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 welcome. Hi there I am. Dana. Welcome. If you’re new and you’re in for a treat, if you’re new and if you’re returning welcome back, you also are in for a treat. I am so excited about this episode because it is such a mixed bag, a grab bag. If you will, a surprise party, grab bag of words that move me truly. Okay. Last week I had a birthday. I had my birthday to be very specific. I’m celebrating that whole birthday week as my win for this week because although it held a lot of beautiful celebration, which is obviously worth celebrating it also held a few FFTs. I became familiar with that acronym, FFT, thanks to Brené Brown’s podcast, unlocking us highly, highly recommended. Um, FFT means the adult word for freaking first time. Freaking first time, anyways, not only did I take on this week’s FFTs with 34 years of wisdom and compassion, but I felt more like my future self this week than I ever have before my future self, by the way is pretty incredible. So that is my win. All right. What is yours? What’s your win? What are you celebrating? What is going well in your world?
Take your time. Okay. Congratulations and keep winning. All right. This episode is not entirely about my birthday, but it is going to start out that way. I turned 34 on July 21st, which means I am 34 old and some days, I guess by now, now birthdays have always meant different things at different times in my life. For example, when I was young, they meant presents and parties and cake in my twenties, a birthday didn’t really mean that a particular day was special. Really. It became more about the day that everyone was available to get together for dinner and drinks and exchanges of special sentiments, really, really, truly special exchanges. I have had some remarkably special birthday gatherings in my life. Um, occasionally having a birthday was really just an excuse to do nothing. It’s my birthday. I’m going to do what I want or an excuse to, um, post a shameless selfie on Instagram, definitely guilty. Um, but this year I am making 34 years old mean that I’ve been around the sun 34 times. That’s, that’s it pretty scientific, pretty sterile, but I’m deciding to be really proud of this birthday and my 34 orbits, because I think that I’ll be a better astronaut on this next trip, around the sun than I have ever been before. And that’s because I have a better view of the world now than I have ever had before. I’m jazzed about it. I think it’s very special. Um, Oh, speaking of special, let us talk about some special things that happened on the day I was born. No, thanks to Google by the way. This is thanks to my mom who may or may not have looked up all of these special things on Google. But anyways, on my birthday, July 21st, 1986, Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States. The number one movie was Aliens the sequel to Alien getting into that. Um, the number one song was Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel. Rock on and also kind of cool is that my mom was also 34 on that day. Kind of a, kind of a special, full circle thing. Um, now I do just have to share one more thing that my mom said was the most special thing about that day. And I think it’d be better to let her say it herself. Check this out.
Stefani Wilson: The most special thing about that day is that you came into it. You who like, I didn’t know to think of you as something other than a baby. I wish I had known to think of you as this human being that you are now. That’s really who was born that day. You brought so much joy and happiness to so many people. I’m proud of you. And I love you.Happy Birthday Sweetheart
Okay. People go with me here because I just had a serious moment. My mom said, I didn’t think to think of you as anything other than a baby. I wish I had known to think of you as this remarkable human being that you are today. I was just rocked by this idea because any time that I have ever met a baby, which is other people’s babies, obviously I do not have my own baby. I mostly just marvel at how small and perfect they are. I’m shocked that all of the things are in the right place. And they’re just so tiny, but I’m really wondering, does anyone think of their baby? Not as a baby, but as the person they’ll become, I know that actually isn’t possible because you, you know, that requires being able to tell the future at very very least it requires a tremendous amount of imagination to even try. But does that even happen? Like when you have a baby, do you think of that baby as an adult? Or do you think of that baby as a baby? Mind Absolutely blown. So scraping myself off the floor. What I’ve learned from this message from my mom is that, um, she thinks I’m very special. Uh, I’ve also learned that I am a person that screamed and cried for the very first, but not the last time on July 21st, 1986. My mom was also 34 when I was born and I am 34 today. Okay. What else though? Like what else does it actually mean to be 34? Well, guys, I Googled it and in my very sophisticated and very systematic research, I read that on average 34 is the happiest year of our lives. Is that nuts? This is the year when people generally start checking off the big boxes, you know, the big life boxes like, get married, have kids, find stability, make real grownup money. Okay. It is safe to say that that research was obviously not conducted during 2020. I can count almost a full hand of postponed weddings this year. I have also heard, um, funny cause it’s true type of statements about the only kids being conceived during quarantine will likely be first children to their parents because parents who already have kids are homeschooling them and they are exhausted. In other words, they are not interested in making more babies, man, what a time. And speaking of the time, Corona virus, isn’t the only buzzkill of 2020 this year, this July 21st, 2020 celebration means something different to me than it ever has before to put it very simply instead of celebrating a happy birthday this year, I celebrated a human birthday, happy and sad, heavy and hopeful all at once. I am calling it my multi birthday and wow. So multi it was, this episode is my multi birthday gift to myself. And it was carefully designed so that it could be shared and be special to all of you for my birthday this year, I asked some of my favorite movers and shakers. And by the way, those are not exclusively dancers, I want to point out, for words of encouragement or their guiding principles. A favorite quote or a lesson learned or mantra. Um, some, some golden idea that’s golden in their life and in their work because man, if knowledge is power, then I truly cannot think of a greater gift than these power nuggets of knowledge. So birthday or not come back to this episode when you’re looking for something to celebrate, come back to this episode when you’re looking for power. Oh, and if power is something that you are looking for, I highly recommend the first 38 seconds of Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel. Those seconds in and of themselves are worthy of that number one slot. So please be my guest, have that gift. Enjoy these words and enjoy a very special birthday to me followed by the specialist outro song by the one and only Jermaine Spivey enjoy everybody.
