Speaker 0 00:00:00 Welcome to 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 Dana Wilson, and I move people. I am all about the tools and techniques that empower tomorrow's leaders to make the work of their dreams and live a full life while doing it. So whether you're new to the game or transitioning to your next echelon of greatness, you're in the right place. Hello. Hello my friend. Welcome towards that move me. I'm stoked that you're here. I am excited to be here in my pod booth today. Um, it is kind of a noisy day. The downstairs neighbors are taking a shower. The car wash is doing its thing. I just heard some sirens and that's what it means to have a podcast living in a busy city.
Speaker 0 00:00:55 Okay, I'm excited for this episode as always, but today's super special. Sp super special for me <laugh> because I'm sharing a very giggly and a very informative conversation with my good friend Jeff Mortenson. Jeff has been a friend for a really long time, but we got to really dig in talk shop, which we don't get to do so often. Um, Jeff is a, a self-proclaimed lover of learning, as am I. Uh, and he has a lot to share. He's learned a lot specifically about being an associate and assistant choreographer. That is what we are going to dig into today. Um, on top of just carrying those titles, however, Jeff is also a Leo Award winning choreographer. He is on the Dance and Choreography committee and co-chair for the U B C P slash act, which is Canada's relative equivalent to our SAG aftra. Uh, we'll talk a little bit about that in the episode.
Speaker 0 00:01:56 He is also served as an assistant and associate on Disney's Descendants franchise, NBC's Zoe's extraordinary playlist, where he was an associate. He was an associate and co choreographer on Paramount Plus's Greece, which we talked to Jamal Sims, the choreographer, about a few episodes back will 100% link in the show notes. Anyways, there really is like, I could just keep giving the bullets, but Jeff's skills and charm and insight are way more than line items. So let's just get to the, uh, to the episode. But before we do that, gotta do the wins. And today I have two again guys, I'm sorry. So just go listen to another podcast. If you have a hard time with me having two wins, this is my show. I will have two wins if I choose truth be actually way more wins than that, but I am going to share two.
Speaker 0 00:02:54 Number one, the seaweed sisters, my besties, my family, my chosen family, and my my chosen performance family. Uh, got to open for our extended chosen performance family Lucius, uh, at a, at their Los Angeles show at the Blasco Theater last night. So I'm recording this on a pretty tired voice this morning. Um, but the Sisters, that was our first time opening for a musical group since we opened for Lucius back in 2019. So that was a monumental great turnout. Some wonderful friends came to support. Thank you friends for coming and thank you Lucius for your generosity in sharing your world with us. I'm just smitten by what you create and I'm stoked to be let in on that with our fun creation. See you with sisters. I love you both so much, man. That was awesome. Okay, that's win number one. First performance back, first stage performance back in a long time.
Speaker 0 00:03:56 And win number two is maybe the best nine year old pun of all time. I went home for Thanksgiving and um, I spent a lot of time with my nieces. One of them is nine and the other is five. And we established pretty early on that puns are now a thing in the family. The nine year old is prolific. I mean, I was astounded. I just simply have to share with you this pun context, my family over the holidays, we have a tradition of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Directors edits all three. So sometimes this can take all of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we started during Thanksgiving and we created what I called a niece nest, which I know is not a pun. That is alliteration. I have my devices correct. Someone asked me if I was able to get up and help do something while we were watching Lord of the Rings.
Speaker 0 00:04:55 And I said, I am sorry, I cannot, I am in my niece nest. And the nine year old said, she's anesthetized. Like, come on, anesthetized. She really had that both of her parents work in medicine. Uh, so she is fully, fully in the know on what it means to be anesthetized or under anesthesia, but really anes the test. You guys, it was epic. So I've been thinking about that. Wanted to share that with you. Good job, Millie. And, um, good job. Everybody out there who's making puns. Uh, it's a really fun game, <laugh>. I actually have a hidden pun in this episode that I don't even realize I make until afterwards. So if you can find my un uh, my unintentional pun bonus, high five to you. Please keep an ear up for that. Okay, that's enough me. Now you go. What are you celebrating? What's going well in your world?
Speaker 1 00:06:02 Yay.
Speaker 0 00:06:06 Congrats my friend. Thank you for sharing, for saying it. I really do encourage that part. Uh, keep on winning. I'm so proud of you. All right, let's get into this. We're talking to Jeff Mortenson. Uh, he talks a bit about his, his life, going from Catholic school and Ukrainian folk dance to being a key player on top tier choreography games. Let's get right into it. Enjoy the one and only Jeff Mortenson. Jeff Mortenson, welcome to the podcast.
Speaker 2 00:06:42 Thank you Dana. Oh man,
Speaker 0 00:06:44 I'm so excited. Um, so what, what most people don't know, cuz I usually edit this part out, is that, um, the very first thing I do with my guests after we chit chat upon entering the virtual interview is I explain that there will be an awkward silence at the beginning of the recording because my editor Riley Higgins, needs to capture the noise print in your space and in my space. And then she does some denoising. Anyways, what I had to ask you during our awkward silence is my first question to you, Jeff, what makes an awkward silence? Awkward? Like, why don't we just think that that's just silence and that's fine and normal. What makes it awkward?
Speaker 2 00:07:25 I think expectation makes it awkward. <laugh>
Speaker 0 00:07:29 Start solid, start
Speaker 2 00:07:31 Expectation. It's like what's gonna happen at the end of this awkward silence when you're in an elevator? Maybe they're attractive, maybe they're not. Maybe they smell, maybe someone farted and it's not them. Or maybe you did fart and it's not you,
Speaker 0 00:07:48 <laugh>. Well, this is setting my expectation. <laugh> very high, my friend. I am so excited. I, in my mind, this is long overdue. So thank you for joining me. Um, I, I know you well and we've known each other for many years, but it's customary on the podcast to have my guests introduce themselves. So I will yield the floor and let you tell us anything you want us to know about you.
