Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #28 How to ask Good Questions
CLI Registration: https://members.clistudios.com/dancers
James Baldwi: on Dick Cavett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fZQQ7o16yQ
James Baldwin: The moral responsibility of the Artist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlnDbqLNv-M&t=488s
Sean Evans and Charlize Theron on Hot Ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgQMW4eVrzw
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: All right. All right. Welcome to the podcast. Welcome back. If you're a regular mover and shaker and welcome. Welcome. If you are new, I am so glad that you're here today. I'm really stoked about this episode as per uzhe. So I, I, I want to get to it because I'm excited, but I also want to let you know that my win this week is a special podcast related when I am so jazzed to announce that words that move me is teaming up with our friends over at CLI. And we're doing a small number of live interviews. I'm going to link to CLI in the show notes, because if you are not already a member, you should be dancers of all levels of all styles, really, truly, especially in quarantine times, CLI is a digital dance experience that truly offers like top, top, top tier education. So, um, yeah, go dig into that. And if you are a member, you'll be able to watch live a handful of interviews that I'm doing in the next month or two, um, starting in July and into August. You will still get those interviews here on the podcast, just a couple of weeks late. Okay. So that is my win. What's going well in your world.
This kills me. Cause I really want to know, like, I actually want to hear you say it.
Awesome. I'm so glad that you're winning. Please do keep it up. I'm stoked for you. Okay. Now, in this episode, we're talking about how to ask good questions. I mean, good as in not bad and questions as in a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information, at least that's how the internet defines a question. One more time. That's a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information, now that is all fine and good, but I like to think of questions as a Swiss army knife of curiosity. I say curious a lot, by the way, on the podcast, I think curiosity or curious are the most used words on the podcast, except for maybe jazzed and possibly ultimately I say ultimately a lot, and I had no idea that I did until I started podcast. Okay. Anyways, I think we can all agree that a Swiss army knife is a single tool that has many different tools in it. And it's used for one goal. And that is to help the user function. You can use a can opener to get the food out of the cans so you can eat the food. You use the bottle opener, so you can open the bottle and get the drink out of the bottle. You use the knife to cut, open a box and access what's inside or a little tweezers to pull out the splinter from your toes so that you can walk without pain. In this metaphor, the question is the Swiss army knife and the challenges of your life are like the bottles and boxes and splinters. So I'm saying that a question is a tool that helps you function. Now, you know how people say there are two types of people in the world? Well, I'm going to give you my version of that cliche. I believe there are two types of people in the world. One, the people who are told what to think, and the other type is the people who are told what to think and ask questions. Now, if you're like me, you don't much like being told what to think. I'm here to tell you that the answer to not being told what to think is to think for yourself, the answer to not being told what to think is actually a question. The question is the tool to help that human function. Now, before I go any further, I want to address those that don't mind being told what to think. And I am raising my hand. I am part of this party as well. Now, if all I was ever able to do was believe my own original thoughts, I might actually be in trouble. So what's wrong with being told what to think. I actually love school. I miss it tremendously, especially right now. Um, I love seeking information. I love finding people who are great at what they do, asking them what they think, what are the thoughts that drive them to doing great things. And then I'll occasionally adopt those thoughts as my own and see how far they take me. Um, sometimes that's pretty darn far, pretty darn far. It's hard to say pretty darn far.
I like to compare being told what to think with eating fast food. It is very convenient at times it is fast and it is also heavily processed. So consider that for a moment. That is why it is important to ask questions. We can also probably agree that questions are important simply by imagining life without them. Here's an example. Hey girl, hi… The end. Life without questions is not a life that I am interested in living. So let's get better at asking questions. We'll start with the assumption. A. that words are important. I probably don't need to illustrate that to you because you're listening to this podcast. So you probably already agree, but let's take a look at what that means. For questions specifically, here are a couple of different ways of asking basically the same question. Let's say I'm holding an audition and somebody in the back of the room raises their hand. I call on them and they might say, “nobody can see you back here. Can you do that again?” Or they could say, “I can see that your arms are in high fifth on one, but what's the lower body doing for that eight count” or maybe I'm holding a Q and A and somebody might say, “what's your favorite style?” Or they could say, “tell me about the style of dance that nobody knows you love?” Another example with regard to costume, perhaps somebody might ask, “are you for real?” Or they might say, “what does that costume contribute to the piece?” Here's another favorite least favorite question. “What's it like trying to become a famous dancer?” Who yikes. There's a lot to unpack there. An alternative might be. “What part of your training are you most passionate about?” Can you imagine how the conversation that follows each of those questions would be dramatically different? Good questions lead to good conversations, good conversations. Lead to good learning. Alright, here are my golden nuggets for asking golden questions.