Marty Kudelka:What up y’all Marty Kudelka checking in team roast. We sizzle the most, you know how we do and the words that move me the most are “Work smarter, not harder.” And the reason why is because I found I do my best work like that. So that’s, what’s up.
Megan Lawson: I’m Megan Lawson also known as Curious Carol, if you didn’t know, and that feels like a prevalent nickname when talking about words that move me, this is Big Magic creative Bible of mine by Elizabeth Gilbert. And uh, one of the things that really resonates with me is to “live a life driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Copy that.
Jillian Meyers: Hello, movers makers, doers listening in my name is Jillian Myers and a phrase that is very important to me. A bit of a guiding star in a creative process is one that I procured from the sidewalk. I’ll just roll. It was written in sidewalk chalk. And because of that, I don’t know the author, but it is very important to me and simple. And it goes a little something like this “Make what makes you feel” it’s true and it’s good.
Ava Bernstine-Mitchell: Hi, I’m Ava Flav . And the words that move me are your gifts are not just meant for you. They’re meant to be given away. You are blessed to be a blessing.
Reshma: If you’d like to introduce yourself,
Miles: My name is Miles Crawford
Reshma: I’m Reshma Gajjar, Miles. Do you have some wisdom to share?
I do. I’m glad you asked. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you wanna go really fast? Go alone. But if you want to go far go together.
This morsel of wisdom, I’m still trying to figure out. He literally said this to me like two days ago, because I’m still trying to go fast alone. Apparently it’s really embarrassing, but yes, if you want to go far go together. That’s what he said. Mine has been really hard for me to choose because there’s just so many, so many guiding things in my life. But I do have to say the thing that really shows up constantly is to “trust in divine timing.” I feel like we here, timing is everything. And, um, it is, and I think there’s only so much we have control over. That’s all we can do is control what we can, but to, to have faith and to actually trust and surrender and divine timing to actually do that versus intellectually know that timing is everything. That’s been a big one for me.
But on that note, as far as big ones, I got a big surprise for you. The ultimate nugget of wisdom offerings. My mom, mom.
Renuka Gajjar: Yeah, I, hi, Dana. What I learned is that I cannot be a fast. Everything I do is gonna take time, but I don’t care. I just realized that never stop learning. And I think more, I try. More I learn doesn’t matter. It takes me a long time because all I hear is nothing but time. Okay. So yeah, this is true.
Reshma: There is no such thing as time. Time doesn’t exist in calendar. Apparently just like our age. I said that somebody, somebody very wise said that to me once, if the time doesn’t exist in a calendar, we are timeless. Happy birthday. We love you so much.
Liana Blackburn: Hello, Liana Blackburn here. The words that move me are “I am completely committed yet on attached” To me, this phrase means that I can be completely committed to my relationships, my passions, my jobs, my loves, and also unattached from results, expectations or anything that I think should be offered to me in return. From that commitment, I am completely committed yet un attached.
Nicholas Palmquist: Hi, my name is Nicholas Palmquist and a word that moves me right now, I’d have to say is curiosity. Uh, I want to have this personal desire to learn more about something and to better understand it because, um, I’m literally curious about it. I just want to know. And I think the more you want to know about something, the more you’ll investigate it and that will lead it to, um, being connected to all of these other things that you also learn about. So that’s really, what’s driving me these days, curiosity.
Lisette Bustamante: Hello. My name is Lisette Bustamante And the words that move me are “When everyone seems to be swimming upstream, go ahead and flow downstream” because, uh, I’ve learned over the years that when you try to work against the current, um, it just feels like you’re struggling to move. And so I sit back, put my behind my head and I swim and flow downstream and let go, let go of trying to be in control of things.
Ryan Walker Page: Hi Dana happy birthday. I’m weighing in on the request to let you know words that have guided, supported, inspired me that maybe like still hold a lot of rank in my life. Uh, for me, what first comes up is developmental psychology sort of falls off after the age of 26. So there in lies, this sort of like moot point of like, Oh, do we stop developing? Surely that can’t be true. And so this guy Robert Keegan’s swooped in and was like, um, basically created the architecture for something called adult development. And um, he boils it down to this idea of like one’s ability to hold complexity. Um, so can you coordinate multiple perspectives? Can you walk with contradiction? Like what is your bandwidth, um, in and for life? And so he like puts it in this imagery. This is like the ODA Twilight version of it or sure. But the first stage is that you are like swimming in this water and the water is like the beliefs attitudes that you inherited that you have, like not yet questions. Then the next stage is when that water starts to drain, uh, which can be like very lonely and empowering. And actually those things know each other and you find this rock. So you’re like out of the water and onto the rock and the rock is firm and clear and bold and you have sight and ability to look at what was in relationship to maybe what you want. And so that rock represents what you want and this sort of like quest to author your own experience. The next stage, according to this guy is after you’ve like, um, positioned this rock as a lifeline and are sure about it and see where you were and can dive into that water when you want, but also sort of take a satellite view to it. You realize the rock has been a beach ball and it’s like a profound beach ball, cause it’s like the beach ball of your life. But, um, the beach ball yields and the beach ball plays and the beach ball has more of like a dancing choreography than a rock. You basically gain like a more robust emotional profile where like grief, um, can be cut with joy can be cut with loss, can be cut with humor. And these sort of like defined boundaried categories, but between things softens and it sort of like opens up the dance floor of your mind and your experience of life. And, um, I love that this imagery treats play as, as important as maybe the heavy blows of life and, um, finding a mental space that can coordinate and house and like, uh, integrate all of those things. It just feels so expansive and believable. Um, happy birthday. That’s my thing. Oh and this is Ryan Walker Page!
Kathryn Burns: Hi, it’s Kathryn Burns. And the words that move me are do unto others as you would have them do unto you the golden role Simple, Sweet, stay kind.
Dom Kelley: Okay. Hi, my name is Dominique Kelly and the words that moved me are just be better.
Chonique: Hey this is Chonique and the words that move me are “They tell me life is a marathon and I hope I brought the right shoes” And that’s because life is a marathon its not a sprint its not a destination its a journey and just having the tools that you need daily for the present moment is the only thing that’s going to get you to move to the next thing. So, that’s what I believe, that’s what I move by, and I love you Dana, Happy Birthday!
Spenser Theberge: Hi, it’s Spenser Theberge, and the words that move me are “Learning is like a feedback loop. Remember to look outside of yourself as much as you look inside.”
Nina McNeely: This is Nina McNeely. And the words that moved me are “to compare is to despair” Love you cream cheese, Danish.
Poppin’ Pete: Hey, what’s up? Dana, Poppin’ Pete here. Um, my cool mantra is “keep going, keep growing and keep it funky.” And what keeps me moving is the absolute love of the dance. The very first time I saw poppin’ or anything, um, I fell in love with it and I carried the love of the dance respecting that. And that keeps me going. That’s why I’ve been around for 42 years. Peace and love. Happy birthday, Dana. Yeah.
Chloe Arnold: Hi, this is Chloe Arnold’s. I want to wish the happiest birthday to my dear friend and sister Dana Wilson. I love you. I support you. I think you’re absolutely brilliant on and off the dance floor and words that move me. Wow. Words that move me. Well, words that move you words that move us. Uh, things that I like to think about are to remember, to imagine it, to dream it, to work hard, to achieve it and to share it and then repeat. So I hope those words move you and I love you so much, sister, friend, and I can’t wait to see you soon.
Tom Sachs: Hi, this is Tom Sachs, happy birthday. Um, it’s been four years since we’ve met your, my first internet friend. You’re the first person I met, um, through the device. And so I’ll never forget, uh, that in our times in San Francisco, learning to backslide and an operate the table saw in the maker space. Um, have a great birthday continue, please, to be brave with your desire and never ever, ever give up. You’re a leader. We all look to you for strength. So these tough times. Please stay focused. Love you.
Emma Portner: Hello. This is Emma Portner live from my bed. Some words that move me are, “if I’m not tt thank you for letting me know,” happy birthday, Dana, I love you so much. I’m the podcast biggest fan. And, uh, I’ve listened to it all over the world. And it’s always brought me a sense of, um, familiarity at the same time as challenging me, which I really, really love. Um, and that’s all I have to say right now, but happy birthday, Dayna,
Toni Basil: Happy birthday, Tony basil here. Keyed. My words don’t stop. Oh, no. Don’t stop. Or the rehearsal gods will never forgive you and you can’t get them back. You cannot get them back to
Jermaine Spivey: *Sings with the voice of an angel*
Dana: Wow I really don’t want to make a sound after that beautiful birthday salute. Thank you Jermaine Spivey. How is it possible that you sound as sweet as you move. I don’t get it! Maybe next year on my birthday I’ll do my cover of your birthday song to me. Thank you so much Jermaine, and thank you everybody for your birthday wishes. Thank you so much movers and shakers that I look to for words to move me. And thank you all of you for listening, for being here with me in celebration of my 34th trip around the sun. You know what to do now, Keep it funky.
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.
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.
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.
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