Speaker 2 00:08:14 Sure. Thank you very much. Um, I am a listener of words that move me. So I know this, uh, sort of format of, of introducing yourself really well, but were
Speaker 0 00:08:25 You
Speaker 2 00:08:25 Prepared for this? So I was preparing a little bit earlier and I was thinking to myself, okay, who am I? How do I introduce myself? And I was having flashbacks to my education, which was in the Catholic school system. Mm-hmm. Um, and the question was always, who am I every year in religion class? Wow. And I hated that question so much. I just, I'm like, I don't know who I am. I'm, you know, 12 years old, 13 years old, confused, living in Edmonton. Ju like, who am I? I don't, I don't have an answer to that as a teenager. Um,
Speaker 0 00:09:02 And how about
Speaker 2 00:09:03 Today? What I've learned getting older is like, that question is actually very important. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, so I was reflecting on who I am now. Uh, <laugh>. So thank you Dana, for posing this question.
Speaker 0 00:09:16 Hey, I have to ask myself that question every time I step in this booth. It's like, I, I, I recommend to everyone I meet. I'm like, Hey, I'm Dana. I'm a choreographer and a lot of things, and I have a podcast. You should too <laugh>. Like, it's such an important tool to help you learn yourself and where you stand on things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, yeah. I'm, I'm curious to hear what you found in this introspection that I <laugh>, that I instigated for you.
Speaker 2 00:09:45 <laugh> instigated. Um, yeah, I guess so. First of all, I am Jeff Mortenson. Um,
Speaker 0 00:09:51 That's solid. That's solid.
Speaker 2 00:09:53 This is very, very solid start to that. I, I think I'm a lover of learning. Um, I love to learn and it is what fills me up and drives me and gets me outta bed in the morning. I love to learn. Um, I am a choreographer. I'm a lover of human movement and storytelling. And I think that so many words are spoken, uh, non-verbally. And so I am a lover of choreography and dance. I am also probably ultimately an observer and doer and just generally a happy person. So, um, yeah, that's me.
Speaker 0 00:10:34 Oh, Jeff, that was solid. That was really solid. And you know, we got a lot of overlap through my friend.
Speaker 2 00:10:40 Oh, oh, yes.
Speaker 0 00:10:41 Um, a lot of overlap. I overlap. Did I just say that a lot? Maybe a lot of overlap. <laugh>. Um, I am also a lover of, you said human movement, and that is an important part. Um, I am also a fan of some inanimate objects that also have movement like grass. Uh, it blows my mind how grass moves sometimes, but truly, I love humans. Like, I really think I like people more than I like dance. It just so happens that human to dance is human in my mind. And so naturally I would like dance and movement because I think it's normal. It's natural for humans to move. I really like people, oddly. I did fairly, fairly what's happening, <laugh>. It was a gimme a break,
Speaker 2 00:11:34 Totally.
Speaker 0 00:11:36 Oddly, I did fairly well during the quarantine of like being alone. Um, and I think you also have that ability, like the ability slash desire sometimes for solitude and quiet and, um, uh, alone times. But it is the humanness that really attracts me to dance and movement. Also, another overlap. Uh, I have been, I have been called Joy machine. I have been called worse, but I have been called, like my default mode is, is happy. Um, I'm a joyful person and I think that when I, when I look at you, I see similar cheek circles and dimples that I see in myself sometimes. So I'm excited to, um, to get to know you better here today and to demystify some questions. So my last episode last week was a question and answer episode, and I put this call to questions out on our Instagram and in my words that move me community, the affectionately called Whitcomb.
Speaker 0 00:12:43 And I had a disproportionate, like almost as many questions about being an assistant and associate as I did about everything else. So I was like, this deserves its own episode, and I would love to have a, uh, you know, a more than my opinion response to some of those questions. So in addition to you being a choreographer, you have served in so many different positions on the choreography team. Could you talk a little bit about like, your history as part of the choreography team? Because you started as a dancer and specifically Yes. In, in folk dance. Is that,
Speaker 2 00:13:22 Is that true? Yes. Oh my God, yes. That is apps 100% true. I
Speaker 0 00:13:25 Okay. Walk me through, give a gimme like a, like a reader's digest version of, of your chronology as a movement person.
Speaker 2 00:13:34 Okay. So yes, as a movement person, I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, um, which is prairies, think Midwest America. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and I grew up in the Ukrainian community, so I grew up Ukrainian dancing. Uh, that was a very normal thing for everyone in the community to do. Um, it is, it was very strange getting older and then working professionally in dance and seeing how few men were in this sort of studio system that is the opposite. In Ukrainian dance, there's almost equal men to women. Um, and so it is a, it is a celebrated thing to, for men to dance, uh, Ukrainian dance. Um, but I, yeah, I grew up Ukrainian dancing, like folk dance. If you don't know what that is, please google it. It's really fun. Specifically Viki, v i r s k y, they are incredible. My company Shika, S H U M K A, it's so fun and joyous and I think maybe that's where I get my joy from, but perhaps, um, yeah, I grew up Ukrainian dancing and gymnastics, men's artistic gymnastics. And, um, I had a good balance of like technical body awareness with gymnastics and also musicality and rhythm and storytelling through Ukrainian dance. So it was a real like, uh, when I think back on that training and that, that, uh, part of my youth, it really set me up for what I do now.
Speaker 0 00:15:09 Totally. Um,
Speaker 2 00:15:11 Strong recipe. So that's, that's where I grew up. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:15:14 Awesome. And how did, how was it that you came to be a player on choreographic teams? Did you find yourself not as fulfilled in front of camera? Did you desire to be the person making the calls? Did you assist first and associate later and choreograph after? Was that kind of your trajectory?
