and then staying in line and it was like super precision based and like you’re high, you’re a little high here on your airplane arm you need a little bit lower.  

We’re taking in all of the, you know, the movement notes that we’re used to, but there’s also not just the learning of the lyrics but the unlearning of the old lyrics and then the relearning of the new lyrics. This is great. Really, truly, if you’re listening, make that an additional challenge. If you’re listening, you’re listening, you’re listening. If you’re, if you’re hearing, um, then yeah, try to learn a thing in 30 minutes and then change it, but don’t change the thing that you’re playing back. That song has to say the same. Your lyrics change. Oh my gosh.

And the timing varies slightly and then the moves or shot. It’s like you have to adjust your timing and your blocking based on what the steady cam operators doing or, or at any point in time, the show runner who’s a showrunner is basically the one that hires all of the writers.  They’re like the head, they don’t usually say head writer, but they’re the one who like keeps a tone of the show in general, you know, on the right track and everything and they’re the one that’s sold the show in general. But at any point they can come in and say, why are you doing this? Or, or like, um, or like for that number it was like as you guys were holding, I like added a like a little, a little bop. Yeah. Yeah. And then, um, just constantly finding it until you, like for me it’s like playing until you find what makes you laugh and like got there. That’s it. That’s it. That’s it. That’s it. Okay. Do that. And then, and then at any point someone could say, no, don’t bounce. And so you’ve just been rehearsing it with the bounce and something as simple as that.Like your body wants to bounce, but you can’t. Um, tricky. I don’t know. It’s tricky. And then, and then when I favorite things to like hark on park, her harp, whatever you look that up as I finish this, this tale of woes, but basically. Once it’s cut the end of that she goes Mmm. Basically it’s just like, Oh you guys are, Oh you don’t want to dance anymore. Okay. Like going from dance or to pedestrian and now

Oh wait, this is one of my favorite things to do. 

Walk like a dancer. Like it’s hard cause we do that in real life. I act sporadically. And um, I was in a commercial and I had to walk to the elevator and I was wearing heels and they were like, um, excuse me Kathryn, you’re like standing like pretty cause I was like beveling, 

Your just like, it’s my Rockette in me. 

I just like can’t, you know like when we’re in heels and more like a tight skirt, as a dancer you walk differently naturally. So I had to be like, Oh, I have to ditch how I naturally walk and walk pedestrian, just go to the elevator, like for don’t dance, walk to the elevator, don’t sit in your hip. Pretty  

Just pretend like you don’t know how to walk in heels as well. 

It’s actually for me, kind of difficult to navigate the middle ground between like dancing like a pro dancer, like JT, backup dancer, pro dancer and dancing like a non dancer that moves well. And then dancing goofy like uh, your, your UCB show right now. Raggle Taggle Dance Hour which I do want to give the floor to for a second cause it’s amazing. We did an opening number, which I want you to talk about, give a little context. Um, but I watched the footage back and I looked at myself, I was like, dude, you were bad dancing. And that’s not the goal. The goal is actually to be dancing really well, but not to be a dancer. And so that’s another layer of intricacy.  

Yeah. I think that’s what I’ve found with my work. It’s like, it’s, it’s easy, not easy, hard, not hard, but we’re properly living in a world. Right. So like the reference for this number was the pink Mr emus pink windmill kids, the mill kids or something. It’s like an eighties dance show. 

We’re going to link it because it’s, it’s a game changer. 

So I, the end of season one wanted the cast of crazy ex to recreate this video and I had that had the costume department hand dye sweats to match the color palette of the early eighties.

This is what we call full out. 

And then obviously everyone was like tired or busy and so they’ve just been sitting in my storage for four years. 

The costumes or the people that were tired? 