Number one, share how much, you know, not how much you don't know. The example that I gave of the audition earlier is a true story, except for I was not holding the audition. I was a dancer in the back of the room. It was not the dancer that asked that question. However, and when the dancer asked that question, my stomach hit the floor. I felt awful because here was this person saying, nobody can see you back here, but only I could see enough, enough to guess enough to make a well informed guess. Now this specific audition was pretty high stakes. The choreographer was Liz Imperio a legend, shout out Liz. And there were probably 500 people in the room. The project was an award show and it was the first time this particular award show was covered by a SAG/AFTRA contract, which means dancers who booked the gig were eligible for healthcare and pension contributions from the work that they did on this project. Anyways, it's a big deal. The stakes were high. The room was full. I get where the dancer was coming from. But as soon as she said, nobody can see you back here. Can you do that again? The answer that came was certainly packed with emotion, more packed with emotion than information actually. Liz told her to wait. So actually no information came back at her at that time. The lesson that I learned in that moment is that you can either stand out as being a person who doesn't know what they're doing and blames that on others. Or you could stand out as being a person who's responsible for knowing what they're doing. And that is the person that I want to hire. So in general, do everything you can to be informed. And don't ask a question that's already been asked. How do you know if it's been asked already? Well, listen, or simply Google it in short, do your research and avoid asking questions that your subject is likely to have answered a thousand times already, for example, “what's it like being on tour with JT?” That question lends itself to what could be a pretty closed ended answer. Really, really fun. All right. Next question. Versus “what was the one experience that you least expected when you were on the 2020 experience?” First of all, points for wordplay and craftsmanship. This is definitely a question that I'll give more thought to answering because I can tell that it took a lot of thought to create. Here's another example, “what's the secret to becoming a successful dancer?” This question, I get a lot and honestly it sounds a little bit like the person asking it once the fast pass to the top. Here is the equivalent to that question that I would actually love giving an answer to “Dana, one of my favorite things about your work is the use of humor. Can you talk a little bit about using comedy in dance?” Ah, yes. This shows me that they've done a little bit of research. They know who they're talking to and they are interested in the work, the process, not the result, not the perceived pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. First of all, the pot of gold doesn't exist. And if it did, there is no one way to becoming a successful dancer. And even if I told you exactly how I did it, it would take the entire hour to explain. And you could recreate every single step of the way and not achieve the same success because we are infinitely different people coming up at different times. We've got different skills, all the things are different. So the next time you find yourself wanting to ask for the secret to someone's success. First identify what you think is successful. What you think is interesting about their work and then ask them questions about that.
Alright, that brings us to golden nugget. Number two, ask questions that might lead to new ideas instead of revisiting old ideas. Now it's very common and totally practical to ask questions in review or to refine your understanding of something. This happens in dance class a lot. Now, a little less common, especially in a dance class are the questions that lead to new ideas instead of revisiting old ones. In the example of the Q and A that I mentioned, “what's your favorite style” by simply watching or taking my class. You might be able to answer that question for yourself, but in asking a question like “what's a style of dance that nobody knows that you love.” You're likely to learn something that not only you couldn't have found out, but that nobody knows tell us something that nobody knows is a really good one. It's one of my favorites. I also really, really love what am I missing here? Or what am I not getting? Now, let me be real, when you're asking a question, like, what am I missing or what am I not getting buckle up and get ready to learn. Because the answer that comes back at you will almost certainly be news to you. It will be an idea that is completely new. And sometimes those are hard to chew, but also so fun and so much growth here. Yes. Ask these questions.
