Artist: Billie Jordan, Waiheke Island
Ann Rea: So everyone, I’m here with Billie Jordan from Waiheke Island. I actually have an artist I mentored there, Gabriela, I know she’s going to listen to this.
Billie Jordan: Yeah? That’s awesome!
Ann Rea: So I understand it’s a very beautiful islands. Just so we know, hold up your puppy again. Look at this dog.
Billie Jordan: His name is Buddy Vegas
Ann Rea: Oh, okay, nice.
Billie Jordan: I love Vegas and Buddy Holly. So what’s her name?
Ann Rea: Her name is rebel.
Billie Jordan: Yeah. Oh cool.
Ann Rea: He’s a rebel without a cause.
Billie Jordan: Well that’s lovely.
Ann Rea: I saw a little commercial that used your story to sell something or another quite brilliantly. And then I immediately looked for your, I looked you up and saw your Ted talk and I just thought you are a shining example of really everything I’m trying to teach artists. The whole method, the whole methodology. And I was so inspired by your story. I’m going to put a link to your Ted talk and to your website, but rather than me…
QUESTION: Why don’t you describe what you do and how you came to do it.
Billie Jordan: The only thing is I don’t make any money.
Ann Rea: Yeah, I know, but you could and I might help you with that.
Billie Jordan: Okay. That would be good.
Ann Rea: You could though, I’m so glad you said that because the fact is you could easily monetize this. You have a scalable program.
Billie Jordan: Yeah. I would love to do that so much. To be able to get the full potential out of elderly people all over the world and to take them outside their comfort zone and to use what I’m doing as a starting point anyway, for them to sort of shift that mindset.
QUESTION: Explain to me when we were watching, what it is that you did, what you’re doing and how you came to it because it’s beautiful.
Billie Jordan: Okay. Well, I came from a very abusive background and I developed post traumatic stress disorder about four years ago or five years ago. I was retraumatized when I was in the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand in February, 2011. It was New Zealand’s worst natural disaster and about 200 people died just in the 4 blocks that I was in and I was injured and retraumatized. So with post traumatic stress disorder, like lots of people know, you get triggered all the time and you don’t feel that you’ve got a future, you think you’re going to die every second. So I moved as far away from that city as I could and I moved to Waiheke Island, which is a small island just off the east coast of Auckland in New Zealand. It’s a 45 minute ride by ferry. I moved there because it’s very laid back and it’s sort of like the 1950s where you don’t lock your car, you don’t lock your front door, people sell things with honesty boxes outside the front gate.
Ann Rea: I know! Nice!
Billie Jordan: Yeah, yeah. I know. People just get amazed. It’s like you can leave that honesty box there all night and nobody will take the money. It’s the great thing about an island, even murders, we don’t get those. I don’t think we’ve ever had a murder or that’s right we like about 60 years ago, there was a murder he was an artist and he chopped his wife up.
Ann Rea: Oh, well it happens.
Billie Jordan: It happens, exactly. You don’t know what you’re taking on when you marry an artist. (laughs)
Ann Rea: So you had a very painful background that you came from, it was one element of your story that I identified with (pardon my phone). I came from an abusive alcoholic family and you actually say this in your Ted talk and it takes a lot of courage. Even if you don’t have contact with your family anymore, it still takes a fair bit amount of courage to come out and say it. There’s something very final and it just takes courage. So I announced it, not expecting to when I was interviewed by Alex Bloomberg, but I heard that part of your story and what struck me, Billie, is that you took your pain and instead of having it define you, which was the pain of growing up in a family that you did and then being traumatized, and you turned it around.
Billie Jordan: Yeah. So the next step in myjourney was, once I got to Waiheke Island, there was no buildings to fall on me, I felt like I was secure and I didn’t know anybody, I had no job, I had nothing, I had my public relations and it just seemed so shallow and it is shallow work. I didn’t feel like I had led a meaningful life. I had the same as you an alcoholic abusive background where I felt worthless. Anyway, so I noticed in my community, my neighbors, my elderly neighbors, were in a similar position to me. They couldn’t see a future. They thought that life was about to end. They thought the best times were behind them. They didn’t have anything. Nobody believed in their potential. Everybody’s sort of considers, a lot of people consider old people like, ‘well, they’ve had their lives, so they’ve got nothing more to contribute, no more value to add’. Yeah. If they don’t have children and it definitely worthless, unless they’re a grandmother or grandfather, then just get rid of them. I mean, I’ve gotten emails telling them, “Look, you’re using up too much oxygen” You know? Yeah. But you know, that’s social media though, isn’t it?
Ann Rea: Right. Well there’s a lot of haters on social media because they’ve got nothing better to do and they hate themselves. That’s why they do that.
Billie Jordan: That’s why exactly. So then what I did is I thought, well, if we’re all going to die, like, because I just felt like I was going to die. I was gonna’ be in this rubble and just a horrible death, I thought, well, let’s go out dancing. And I don’t know how to dance, I have got 2 left feet, but I thought well let’s go dancing, what have we got to lose? I had seen these flash mobs on the youtube channel. And so I thought, well, I’ll see that the world saw this flash mob. So I drive around my island in my black van and went up to anyone age 65 and over and said; get in the back I’m setting up a flash mob.