Speaker 2 00:15:36 Well, if I'm being completely honest, dance was never on my trajectory for a career path. Um, it was, I didn't think it was a thing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I didn't grow up watching music videos, didn't grow up watching mtv. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> didn't, Nope. It was not my, my past or path Uhhuh. And, um, I, when I was 19, had a job with Circ and, uh, moved to Vegas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the role that I was doing required me to be both an actor and an acrobat. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and so it was the first time that I was kind of exposed to this like, I guess mix of mediums, um, and crafts and also at the same time being surrounded by some of the best dancers in the world and something other than folk dance. So that really inspired me to train in other styles and forms. And so I, I moved to Vancouver, trained and auditioned for, so You Think You Can Dance, um, up in Canada, got on the show.
Speaker 2 00:16:41 Um, and that was kind of my first exposure to dance on camera, uh, experientially speaking, um, watched it many years on TV before, but had never actually been on camera. So yeah, I started off as a dancer on a competition reality show, uh, and was very, very curious and fascinated about the process of the choreographers. You know, they have essentially three hours to teach you a number, and then you're kind of on your own mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, to bring their vision to life. And so not only are you, you have the stress of yourself being on national television being like, I hope I don't f up. Right. But also I hope that I, I give this choreographer, you know, a true vision for what, what they see for this number. And so I was so curious about how, what, how me as a performer, I can do that.
Speaker 2 00:17:40 But also I was very, it became so clear as I watched these shows as I watched the week back, how much camera makes a difference on mm-hmm. <affirmative> on story. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and certain angles work, certain angles don't work, and why they don't work. And so when I left that show, I started, uh, working as a performer on this TV show called Hellcats here in Vancouver. And, you know, every week we had three sort of big, like, uh, numbers per episode. And it was a real like, crash course into, um, you know, the television schedule. Um, shooting an episode every 10 days mm-hmm. <affirmative> and having to make sure that all, all the things I was doing as a performer were locked tight, so that when we got to camera and we shot it in 10 hours, it was done. And so I, that experience really just like sent me into, into this like, deep dive of questions of like, why, why are we doing this?
Speaker 2 00:18:49 Why, why am I, you know, looking this way or how come the camera's directly in front of me? But because when I clock my body 45 degrees, it actually looks like I'm looking at the person who should be the camera, like just mm-hmm. <affirmative> funny things like that. So, um, I started assisting on a couple of the numbers later on in the season, unofficially mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative> cuz of my skill set. I was a gymnast and could tumble, and that's what the show was about, cheerleading and, and dance. And so the choreographer, Paul Becker ended up just ask, you know, inviting me into the room, part of the creative process with his team, uh, Jeff Demetrio and Louise Hiroki. And, um, that was kind of my first foray into dance on camera as an assistant.
Speaker 0 00:19:37 Cool.
Speaker 2 00:19:38 Very long winded dancer. I'm so sorry, Dana.
Speaker 0 00:19:41 No, that was wonderful. This is what I want. I want the landscape, I want the, you know, you said you like storytelling. Let's go. Now you get to use the words <laugh>. So what I'm hearing is like you got with, so you Think, and with Hell Cats this kind of front row center seat in the seminar at the Ivy League School of Dance on camera. You got to learn not only what works well on camera, but what works well in the room. Like what kind of behavior, what kind of attitude, what kind of language, what kind of style personality you fill in the blank works in a very short timeframe to get these things done. And I think that's what one of the many things that most people miss about choreographers is that they're department heads, they're leaders. There is such a trickle down culture, uh, and, and a thousand different ways to get it done.
Speaker 0 00:20:36 There is no one way to do it. There's no one way to choreograph or to assist or to be an associate. Like there are as many as there are people in the world, there are ways to do this job, but what you got to experience, because you saw so many choreographers come through. So you think working in a short time, you're like, oh, look, that that person does it this way, this person does it that way. And because you had the wherewithal to be concerned about that versus how you fared on the show, you got to have this cor, I mean, you are probably not unique in this way. I'm sure a lot of people were in there in the thick of it going like, wow, how do I become that person versus how do I win the show? Um, but that's what I, that's what it kind of sounds like you're saying. Um, and I don't know how you did it on the show actually. How'd you do on the show?
Speaker 2 00:21:23 I, uh, well, I came third actually, so yes, I did. Not too, uh, not, not too bad. Um, but, and I, and I remember like before getting on that show, thinking to myself, you know, this is really my first foray into dance as, you know, most people who are list as a career really. Yeah. Yeah. And so I didn't go in wanting to win. It wasn't about a, it wasn't a competition for me at all. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it was about wanting to learn and I wanted to learn, haven't from as many people as possible. And so I think I succeeded in that goal because I, I did, I had such a wide array of people that I got to work with, both as a partner and as a choreographer.
Speaker 0 00:22:08 That's awesome. That's awesome. Yeah. Okay. Well that explains it. Um, how would you, this is one of the questions that came up in my q and a. Well, actually this is like three of those questions rolled into one. How would you explain or demystify the role of an associate relative to an assistant? In other words, what's the difference? <laugh>?