All right. Golden rule. Number three, simple questions, get simple answers. Usually this is why the minis like age seven to 10 are my favorite group to teach. They ask simple questions like my favorite, “Why?” sometimes? Why is the best question somebody can ask, please. Don't be afraid to ask why, but when you do also be patient and get ready to ask good followup questions, because “why” can be a tough, tough question to answer. Now. Sometimes the simple questions are the most obvious questions. Like the example I gave regarding costumes earlier, “are you for real? Or why do I have to wear that?” For example, now I've had people especially minis. Ask me a lot of questions about my clothing. I can't really explain it. I kind of adore it. And it's also a little bit annoying. Here's an example. “Why do you wear those weird pants?” Well, a simple answer to that simple question might be because I think they're funky. All right. Now, sometimes a simple question. Like, “why are you wearing those pants?” Could get a complex answer like this one. I wear these pants because the essence of ballet is to be lifted light as a feather. Um, having the quality of weightlessness or floating and for hip hop and many other street styles being grounded is the value. I think you can imagine the visual that I'm painting here for you. The visual center of gravity of a ballet dancer is very high, especially relative to somebody dancing, hip hop or another street style like locking or popping, baggy clothes make the visual center of gravity look lower, think MC hammer and hammer pants. Visual center of gravity is almost on the ground versus a Tutu, which is basically the shortest skirt that somebody could possibly wear. A Tutu makes the visual center of gravity look high, hammer pants, baggy clothes, Zoot suits, they make the visual center of gravity look low. If you've ever felt uncomfortable, dancing a street style or watching somebody dance street styles in a leotard and tights. That's part of the reason why. And there you have it. My very complex answer to a simple question.
And that brings us to golden rule. Number four, complex questions get complex answers usually, except for when they don’t, right. Now, if you can avoid asking overly complicated questions, practice what you preach. Wilson. I love asking compound questions, questions within questions, and then just straight up multiple questions at once I'm working on it. I'm really working on it because I get more focused answers. When I ask more focused questions again, complex questions beget complex answers, except for when they don't. For example, my favorite example of this there's a James Baldwin quote, a student asked him once to give advice to a quote, young literary genius end quote to this James Baldwin replied quote, let me tell you one thing, Young literary geniuses, don't take anybody's advice, end quote and end of conversation. Listen, if you want real good answers and a great model for asking questions, please, please, please listen to the words, the voice of James Baldwin. Read. Listen. Oh man, I have linked to a few of my favorite talks of his in the show notes for this episode. Oh, and on the flip side, very, very flip side of that same good question asking coin is one of my favorite interview hosts. Um, his name is Sean Evans. He hosts a YouTube series called Hot Ones. Um, some of you may know it because it is wildly popular, but um, if you don't already know, Hot Ones is a YouTube series where the host Shawn and his guests eat 10 hot wings with different hot sauces on each wing. They eat them in escalating Scoville order. And, um, it's just simply so entertaining. Anyways. I think Sean has a research team helping him ask questions at this point, but, uh, he is very, very famous for asking his very, very famous guests who do interviews all the time. Questions that leave a pause, his guests are stopped mid chew and, and they reflect, wow. That's such a great question. I really admire him for that. Hats off or should I say caps off to you? Sean Evans. Thank you for modeling what it means to ask really good questions. All right. So between James Baldwin and the 183 episodes of hot ones that are on YouTube, you definitely have your work cut out for you if you want the good, good answers. Please start by listening as always then remember to ask questions that highlight how much, you know, not how much you don't know, ask questions that will lead to new ideas. In addition to simply refining existing ideas, don't be afraid to ask simple questions and know that complex questions will get complex answers except for when they don't. And with that, my friends I'd like to leave you with an ancient proverb. He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask a question, remains a fool forever. So keep listening, keep learning, keep asking good questions. And by all means necessary. Keep it funky. Thanks everybody. 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 member. So kickball, changeover to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join. Alright, everybody. Now I'm really done. Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you soon.
Brought to you by Dana Wilson of Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson