Ep #43 Find Your Stage with Joe Lanteri

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep #43 Find Your Stage with Joe Lanteri
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 Usually Joe Lanteri is the one making the introductions, but this week, I get to introduce you to him! The one and only Joe Lanteri!  Joe is the man behind the most renowned training studio in New York City, he started one of the first (and certainly the finest) traveling dance conventions, NYCDA, and he is the founder of the foundation responsible for over 3.5 million dollars in college scholarships to young dancers across the country.  Joe. Is. The. Man. And in this episode we get to find out what the man stands for.  Joe talks about making decisions, the value of money, the value of working hard and he makes a strong point about priorities.  Grab a seat (and a notebook) and ENJOY!  

Show Notes:

Quick Links:

NYCDA: http://nycdance.com/

Steps on Broadway: https://www.stepsnyc.com/

NYCDA Foundation: http://nycdance.com/foundation

Outliers:https://amzn.to/3595MXQ

The Creative Habit: https://amzn.to/35cC04i

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, my friend. And welcome to the podcast. Or welcome back if you are returning. My name is Dana. This is words that move me and I’m jazzed that you are here. This episode is super special to me for so many reasons. We’ll get into it. But first, today I’m celebrating a big win. But when I’m celebrating is that I have scheduled myself at vacation. And if you are listening to this on the day of its release, I am on that vacation and loving it, man. Even just talking about it now, I feel relaxed. I hope that you are finding time and space to relax as well on that note, actually, what’s your win this week. What’s going well in your world.  

Alright. Awesome. Congrats, stellar job. Keep winning. All right. Now let’s dive in. If you are a person that knows of me through NYCDA, which is the dance convention that I’ve taught for for years, then you are really in for a treat. If you do not know of me through NYCDS, you are also in for a treat, but if you’re a dancing that came up through conventions, and if you’re convention days were a movie, then my guest today is the voice of your movies trailer. I guarantee it. Today, I am joined by Joe Lanteri, the founder and CEO of NYCDA one of the first and finest dance conventions out there, If I do say so myself, he is also the executive director and co owner of Steps on Broadway. One of the largest and most renounced studios in New York City. Joe is my boss. Joe is THE boss and Joe is much, much more. So buckle up and enjoy this conversation with Joe Lantieri. 

Dana: All right, Joe Lanteri, we are finally doing this. Welcome to the podcast. 

Joe: Thank you, Dana Wilson. You know, I am honored to be sitting here and I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that I am nervous, but I’m excited to do it.  

Dana: Oh, I understand. Right. When you commit something to digital foreverness, there can, there can kind of be a nerves. Um, you and I can talk though, forever. So let’s treat it as if we were on a convention weekend that had no classes and we had nowhere to run off to. 

Joe: How interesting would that be? Right. 

Um, sort of maybe like what’s happening now as a matter of fact, convention weekends with no classes,  

Right? We’re on pause. Exactly.  

Man, okay. So it’s par for the course on the podcast, all of my guests introduce themselves, let us know what you want us to know about you.  

Uh, so my name is Joe Lanteri, as you mentioned, and you did allude to convention. So let’s start there. I am the founder and executive director of the New York City Dance Alliance. I say that with much pride and the New York City Dance Alliance foundation, um, I’m a new co owner and maybe not so new anymore co owner and executive director at the Steps on Broadway. Uh, we also have a sister company for New York City Dance Alliance called Onstage New York. I’m the producer and executive director of the Chita Rivera awards. I wear way too many hats in my life, but I cherish and love them all.  

Joe, you forgot to mention in that very illustrious bio, that Dance Magazine has also named you one of the most influential people in dance period.  

First of all, I don’t think about that. And to mention it, it’s not like it was at the top of my brain and thought, Oh, I’m not going to say that. I just wasn’t even thinking about that. You’ve done your homework because

I will say that I will say that 

I don’t think about that whatsoever. And yeah, I am. I’m very honored that dance magazine made that distinction. So I’m not sure where it came from, but I’ll take it.  

Well if I had to guess, I would say it’s because you make big, big changes. You do big business, you run big organizations, you do big important work, and I’ve been inspired by you for as long as I’ve known you, which I should mention is a long time. I’m not going to say exactly how long cause I’m a classy broad. Um, but I, I attended NYCDA as a young kid. And I remember looking up to you, I’m at stage like, wow, that’s it, man. And then I, you know, graduated, pursued a career in dance. I remember you called me one day and offered me a position as a faculty member on NYCDA. I wish you could have seen my face. I wish I had a photograph of that moment. Um, a very, a very prideful moment for me. And then the last 10, how many years of working together, um, On NYCDA. So I should let everybody know that because I’m going to say a lot about how NYCDA is one of the first, definitely the largest and certainly the best convention on the face of the planet. But I am biased of course, because I call it home. You guys are definitely my family and I’m so proud to be a part of that team. Um, so big businesses, big changes and, and you must be constantly making big decisions. So I want to start here cause it’s something that I personally am really interested in in my life. How do you make decisions?  

Great question. You know, and if you want to know the truth, I try desperately not to let the enormity of what I have going on in my life overwhelm me and I try and go back to the root of it all which often speaks to whether, whether it be the mission or the original vision or what I consider to be the integrity behind it. So if it’s something to do with, for instance, NYCDA, and it’s interesting, we’re having this conversation because I often say this now at Steps, because I’ve taken that mentality there. If I’m unsure of what that, how to make that decision. And this is the God’s honest truth. The first thing I asked myself is how will this affect the kids? How does this, and I’m being honest, how does this affect the dancer? And I start with that and I look at the impact on the dancer and based the final decision on that piece.  And I think, you know, in the conventional world or in the dance world in general, even in the open class world, you know, uh, people get into the mindset of counting heads. They look in a room and they count it. And it’s, I think it’s unintentional. I don’t want to think that it’s, you know, people intentionally go in there and do that, but they count heads and they think that that’s what this is all about. And it’s really not, you know, it has nothing to do with that. It really has to do with why is that class? Why is this organization? Why does it exist? And at the end of the day, it really is because you are investing in that group of dancers. And so that’s how I make the decision.  

That that’s a beautiful answer. And the beautiful segue actually into what I want to talk about next is, you know, you’ve, you’ve been teaching for a very long time. You’ve been running these enterprises for a very long time and I am constantly reminded. And I tell people all the time that you do it because you love seeing students succeed. And I don’t know how else you would be able to still be doing it if you didn’t get some kick out of that. But you’ve seen, I mean, how many students come up through NYCDA over the years?  

Well, we see 15 to 20,000 a year we’re in season 26, you do the math. I mean, that’s, that’s crazy. I mean, even for me, that it’s crazy. And if I had to be really honest, I already had a whole life and a career and saw many dancers and all that before NYCDA in fact, that’s, that’s what sparked me to want to start NYCDA, cause I already had a lot going on. So  

Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk about that for a second. What are the differences and what are the similarities of running, you know, your life in a performer sense and your work in the sense of all of these, you know, these institutions that you’ve built.  

That’s a great question. And it’s, um, it’s almost challenging a little bit, cause I, I, I feel so far removed from that person, um, which is interesting, cause I still live my life with the energy. Like I was when I was 25 years old and doing all of that, but I will, I, but I do have an answer. Cause I think the answer really is, is that you have to know what you offer and you, you have to have the confidence to put it out there. Uh, whether you are standing at an audition or launching a new enterprise or a new business, you really do have to know, uh, what you stand for, what your strengths are and that’s what you present and you can’t dwell on the naysayers. You can’t dwell on the negative. You can’t dwell on the challenges you chip away at those one day at a time and you just take those baby steps forward.  

I wish there was an audition for me to go to right now because I feel all puffed up by that. Um, okay. So let’s, let’s talk foundation for a second. So you started the NYCDA foundation 10 years ago. And how many millions of dollars in scholarships have you awarded since then?  

So the foundation itself, yes, we started in 2010. We made our first awards in 2011. And to date we’re at about roughly three and a half million dollars, which was a humbling and daunting number to even utter. Those words is kind of an amazing thing, but we’re at about three and a half million dollars.  