Speaker 2 00:22:31 No, this is, this is a really great question and I think
Speaker 0 00:22:35 Is very confusing. It's a hot topic. And listen, yes, it's a hot topic and it's confusing because again, everyone has different ideas about how to do this and who should do what. Um, but I'm, I'm so curious to hear your answer and of course all weigh in as well. And I'm just also putting a, a really shameless plug in here. This is a huge piece of the work that the Choreographer's Guild is embarking upon right now is to codify, not to limit, but to clarify who we are and what we do. So I'm so excited to hear your answer and to be doing this work on my own with the podcast. But the work we're doing with the Guild to really round out this, the answer to this question,
Speaker 2 00:23:19 I mean, I think what you said earlier before too, about there's no one way to choreograph, there is no one way to set up a team. There's no one way to set up a choreographic team. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there are industry precedents that, you know, have been successful in the past that we tend to follow because, you know, we've seen its success mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so we, we, um, is it emulate, we emulate that, I guess is emulate, is that that the right word?
Speaker 0 00:23:45 Totally correct.
Speaker 2 00:23:47 Yeah. So I guess we emulate that, that setup. Um, and so shameless plug, or not Choreographer's Guild, this is, this is something that will help legitimize our, um, presence in production mm-hmm. <affirmative> by having clear defined roles and how, how our team operates in production. Because the difference for me, between an assistant and an associate, it is, it can be a very fine line mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, there are many things that can be involved, like experience, uh, your age, um mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I think for me, the, the biggest thing that diff the differentiation between those two is creative expectation. And as an associate for me, if you are going to have an associate title, there is an expectation from the choreographer for your creative input mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so you are viewed as a partner in that team for putting together a vision and a through line for whatever work you're working on. Whereas an assistant, I think has more administrative, uh, responsibilities or casting or putting together a casting doc or, um, you know, making sure that all of the emails and all the people that need to respond to you have responded mm-hmm. <affirmative>, whereas the associate and the choreographer works super closely creatively on what the project is about.
Speaker 0 00:25:22 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, is that how it's been in your experience? I just had, I had Jamal Sims on the podcast and I know Oh yeah. He's so great. And I love him. You were his associate on Greece, correct?
Speaker 2 00:25:34 Yes.
Speaker 0 00:25:35 And so was this, was it your experience on Greece that you on paper were the associate, but your responsibilities on the day to day might occasionally include things that traditionally or historically an assistant might be responsible for?
Speaker 2 00:25:53 Yeah, I, I mean, first of all, Jamal is quite possibly the most genuine, kind human person I've ever met in my entire life.
Speaker 0 00:26:03 Oh, yeah. Picked up on that for sure.
Speaker 2 00:26:05 <laugh>, oh my Lord. He's, he's
Speaker 0 00:26:06 Incredible.
Speaker 2 00:26:07 He's just the best and just full of so much grace. And I think that is like, the one thing that I've really learned from Jamal is how to carry yourself with grace, um, which also extends into your responsibilities being, uh, full of grace for what, what the team needs to get done and how those responsibilities are divided up. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, because as we've said before, it's not black and white. There's a lot of gray. And so sometimes you gotta bite your tongue and do things that maybe you don't think are your responsibility, but the work has to get done. And so this is not a reflection of how it went with Jamal, but that's just in my experience, what I've had to do. Yeah. I would say that on Greece we were, no, I can't say that. <laugh>, <laugh>,
Speaker 0 00:26:57 I'll take, I'll take it. I'll let you think for a second. Um, the last time I served in a associate role on a larger scale was on in the Heights. And again, I think I'd say the same about Chris. He had so much Grace introduced the team laterally with equal respect and with, you know, equal responsibility. You know, when he looked, he, he knew that he could not do choreograph and create, envision and teach and clean and execute every step of that entire film. So he has a very, he has a very strong gift of like assembling a team and treating that team with respect, with grace and with kindness. But if I had to answer that question, I would say yeah. I mean, like occasionally, I think probably 95% of the time my talents were toward, um, the creation of phrases, the transferring of that information onto people.
Speaker 0 00:28:04 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, it was not that often, but it did happen that I was the person responding to emails. We had a choreography team, pa who was primarily in charge of that. So we didn't actually have, um, a a, you know, we were a team full of associates and a choreo pa who really helped Megan McFaren, God bless you, really helped carry that like, laptop load of sitting at a computer all day long, cuz that it can so quickly become that. Um, so did you guys have any such role or was that you and Louise were both associates, correct? Yes. So I, by the way, I'm gonna link to the episode with Jamal cuz we talk a little bit more about this and to you and to Louise and to the, in the Heights episode for anyone who is like, interested in deeper diving here. But, um, go ahead, go ahead.
Speaker 2 00:28:58 Um, yeah, I mean, so our team was only three people. Uh, Jamal, Louise, and myself mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then we had, um, a dance ad, uh, which for those of you who don't know is an assistant director. Um, and then we also had two sort of, uh, production, assistant production coordinators mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, to help kind of get the word out to all the departments that we needed to. But all of that information still has to come from us mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, it was a real balance between, um, dividing up time for move making and, uh, creative process. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and also the administrative side where Louise and I really had to like sit down. We went through casting, we went through, um, all of the art, the props, all of the art direction, all of the sets, all of like making sure that the fricking carpets were stapled down to the ground so that when we're dancing, you know, no one's tripping or slipping mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so really taking ownership of that responsibility so that when we walk onto set, we can confidently walk into the room and run it mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, so it just depends on what job you're doing and who you're working with and also what your style is too. It's like, what, what do you, what do you and the team, how do you guys like to operate?
Speaker 0 00:30:30 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love that answer. I'm gonna offer an alternative. I love it. I think, and I think this is true for both assistants and associates, but more for associates will be asked to lead versus an assistant may be asked to lead. And I think that's a huge dis distinguishing factor in my mind when I'm choreographing and I'm looking for an assistant or I'm looking for an associate. Associates are leaders, they're great teachers. They can handle the responsibility of holding the room or holding the set or holding a meeting, you know, and I think that's a huge distinguishing factor. Another one that I have specifically, and Cat burns and I talk a lot about this, is like, I actually do expect an assistant to be prepared to offer movement. Like, I'm not gonna ask somebody to join me in a room that's gonna stand there still until I move and they repeat exactly the thing that I just did.
