If knowledge is power… this episode is a super hero! I talk to Emmy nominated choreographer and master teacher, Chloe Arnold, about the education that didn’t only land her at the top of the industry.. it taught her to elevate her community along with her. If you’re looking for the motivation to take your training to the next level, this episode is for you
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 artists story, then sit tight. But don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.
Dana: Hi there. I am so excited that you’re joining me. Today is a big, big day. It is a great day. It is a super day. I’d like to dig right in, but first a word from our sponsors. No sponsors, just my words. So let’s dig in. We start with a story. It is a true story. Once upon a five years ago, I was teaching a dance class, big old dance class. Picture, a hotel ballroom with low pile carpet and one of those wooden like wedding dance floors right in the middle of it. Now add about 100 to 125 dancers. Oh, and those dancers are between 7 and 10 years old. Oh yes. I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lot of 7 to 10 year olds. I agree and I think that life is like a ballroom full of 7 to 10 year olds. You never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s cartwheels. Sometimes it’s a deeply insightful conversation and sometimes it’s a pants pee. You really never know. Now there’s loud music. We’re in the thick of it. We’re sweating, we’re dancing. It’s going well. Everybody’s hitting the steps, which is dance talk by the way, for doing the steps well, and there’s maybe like 20 minutes left of class. It’s usually around this time that I like to throw a little curve ball, not an actual curve ball. Of course, I’m not a sports type. This is basically the point of the class where I like to shift the focus to being more about a verbal communication. So I decided to ask the room a question and I’m expecting a few brave souls to raise their hand and answer, Oh no, no, not this group. A sea of tiny arms and hands sprout up. I swear nearly every person in the room raised their hand or both hands in some cases.
You know it’s very funny actually. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they raise their hand. Think about it and observe next time. Okay, so cut to the chase. I asked the room of seven to 10 year olds, mind you, “why do you dance?” And these are some of the answers that I got back. Okay. Anonymous dancling number one says “because I can’t not dance” and I thought, Hmm, I’m impressed. I would go to your birthday party. Anonymous dancling number two says, “because it’s how I choose to express myself.” Also a good call. I love that you’re 7 to 10 years old and you have a number of ways that you can express yourself. This is just one of them. Your chosen way to express yourself. This is great. I’m thinking I can’t get enough. Who’s next? And a young danceling catches my eye. She’s wearing thick glasses and I can’t remember what color, orange maybe. I remember looking at her and thinking, Oh, you’re little miss sunshine. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say. So I call on little miss sunshine and she says, “because dance lessons are life lessons.” And at this point I’m blown away. I’m speechless because she’s right or her mom was right or her PR coach was right, but something about her delivery and the slight veil of steam on the inside of her glasses where it rested on her cheeks. Something told me those were her words and she could not be more right. Dance lessons are life lessons. Now the message here is not for everyone to go and enroll in dance class so that they can start kicking butt at life. Although that would be great for my industry. The message is actually that if you can master the art of learning, you can master anything.
Now, not every one of my students will grow up to be a professional dancer or choreographer, but they will grow up to be something special because they have a place to practice. Things like taking direction, giving direction, and my personal favorite changing direction. And that’s even on top of things like managing a schedule, articulating complex thoughts and feelings and of course sewing. That’s right. Point shoes. Don’t come with the ribbons on them. You have to do that yourself. Today’s guest has more to say about tap shoes than point shoes, and she’s also going to tell us about how her education shaped her life. Chloe Arnold is an Emmy nominated choreographer, master teacher, entrepreneur, co-creator of the globally famous syncopated ladies, and she’s a dear friend of mine. I’m so lucky. It’s insane. Chloe is a bonafide master learner and I am thrilled to get to learn from her. I can’t think of anyone that’s a bigger advocate for dance and she’s got an Ivy league education to boot. I hope you enjoy and learn a boatload from this conversation with Chloe Arnold.
Dana: Holy smokes. Um, introduce yourself.
Chloe: Well, hello everybody. I am so excited to be on your podcast. Dana Wilson. Um, who am I? Well, I am a professional tap dancer, entrepreneur, choreographer. Um, I created a company called syncopated ladies, which is an all female tap dancing band with a mission to bring tap dance to pop culture in a respectful and uplifting way. I also choreograph television. I was recently nominated for an Emmy for the Late, Late Show with James Cordon. Um, I’ve been working with them for about five years. I’ve choreographed over 50 episodes of television now. And um, my work has been seen online by about 50 million people, uh, from the work that I’ve created. So I’m a content creator and, um, one of my, one of my pinnacle moments and turning points for me was, uh, when Beyonce shared my work and hired me to bring syncopated ladies, um, to represent her. And I am a protege of Debbie Allen and that’s where I learned almost all of the lessons that I’ve applied to my life as a dancer and a business woman entrepreneur.
Oh. So outside of the school of Debbie Allen, you are also a Columbia graduate.
So I have this theory that you don’t have to be book smart or even necessarily street smart to be a great dancer, but it’s not a coincidence that the best dancers are also very intelligent. I would love to hear if you could pinpoint the qualities that you gained from your dance training that carried over into helping you through your Columbia days. And also what Ivy league lessons you learned that crossover into making you such a successful dance unit.
Woo. Okay. So my dance training was quite unique from the standpoint. Well, it started very normal where I was in a strip mall studio and I took ballet, tap, jazz. But my mom recognized that the training wasn’t really, really good. Um, and she had us re choreograph a tap duo that I was a part of. She was like, this is not good. We need to go figure this out. And she sent us to our friend, my friend, my partner’s basement and left us. That’s the interesting thing. She didn’t like come and have oversight. No, she’s like, go figure it out. So, so that was my first experience with a couple of things. One, understanding what it is to have a quality education, right? So understanding when you don’t have someone that is, um, insisting upon your excellence that you have to, you know, look inside yourself and find it and level up yourself. Right. And so that was a really great lesson and I remember that the teacher ended up letting us keep it because it was good, but that was also the turning point in my mom saying, okay, we need to find somewhere else. But also recognizing that I had this love for tap. So she looked into the newspapers, the trades, well not the trades, they were no trades, the newspaper regular, it’s called the city paper, DC and there happened to be an audition for a youth tap company. And so I went to that youth tap company audition and I got into the company on probation. So I had three months to improve as a tap dancer or I would be out. So I was on probation, and I did improve. And um, and I think that it was wonderful for me to have that deadline because who was practicing? I was in the kitchen when my tap shoes.
In the everywhere.
Everywhere. Yes. But I re I remember the kitchen the most because that’s where, you know, the loudest part of the house. Right. So, um, and but no, absolutely under my desk in school, everywhere that I could possibly at the bus stop, et cetera, et cetera. So it was great because at a young age, uh, I was responsible for the outcome of my education. So it wasn’t like, Oh my mom can just pay and I’ll get it. If I didn’t level up. It doesn’t matter whether you pay or not, you’re not in it. So that was really great. Then I was in that program and uh, there was this big audition coming to town for a tap show and the teacher told me that I wasn’t ready yet for that big audition. So this is another example where my mom was like, you don’t limit what you’re capable of. You go try. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine, but you’re not going to not go. So she sent me against the advice of the director. I ended up getting the audition and I was the youngest kid. Again, I wasn’t, wasn’t necessarily at the level, but you know, people we know as teachers you feel someone’s spirit and the grit. And so that’s what I really learned is through that experience is you can’t let other people set the ceilings for your success or your potential. Even if they love you, even if they’re nice to you, even if you know they believe in you to a certain extent. There are things that you can imagine for yourself that are just far beyond what someone can know is in your imagination. So at a very young age, I learned this idea that there are no ceilings and even if I’m not good enough yet, which I wasn’t and I knew that, that I, I have the ability to practice to become better and I just need an opportunity to go and try. Yeah. So then I had a, there was an African American woman in DC who had been watching me over these years and she approached mom and said, I really think I can do something for your daughter. I would like for her to come work with me. And in actuality, her technique was not necessarily as good as the technique of the program I was in. But my mom again had like a, a vision for like, I think this woman is going to see her in a different way and pull her potential out. And that’s exactly what happened. So I went to this woman, she actually mandated that if we were going to tap, we had to take ballet, modern and jazz, cause she had been on Broadway. So she was like, you’re not going to just be over here just tap dancing by itself. You have to augment, learn as much as you can and it’ll all work symbiotically together. So that was another experience of just because you love one thing, it does not make it the exclusive thing you should learn about. Right. So diverse education of every genre of everything you can do, the more you can learn, the more you’re empowered. So that was an incredible lesson because then it came to save me when I auditioned for my mentor, Debbie Allen and I went in because there was a tap role. So I went in like, Oh am I get this tap role? And I went to the tap audition and Debbie said, that’s great. She loved the tap. She said now go put your jazz shoes on. And that was the big gulp moment. But if I hadn’t had that teacher who had made me diversify, I wouldn’t have known what I was doing and I wasn’t the best again. But I was able to, you know, bring a fire and I was able to get the tap duo role at the show and also do the other genres.
And also choreograph 50 episodes of James Cordon, which was definitely not exclusively tap.
No, I only for James cordon, we’ve only done tap on two episodes.
There you have it.