Okay. Well it makes sense to me then that you have developed this reputation for being a person that’s very pro college. But what I want to say right here and now and loud on a microphone is that you are a person that is pro success, whether it’s college or in another direction. Um, I, myself, as an example, I don’t hold a college degree. Many of your other faculty members don’t. Yet, I feel tremendous support and encouragement in my ventures, in my work. Um, and I know that you provide that to other students that, that don’t pursue dance in college. Um, so I just want to give you the floor to talk about how you would encourage somebody who’s thinking about the decision, you know, making that seemingly daunting decision. I say that because it wasn’t very daunting to me. I just knew. But what would you say to people weighing their options between dancing college and jumping right into the workforce?  

Um, first of all, I appreciate you making the distinction that we are not necessarily only about college. Um, I do think the majority of dancers that I meet, uh, based on where they are themselves at that point in their lives might benefit from continuing with a structured program of some sort that makes them accountable. They have to get out of bed every day if at a certain hour. And you know, I do think college has its benefits in almost teaching you a work ethic of what might be expected of you. Once you do have a job and show up every day and put in an eight hour to 12 hour rehearsal process day in and day out. Um, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone and yourself being a perfect example. And we could go down a long list of people that I think are incredibly talented that I admire tremendously that did not go to college and have done wonderful, wonderful things.  Um, but I do think from a maturity standpoint, a lot of people would benefit from building their community, uh, starting their own network and investing in themselves in those four years. So I think that the foundation has taken off from the college standpoint because I think parents like hearing the message of we are investing in dancers. We, and we are promoting education and supporting the arts. I mean, that really is the trifecta of what our foundation is all about, but I do get often misquoted that Mr. Joe says everybody has to go to college, which is totally just not the case. And in fact, we are trying to develop new things. You were involved with our dance discovery showcase, which we launched is one of the, one of the silver linings. They came out of this whole COVID situation where we started this mentor program, which came with a scholarship. It was supported by the foundation and that money is not meant to go to college. It’s meant to go to training. So we are pro training. We are pro you’re not done at 18, regardless of how much success you may have had enjoyed in the convention/competition arena. You are really just beginning. The truth is you are, that’s your foundation that that is your that’s your base, but you’re now going to step into a professional setting, which is going to require you to really continue to train and learn so much more. And some of it is just learning in life experience, you know, not only do is in the classroom  

Or even, or even on set, you mentioned, uh, building your own calendar, being accountable, being responsible with your time dollars and your dollar dollars, um, networking, all of those things. Yeah. That, that sort of structure is certainly not, um, already in place, you know, outside of a college environment, there’s no systematic way of climbing that ladder into being a working person. You just kind of close your eyes and jump

To be really honest Dana. You know, especially as a teacher and as a teacher at steps for all those years and being in the hallway with all those dancers that are waiting to take my class and overhearing conversations, and some of it is about not, you know, why am I not? Why don’t, why didn’t you get a job or why didn’t, you know, all of the things that come with pursuing your career? Um, I think for some people, their big plan at graduation is, my best friend and I are going to move to a big city would whatever city that might be, and we’re going to get an apartment together and we’re going to dance and as great as that might be, that’s not entirely a plan of attack. You know, that’s not really, that’s not enough. That really is not, you know, and the other, the other thing I’m going to interject, just because I said those words, the other misconception is because we are the New York City Dance Alliance is that we expect all of our dancers to move to New York, which is ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Again, you are a perfect example of that. You know, what we stand for is a standard of excellence and a level of training that you are then supposed to take that and go do whatever you want with it and thrive and flourish and do all of that. But wherever you go, you’re going to be held to a standard and your training is going to is going to resonate. And that’s why that’s, that’s who we are, but not because we think you have to be in New York, do it wherever you want to go, wherever, wherever, follow your heart, go find your stage. Those that, that is a direct quote for me. I use it all the time. Go find your stage.  

I love this quote and that is another beautiful segue. Joe, you would think we had had a rehearsal. I’ll tell you what, um, you’re famous for your talks. I hear them ringing in my ears ever because I’ve been hearing them since I was a kid. And you know, we’ve been working together for years and years now and I they’re so meaningful and I’m glad that people are willing to step away from the steps for a second and just give a strong verbal message, like no interpretation, this is what’s important to me and any alumni who is listening, anybody that’s been on a Dance Alliance weekend, who’s listening knows exactly the talks that I’m talking about. Um, and in those talks, one of the things you say a lot in addition to following your heart is to invest in yourself. I would love to know how you invested in you when you were on the come up as a dancer. 

I think that’s a great question.  And I will start by saying, um, when I use the words, invest in yourself, very little of it has anything to do with finances. It is not, it’s not about, you know, spending extra money or call it your even college tuition, as much as I do think colleges part can be part of that investment. But I think it’s really learning to find your path, um, to answer your question about my own journey, uh, both as an individual, as a performer, as a budding teacher, as an entrepreneur, all of those things, my greatest investment in all of those things was surrounding myself with incredible people. And that circle your own personal family that you develop and that you grow with, that is one of your greatest investments because that they’re there to support you. They’re there to support you in the great times and you all you share in that celebration, but they’re also there to support you in the difficult times. We are living that right now and not to go into a COVID place on this beautiful conversation that we’re having. But what a better example you being part of that family that I have, and you understanding many of the conversations that we’ve had in the last six months, uh, we couldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for that, that to me is really the essential investment that we all need to make. Um, especially in our industry because our industry allows us to get caught up in our head and get caught up in comparisons and get caught up in the cattiness. And I work, I, my whole life have worked very hard to not buy into that and not to not to go down that path. You know, I, you, you, you joke about, or you mentioned my speeches. Um, my talks, I often, I often carry characters, might characterize myself as being a little corny quite honestly.  Um, and I’ve owned it. I own it. I absolutely own it. Those, those talks, I have genuinely come from a heartfelt place. They are a little borderline. The world is the world should be sunshine and roses. Um, I consider myself, uh, one of the most, you know, um, positive. Uh, there is a, there there’s always a rainbow. There’s always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s just the way I live my life. And I think for some people that’s difficult because they’re not that way. And they’re, they’re the, I call them the eye rollers. What a hand goes on. A hand goes on a hip and the eyes roll back. And I can’t do anything about that. And that’s one of those moments where I stay true to myself. I know what I want the moment to be. I know what I want my message to be. I know what I want a kid to feel. Um, and one of the most rewarding things for me is when I, you know, if you know me well enough that in that moment, when I’m talking to a room full of the older dancers, that’s also the moment where I take a quick break and go change my clothes and come back and we’ll do the whole end of the weekend. I will have dancers run after me. I will have parents run after me, grab me by the arm, tears in the eyes and just say, thank you for what, for whatever, whatever came out of my mouth at that moment, not preplanned. And just having even one person wrecking, have that effect, then I’ve done my job. Then I’ve done my job.  

Um, sort of as a followup through those pot of gold glasses, that’s what I’m going to call. I’m sticking to it. What do you see as being, um, kind of a hopeful result of the COVID moment on the dance convention world specifically, but maybe broader even dance education in general?  

Um, I think it’s been interesting for me now. I’ll be honest. I have yet to teach on zoom. Isn’t that interesting? I’ve not 

I didn’t know that! 

And part of it is because this whole thing that whole quick change has been so overwhelming that I have really been wearing my business hat as opposed to my dance teacher hat. Um, but the dance teacher in me does, has been a part of hundreds of zoom classes and situations and events and things like that. Um, so I’ve learned and watched and observed and seen a lot of what goes on. Um, I think, and again, not to sound corny, but I think we’re seeing dancers step into an ownership of the situation. Uh, definitely an accountability for themselves when they’re now alone in a room, they are not able to hide behind 30 people in a classroom or 300 people in a ballroom. They, they, they are accountable for their work. They are accountable to show up and I applaud the dancers even for showing up. When I think zoom burnout and being hours on a device, all of that is real. It is understandable and real. And yet there are many dancers that have embraced what this now is. Embrace this reality and have basically said, I’m not going to let this deter me from following my passion, my dreams and my training. So I’m going to make the best of it under these difficult circumstances. And I think that characterization for those people, that’s, what’s going to remain. I think in general, I think zoom and virtual learning has brought the world much closer. Um, you know, scheduling for myself, scheduling guests, even to teach at steps or even some of the intensives and the work we’re doing again yourself, a perfect example. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to bring you in its steps like right now, because we’re in different coasts, but now you can teach a guest class at steps and you have, and it’s been great. Yeah. I don’t think that’s gonna go away. I really think that, that, you know, we have numerous international students that take class at steps, people from around the world, uh, travel to New York and take class, and now they’re able to continue to have that feeling from their home. So I think that that’s going to stay with us. I really do.  