The costume department ready to go whenever there very expensive to keep, but it was worth it at the end. But we did the, we recreated the opening video finally. And my dream came true and it’s like feel like, like why it’s so funny and enjoyable is because they are trying to hit it so hard, these little children and it happens to be sloppy and fast, but like you have to go for it with the Gusto and energy of like this is the best thing anyone’s ever seen. And it’s like eighties. You just have to hit really hard. Also like nineties hip hop. You have to hit it so hard that your every bone hurts and it doesn’t look like much or just punching. But like woo, there’s a difference. Um, so you have to hit it with full exuberance.  

There is a difference. It’s those shows. Okay. I want to talk about something you just, you mentioned, um, I, well blah, blah words. So I wanted to ask how do you do funny, but I think you’ve already answered my question when you’re talking about the crazy ex episode, uh, with the pharmaceutical drugs and we’re just sitting there, Bob like hands on knees just bopping. And you said you just play with something until it makes you laugh. Is that your general approach to humor and dance

Kind of, I mean, and even like in a good way I, I’ve said this before, but like, um, I think it’s a lot of times when I approach my work, like if it wasn’t funny it’d be cool. No, like we’re trying to like properly live in a genre and a lot of times it feels a bit like a puzzle in my brain for a while. So like it’s important for me to know the tone of a show and to know what their funny is. Like I worked on workaholics and their village is much different than the crazy ex village. What they find funny and their sense of humor, I mean comedy is also super relative, just like dance. There’s like a wide array of good dancing or what you think is good. Right? I can’t tell you how many times a script is like Fosse and you’re like, but what about Fosse are they referencing to? Do they want it to be hyper-sexual? Do they want it to be awkward? Cause like when I think about Fosse it’s like, well he’s, you know, he did like he was inverted, he had, he had musicality that matched his movements, you know what I mean? So it’s like trying to find what it is about that reference that they like. So you kind of have to like get in the brains of the reference and then play within it and then for me it’s like, because I’ve studied comedy and I’ve, I spent my whole childhood watching movie musicals and things like it’s um, I dunno, there’s like a, there’s a, there’s a good or bad or creative process you have to like know when to put the pencil down I guess. So for me it’s like finding it and then sometimes like in crazy ex we kind of found this thing of like, Oh gross.  Okay. Yeah, that’s it. That’s it. And you kind of have to push the envelope. I mean there was like S and P issues to standards and practices. So we’re a network show. You can’t just create whatever you want. It has to be approved. And West side story is super particular and has like legislation against you doing like exact choreography, same with Fosse foundation. So, but you know, choreographers don’t own their work and aren’t unionized. So you know 

Kat Burns, enter Kat Burns the organizer. I wasn’t sure if we would get to this point and I know that not everybody listening is a choreographer, but I do think that this is really important too. Everyone in creative fields, no matter what they are, uh, choreographers right now, specifically an organization called Choreographers Alliance, which is a nonunion organization are working really, really hard to win choreographers SAG-AFTRA contracts for our work because unlike everybody else on a TV, film or digital sets, choreographers do not have the protection of those union contracts, which means no healthcare, no pension and no residual structure.  Um, 

No minimum hours work, uh, overtime or anything like that. 

So Kat is a staple in the community that’s working to win us an agreement that would support us in that way. Thank you so much. 

It just seems like it needs to happen. Everyone else, literally everyone else on set, unless you’re in an assistant role, has union protection and then they have it for SDC, which is stage directors and choreographers Guild. So for Broadway shows, Vegas shows some touring shows, they get a royalty every time their work is used, they own their work, they can, you know, that’s obviously not going to happen necessarily in TV because it’s called a work for hire clause. If you’re a freelancer, um, and writers as well, like, but if they use their work again, they have to pay them. Um, and if you have the union then let’s say dirty dancing, right?  Like that’s been like Kenny Ortega . His work has been used so many times and he’s never made any money past that. Same with Vince Patterson from smooth criminal, you create like how easy would it be to be, Oh, we’re going to use this choreography. We’re not going to hire Kenny because he’s off directing in Canada. We’re going to pay him X amount of money just like you would a song. And then the, and then like they can just take the exact choreography and never pay the choreographer or anything. It’s so broken. It’s so broken. But we did it. And it’s about celebrating the wins. As you say. I was asked to recreate Christine and the Queens “Tilted”

Werk, my favorite,

It’s one of my favorites for Better Things for season one. And, and the reason why I was asked this, cause I work with non dancers and they, and it was, it was the whole family. It was the mom, the grandmother and the two daughters. But put on a performance for you. I don’t want to ruin it if you haven’t seen the end of season one. 