QUESTION: What did they say when you said get in the back of my van? Did they go in willingly?
Billie Jordan: Well, some of them were a bit reluctant and so I put up flyers like I was trying to figure out where ’cause I don’t know anything about old people and I don’t know anything about dance.
Ann Rea: And you said you don’t know anything about hip hop either, which I loved.
Billie Jordan: No idea. Like the worst at everything. I thought well where do they hang out? They hang out at the RSA (Returned and Services’ Association). So I put up flyers there and I went to the Kiran Croft group and spoke to them there and I put up notices and flyers in the medical centers and I still couldn’t get people and I was like, where are they? Like, where are these old people? And I knocked on doors and all that.
QUESTION: The older people you were trying to reach, were they shut up in their home?
Billie Jordan: Yeah and then I had this brain wave; it’s like, ‘oh they go out and buy balls of wool, ’cause balls of wool are like catnip for old people, right? So I went to the local craft shop and packed up in my black van outside there. I talked to the owner and said, look, here’s what I’m trying to d, do any of them come in here, which their certain to to get their balls of wool. Because this is how I thought. I thought a very stereotypical way. All old people just like buying wool
Ann Rea: They really do, they’re crocheting.
Billie Jordan: All the time ’cause they don’t do anything else, they crochet, they have a smoke, have a cup of tea, you know, this is what I thought. Anyway, I went, I waited and waited and none of them came in. And so I went back in my van and I was about to leave, and then the shop assistant, she came out with this 92 year old man by the scruff of his neck going “I got one”. So that was the first one, this guy.
Ann Rea: He was your first hip hop dancer?
Billie Jordan: Yeah. And the first flash mob member. And he was, what do you call a preacher in the local church? He’s a deacon. So he got scrubbed in by the scruff of his neck and he was my first one. It ended up that I got 80 of them, right. And then I got them all dancing. I got a local aerobics teacher to teach them some sort of aerobic type dance routine and so they did that first, and they all loved it and it was just a one off event and they loved it so much so I thought I’ll make it a club. So I kept it on for about 4 months. Then I realized how they were being treated by everybody in their lives, once they got to know their lives and how they’re treated. The people treating them like nobody had any expectations of them. It was like, “Oh, you’re having fun”. It’s like, well, what if they actually want to be good at this? And nobody was saying that to them even the aerobics teacher, which was really nice of him, to do it. I mean he obviously was paid, he was sort of downplaying their abilities like, oh, don’t worry if they can’t learn it as long as they’re moving. It’s like my God, this is terrible. So I decided, look, I need to really up the ante for these people because this, as you know in life, one of the key things in life to feel happy is is that sense of accomplishment. Every single day when you go to bed you’ve got to be able to go, ‘hey, I feel like I did something’, even if it was clearing out your cupboard, there’s a sense of accomplishment.
Ann Rea: Yes. What I teach the artists, you would define a SMART goal, which is: specific, measurable, actionable, results oriented and time bound.
QUESTION: Your SMART goal was to get them to the world championship, right?
Billie Jordan: Yes, exactly. So I said your hip hop dance crew now. I was trying to get a hip hop teacher, but nobody wanted to do it it was just like ridiculous. So I thought, okay, I can’t get anybody who wants to do this. I’m going to have to learn how to dance. So I went on Youtube, I started and I learned all about hip hop and I read books. I went to the library and I got out these old moth eaten books on…, cause the library here is not great as you can imagine on tiny island. So, but I taught myself what I could on hip hop, came up with the choreography and I say to them; right, you are going to be, and now you’re a hip hop dance group and in eight months time you’re going to perform at the world hip hop championships on the other side of the world in Las Vegas.
Ann Rea: And?
Billie Jordan: And it happened.
Ann Rea: That is so wonderful.
Billie Jordan: Yeah. So now we’re trying to get on America’s Got Talent because they’ve opened up to other countries. Also they then performed, after they did that, they then performed to like 15,000 people in Taiwan. So I keep raising the bar. We’re now rehearsing to compete for the third time and the New Zealand hip hop championships. So just to give you an idea of my dancers, my dancers are age 71 to 96 years old. One’s in a walker. I’ve got seven dances. I used to have 22, but we’ve been going for nearly 4 years. And so just like any team, some people’s attitudes just suck, whether young or old. They don’t want to show up and they just want to ride other people’s coattails. So I said; look, and there was people there that really wanted to step it up, but they weren’t able to because everybody else in the dance group, were just like whatever, they just liked a bit of attention.
QUESTION: So you have standards here that you maintain. This is serious.
Billie Jordan: Yeah, definitely. Well, they can go somewhere else if they want and learn dance and be patronized. The whole world’s their oyster if that’s what they want. But they know if they’re going to be in my dance crew, there’s going to be expectations of them and they love that.