Thats awesome and I hope so. To me, that really is that it’s massive that the change that’s happened in the last eight months is tremendous and it’s important. And I think it needed to happen because the cost of entry to training with top tier professionals was A. you had to be in the city where the top tier professionals were. B. they had to be not working on other projects. C. you had to have enough money to take the class, to actually buy the class package or get in the room. And, you know, big cities like New York and LA are expensive and they’re not easy to get to for everybody. And I, I do believe in the value of in person exchanges, but I also believe, and I know you’re with me on this, that you’ll get out of it, whatever you put into it, if you are, if you are open to having a transformational experience on a zoom class, you just might. And so now the cost of entry to having those experiences is wifi basically. Um, which is still not everyone, but I do think it’s a massive change and I think it, I think it’s awesome.  

But I want to just piggyback on what you said. You were only going to get out of it, what you put into it, and if you can only give 50%, then you can’t expect to get 300% back.  

That’s massive. Okay. I know Joe, the executive director pretty well. I know Joe, the human being pretty well. I wish that we grew up together cause I would’ve loved to be training with you. You mentioned earlier that you still have the energy of a 20 something. Who’s like, you know, grab your coffee and take eight classes and then go to an audition and then go to a show that same night. And I just wonder if you could give us a peek into your world, maybe a cross section of your time at USC, um, a college day, Joe, what did your life look like?  

Wow, wow. Uh that’s um a flashback, but a welcome flashback. Cause my days at USC were amazing and um, I’ve had the opportunity to go back and visit the campus since the Glorya Kaufman School has happened at USC, under Jodie Gates. And besides the fact that they’re doing amazing, amazing things, it was surreal for me to walk down the street and find that building, which is literally four buildings down from where I used to take class every morning. Um, I was not a dance major, there was no real dance program at USC at the time theater. Right? I was a theater major. Yes, but I was the first year, uh, John Houseman who developed an acting program at, at the Julliard school left Julliard and moved to Los Angeles because at the time he was filming the TV series Paper Chase, this is really now dating me.  But, um, he started the BFA acting theater program that I became a part of and any, uh, movement classes. And I’m saying movement, because they’re not dance classes per se were movement classes for actors. But the fact that I lived in LA was my introduction to the Dupree Dance Academy. And you’re smiling as an LA girl. That’s where I took my first dance classes. And you’ll appreciate that. The two people that I credit the most for jazz are Carol Connors and Jackie Sleight because they, they were my, they were my two go to teachers and I didn’t know what I was doing. It was very difficult for me because I looked like I should know what I was doing when I walked in and my jazz pants and leg warmers in my little dance outfit at the time. Um, but the room was filled with the scholarship dancers of the day who were the best dancers in Los Angeles at the time.  And, uh, it was extremely intimidating, extremely humbling, but that was after an entire day of acting classes, voice classes, um, Feldenkrais movement, all the things that were part of our program, scene study rehearsals. And then if I could sneak a class in at seven o’clock at night, I would get in my car and drive to Dupree’s and take class. I mean, so I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything, but it is funny again, I just going back to my visiting the campus in the last couple years, since the Glorya Kaufman school, uh, there is a church down the, down the street for four buildings down from where Glorya Kauffman is on the USC campus. There is a church and in the church basement, there is now a coffee shop that has a little outdoor landing. Um, it’s got these beautiful iron iron and glass doors. Well, that’s where I took class every morning and that, and it’s still set up very similar now that it’s a coffee shop, but it’s still very much resembles what it looked like when I took class, except that the wall that had my mirrors now has been built over. And it’s part of where I guess they, their pantry, but the bathrooms are the same. The entrance is the same. It’s all exactly the same, but it’s, it is a, it’s a coffee shop.  

So cool. I love this. Um, alright. I, I wanted to go like three different directions a little while ago. Um, it’s hard for me to stay focused cause I really, really could talk to you forever. Uh, you talked about setting a high bar, keeping a high bar and having high expectations delivering at a really high level. And I cannot think of a better example of a high bar than our NYCDA uh, national finale gala night. I have seen, and I am not just saying this. I want to be clear. I haven’t seen some of my favorite dancing period on our stage at closing night gala. Specifically. And I w I am prepared to get specific. Um, Jermaine’s Fivey and Cindy Salgado dancing their duet from Dark Matters. Um, I really cannot wipe Ida Sakis. Uh, the year that she won title, I cannot wipe her solo away from my memory. It is it’s, it might be my favorite thing that I’ve ever seen at NYCDA And I tell her that, and she’s like, no, and I’m like, um, I also very distinctly recall, um, the ball, the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, Danny Tidwell and Melissa Hough. Um, I remember sneaking into that ballroom when they were rehearsing their closing night solos when they were handing over their title. And it just brings tears to my eyes to think about all those, all of those moments. So I know this is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. Um, yeah. Could you share some of the moments that really stand out for you and  

Well, you’ve hit, you’ve hit quite a few. I mean, I think, I do think Ida Saki was groundbreaking, uh, literally breaking that fourth wall. And I mean, she really, uh, took on that moment in a, in a different way than anyone else we’ve ever seen do that. Um, the, the, I will be honest and I don’t mean this in an offense of anyone that has come thereafter, but the days that the Waldorf were a very, very special time, uh, part of it was just where I was in my life. Part of it was the evolution of what we were doing as a company and watching that success start to happen, that there was a true understanding that we were trying to do something different and you’re exactly right. That it, it, um, it manifested itself on that stage. And you saw it, uh, one of the things, one of the, uh, Melissa Hough and I’m being honest in her day, I had never met anyone like Melissa, and she knows, I’ve said this publicly before she knows this to this day. At that point in time, I had never met anyone that was as versatile, as dedicated as technical. Um, just as special as a Melissa Hough, you would think she was a hip hop dancer. Oh no, no, no, wait, she’s got point shoes on and she’s a point dan-. Oh no, but she’s got tap shoes on. And she was a tap da-. I mean, she was phenomenal in everything that she ever did and her final solo as a dancer, she came back many times as guests. Those are all beautiful, but I don’t know if you remember the Stevie wonder in a chair. Do you remember this? 

I don’t 

Mia Michael’s choreography. 

I don’t. 

Oh my gosh. I wish I almost should have prepared it to have, we should have shared screen. I should have prepared it for you.  

We could get a live feedback of me just like choking on my own air.  

Well, you know, audio visual presentation, uh, it was, it was a very, very special, very special moment.  

Have you shared that on your Instagram throwbacks?  

I have in the past, I could probably, you know, we’re probably due to do go back and find some of those things as well, but that whole, that whole era, Melissa, Danny Tidwell. Well, of course Travis Wall, uh, the list goes on, the list goes on and on and on. And there was something really magical about being in that particular space, which also in many ways, defined New York city. It was a Waldorf Astoria. It was the grand ballroom of a Waldorf Astoria in New York city where presidents speak and things like that. And here we had some of the most talented kids from all across the United States, you know, come to perform. It was, it was special. And it’s exciting that you were a part of that and that, that has remained with you. I mean, really it was very special.  

Absolutely can cannot forget it. Couldn’t, wouldn’t, don’t want to ever, let’s talk about it daily. Um, let’s talk about talent and kids for a second because you know, maybe it’s the training. Maybe it’s just, there’s more exposure. I’m seeing more young people dancing now, but am I alone in being absolutely jaw on the floor at what young dancers are capable of right now and how are they doing that? Like what’s going on.  

It’s amazing. I think, um, you know, with all due respect to all of us, kudos have to go to the local dance studio and what they are doing and the decisions that they’re making, uh, because obviously they’re doing great things, training their dancers at those studios and deserve all of that credit for making that happen. Um, I think that the world and the internet and television, which has embraced dance over the last decade, uh, has exposed dancers just so much more. Um, and as much as I’m not a big social media fan and that’s a whole separate, separate topic, 

Oh, don’t tempt me. 

And as much as I do get, I do have my concerns that it, it pushes what we do to not the best place, if I had to be very honest, um, when done right, the, the level of exposure does have a positive can ha can have, can have a positive effect on what we do. And it allows each generation to learn from the generation past and take it to another level. And I, I think you’re absolutely right. What we see young dancers do is phenomenal.  

There’s so much to talk about, um, on the subject of social media specifically though, I did want to pop out. Joe’s point of view is very clear. He’s seen both sides of the spectrum, both the joy and the pain that can be brought on by literally having a global audience in your pocket at almost all times. Now to find out where I land on social media, you will definitely want to go check out episode 10, where I really, really unpack, um, my views on the socials. Granted that was before I saw the social dilemma.. I stand my ground enjoyed episode 10. Now I want to back up a little bit because when I asked Joe how he’s invested in himself, he mentioned that very rarely was that investment, a monetary type of investment. And I wasn’t surprised by his answer there, but Joe and I actually went on to talk quite a lot about finances. And let me tell you that is an episode unto itself. Um, so we’ll jump back in now to a part of that conversation, but know that future episodes have money moves all over them. I want to talk about money. I want to talk about money, words, and words that move me, but for now let’s get on with it and let’s get right back to Joe.  

Let me share this because we’re just talking honestly. And, and, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re delving into my past in some way. Um, I have to give all props all thanks. Uh, cause I’m pretty good with money I’m I have a good, pretty good financial, uh, mindset. And I thank, I am a product of my parents. Um, and many people don’t know this, but my parents were Italian immigrants. They didn’t speak much English whatsoever. They never really assimilated to this country. Uh, they remained old world, uh, to the day they all the day to the day, they both passed away. Um, and they’ve given me so many incredible gifts. One of them being my ridiculous work ethic to a fault, but one is understanding the value of money and the value of working hard for what you have and then taking pride in that. And, uh, in that ownership of, I I’ve earned this, you know, um, and I have, they had that pride because they came with nothing and, um, in my own way as well, I’ve I, you know, I’ve built my businesses from nothing. I, I, you know, just from decisions and I invested my own money in making it happen. So I’m right there with you with the financial planning. And I often sit down, we’re walking, we’ve never done it, but we could, we should do it at some point. I have often taken part in financial conversations amongst our people, you know, just in terms of like that next step or what do you do and how do you do it and all of that. 

I would love that. 

but it’s an important part of all this  

It’s so important, you know, and that there is more to it than work hard and save. That’s where I’m so curious and excited to learn and to take some next steps. Um, okay. I do want to ask. I would be, I would feel awful if I didn’t, it feels terrible to say to somebody what’s next for you when their plate is so full, but I, I, I guess I’ll reframe this question to be what excites you most right now.  

Good question. What excites me most, very honestly, though, is opening a new door and finding yet a new opportunity, uh, frankly for the kids, you know, um, I will share this with you and I’m saying this completely off the record, but on the record that my next, uh, desire that I hope to launch as things settled down and we’re going back to the foundation is something more to do with diversity and dance scholarships that we really collectively as an organization, as an institution, as, as a country, really support that movement to a greater extent. Um, and I think this is the time the, the, the society is demanding it. Um, I don’t think that we’ve been far from it ourselves and all the time that we’ve been doing what we do. Um, so it’s not a new message for us, but maybe it’s time to be louder. Maybe it’s time to use our voices in a different way. Um, and I think creating more scholarships in that diversity realm is important to me and had, had, have started having some conversations, frankly, in terms of how to pursue that next.  

I am so glad to hear that I’m absolutely tickled by it because it’s you’re right, the world is demanding it. Um, but that’s not why you you’ve mentioned already. That actually is your message has always been your message, um, to open doors, to people, to encourage greatness, to provide tools, to do that. Um, so the message is the same, but the audience is everyone. The audience is truly everyone. It’s got to be everyone because if it isn’t, who’s, who’s getting to draw the line in the sand or hand out the numbers like your first, your second, your third. I am so excited at the potentials of that. And congratulations is going to be amazing.  

I do think our, our audience has always been everyone. And I think our alumni, our past our, you know, our previous recipients already speak to that, but I think to underline it, is important. I think that’s the difference. I think we, we go, okay, we’ve, we’ve all in some ways we’ve already been doing this, but we really want to show you that this is important right now.  

Joe is really underlining his statement here. And I want to double, triple, quadruple underline and highlight that message because yes, our society is demanding inclusivity and equity, and yes, it is about damn time. But I think that a lot of businesses and leaders believe that they’re already doing a fine job of this. As Joe mentioned, and he’s not alone by any means, many companies truly believe their audience is everyone. And that their message is for everyone. But as Joe put it, maybe it’s time for that message to be a little louder. Maybe it’s time to underline it. Maybe it’s time to put it front and center. How could you do that in your business? How could you do that in your life? Take a moment to pause and think on that, like actually hit pause, take all the time that you need. And when you’re ready, I’ll be here, ready to get back into it with Joe. 

Um, I, I wanna talk about routine for a second. Um, because I know that a lot of people listening, uh, don’t only aspire to be incredible performers, but they want to run businesses. They want to become an entrepreneur to stay as connected to dance and dancers. As you have, while building out brands and taking existing companies to new levels. What is, what is your process? Your, Hmm, it’s hard to break it down to a daily thing. Cause I know it is so much bigger. It’s like all of the steps leading up to this are, would have helped you to be able to do this, but is there a part of your day, or is there a thing that you do that might help people, um, not recreate the work that you’ve worked, but perhaps it’s, perhaps it’s a lesson that you learned that helped you to do what you’ve done?  

I’m not sure. I would wish that on anyone, frankly, Dana, but, um, you know, do you want to hear something funny that resonates with that question years ago, I was having a conversation with our friend Andy Blankenbuehler. And, uh, this is probably pre Tony awards for Andy and we were discussing that he had just read Twyla Tharp’s new book, creative habit at the time. And I remember him sharing with me that what he took away from that book was that she dedicates two hours a day in a dance studio to do what she does and that two hours. And I think that has to be nonjudgmental time. Just time that you just get in a room and do what you do. Have you ever read The Outlier Book

By Malcolm Glad…Smith haha 

Or go back and read, or just read the pieces about the 10,000 hours? Because he attributes to some of this to literally just the fact that people dedicate this much time to a sole thing. And that speaks to success. That would speak a little bit. I don’t consider myself any more talented, any smarter, any more resourceful, any more gifted. Um, I’m not afraid of the work. And if you, you ask the question and put it in under the phrase routine, my routine very honestly is I get up in the morning. I go right to the coffee pot. I splash water in my face. I go right to the coffee pot, pour a cup of coffee. And I come right to this chair to, this is my home office to this laptop. And I start to work. I look at emails. I, I, um, I’m very hands on.  I look at all the finances what’s coming in. What’s going out where, where things are going. That’s how I start my day. Um, you are, you, you are benefiting from me actually stopping and taking a shower today because the time during this COVID time, I am apt to, I actually have a shirt on, I wear sweat pants, which I have one from the bottom down and just a white v-neck tee shirt and just go to work. And I like that routine. It serves, it serves me well. And for me personally, I’d have to learn to carve out different times of my day to get things done. And one of the things, if so, if we’re really going to talk about this, one of the things that I’ve learned from my own process and everyone’s process is going to be different. It’s two things. One actually is there are, there’s no such thing as a priority because at the point that you, for me, this is just for me at the point that you make something really, that much more important, those things on your ever-growing list that are at the bottom of your priorities. You’ll never get to those. They will forever continue to fall off that list because other things continue to get higher and higher on your priorities. So something that I like to do, and I refer to it this way, I like to plant my seeds early in the day. So before I came to you today, I already put out 15 emails out in the world in different directions for different things that I’m hoping by the time we get off of this call and we wrapped things up today, I will have a handful, half a dozen responses later this afternoon. And I’ve planted those seeds for my day. I do that every single day. Yeah, for me, it’s it’s um, on Sundays, if I’m home, um, I am a spiritual person. I go to church. So if I’m not traveling, I’m at this point in my life, I like to go to church. I like to, I like to give time to God. I like to, I like that. To center myself that way. Um, and in evening time is entirely about my husband. He gets, he gets all that time. He deserves every moment of that time. I don’t check my email. I don’t sit with my cell phone in my lap. I don’t, I don’t do any I don’t my cell phone. Doesn’t sit by my bedside at night. I’ve already devoted so much time of that from 6:30 in the morning to probably 6:30, 7:30 at night. So unless we’re working on a huge project, that is a crunch. And then we all have those where you do work around the clock. I’m I do. I give that, give my business those hours. That’s my routine. And nighttime is my personal time.  