I haven’t done, I’m going to, I’m writing it down right now. That sounds fascinating. I already, 

You already know what’s coming, but it’s okay. There’ll be emotional and beautiful. And I said they were like, we already got the rights to the music and everything and I was like, well did they pay the choreographer? And the awesome line producer was like, well, let me look into it versus saying we’ve already paid. But, um, they actually paid the choreographer for the usage of that work. Um, but that was a big win. They paid the court and I said, you have to credit, there is no union. Like I wouldn’t get credit. And then the person who originally choreographed, it wouldn’t get credit.  Right? Like they can do whatever they want. But I said the original choreographer, Marion Motin and I was like, you have to say originally choreographed by and then like adapted by me cause it’s not my choreography, but I was hired as quote unquote THE choreographer. But I need, I just think it’s interesting because now people are doing like Tik Tok videos and they understand currency of dance and like even in this time we’re giving away or work for free, we’re teaching classes for free. We’re trying to help the community. But like, you know, this is how people make their money. 

Ah, I, I do want to dig into more of those technical issues and I want to celebrate you going to bat for an instance like that, which I’m sure happens all the time and I’m sure that choreographers who, uh, maybe don’t have as much experience or aren’t as in passionate about the subject as you are, wouldn’t even to ask if that had happened. So I’m really glad that you spoke about that. I think that’s super important. 

Choreographers definitely have asked me like even what should my minimum rate be? So like if you’re getting a job and you don’t know what to ask or even how to run a set or anything, like reach out to someone that you know that’s working if you don’t have an agent yourself. And then also I think it’s important that we ask those harder questions. People are only going to give you what you fight for, you know, otherwise they’ll just take advantage and also to know when to back off. I have a solid rule of threes. Like I’ll ask something like three different ways just to make sure that I was heard. And then the answer the third time is still no, I go, okay, well I at least try it. 

Here we go. I at least tried thrice. Yeah man, I really wish we had more time to dig into all of these lovely icebergs that we just saw the tip of. But I think that there will be time for that and I hope that people will go find you. Find more of you. Um, you’ve done a handful of podcasts as well. I think that you can be found in this, in this audible world as well. What other podcasts have you jammed on? 

Totally Unmorganized. Uh, uh Oh and then Heather and Ava’s, yeah. Yes,The dance room  the dance. And then there’s been a, Oh, the Bigfoot Collectors Club . My friend Michael McMillan has a, she has a podcast about, um, about Bigfoot. So I have a lot of non, non dance related content in that. Then my mom and I did a podcast for, My friends, a beauty beauty vegan podcast called Natchbeaut She’s a passionate vegan and finds women owned businesses through beauty and beauty is not my world. So my mom was really good at being the guest, I was just there to be made fun of. Pretty much, which I’m..

You were the link. You were the link between the worlds. Um, well thank you beyond for being my guest today and for sharing so freely. All of your wisdom and humor and insights and tips about lip syncing. You know, there is not a podcast for that yet. Thank you so much for being here. High five across the screen. Great. I think we missed 

Your, you’re doing such a good job. 

Ah, I so appreciate that. Thank you so much. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye. 

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 me member. 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. #5 Is Fear Keeping You Alive, or Eating You Alive?

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #5 Is Fear Keeping You Alive, or Eating You Alive?
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Episode #5 is here and it’s frighteningly good. This episode digs into #FEAR; The kind that keeps you alive and the other kind that keeps you from LIVING!  Give a listen and cut the ties to fear that are holding you back.