Speaker 0 00:31:34 I have video cameras for that. So I, I love somebody who has their own mind, has a vocabulary probably that I don't have. Like it multiplies the potential outcome of the room when, when you have a thing that I lack. So I love rounding out my skill sets and vocabulary with my assistants and associates. I expect both to contribute steps from time to time, but I expect an associate to contribute full phrases and or pieces. Like we're talking big bites. And I would never ask that from an assistant ever. Um, no. But I do, I think especially right now when the world is really, the dance world specifically is looking more closely at credit, rightfully so. I'm hearing a lot of assistants get upset because that step was my step. I did that, that was mine. And I'm just the assistant, not an associate or a, a choreographer.
Speaker 0 00:32:30 I, I don't know, we could sit here until we're blue in the face talking about what makes a phrase different than a step. And if you contributed a step, are you a choreographer? I don't think that you are because my definition of choreographer is so broad and, and I mean we could talk about it. I really think that a choreographer is a leader and, and respons, sole responsible party for the dance product. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And they make the decisions, it is their neck that the blade falls on when something goes wrong. And assistants do not have that pressure. Assistants do not have that responsibility. They have other responsibilities, which sometimes associates share. So the web is starting to get demystified. But the way I see it in kind of a hierarchy, like a pyramid formm, um, a a a dance pa or a production team assistant is like the base.
Speaker 0 00:33:27 It is what keeps us standing strong. Yeah. Moving strong. Oh my God. It is essential to have people who can communicate well between production and, uh, creative teams. This is essential. Yeah. Next, an actual dance assistant, um, may be asked to do any of those things, but may also be asked to set up the room to warm up the, the group to teach or clean choreography, to retain choreography, to transfer it, maybe to contribute steps every now and then, possibly go pick up our lunch today, possibly make sure that this studio is booked on time. Maybe Yes. Get my coffee. Maybe I don't love doing that. Yes. But maybe, and truly the way I see it, if the ne if the next step of the hierarchy is an associate, I think an associate should be prepared to do any of those things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> plus contribute full movement phrases, creative vision, which might occasionally mean like actually pulling images, making a mood board, holding a meeting about that mood board, um, making decisions in the choreographer's absence and so on and so forth.
Speaker 0 00:34:35 I think that a choreographer should be prepared to do everything that an associate does, which is yeah. Get coffee from time to time. <laugh> <laugh> always laugh when people Oh man. Um, but anyways, time is time. I understand. Um, funny story, Andy Planer and I used to joke that he had given his assistant a Pantone color swatch for the correct cream to coffee ratio that he wanted his, his coffee to be <laugh>. So they would go in to get his coffee. I'm not actually sure if this was a joke or not, <laugh>, he would like measure the cream to coffee ratio specifically to this color anyways. Um, that is hilarious. Yeah. That's sort of the, the, the lay of the land. That's how I would demystify the difference between associates and assistance. Um, yeah. Do you have anything you would add? I mean, your answer was also, I think, I think we know where we stand on this, but the whole world has different ideas about this. I know cuz I've talked to
Speaker 2 00:35:39 Him. Yes. And, and I, I mean, now this is my shameless plug, but I'm, uh, one of the co-chairs on our, uh, dance and choreography committee for our union up here in Canada. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the language, uh, pertaining to dance hasn't been updated in 30 years. Wow. And this, this is something that I am personally very passionate about, um, updating and changing. Um, because unlike the US choreographers have been represented and protected under the umbrella of our union for about, I would say 40 to 50 years. Wow. Wow. Wow, wow. Wow. We, yeah, we have like, we, we have some things up here, which are great. However, those, those things haven't been touched in three decades. And so, um, part of what I'm trying to do up here, uh, along with the committee is create these new performance categories, which are the assistant and associate choreographers. I know that the stunt committee up here, or the stunt community up here has been trying for years to implement an associate stunt coordinator or an assistant stunt coordinator very unsuccessfully because the A M P T P doesn't want the responsibility of guaranteeing that that role has to exist. But what is, what we're trying to communicate is that whether or not it's in, it's in the rule book or in the master production agreement, that role still has to exist, otherwise the work doesn't get done.
Speaker 0 00:37:17 Huge.
Speaker 2 00:37:18 Huge. And so all we are doing is defining or codifying these roles into language so that we're creating, uh, a set of expectations and rules for both production and choreography teams to have a standard mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, because right now that doesn't exist. Right. Um, we have, we have, you know, industry precedent that we've set on different jobs and people that we work
Speaker 0 00:37:47 Yeah. You can point to different times, different things have happened. Yes. That's way different than having it in writing and having an agreement <laugh>.
Speaker 2 00:37:55 Yeah. And so I think, you know, giving a base for what, setting a base of expectation for what these roles are takes a lot of discussion and a lot of demystifying, which is why I'm so glad that you're doing this podcast mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, because it, it is a conversation that is different with every choreographer. And also for me, like in my experience as an assistant and as an associate, every job has been different.
Speaker 0 00:38:23 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Oh man. Yes. I have nothing to add. Yeah. I'm gonna move on. <laugh>. Um, yes, let's do it. I have a, um, a couple questions about, uh, strategies in terms of approaching that role and that, and by that role, I mean associate I I I'm always learning like you, I, and I think it's different with every team. Um, my approach is different with every team, but what would you say was your approach, um, when working with, maybe maybe just drop in on a day on the, uh, a day in the life working with Mandy, a day in the life working with Jamal. What is your approach? What are you leading with? And then my part B to that question is, what would you recommend people who are, who want to serve in this role that don't know those people already or don't know how this, how a particular choreographer prefers to work? Is that clear?