I love your nod to repetition, to focus, to doing the work as well as setting the boundaries and saying in this time no work will happen. And I think that might be the real key to that recipe. Um, I do want to give a little pushback is something I’ve been thinking about on the subject of this 10,000 hours idea. And I had a conversation with Andy a few days ago, we got really into it. It was our first catch up in a while. It was awesome. Um, I think that the notion of 10,000 hours, that it takes that much time of which you you’ve already invested 10,000 hours. I’m sure Andy has Twyla Tharp also, especially if she’s logging the hours that she says that she is in that book. But if that is the case, if it does require 10,000 hours to really reach a degree of extreme competency or mastery of a thing, then I at 35, I’m not very motivated to do anything else.  If I don’t think I’ll be great at anything else, then why would I try? Um, I’ll answer my own question. When I say that here’s my belief. I believe that 10,000 hours I am working to invest. If I haven’t already in being an excellent mover, contribute to the 10,000 hours, that will make me an excellent teacher. That will make me an excellent movement coach. That will make me an excellent coach coach. That will make me an excellent parent. That will make me an excellent entrepreneur. That will make me, I think there is a lot more, like I joke about this and I’m going to have to put it on a T-shirt at some point, Chloe and I, Chloe was my guest in episode three. And the title of that episode is Dance Lessons are Life lessons. And I believe that to be true, I’ll say it till I die. Joe’s like co-sign  

Preaching to the choir here. No doubt.  

Yes. So what if those 10,000 hours are not kept in individual buckets, dance bucket, teacher bucket, theater director bucket, entrepreneur bucket. But what if this all just one big bucket and I think it can be really discouraging to think of a career transition as being, wow. I’m starting back at hour one. You’re not starting back at hour one.  

I agree. I fully agree with you. I mean, we learn, we take all of that. Why, why do so many, uh, performers go on to be so successful for the wrong it’s because they have logged those hours? You know, I will just in, um, speaking about the book, the outliers, the 10,000 hours is actually just one example of how they talk about how people get to where they are. So it’s not logging in 10,000 hours, but I agree with you. I think those 10,000 hours contribute to who you are as a person. Um, it’s the, it’s the aggregate of all that you’ve done. Not strictly just that one field. I agree with you. We’re the same.  

Um, how much, Oh, there is a saying I’m going to get it wrong. Um, hard work, beats talent, beats talent, but Oh, what is it?  

Talent doesn’t work hard. I say it all the time. 

This is true. There’s a variation on this same sentiment. That’s like hard work, beats talent. If talent doesn’t work hard, but if somebody talented works hard, get the hell out of the way. And I think those are the people that you attract and I’m so happy to be, um, witness to them and among them. And man, I just think the world of you and this world that you’ve built for all of us dance-lings . Um, so with that being said, is there anything else you would like to commit here to digital forever furnace today?

You know what, for me, it really is. It’s piggybacking on what you just said. I do believe that we as a community and I forget dance, first of all, I believe strongly that we’re a product of our choices. I believe that I think there needs to be ownership in our lives that we’ve, we are, we are where we are because of some of the decisions we made in our past good or bad own them learn from them, move on and you know, be where you are. But I, I will underline the need to surround yourself with wonderful people, uh, people that are there to support uplift, uh, nurture, teach you I, as a, as a business person, I say all the time, I’m excited to hire new people that are going to teach me something. I love that, you know, I, I love that. So it piggybacks a little bit on what you just said.  Um, I feel blessed to have you in my life, frankly, I feel blessed to have all of the NYCDA team, all the different people that, that really, that the paths that I’ve crossed. I live my life in a way that if, if you’ve, if I’ve invested in you in some way along the way, then you will always have that little special place in my heart. Um, because it comes back. It really, it really does come back. And so this is meaningful. The fact that you even asked me to do this was very meaningful to me. So I, I thank you. I do time for you anytime Dana, you know that I would, I would make time for you.  

Thank you. I appreciate it. And I’ll be totally transparent and honest. I, from my earliest, you know, in brainstorms of the podcast and guests and topics and things, you’ve always been on my list. And I’ve reserved you for about this far in my podcast journey. Cause I wanted to get better at doing this before we did this. I was like, I’ve got to have my setup dialed in. I’ve got to be a good question asker. I’ve got to be a good listener. I’ve got it. I, I, I know you hold a high bar and I love that about you. I see the value of doing that. And I don’t think that we underdelivered today with this episode. I think that we overdelivered.  

You are incredibly gracious and generous. Cause I, I, I live my, I live my life with my feet really on the ground. So I do appreciate all your kind words I really do. And I, and I’m grateful to be a part of it, you know, and whatever I can do, you know.

I appreciate it. I appreciate it. Um, perhaps there will even be a small series of NYCDA podcasts. We yeah. What a, what an incredible group of people doing really incredible work. Thank you again for all of it. I’ll talk to you soon, Joe.  

Bye. Thanks so much, Dana. You’re the best. Thank you. 

You’re Welcome. You’re welcome.  

Well, my friends, how is that so much inspiration, so much information. I will absolutely be linking it to our NYCDA tour. cchedule two steps itself to the scholarship foundation and so much more in the show notes of this episode, please do be sure to check all of that out. I hope that it has instilled in you a sense of confidence and capability and furthermore, a sense of responsibility  to invest in yourself and the people around you. I hope to see you soon at an NYCDA near you. And of course I hope you keep it funky. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon.  

Thought you were done. No.  Now I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website, theDanawilson.com/podcast Finally, and most importantly, now you have a way to become a words that move 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. #40 Partnering Solo with Taja Riley

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #40 Partnering Solo with Taja Riley
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This episode shines a light on talent, transition, and  trauma.  Taja Riley and her alter, Kim Visions, join us to talk about our responsibility to create (the work of our dreams, and a legacy for the future), but we also discuss our responsibility to dismantle… our stigmas around mental health.  Please continue with curiosity and compassion… and enjoy!

Show Notes:

Quick Links:

Mental Health Resources:

National Institute for Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Helpline: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health: https://dmh.lacounty.gov/our-services/

Mental Health America Alternative Medicine: https://www.mhanational.org/complementary-alternative-medicine-mental-health-conditions

Mental Health Services (CA) https://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/Pages/MentalHealthPrograms-Svcs.aspx

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 everybody. And thank you for being here today. I’m Dana. This is words that move me and I’m jazzed about this episode. Yes. Um, if you are new to the podcast, I start every episode with wins. I’m going to tell you mine, and then I’m gonna leave you a little bit of time to tell me yours this week. My win is that I have graduated from a coach certification program. Yes, I am now a certified coach. My area of interest and specialization is in career coaching specifically for individuals in art and entertainment, which if you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, should come as no surprise to you. Um, if you’re curious about what career coaching is, what coaching is in general or what it might look like to work together, head on over to theDanawilson.com/coachcurious, that is theDanawilson.com/coachcurious. Okay, that’s my win. Now you go, what’s going well in your world.  

Alright. Nicely done. Way to go. Congrats. I’m proud of you. Keep on crushing it. Okay. Today I am joined by my longtime friend, Taja Riley and her alter Kim Visions. In this episode, we get to learn about the Riley record industry, Royal family, and we discuss mental health. I learned so much about stigmas that most of us carry around mental health disorders and the importance of really personalized treatment. Really. I actually learned the importance of listening, and I hope that you enjoy and learn from listening in on this conversation with Taja Riley and Kim Visions. 

Dana: I’m so excited to be doing this thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. Um, I, this is, this is common practice. I like to have all of my guests introduce themselves. So have at it my friend. What would you like us to know about you?  

Taja: Okay. So my name is Taja Riley. My parents gave me that name. Um, but I have also discovered there’s another person that would like to be introduced that I, um, I guess the host of her name is Kim Visions. And, uh, she may answer some of your questions today, but I’ll always refer to, this is what Kim is saying because I am in the driver’s seat so.  