Show Notes:

Quick Links and Further Readings

The Power Of Vulnerability – Brené Brown

The Call to Courage – Brené Brown

Daring Grately – Brené Brown

Failing Your Way to Success

How To Be A Successful Failure

Gift of Fear – Gavin de Becker

Brooke Castillo’s Thought Model

The Farwell – Akwafina Movie

Episode 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 artists story, then sit tight. But don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.

DANA:   00:33    Hello and hello. Welcome back to the podcast. This is episode five. Can you believe it? Episode five already. I’m stoked. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for tagging me for communicating with me on the socials. Um, a lot of real creative types popping up there. So hip, hip, hooray for all my daily doers. Um, if you are not daily making jump back and listen to episode one, very inspiring, exciting stuff back there. I am daily doing in some way, shape or form working on this podcast. Whoa, podcasts are way more work than I thought, but I’m learning so much about myself. The things that I know, the things that I don’t know, the way that I speak. I’m also learning about, for example, right now how to transcribe my episodes and leave you guys all the awesome show notes so that will now be available to you on all previous episodes as well as this one. If you are listening via Apple podcasts, you click the three little dots in the top right corner, you’ll be able to access shownotes from there. If you are not listening on Apple podcasts, go directly to my website, Thedanawilson.Com/Podcasts and you’ll have all my show notes available there.   

Cool, so if you are digging the podcast, I would love if you would re, ha, reeve a leview you love if you would reeve a leview, or leave a review, whichever suits your fancy. The more reviewed a podcast is, the easier it is to find and I really would love for all our creative types to be able to find these episodes easily. Sharing is caring. Oh, speaking of caring, quick shout out to my mom for calling me up and calling me out on a made up word that I used last week in episode four. She said de-motivated is not a word. Also super shout out to Google for letting me know that I did not make up a word. It turns out de-motivated is a word. Um, unmotivated means that one being lacks motivation. De motivated means that motivation has been taken. Right. That distinction. Very impressive. Also, I had no idea of the difference of those two. I think I really meant unmotivated. De-motivated came out. Google backed me up. Thanks anyways, mom, really appreciate you having my, uh, best interest in mind and really looking out for my grammar. Hmm. Um, let’s see. In this past week I worked on another music video. I taught a great class at movement. Lifestyle. Had so much fun. If you are listening to this on the day of its release, which is Wednesday, I’ll be teaching again this Friday, which is January… Wait for it. Wait for it. 31st, last day of the month. Oh my gosh.  It’s going really fast. Is it just me or is that everyone? Gosh, man. Um, so this past week in my class, we channeled what it means to be attractive. Um, which reminded me of last week’s episode talking about our dancing birds and mating dances and all sorts of fun stuff, but it was really, really challenging to have like Heidi Klum in the mind, but a Muppet or a Fraggle in the body. So much fun. Um, I don’t know if we’ll do that again this week, but I do know that we will have fun again this week. So if you’re in LA, stop by movement lifestyle, I will be teaching at 1130. Killer. Um, let me think. Any other updates? Oh, big one. The nails are off. I got acrylic nails for a job. I don’t remember what episode I talked about this and, but I got my acrylic nails removed. The first thing I did was take out my contacts because I couldn’t do that cause they were too long and Oh my gosh, that felt so good. For all my optometrists out there, please don’t worry, I do have the contacts that are the type that you’re supposedly allowed to sleep in. But Whoa, I had slept in my context for many, many nights. Eyes feel great. Fingers feel great. I feel great in general, crushing it at 2020 again this week. 

Today, However, I want to talk about a specific thing that might be keeping you from crushing it in 2020 and that is fear. Yes, good old fashioned fear. Insert the dramatic Halloween scream right there, which turns out, actually this is an aside, I found out recently that the director of photography from In the Heights, the film that I worked on over the summer last year, Alice Brooks is her name is the scream from scream.  