Speaker 2 00:39:26 Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I think, I think so I, Mandy and Jamal are two very different humans. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> P Period. They just are. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and I love both of their processes. I love working with both of them immensely. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, and my approach to to those two in particular are very different just because they are two different people. Right. Um, and so the, the through line for me that I bring to every job is, and I kind of touched on this in my who am I thing at the beginning, but I observe and then do. And so I take whatever time I'm given, uh, or shared experience with each other, either with Mandy or with Jamal. And I observe how they interact with people around them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So in meetings before we ever dance, any phone call, any meetings, any sort of like production, uh, discussion that happens revolving dance, I observe how they hold themselves and how they communicate with everyone. And that helps inform me my approach to, to being an associate for them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, I think, I think anyone getting into or wanting to get into being an assistant or an associate would do very well by watching listening and then doing read
Speaker 0 00:40:58 The room,
Speaker 2 00:40:59 <laugh> <laugh>.
Speaker 0 00:41:01 Which is funny, right? Cuz that's the part that you don't get taught. Like that's the part that there aren't classes for. Um, it's really a personality type and certainly is a muscle that you could strengthen with, with attention and awareness on it. Um, but yeah, I think you're right. That is a huge key component is being sensitive to personalities, matching tone matching leadership styles or supporting leadership styles. Cuz sometimes it means matching, but sometimes it means yes. Oh, if this person challenging is really, um, you know, a bulldozer type than perhaps to round out and balance the team, I need to have a sensitivity or a gentleness or a quietness that, that finds balance, right? Because if you're always matching how whoever that, um, you know, whoever the boss is, then we wind up with like red, red, red, red or like light blue, light blue, light blue. Which let me be honest, you can get it done either way, but especially if the project is a long one, balance I find is more enduring than, you know, one thing the whole time. Um, so I love to try to find ways of, of balancing. Um, and I think the only thing that you haven't said that I would underline is communication. And you've brought it up a couple times now, setting expectations like as you all are listening to Jeff and I who have been serving in these roles for like
Speaker 0 00:42:37 10 years, 12, 15 years. Yeah. Um, and if we're still figuring it out, I hope that this conversation gives you some confidence to open up your own conversation about it with whoever it is that you are hoping or already working for. Is like, okay, if these people who do this all the time are still carving out and refining what it means to do it, then you as a beginner absolutely can and should be carving out for yourself and the team that you're working with, what it means for you to be doing it. Like, even even the, the definitions, if we'll call them that, that the choreographer's Guild is working towards, even those are built to be baselines for conversation entry points to negotiations. Like not the end all, be all, not the corner or that we land in or the hill that we die on, but like the intro to a conversation. So I think that is like what I would really encourage, even the words that Jeff and I are sharing today aren't, certainly not definitive the end. Just let our experience and insight be the the jumping off point for deeper conversation.
Speaker 2 00:43:48 Yeah. And I, and I think what you said too, just about like, we are just one experience of what it means to be an assistant slash associate. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think our, our words that we're sharing and our experiences that we are sharing, a smart dancer who wants to be an assistant or an associate will take our words and experiences and translate it into their understanding so that they don't have to learn the hard lessons. They can literally listen to someone else's experience, learn the lesson, internalize it so that you can move forward with an assistant job or an associate job having already heard or gain some knowledge from someone else's experience. Totally. Yeah. We are, we are just one example, but if you can learn to translate that into other lessons without having to actually learn the lesson. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think that is like the, that that is the mark of a smart dancer.
Speaker 0 00:44:47 Oh, Jeff, I love this because your're a lifelong learner, but you like learning the easy way <laugh>, which is like through the mess up of other people. Yeah. But let's be real. Sometimes you have to have to have to mess up. I have messed my God. Yes. Big time. Like, oh, foot in mouth. Like terrible, terrible feelings on set, on projects in teams, in rooms that I really don't wanna mess up on. And let me just tell you that is part of it that you, you can't, you can't learn how to do this by listening to this podcast. You can have an idea of how to do it mm-hmm. <affirmative> listening to this podcast. But then you'll have to learn in practice and, and and we are too, which is great because we like to learn, but if you don't like to learn, if you just like to be right, I would suggest you not pursue being an assistant or an associate. Lemme tell you what. Wrong eyeballs at you.
Speaker 2 00:45:49 Yes. Oh my God. Well, and that's, here's the learning <laugh>. I think that's exactly it. There is no school for this. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there is no, we have learned on the job, we've learned by doing and we've learned by messing up and we've learned through experience. There's no school for this. There's no grades, there's no practice exam. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you just get to do it as you're doing it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, so be a sponge.
Speaker 0 00:46:15 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>
Speaker 2 00:46:17 Be a sponge
Speaker 0 00:46:19 And be a resilient sponge who can take the piss sometimes. This is actually one thing that I really love about Chris. I love the way he gives feedback. He's very direct. He doesn't sugarcoat, he doesn't avoid conflict or ignore it and just hope that things fix itself. I love how clear he is with feedback. And I think in this role, which is in service of the team, all of it is right, like if you're doing it right, even the choreographer or the, or the supervising choreographer or whoever the top of the tops is, is still in service of the project. But when you are in service of the service of the project, it's, it would really serve you well to get good at taking feedback fast so that there's no, uh, so that the bounce back is quick so that you can go from like licking your wounds back into making the work.