Dana: So lucky to be the recipient of two guests, but only one email, one email thread, um, welcome Taja and welcome Kim Visions. I am so excited to get to know you. Um, I’ve been watching Taja grow up on a stage, um, as a competition dancer, since what, like, I think the first time I watched you dance, you were probably 12, maybe 13. And, um, men that, that entire time I knew it was very clear that you are a force to be reckoned with on the performance level, on a creative level, on a technical level I might add. And, um, I, I’ve always been fascinated with your work. You are captivating to watch. Um, so I might might just start if we could, by talking a little bit about the way that you grew up, um, which was as a competitive dancer or a studio kid, as they are affectionately known, I watched you grow up on a competition stage. I knew you more or less in and out of, you know, studio workshops, summer intensives, things like that. But eventually we became colleagues teaching for NYCDA. We spent every summer for how many summers in New York city, Midtown at that Sheraton every year for nationals. Um, your trajectory, so many nationals. Um, but your trajectory has fascinated me. I’m hoping you can talk a little bit about your training at Denise Walls and how that prepared for you for the quote real world. And what does real world look like?  

Taja: Okay. So real world back then, I started training at Denise’s funny story, very quick one. Um, but I started training at Denise’s when I was seven. I used to go to this other studio. I’m not going to name the name just in case they’re listening. Um, but, um, it was tech rehearsal day and my mom got me and my sister’s surprise tickets to spice world concert. And it was like, this is like the day before the show. And I was like, I’m not missing Mel-B or Mel-C. There’s just no way. And, um, we went and we went to tech rehearsal and then we were like, you know, we have to leave early because we have to get ready for the concert and they were not having it. She was like, if you walk out of this though, you ain’t coming back no more. And that’s literally what happened. I said, I said, okay, um, you clearly don’t have my best interest at heart. I would really like to go see SpiceWorld. And I went and we got kicked out of his studio,

What a fateful day 

but it was thanks to the spice girls. You know, I found Denise’s and it really was, we were out of like a place to train me and my sister. That’s why I’m saying we, and, um, my dad was rehearsing at Denise’s at the time doing his stuff for black street. And, um, I guess it came up in conversation one day, Denise brought it up and she was like, “you have daughters?” like, cause he said, he mentioned something about us and she was like, you have daughters and you have not brought them to the studio. And she was like, live it. And so he was like, okay, okay, okay. I’ll talk to, I’ll talk to Donna. That’s my mom and my mom ended up bringing us in and yeah, I just like, from there, I think, uh, Denise and the whole faculty at the studio just kind of fell in love with us. We became those regulars and um, yeah, I mean, I, I had like three recreational years and then moved into the junior company, which is what Denise wanted to test out. And I remember just feeling so electric about dance just from, from that time that like, you know, when people are like, when did you start dancing? And I’m like, uh, well, technically I say like seven, because that’s when I was on a comprehensive level where I was actually taking things in. And it’s also when I started dancing at Denise’s. But, um, but yeah, like I remember like this feeling, it was, um, it was it’s raining men. That was the, that was the dance. And I remember like they gave me a little solo to, no, it was 1999. It was 1999. It was 1999. And they gave me a partnering solo.

Wait, what’s a partnering solo?

Okay. A partnering solo is when they ask you to partner with somebody, but then it becomes a solo. 

I love, Taja, you might have just named the episode. Partnering Solo with Taja Riley and Kim Visions. You heard it here first. Okay So that’s when it kind of jelled for you. When you really felt like a dancer?

Yeah, it did. It really felt like I’m a dancer, but it was even more than that because I felt, I think because my music is my first love. Like I was born on the same day as one of my dad’s concerts. So I do think that there’s such a musical, um, tie that I have outside of the fact that my family’s a music entertainment family. Um, but I was also the kid that did not have rhythm. Um, my dad was actually very embarrassed by me and he was like, Oh my God, Donna. He was like Donna, Oh my God, I can not have a child that has no rhythm. This is just so this is not good. Like he was like, you have to throw her any and everything. So my mom put us with four instruments. We were in the choir at school and we did dance and I did gymnastics and it was rhythmic gymnastics that I had to do because I had to get musicality.  

We can’t just be having you on those parallel bars. You need to be parallel bars on beat 

On beat on beat.  

I had no idea that that is how your relationship with Denise Walls started. So that’s fascinating. So Taja’s, dad is Teddy Riley. He is a legend to put it very simply. Um, he produced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. He is credited for pretty much single handedly, creating new Jack swing, which is one of my favorite genres of music and dance. Um, he and his group Black Street brought us No Diggity, which is for the record. Like if you really had to ask me for one song, like if I had to listen to one song over and over and over and over again until the end of time.  It would probably be that. 

No way 

Close sec. Well, yeah, It’s a tie with a superstition by Stevie wonder.  

Okay. Okay. Yeah,  

A fair up toss up. But I would love to see those two songs do get out by the way. Okay. Anyways, so that is Teddy Riley in a nutshell. So let’s talk a little bit about other than him, um, at first being suspicious of your rhythm, what is it like growing up with a music mogul dad and how did that shape your relationship with dance and music?  

You know, it’s funny because well, the entertainment industry, as you know, it’s, there’s so much, it’s a whole nother, it can be high school sometimes it can be this workplace of a community or a village that you find, but it can also be very like cutthroat in terms of relevancy. And I know that there’s like this inward battle with even people that feel like they, um, have a place in the industry or they feel like they have to stay 

On top

It’s the battle of now I have to stay on top and how do I stay on top? How do I one up my top? How do I one up myself? How do I one up my competitors? How do I bring something different to the table? And then also you’re probably collaborating with people and passing on your formula. And then those people that you’re, you’ve actually helped and, you know, through God or whoever you answer to divinely, they, they become a competitor. And so, and they become like, you know, obviously, um, it’s just, it’s just a, it’s just a, it’s a constant cycle of try, try to survive, try like it’s that rat race to try to survive. And with doing that, uh, some people’s priorities, you know, are simply that, that those are the top priorities for them because it actually is. They feel like it is the excuse for what they, what they call their priority, which is family, you know? And so for my dad, his belief was I believe to my perspective, right. Um, I think I saw and observed that he wanted to provide so much for my family, that he, you know, dove into a zone of his work and, and that allowed him so certain doors to open for himself, even certain doors to open for us. And in, in a way that’s kinda like your, your trust fund, right? You’re uh, as you, as you get older, that, that cushion, um, that allows you in a, in like a Royal family, it’s like you you’re underneath that family. So you automatically have that favor, you know, um, or people automatically see you in this light or this class or this cast system. Um, so in that way, I think it was a great help. But then in other ways, you know, did I ever really play ball with my dad? No. And I’m like a tomboy. So like sports were my thing. I’ve never played a soccer game with my dad. I did get a chance to share moments with him at like, you know, the movies and going bowling and, you know, different like really, um, like family outing type things. But it did seem a lot, like he was very focused on other things, you know, and I don’t blame him for that. I think that, you know, we’re all human and we’re all just trying to figure it out. And I think whatever is passed down from the other generation, we’re also trying to learn or separate ourselves from that, or try and try and up that ante. And I think for him that was his major priority, but he kind of lost sight of, you know, maybe the, the extra personal time he could have spent what that said though. I think he, um, is teaching me so many new things now, you know, as an adult and, um, he’s still my dad, but he’s not, it’s not the same kind of responsibility of like, you know, pick me up after school and make sure I get my lunch on time. Yeah. Yeah. It’s more of like, uh, there’s a nurture that comes into play where I’m realizing that, um, this is an even bigger coaching and mentorship than I could’ve ever desired from myself because music and entertainment is truly where I need the tutelage, you know? And he has so much to offer that in terms of, even if I were to just go on the internet and search through him and see his interviews and see the things I can still get that coaching. And then I have the extra personal time backstage, you know, 

I’m so glad that you mentioned that not only does he have so much to offer in terms of being a mentor in the field of music and entertainment, but he is actually also your dad. So he has a lot to offer and he has a lot of interest in you, right? So many people, especially today, the climate for mentorship programs is, is, is thick. Like this is a, it’s a time when people are able to be training. It’s a time when people are capitalizing on their experience, their education and their interest in connecting in a deeper way. But could any one of those mentors offer their mentee as much individual care, compassion and genuine interest as your dad gives you? I mean, he’s your dad. So maybe, maybe yes. Maybe no. It’s very interesting that I hadn’t thought about that in terms of a mentor, mentee relationship, your dad is invested in you because you’re a part of the, the family band,  

The family band. Yeah. No, but you know, I love the guy. I love that guy. And I think he’s great. You know, I think he, what he does is absolutely it’s astonishing to have this sense. Like, there’s this one thing that I can’t shake. I haven’t been able to shake over my entire careers that I don’t know my whole, my dad’s whole discography, like from top to bottom. But if I were to ever hear a song on the radio that was either influenced by him or created by him, I know instantly. And it’s like a, it is a second sense, but not a second sense. I think it’s six. Maybe it’s a six. I think, I think we have five senses. If I’m, if I’m correct.