That’s Alice’s scream. That’s the scream that I want to put in my podcast right now, when I say this episode’s about fear. So now, you know. 

Moving on a couple of weeks ago, I put out a survey on Instagram. Thank you so much for responding by the way, those of you that, that hollered back. Um, I asked what scares you, what are you afraid of? And it was very cool to take a look at my responses. I’ve basically sorted this out. I’ve determined that there are two types of fear, the kind of fear that keeps you alive and the kind of fear that eats you alive. The first one being of course the animal instinct that gives you the freeze, fight or flight response. And then the other one is literally everything else. So let’s talk very quickly about the fear that keeps you alive. Our animal instinct fear has really served us well.  It’s helped us get to the point where most of us are not afraid for our lives on a daily basis. 

Do you remember the game, the Oregon trail, by the way, speaking of fear for your life, it was a computer game that taught us about the early settlers and all of the ways that you can die in the 18 hundreds for example, your wagon might break an axle and you might have to walk yourself to death or you might get dysentery or cholera. Now that is some really scary stuff. Even before that time though, you might’ve been afraid of being trampled in a stampede or you might’ve been afraid that your child might be eaten by a saber tooth tiger. That stuff right there. That is real fear. Now, there’s still a lot of real danger in the modern world. It’s just that our stimuli have changed. We don’t have saber tooth tigers or wagons anymore, which is kind of a shame cause wagons are darn cute. So next week I’m going to talk about one of my favorite books called the gift of fear. And we’ll talk about reading subtle signals in our modern everyday life that could really save your tail. That was an animal instinct pun. Um, especially if you live in Hollywood or if you’re a person that tours frequently

But for today we’re going to discuss in depth the kind of fears that eat you alive or what I referred to in episode 0.5 with my friend Nick Drago as creative fears. So these are the fears that are not really life threatening, but I was shocked that when I put my survey out to Instagram, like 99% of the replies I got were these type of fears. So that’s what we’re going to dig into today. Buckle up, let’s go.  

 8:39 Okay, thanks again for submitting your responses about things that you are afraid of. Please don’t be afraid right now. I’m not going to call anybody out by name. I’m going to actually kind of group some fears together based on a few trends that I noticed. So two things in particular. Almost every response fell under one or both of these two umbrellas. Those two umbrellas are judgment and failure. So I’m thinking if we can tackle these two little guys, we can step into some real big power. Now, last week I introduced Brooke Castillo’s thought model and I’m going to really quickly review on that. But if you haven’t listened to episode four, I really encourage you to do that. The model starts with a circumstance which is a neutral fact about your life. It is provable. It is uncontestable incontestable? Which one is it? Mom, call me.  Circumstances trigger your thoughts. Thoughts are just sentences in your head, which you actually can control. Thanks to your prefrontal cortex. More science words. Thoughts cause your feelings, which are sensations in your body. And those feelings lead to actions, which are what you do or don’t do with your body. And your actions create results, which are always proof of your initial thought. So it’s really important that we choose our thoughts wisely. Okay, so on the subject of fear, I’m not encouraging you to simply not think the thoughts that frighten you. Actually quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that you understand the thoughts that frighten you. I’m suggesting that you get to the core of them. I’m betting that at the core of these fears, you’re probably wrestling with your thoughts about judgment and or failure. And I’m telling you right now that the tiny seed inside the core of the big, big fear is just a feeling, probably an unwanted feeling.  So you see, fear is actually the avoidance of unwanted feelings. It’s your body and your mind’s way of keeping you from experiencing unwanted stuff. But thoughts create your feelings and we get to choose our thoughts. So what if we choose thoughts that lead us in the direction of wanted feelings? One of my favorite ways to illustrate this. There’s a little exercise in metacognition or thinking about thinking, if you’re funky.