And so God bless Debbie Allen and my teacher Toni L’ombre for expanding my education because without that greater knowledge I wouldn’t be able to, to have the freedom of expression that I have right now. I learned through all of these and I have to say, in my case, very empowered women. That education will always come to save you in the long run, like your training and education. You don’t know when, you don’t know how, but you will one day hit a roadblock and the things that you learned somewhere from your, your childhood to through college, through your adult life. There will be a lesson in there that will help you surpass that obstacle.
Okay, I’m going to pause right there because there is a lot of greatness to sink our teeth into. Firstly, I love how much emphasis Chloe puts on quality training. It’s good to have a sense of when you are or when you aren’t getting what you need, but what I really love is the way that she talks about improving even without someone else insisting on your success because to an extent we can’t always choose who our teachers are, but we can choose what kind of student we are and that is what really determines our progress. Chloe was and still is the type of student that puts in time and effort on her own. Even without the supervision or encouragement from others. She also takes big leaps even before others would say she is quote “ready” and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. I really love the way that she talks about not letting other people, even the people that love you, set the ceiling for your success and what’s possible for you. I really believe that your vision for yourself can be far beyond what others could ever have imagined for you and dreaming that big can be uncomfortable. I’m still getting better at it myself. It takes practice and patience. I’m really interested in the power of goal setting and I’m excited to dig into that in future podcasts. Now, before we dig back in with Chloe, I want to add some thoughts about the importance of diverse training in Chloe’s story. She talks about auditioning for Debbie Allen and the way that her jazz skills came in handy in support of her tap skills and that may have been what tipped the scale in her getting that job. Now, like Chloe, I grew up in a program that required training in many styles. I was what you would call a “Jack of all and a master of none.” I wasn’t the best at any one style, but I genuinely loved elements of all of them. When I first started auditioning for professional work in Los Angeles, I remember being frustrated because it seemed like all anybody ever wanted was a specialist. They wanted the sharpest of sharp jazz dancers or the most technically flawless ballerinas or the Illest of the illest B-boys, or the sexiest of the sexy ladies. You get the just what I wish somebody had told me then was that by nurturing my diverse training and indulging in other genres, even outside of dance, like acting or mine for example, I’d become not only the best, but the only person quite like me. Let’s jump back in with Chloe and find out more about what makes her so singular.
In my research. Chloe, I discovered that you were president of your high school all four years, so I’m wondering, have you always loved school or was there something else driving you to the top in terms of education?
Okay. I’ve always loved school. I’ve always, I’m an overachiever and I think it’s fun. So it’s not like over achiever because I need somebody else’s accolade. I derive pleasure from hard work and like achievement. So from, I was captain of the patrols in fifth grade. Okay. That’s the safety patrols to make sure that everybody in school was A-okay. Like I’ve always, and I’ve ran a campaign at a sash and I had a badge and it’s the captain on it and um, and he had to learn how to like fold your belt. Anyway, I took great pride in it all. I’ve always loved leading and I’ve always been the um, like anti bully campaigner. So I was always very popular and I, and I liked using my popularity to create equity and that is what I still do right now. I want to make people feel good. And so I think it started at a very young age and then.. And then again in high school, his class president LOL. I was very aware and that was very, I stood up for people. I just stood up for the kids and because I was quote unquote cool, I was able to get the cool kids to be nicer cause I was a nerd. I was a cool nerd. So I was living in both worlds. And as the seeing both sides and also like for the kids that were struggling, a lot of the younger like underclassmen, I would like make incentives cause I, I would be like, I’ll take you to lunch, mind you, like look at a $2 lunch if you get on the honor roll. And so we’re like, you know, try to use my leadership roles to affect a change. And so now with like syncopated ladies, we just perform for example in, um, Folsom state prison. But the way we were brought there is because the work we created online and we, they knew we had choreographies and pieces of work that could speak to the inmates and give them hope and um, inspiration. And fortunately that’s what happened. And we got so many beautiful messages. For example, one of the inmates said it was the first time in 20 years that he felt free. And so for me, like that’s how education and empowerment come together cause I studied filmmaking at Columbia and I knew going in I was like, I’m going to put tap dance and dance on film and television and that’s how I’m going to change the world.
If your history is any indication of what’s to come, then I’d say you will be changing the world.
Thanks Dana Wilson. Thank you so much. We’ll Do it together.
Yeah. Ah, thank you so much. You’re an inspiration. Alright, in Chloe’s story, her mom always saw great things for her and several other people stepped into the picture because they saw her potential. That’s not a tremendously uncommon narrative, but what is unique and most appealing to me about Chloe’s story is that the guidance and generosity extended by others was not only matched but exceeded by her appetite for hard work and her big picture vision of how she will change the world. My biggest takeaway from this conversation with Chloe is that education and empowerment really go hand in hand and if we’re doing it well, one leads directly to the other. Thank you so much for listening and I will talk to you soon.