Some movies try to tell you there are six and that the sixth one is love or, or something, but I don’t know.  

Never heard of that one. 

That’s what I think. The movie,  Um, Oh, what’s his McConaughey. Matthew McConaughey the movie about space. Was it called? Not, Oh God, I don’t interstellar. I think that movie was trying to tell me that love is the sixth, sixth dimension and that if we’re going to time travel, we talk to each other through love and connection and bookshelves. That’s what I walked away from that movie with. But that’s neither here nor there have you seen it? 

I have not.  

That’s why you’re confused. Go check that out. Check that out and tell me I’m wrong 

I will. I will not probably tell you you’re wrong. I’ll probably agree with you  

Well dang it now I’m wishing I haven’t tainted your, um,  

Oh, it’s fine. I’ll probably forget. I’ll probably forget while watching it. And then when it occurs to me, I’ll be like somebody said something about bookshelves 

This reminds me. Yeah. Okay. You’re going to love this. Okay. I’m sorry.  

I sideswiped us. I got distracted. I feel like, you know, on the subject of your dad and his signature, his musical signature, he’s very clearly left a legacy and imprint on the industry and on the sounds. Um, but you know what I was, as I was researching, um, you and your dad, matter of fact, I discovered something I did not know. And I think many people don’t know that your dad is actually the first African American producer to use, uh, to actually produce K-pop and bring it to America. And so I, his legacy is even deeper than what I knew or expected to find out. Um, so my question for you let’s get back to you is what do you want your legacy to be? What is the imprint that you are making that will last long after  

I think what’s really important to me, because I feel like you leave a bit of your legacy in everyone you encounter. Right. Um, so I think for me, it’s just to be an example of my core values, you know, continue to be that example. And I think, I don’t know, I have this like big desire over all of my other desires to, to be the matriarch of my family, you know, um, of the family that I create. And that’s like, I want to love to be able to look back on grandkids and great grandkids and know that, you know, I built a solid foundation with either just even me through me or with me and my partner or me and my village, or, you know, me and my alter, who, whoever is entangled in my life, that I’ve been able to create multiple generations or have a hand in involvement in multiple generations, watch them grow, watch their process and have been able to live it and be present with them. Um, I think that in itself, if I can remain present in every moment, whatever legacy I end up creating in the end will be something I’m like super proud of. Um, I don’t know if that answers your question and I think I generalized it. 

Spot on. It’s beautiful. 

Just want to keep it open. 

You know, I think it’s, to me, If I were to, um, write the Twitter version of that answer, um, if, if your dad put his fingerprint on, you know, his time in this world, it was in music and when you do it, it will be through a network of people and you have a network of gifts, a huge variety in ways of expressing yourself. Actually that might be a good place to go next. Um, you DJ, you teach, you perform at like insanely high levels in an insanely diverse range of styles in terms of dance. Um, absolutely. I mean, I, you are, you’re one of my favorite dancers that there is,  

Oh my God. What. That is like the biggest compliment ever! 

Oh my gosh Taja watching you is such a ride. It is such a ride. It is. I think maybe my favorite reason if I could really back myself up here in saying, why is that when I watch you dance, I watch you experience your dance as opposed to just demonstrating or performing your dance. I’m watching you experience very viscerally. And that is a quality that I’m very attracted to. So you are definitely tops my friend, but you do so many things in addition to performing, um, as I mentioned, the DJ-ing, the teaching, you assist you choreograph a question, what is your favorite mode for creating?  

I don’t have one. You know what, like I read somewhere that they say that when you wake up, the very first thing that you want to do is what you were born to do. But I feel like every 24 hours, like something, something, it just changes. Re-invent updates. You know, I think I find if I can say for right now in this particular phase that I’m in, I think I find the most, um, enthusiastic for me is definitely just conceptualizing, creating a full idea and then trying to make it as interactive and immersive as possible, of going into the dimension of my mind. And I think that that is like, it’s, it’s so challenging for me. And it’s equally pleasurable for me to experience because I really get to get very clear on what it is that exists in my frame of mind, my perspective in my, like in the metaphors, within the metaphors of what I’m trying to mean and what I might mean for that moment and what that could mean for other people. Um, that is, yeah, I think that, that, that’s where I’m at right now, but yo give me two, two decks. I will be DJ the most delicious set ever in the world. You know,  

That’s a great answer. I feel like that question is a setup and anytime you set up, when people ask me, you know, cause I, you know, I love to edit. I love to capture, I love to choreograph. I love to teach. Um, but I think what you’re like, what you’re shining your light on, is that any opportunity that you get to do, all of them is really the sweet spot. Like yeah. That’s, that’s the coolest and it sounds like, and I, I don’t, I know you’re not able to say too much, but it sounds like you’re working on right now, exactly that a project where you can call on all of your many interests and talents. Um, what are you able to say about where you’re working on?  

Right. Okay. 

So don’t get in trouble.

I can’t get in trouble cause I’m the boss and that’s why it’s really fun. But, um, but what I can say, cause you know, like, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen fyre festival, but nobody wants to fyre a festival. Right?  

Except the the internet, the internet had a heyday with that. The internet loved that internet loves it.  

Netflix loved it. And I think Ja Rule loves it as well, but yeah, but yeah, I mean, like getting away from that, um, but what I, what I am creating right now started off as just a project, even like a few years back that was just portions of other projects, all coming together in one. Um, I can say that, you know, originally this started off with two meetings, um, I had gotten approached by a digital platform, um, and that digital platform gave me the opportunity and the permissions to create my own virtual event. And, uh, immediately after like I had another meeting with, uh, a VR company, um, that decided to move forward with me and forming a relationship and green-lighting um, my dance VR video game concept. So I basically, I sat with it for a while and hadn’t, I had a conversation with my sister and she was like, ‘Taj, you’re so good at everything, but you’re so ADD’ like really, like, she was like, you should just pick like one thing and I’ve had a couple people tell me this, that like, you know, I will start in, you know, consume myself with one idea and then I’ll just like float to the next.  It’s like some segue, you know, to, to another idea. And then another idea is born and another idea and I love ideas. I really do. But she was like, ‘if you just put all of your focus and attention on seeing this one idea all the way through, she was like, everything else, you pick that one idea that it’s going to be that, that base and that foundation for all these other ideas to STEM off of.’ And I just kept going back and forth in my head. Like, but like, but both of these, like I wish I could get both of these to work. Cause I think both of them are great. And what ended up happening is I decided I will combine both of those ideas into one and treat my development stage, um, as my show and as the event. So on a subconscious level, I’m teaching other people how to play my video game before it comes out.

Interesting. 

I think that’s like the most fat I can give you  

You certainly piqued my interest. Um, and it sounds like you are creating a solo duet. 

That’s what it is, another partnering solo. 

So you’re bringing two ideas together to be one thing. And I understand the challenge of focus in that way. When, when you are weaving so many different ideas together, it takes extreme attention and focus. But my friend between all of the things that you are and find interesting, I cannot wait to see what this partnering solo becomes I’m so excited 

Oh my God, I will say this because she will not let me live it down. If I don’t mention that this is not my idea alone. This is an idea that actually is very much coming from her mind and her dimension and her vision and what she’s given me in her, meaning Kim. Um, and I’m still on that journey of figuring out what, what exactly this walk is, mentally, spiritually for me with this other voice that I tendency here and this other. Um, yeah, I don’t know if you want to segue into that a bit.  

I would love, and I hope that we can segue with some compassion. This is my first time talking about, um, a person with a person that is an alter. Is that perfect? Is that the correct word to use? Do you consider Kim an alter ego or, um, what, what’s the verbiage I should be using?  

I would think, I would think it was an alter ego, but funny thing happened, right? Like couple of years ago, um, which, you know, I was in a, I was in a cult and um, I got out and it was a pretty deep way, um, that I got out and there was a start over restart that happened. I do believe in a lot of ways that when that night occurred, that there was a rebirth or a transformation, I just feel very far from any of the other previous lives or phases that I have gone through. Um, as a person, I don’t really feel connected to those, that persona or that part of myself anymore. Um, I feel a different energy and I think a lot of my friends have shared that it is different. Um, even the way that I look is very, very different. Um, when I did actually start seeing a trauma specialist, they shared that this is my brain’s rewiring. The brain is so powerful and it wants to protect you. It wants to make sure that you are you’re good.  

Dana: This is where the conversation gets real. Now I may be a certified coach now, but I am not by any means a neuroscientist, a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a behavioral scientist, or even a person that knows what is best for people who are dealing with trauma. I don’t have the tools, the training or the experience to speak to the way that our brain handles traumas. But I am a person that thinks it’s tremendously important to shine a light on discussions about mental health. In the next part of our conversation, Taja talked about the way that she got out of the cult and the things that she experienced afterward. I’ve edited that conversation to be age appropriate for my young listeners, but in the edited portion of the interview, Taja talks about having difficulty, recognizing people, not eating, not sleeping gaps in consciousness, sensitivity to certain materials and textures and even colors and various other experiences. If you or somebody that you know are experiencing something similar, I don’t personally have the tools to help you here, but in the show notes of this episode, I’m including links to the international society for the study of trauma and diassociation. I’m offering links to resources where you can find professionals or more professional help visit the department of mental health at dmh.lacounty.gov That’s a great resource, especially if you are in the Los Angeles area and don’t have insurance. Other resources are MHAnational.org for complimentary and alternative medicine, as well as the national helpline for substance abuse and mental health services. That’s SAMHSA.gov All of those resources will be linked in the show notes of this episode, along with some recommended reading from Taja and the mental health center locator, that’s www.nimh.nih.gov One more time. That’s the mental health center locator, N I M H dot N I H.gov. I hope that within those resources, you are able to find someone you can trust and that can help you. All right. Let’s jump back in now with TaJa and Kim. 

Experiencing one of my first episodes was so catastrophic for me in terms of my emotional intelligence and where I felt like I was, but like, I literally went through a weekend where I could not use my hands. Like it was preventing me from that. And after coming out of that, um, and getting a sense of, okay, you’ve got to do something about it. Having a crying moment is not going to help. How do we, how do we, uh, navigate this? What, what do I need to learn? How do I need to get educated, um, to define, and, or even, I don’t even need to define it right now just to collect right. And ha take data, take inventory and examine things that maybe I’m adding to the pool. That is, that’s making me go into this crazy time, you know, to a point where I’m locking myself inside my door, you know, like I’m locking myself in my room at night, so I don’t go traveling that’s that’s not okay. You know? 

And with that data, did you take all of that information you’d collected and seek help or, or get medical attention? What was your, you know, what does that help structure look like for you right now?  

Yeah, I mean, at first I wanted to find somebody that could spiritually keep tabs, you know, and going that route without God in it, for me. Um, I thought worked out, but I, I don’t think I actually found what I was looking for in terms of receiving that truth. I dived into, you know, the trauma specialist route after months of being like, I’m not going to any hospital for a number of reasons. One because of the whole COVID experience that we’re going through. And then on top of that, I’ve always felt squeamish about, you know, being treated or being diagnosed, AKA, somebody speaking something on your life that you, you feel like you can lose power. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve heard friends of mine that even with Denise, you know, hearing, hearing a doctor tell you, you have cancer is way different than you saying to your body there’s something weird. I need to go fix it. And yes, sometimes learning that information from other people is helpful, but there’s something about multiple people knowing that and thinking that, and being in agreement with that, that can change your, your recovery process or change the energy towards getting better, finding health. You know, somebody gives you a certain title. You feel like you have to act that certain way, or you feel like you have to prove that you’re not acting that certain way. When people say that you’re crazy, anything that you try and demonstrate to them to prove that you are otherwise makes you crazier, to me. Like, yeah. And I think that just even the term usage of disorder, that’s what makes me squeamish. It’s like, it’s like saying moist, like it’s really about, you know, you’re like, um,  

Dig into that. You’re saying .. Are you saying that the word disorder makes you uncomfortable the same way that the word moist makes you uncomfortable?  

Yes.  

Yeah. It is not my jam. That way. I’ve got three words that drive me nuts, but are you saying that it’s the sound and the like the look of the word disorder or what it means?  

I think it’s, I think it’s what it means. I was thinking the feeling in terms of how moist makes me feel. Um, but, but in terms of the actual usage, I have a problem with people saying disorder. So I I challenged, it was saying, if I do I experience, I am experiencing these symptoms right now that you would put in this category of dissociative identity disorder, but I’d like to refer to it as if I’m, if I have that multiple personality that I’m multiple personality proficient, or I’m a multihyphenate human being that is hypersensitive to triggers. You know, I feel like for anybody that is dealing with their mental health, and I would say, I would venture to say, everybody’s dealing with their mental health right now. And, um, it could be in a, in a, in a place of, you know, trying to figure out what, what is the key to happiness or success in isolation, uh, even that, um, on a mental level, it’s a lot to handle. I just think that that’s where I’m at right now, but the usage, the usage of the way people position things, sometimes I think could use a little re-up, a little update, you know, and I think it’s time we’re at a place where people are, are experiencing the reform, you know, of many things, you know, so

I think reforming and reevaluating language and terms, um, the way that we speak, the way  that we address each other, I think so much of this is, is necessary. And I think that even when it comes to like the DSM four like describing conditions, medical conditions, I do think there’s language changing all over the place around certain things. Um, I’m glad to see language changing. I’m glad to see human beings taking advantage of our, uh, self-awareness and this, like this evolved brain that we have, where yeah, we are actually able to think about thinking, like, we can think about our thoughts and we get to decide what we make certain words mean, but you can see the problem where if everybody had their own meaning for every word, we, all of a sudden are a completely disjointed, broken community that can’t connect on anything. If we don’t know what anything means or what it means to you is different than what it means to them. And what it means to you today is different than what it means to you tomorrow. And how do we move forward?  

Dana: How do we move forward? When language is always changing? How do we understand each other? When words mean different things to different people? Are words neutral or are words and their meanings set, rigid, binding. And in that ultimately powerful, I don’t know the best or the right way to answer those questions today. But if I’ve learned one thing in recording a weekly podcast, it’s that words are important. Especially a word like disorder. The public stigma towards mental health disorders has built a pervasive barrier that prevents so many people from access to jobs, education, and even prevent some people from engaging in mental health care. Again, I’m not a brain scientist. Again, I am not a brain scientist or a scientist of any sort. I am a dancer. I am a choreographer. Yes, I am a coach. But I think that to say this discussion is none of my business or not my problem is a disservice to myself and to others. This conversation with Taja and Kim has reminded me that I can be a part of a peer support system. I can share resources that connect them to professional support systems, and I can evaluate and dismantle my own stigmas around mental health. That is my personal goal. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for a world that is completely free of judgment, but I do think we can help each other find more freedom by being better listeners and encouraging personalized treatment. 

Dana: This, this quest for freedom to me, begins with awareness. And it sounds like you are doing the work to become aware of your, uh, your feelings, your experience of this life. It’s, it’s cool to hear you writing the empowering stories and taking stock, collecting data on what you’re experiencing and using all of your many gifts, tying them all together to create value in this world. Um, and I’m, I’m so interested. I’m very curious in what it is that you’re experiencing, um, you know, sensationally in your body, but also mentally and what’s going on in there. And, um, man, I’m, I’m inspired by your journey. I’m very interested in it. I think I’ll be going to do some more research myself, man. I just thank you so much for sharing so openly. I really appreciate,  

Taja: Of course. Yeah, no. Um, thank you for being open with me so that I could do that and have that platform. I really appreciate it Dana and, um, everybody out there stay safe. Okay.  

Yes. Thank you, Taj. I’ll talk to you soon.  

Yeah Bye!

Alright. Everybody. That is it for me today. I am so glad to have had this conversation and so happy to be sharing it with you. Again, don’t forget to check the show notes for all of the helpful resources that I’ve mentioned. And if I have missed any, if you are a person that has found support in other ways and places, I would love to hear about it. A great place for us to be in touch is over at words that moved me podcast on Instagram, I look forward to hearing from you. And of course, I look forward to talking to you. Thank you so much for being here everybody, talk to you later. 

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 word that I remember. 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.