 I’d like you to invite an imaginary friend to sit down beside you, preferably a very curious friend, somebody who’s very compassionate, but asks questions that have five-year-old would ask. Maybe this imaginary friend is a five-year-old. They ask a lot of questions like, why? And so what if or what does that even mean? So this imaginary young person is going to ask me tons of questions about my thoughts, and I’m going to rattle off answers as if I know everything.  And once a feeling shows up in the answer, then I’ll know that we’ve gotten to the root of the issue. Let’s start with a a fear of being injured. So if I have a child sitting next to me and I say, “Man, little one, little nugget I am, I’m afraid of being injured.” And that child might say, “why?” And I might say, “because then I won’t be able to do the thing that I love.” And they might say, “why?” And I’ll say, “because I’ll be in pain, if not physically then mentally for sure.” And they might say, “why?” And I might say, “because dance is a part of who I am without it, who am I?” And they might say, “I dunno who are you?” And then I might say, “well, I am an almighty dancer and I can do a unnatural things and I can do anything. And I am indestructable, except for when I’m injured, when I’m injured, I feel mortal and I prefer to feel indestructable.” Okay, ding, ding, ding. There were the feelings that just showed up. When I’m injured, I feel mortal, but I prefer to feel indestructable. So there’s my key feelings there. I’m actually afraid of being injured because I prefer to feel indestructable. Well what if you could be injured and still feel indestructable?  Would you then have the same fear of becoming injured? 

Okay, let’s take a look at a different fear. “I’m afraid my work will be bad.” The child might say to that “why?” And I might say, “because that might mean that I don’t know what I’m doing.” and then that child might say, “when I don’t know something and I ask about it, my teacher calls it learning. Or sometimes when I’m playing, I don’t really know what I’m doing and that can be really, really fun. So what’s wrong with not knowing what you’re doing?”  I might say to that, “well, I really like to play too, but I don’t like feeling unskilled. “ Aha. Here’s my feeling. I’m afraid my work will be bad because I don’t like to feel not good at something. Well, how do you feel about yourself after you’ve learned something really difficult or how do you feel about yourself while you’re playing? Is it possible that you might not be afraid of making bad work if you thought of your work as play, if you thought of it as learning. 

All right, how about this one? “I’m afraid people won’t understand me or won’t get the work. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m bad or stupid.” Kid might say “why?” And I say, if feeling very honest “because I want people to like me. I want people to relate to my work. I want them to think I’m great” and that kid might say, “so what if they don’t?” And then I would probably get real real with myself and I would say, “well then I would feel unwanted. I would feel uncool and I prefer to feel cool. I want to feel appreciated.” Okay, great. So it’s not that I’m afraid of people not understanding me, it’s that I want to avoid feeling unappreciated. Well, what if you felt cool and wanted and appreciated no matter what other people thought of your work? Would the fear still be there? I’m thinking, no.

Okay, here’s one more. What if I told the kid the very, very smart kid, by the way, “’i’m afraid of going to auditions.” Kid might say, “why?” And I’d say, “well, I don’t completely love putting my all on the line in front of hundreds of judgy eyeballs, including a couple pairs of eyeballs that ultimately decide if I will fail or succeed in getting this job or not.” And then the kid might say with all of his wisdom and experience, “isn’t that what being a dancer is putting your all on display for a bunch of eyeballs to look at?”  That smart little sucker. Got me. All right. I’d probably say fine. “Smart little sucker. You got me  I guess it’s not the audition that I’m afraid of. It’s getting cut.” The kid might say “with a knife?!” and I’d be like, “no, we use the word cut as another word for being dismissed or rejected and I guess it feels pretty crappy to be rejected.” Ding, ding, ding. We have a feeling there. Feeling rejected. Well, what if you could go to an audition and not feel rejected no matter what? What if instead of feeling rejected, you felt genuinely sorry for those poor sons of guns that don’t get to work with you? Like what if? What if getting cut actually felt like a surprise birthday party for you? Like what if everyone in the room erupted in applause and there was confetti and streamers and cake every time you got cut, would you still be afraid of going to auditions? Mm. Probably not. I would go all the time.  

Now if you’re like me, you might be getting a little suspicious right around now. Like all of this power of positive thinking stuff. Is there really any grit to it? Like is it real? I remember specifically when that book, the secret became very popular. I had some big questions about that. Like does taping a dollar bill to my ceiling and looking at it in the morning and at night before I go to bed really turn me into a millionaire. 

Now, I could be wrong here, but I highly, highly doubt that this work is a bit different. It’s more systematic and it requires action, some effort and a lot of consciousness. So let’s do that work. Let’s put in a little effort and let’s get real thoughtful about judgment and failure.  

Okay. What is judgment? The internet says and the internet knows that judgment is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. Well, that doesn’t sound so bad actually. I kind of loved the idea of being a person that can make considered decisions or sensible conclusions. I wish we could just leave it at that. But the internet also offers an alternative definition and that is misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment. Huge, huge range there. How did we go from sensible conclusions to divine punishment? I don’t know exactly, but considering that judgment is part of what’s kept us humans around for so long, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, thankfully. I’m going to opt to think of judgment as the first definition. I’m already hard enough on myself as it is I don’t need to think of everyone else in the world is passing divine punishment on me. Gosh, that’s terrifying. All right, so that’s the what of judgment. Now let’s talk about the who. Who gets to pass judgment? Well, one of two people. You or someone else. So let’s talk about judgment from others. At least in dance, I’ll speak specifically for dance. There is no bar exam, there’s no MCAT. There is no one institution that says, all right, you’re good, you’re a dancer, you pass, go on, go dance, go make money doing dance. And I actually think that’s a great thing. I have no student loans because of that thing, and that means that everyone gets to dance even if they can’t afford to go to dance school or take dance test. But here’s where that gets a little bit tricky. In the absence of an almighty dance deity, that gets to click a price tag on us and deem us valuable. It can sometimes feel easier for our minds to give power to literally anyone else instead of keeping it for ourselves.  In other words, instead of saying, I’m great and I know that I’m just getting better, we say, ah, I don’t know if I’m any good. What do you think world? See, I think that seeking validation is not so uncommon. It’s human and I think it’s a result of how we were all raised, but what’s unique to dancers and people making art, especially in entertainment, is that we and our work stand at the epicenter of our pop culture’s screen addiction and fascination with view counts and clicks and engagement. It can be really challenging to separate popular opinion from your opinion. And that can be dangerous because then you have a bunch of people who don’t deeply understand the work determining its value. Yikes. So does having a lot of likes mean that something is good? No. Does having very few likes mean that something is bad? No. So what does make something good or bad? Your thoughts about it. That’s what. And that brings us to your self judgment, which can be a tough one. So I’m going to call on the old thought model.  

If the circumstance is my work and the thought is people will think my work is bad or stupid or somebody’s work will definitely be better. Then the feeling that that thought creates is disempowered. Checking in mom, is that a word? The action that comes as a result of feeling disempowered is actually inaction. You don’t make work. So the result is no work, which proves the original thought is correct. Somebody else’s work is better than your work on a technicality because your work doesn’t exist. So here’s the new model with a little bit of flexing of my prefrontal cortex muscles. I know your brain is not a muscle. I just, it’s an analogy. All right, so the circumstance is still my work, but what if my thought about my work is that I am a person with the tools and determination to make the work that I love. That thought makes me feel empowered, that thought makes me feel motivated and feeling motivated, sends me into action. That action is making work. A lot of it and probably failing a bit along the way. And the result then is that I will have work that I love and I’ll have stronger tools and determination to make even more of it. See, the result is proof of that first thought.  