Speaker 0 00:47:15 Yes. Um, because it is really, it's not about us. Um, and I know we are man the center of our own worlds and we are the most important players on our show. Right? Like, we're the most on, on the show. That is our life. And, but it, it really is actually a huge relief to me to have somebody like Chris and to have opportunities where you can get that feedback so tight. Like in one day I learned so much about me and how I could do better because of that, but that same day I could have shut down and, and, and the whole team could have suffered for it. I, I, I don't know how to underline this enough. It's even the feedback that is about you is not about you. It's about how you can serve the team better.
Speaker 0 00:48:08 And I just, I'm, I love that. I kind of miss that. I'm gonna call him up and ask for some feedback. <laugh>, it's funny though, like when you get, I think it's a great role to be an associate is a great role to be in, to grow, um, because you have enough responsibility that your mess-ups can be big and there's such good learning there. So Yeah. I, I think I love, I love being an associate. I love co choreographing. I personally, I have never been like ripped outta bed. Like I have to choreograph like chore choreography does not light me up and doing it solo. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is h actively painful for me.
Speaker 2 00:48:52 It's horrifying. Do
Speaker 0 00:48:53 Not love, do not love. Really horrify percent do not love. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is it? I'm with you on that. Can I do I? Yes. But I know people who are built for it. Like, I know like Tony Tesa, ever since we were like 15 years old, he was like, I gotta make my choreography real. And when he was 19 he was like, Nope, I'm done dancing. It's choreography for me from here on out like that is it. Yeah. That is the focus. Yeah. I've never had that. And I think that's okay. I, I, I think that's totally okay. But it really is, I don't think that's a requirement. Like I don't think you have to be obsessed with something to be really good at it.
Speaker 2 00:49:30 Oh God, no.
Speaker 0 00:49:31 But I really just, every time I introduce myself as a choreographer, I chuckle a little bit cuz I know what I think that means <laugh> and I'm like, I don't really, I don't really like that part. But something I've learned in, in my grown up years and in my introduction of myself is like, there are so many different, not only ways to choreograph, but types mm-hmm. <affirmative> of choreographer. Oh yeah. So many different types. And once I release the pressure to be all the types in order to hold that title, I was like, oh no, I 100% am a choreographer. 100% am but I'm not all of the co I'm not all of the choreographer <laugh>. Like, not all of the ways.
Speaker 2 00:50:18 So speaking of like different types of choreographers, I worked on, uh, this Disney franchise called Descendants.
Speaker 0 00:50:27 Never heard
Speaker 2 00:50:27 Of it. <laugh> Never heard
Speaker 0 00:50:28 Of it. Jk. Yo people are obsessed <laugh>. I genuinely, I I was not, I I mean forgive me please, but I have not seen them.
Speaker 2 00:50:38 It's totally fine. People
Speaker 0 00:50:40 Are in it so deep. Oh, so
Speaker 2 00:50:44 Deep. The obsession runs very deep. Um,
Speaker 0 00:50:47 Okay, so please keep talking so that my writings can go
Speaker 2 00:50:49 Up. So <laugh>. So when, when I worked on those, uh, the first, um, movie I was an assistant and then the second and third movies I was an associate, but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, the, the requirements asked of me were all the same for all of those movies. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, it was just interesting experience. It was experience, it was, uh, relationships. It was, um, dependent on just, I think also the, the conversation at that time about what those roles meant was it changed in the span of two years. Right. And so yeah, there was a big difference between that. But working for three different choreographers over those three different movies. The first one was Paul Becker, the second one was Tony Testa, and the third one was Jamal Sims. Three very different types of choreographers. And as an assistant slash associate for those, for the, for those jobs, my, my contribution varied greatly.
Speaker 2 00:51:59 Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and what I did on, on the day to day on those jobs varied greatly. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there were some days where I co I was choreographing things because as an associate, that is what you have to do. What's expected, it was expected of me. There are days where, you know, Tony wants to go and take Dove Cameron for a private with her and Sophia to make sure that they're like locked in. That leaves me with Cameron and Boo Boo, making sure that they're good with their choreography. So we're just drilling stuff. We're playing, we're adding little things here and there are things that the actors like mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, that's Tony and then Jamal, what I love about Jamal's process is he's not precious about anything. He's like, I'm not precious about the moves. I'm not precious about who teaches it. I'm not precious about where the information is coming from or going to. He, he is in service of the team of the project. Amazing. And so my responsibilities as, as an associate change, because each choreographer is so different. Um, yeah. And, and the thing is, it's like I wouldn't be who I am today if I didn't experience those, those jobs with those people. I wouldn't have had the knowledge and, um, deeply entrenched, uh, learning happen. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> if I didn't have those experiences with them and didn't, didn't have a different choreographer to match or to balance. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Speaker 0 00:53:29 That's a great point. Yeah. I forget how lucky assistants and associates are in that. They get to experience many different choreographers. Choreographers for the most part, work with themselves and their team. You know, it's rare, rare are the circumstances where Mandy and Jamal and Cat burns and, um, the seaweed sisters get hired to do a piece together. Right. Like, we so rarely get to see how we all do it. Yeah. Enter the extreme importance of the Choreographer's Guild and the fact that these conversations are happening. We're kind of like all of us letting down our guard and explaining our process, talking about our specific issues and finding out that my issues aren't the same as her issues. She's found an answer to those issues or somebody else has a different solution to this thing that could be everyone's solution to this thing. I think that that's one of the unique challenges choreographers are up against is that we so often work in a vacuum Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:54:30 With ourselves and our tiny teams. Yeah. And I hope that the choreographer's guild in solidarity can change that and have these conversations that usually happen happen kind of quietly, um, have them happen well quietly at first. Uh, but then very publicly. I think the learning that people like you and I love to do in, in our work is learning that the entire world loves to do. I people are fascinated when they find out I'm a choreographer. Oh, they're fascinated. Yes. They have no idea what it means. They're like, tell me everything. I think the world, including the a ptp, which I mean conversation for another time, by the way, to demystify that, is the alliance of motion pictures and television producers who negotiate for the big, big, big productions. Big productions, yeah. Are represented by the a ptp the way that, you know, you and I, Jeff are represented by stra or something like that. I'm probably dumbing that down a little bit too far. <laugh>. Yeah. Our, our unions negotiate with a ptp,
Speaker 2 00:55:35 With am PTP about our contracts. That is, that is how that happens. Right. Big important body of people.
Speaker 0 00:55:44 Yeah. And I, and I know it's like very naive of me to say that they're looking forward to hearing what choreographers have to say their jobs are to save money. Um, and what we are asking for mm-hmm. <affirmative> is more, not only money, but respect, recognition, you know, economic security, period. But I do think that everyone, every human being shares this thing, which is like, I love knowing more. I love learning mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I really believe that the AM PTP simply doesn't know enough about who we are and what we do to engage with us in a way that is fair and equitable. So that's why I do what I do.
Speaker 2 00:56:30 And that's why I love you, Dana.
Speaker 0 00:56:32 I love you, Jeff. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me and weighing in, rounding out this picture. I'm definitely gonna continue asking these questions to future guests because as you so eloquently put it, there is no one way. There is, there are all of the ways, and I love this as being kind of a, a really cool curtain to look behind. Like there's so much to learn from the people in these positions and, um, I think, I hope that we are normalizing this idea that choreography does not come from one body.
Speaker 2 00:57:09 Yes.
Speaker 0 00:57:10 Yeah. And, and if you want it on a grand scale, it cannot be executed by one body. Choreography happens because of teams and, um, really excited to live in a world where that is the standard.
Speaker 2 00:57:25 I I couldn't agree more. I, I would say to any up and coming, uh, assistant or associate mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, I would encourage them to have a lot of grace in your pursuit of becoming a choreographer. Uh, if that is the end goal of, you know, being an assistant to an associate, um, and that whoever you work with, if it's a great experience, if it's a bad experience, you can learn from all of those experiences. Because you're not only learning what you wanna do, you're learning what you don't want to do. And you know, you're working on a job for three months, that is literally the worst thing you've ever done in your life. You don't want to get out of bed, you don't want to go to work. You don't wanna see that person's face every day. Well guess what? That probably means that you're learning the most. Um, yes. Because <laugh> because learning is uncomfortable, um, a real lesson is uncomfortable to learn. And so I think for anyone who is pursuing this, uh, avenue and this path, say yes, say yes. Observe, learn, and just know that at the end of the day, you are gonna get something out of it that will help push your career forward. And not just your career, but also your relation to, to the people around you. This, this doesn't just affect work, it affects your outside life too.
Speaker 0 00:58:57 Huge. Huge, huge. Thank you for that, Jeff. Thank you for you. Let's do this again sometime.
Speaker 2 00:59:05 Yes, please.
Speaker 0 00:59:06 All right. Have a good rest of night. Talk to you soon.
Speaker 2 00:59:08 Ah, thanks.
Speaker 0 00:59:10 Bye.
Speaker 0 00:59:15 I hope that you smiled as much during that episode as I did. I hope you learned a lot. And I hope that this conversation has given you tools to have more conversations on the subject of credit, of precedent, of choreography teams and their roles, their responsibilities. I think this is an area of much, much interest. In fact, I think I'll be revisiting this topic rather soon. But in the meantime, if you are interested in choreography, in being a member of choreography teams and or in helping advocate for choreographers and their teams strongly recommend you go check out choreographers guild.org. That is c h o r e o g r a p h e r s g u i l d.org. One of the things we're gonna do, one of my first, um, first acts of business as vice president, um, will be to help educate and inform all on how to pronounce the word.
Speaker 0 01:00:22 Let's just get that straight before we go. Asking for anything crazy like, you know, credit recognition, economic security, you know, just like it's choreographer. That's what it is. Okay. Um, check out choreographers guild.org. Go follow us at Choreographers Guild on Instagram. And if you're interested in being a part of our efforts, if you are a working choreographer, assistant, associate, or movement coach, please, please email info choreographers guild.com. You'll be added to our emailing list if you'd like. Let us know that you'd like to be added to the steering committee. The steering committee meets, um, kind of on a, on a more sporadic basis now, uh, to talk about important issues and make action plans and then also execute those actions <laugh>. So it's a lot of fun and so many great, wonderful people. Actually, that's my third win of this episode. Awesome. Choreo Guild meeting this morning.
Speaker 0 01:01:23 Usually those happen on Saturdays. Um, but if you're listening to this podcast three years from now, then I don't know when our meetings are happening, but from the way things are going now, I can tell you they will still be happening. Um, cuz we have so much work to be done and we're doing great work and having fun doing it. So that's gonna keep happening. Thank you. Thank you, Jeff for joining me and for the work that you're doing up there in Canada, um, setting such a great precedent and example for us here. And thank you all for listening. Go out there, keep it funky, and I will talk to you soon. Bye. This podcast was produced by me with the help of many music by Max Winnie Logo and brand Design by Bree reets. And big thanks to Riley Higgins, our executive assistant and editor, also massive thanks to you, the mover, who is no stranger to taking action.
Speaker 0 01:02:19 So go take action. I will not, cannot stop you from downloading episodes or leaving a review into rating. I will not ban you from my online store for spending your hard earned money on the cool merch and awesome programs that await you there. I will 100% not stop you from visiting words that move me.com. If you wanna talk with me, work with me, and make moves with the rest of the words that move me community. Oh, and also, I will not stop you from visiting the dana wilson.com if you're curious about all the things that I do that are not words that move me related. All right, my friend, keep it funky. I'll talk to you.