Now here’s something I didn’t touch on much in the last episode and that is that your results are really just yours. In other words, you won’t have a result like everyone loves my work because you can’t control other people’s thoughts, which I think is a great thing by the way. All right, let’s touch on failure now. What is failure? Well, again, I turned to the internet and the internet says failure is the lack of success. Now to avoid going down an endless pit of defining, defining words, I’m going to skip success, which we’ll talk about in another podcast and I’m going to jump straight to the second definition, of failure, which I really, really like by the way. The internet says that failure is the omission of expected or required action. See, it’s all, it’s not this death, destruction, awful, the worst. It’s just the lack of, or the omission of expected or required action. To me, it’s just simply missing the mark. So some people are so afraid of missing the Mark that they never even shoot. For example, people who would love to become a dancer someday, but they don’t take class because they’re afraid they won’t be good. You know, they’ll miss the mark of greatness so they don’t go. Some people are afraid of missing so big that they set the mark real low, like you know, keeping it real safe, freestyling at a nightclub or lounge or party, but never entering a freestyle battle.  

Did you hear that? That was me raising my hand. Oh, failure.  There is one other way that a lot of us choose to avoid failure. That’s kind of special and that is self sabotage. I say that it’s special because this is a type of avoiding unwanted feelings that actually feels really good, at least in the moment. And then it sneaks up and gets you. Here’s some examples, my personal favorite procrastination, putting things off for later so that you can feel good now. My mom has a famous saying, shout out again mom, love you. Uh, she says, why do today, what you can do tomorrow and why do tomorrow what you can avoid doing all together. Man, mom, you are a professional procrastinator. Here’s another one, another form of self sabotage and that’s drinking or self-medicating and other ways that might seem really harmless or even helpful to an extent in that moment, but man, they can lead straight into the arms of some really undesirable results. Another one might be lying or faking sick, or here’s one that you might not expect. Overworking is total self sabotage the whole time you’re thinking, look at me crush this. I am crushing it. I can totally work until 4:00 AM every night and then wake up at six and then go to the gym and, and and, and, and until you exhaust yourself to the point of injury or inefficiency. Self-sabotage is a sticky one and it deserves a podcast all to itself. So let’s jump back to failure. 

There is a metric ton of research and a boatload of really great talks about failure and specifically failure and its relationship to success. I’ll link to a few of my favorites on my website under the show notes for episode five. Just go to theDanawilson.com/podcasts and click on episode five to get all that good stuff. But for now I want to just point out a couple of my favorite thoughts about failure. Here’s a real popular one. The idea that the more you fail, the more you will succeed. I really love that and I like to think about if there were a number, like what if you knew that exactly 25 fails equals one win. Like a really big win. I bet you’d be down to fail 25 times. If you knew that right after that you would get your big win. Well, I also think that it’d probably take way less than 25 fails to get a win. So just jump in and find out. Another one of my favorites is this, and it’s a quote, and I don’t know who to credit for this quote. ***(post edit) this quote is by Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt Therapy.** So if you do, please let me know. The saying is, “The only difference between fear and excitement, is breath.” Consider that people actually pay money to see scary movies and go to haunted houses and go on roller coasters.  

In a way, fear has been rebranded in our minds as fun. So take a deep breath, put both arms up and scream your whole way to that audition. You’re going to have a ball at some point in there for even just the second. You’re going to have fun, I promise. Oh, here’s another quote and I do know who wrote this one. It’s from the movie the Farewell which is written and directed by Lulu Wong starring Akwafina. And it is one of my favorite movies of 2019 please, please see it. Akwafina’s character’s, mom, whose name I’m blanking on at this particular moment, says, “Chinese people have a saying. When people get cancer, they die. It’s not the cancer that kills them. It’s the fear.” Please go see the farewell so that you understand this powerful context, and also, please don’t let your fears eat you alive. Watch over them with the curiosity and compassion of a young child. Get to the root of them and rewrite them and keep it funky. hahahaha, How come I can’t say that without laughing. Oh, it feels good to laugh. That was a serious one. Whoa, boy. All right, everybody. If you’re digging, what you’re hearing, please leave a review. Send me a message on Instagram or a comment on the website, theDanawilson.com/podcasts and I will talk to you next week. Bye.