Ann Rea: That’s huge. What you said, and you said this in the Ted talk about life sucks if someone doesn’t have expectations of you. And a lot of artists suffer this because they think, oh, if you’re an artist you’re flaky, you’re starving and they don’t have expectations of you. So what happens? A lot of artists don’t do well because of these low expectations and it’s bullshit. I remember one time I sold a painting and someone’s like almost applauded. I’m like, dude, this is what I do. It’s like, thanks, but it’s not really worthy of applause. It’s just what I do. But he got it in his mind ‘I moved heaven and earth to sell a painting’. So this whole piece about expectations I think is brilliant. I didn’t expect to give you a little mentoring or coaching during the course of this call, but I got to tell you something, Billie, you’ve got a huge piece of intellectual property here, and it could easily turn into online education that generates passive income. And I don’t know, he might, he might be listening to this, but I’m going to introduce you to my producer from Creative Live. I just want you two to have a little chit chat about the reality of the potential of online education, because I think you’ve got a program here that you spent all the damn time at the library and working with the aerobics instructor and working through all the bugaboos. Some other organizations would gladly take these lessons from you so that they could employ these programs. So anyway, that’s all I have to say. Just wanted to say, I want you to make money.
Billie Jordan: Yeah, and as you know, people meet the expectations of them and it’s that simple. So I will not lower my expectations. My dancers, they can’t use age as an excuse. A lot of them have dementia. They all have arthritis. Even in my 7 sort of 8 in group that I work with now just because what I put in, I see result coming out because they are dedicated. They will rehearse five times a week. We don’t have a dance studio mirrors or air conditioning. We dance on the side of the road where the busses to park. And so it’s a big wide driveway with gravel. We have a hardware storage area, so it’s all the planks of wood and the Bricks and that that’s behind us. We have the refuse tip (like the dump) on the other side of us, but there’s this flat piece of ground gravel in the driveway. So we dance and then we have to move aside because we’ve got forklifts going through and busses. But you see, the thing is, is it’s like who cares, right? It’s a flat piece of ground and it’s free.
Ann Rea: Exactly!
Billie Jordan: So everything I do Is different. Like a lot of people think with old people, you’ve got to… I get asked, “what’s your health and safety”?
Ann Rea: Can you talk about the bit where you said people have asked you “what if you’re in the middle of a performance and somebody dies?” and you guys made a commitment.
QUESTION: If that happens, if someone dies, what are you guys going to do during a performance?
Billie Jordan: We’re just going to step over them and carry on dancing. And that’s our role and that’s it. I mean, they will be taken care of but after the dance routine. So if you have a heart attack and it lasts more than 4 minutes and that’s it. Your numbers’ up. We just know. They all rehearse five times a week, they will dance for an hour, an hour and a half nonstop. They don’t get water. They don’t get treated like their soft. They don’t get to sit down in a nice air conditioned room. You know this is hardcore. This is boot-camp.
Ann Rea: And they love it!
Billie Jordan: They love it.
Ann Rea: You can see the joy in their faces, and I like one of the women that was interviewed, she said something like, “well basically if I didn’t have this place to go to, to dance with Billie I would just stay home and cry and be alone”. Powerful. I just want to point out to my students: there’s 4 elements that in order to sell art, you’ve got to create value above and beyond the art. And Billie has obviously done this. She’s a shining example of creating value above and beyond the art. And she admits freely that she didn’t even know how to do the art. She had to figure it out. So that I freaking love. It was brilliant. And there’s a 4-Part piece to understanding how you can create value above and beyond the art. First you’ve got to know your Why, your creative purpose, you gotta turn your pain and your joy into purpose. Billie’s done that. Then you’ve got to have a mission. Billie’s got a mission, she’s helping seniors feel valued and have expectations and their health is increasing by very measurable amounts. So her mission is very clear. Her unique value to help seniors, (I’m probably not articulating it perfectly) her unique value proposition is that she’s got… she is not just doing hip hop and going, you know, just regular style. She’s got a very interesting slant. Very unique, right? So that’s a unique value proposition. And then fourth and final is your target market, which is obviously seniors. So she’s fulfilled all four elements and if you notice as soon as she figured this out, she immediately defined a SMART goal. She’s going to go to the hip hop world championships in Las Vegas and what does she do eight months later? She damn well did it because she figured out her SMART goal. So she is just such a brilliant teaching example, I didn’t know if you knew you were going to be that, but you really are and your intellectual property and your passion behind it is authentic and you’ve got intellectual property that really can make money. I want you to make money.
Billie Jordan: The great thing too is that I say to people; whatever your Everest, is (the Everest for my group was clearly the hip hop championships) but whatever type of art you’re working in what is the Everest of it, and picture it and I had a lot of haters obviously and stuff and you’re always going to have them. I learned such a great lesson from my older students, their 96/95, you know, they’re in their nineties and they have, they have haters. So if you think for a second the haters will go away, you don’t get a break anytime in your life. You would think, oh, okay, this is all going to disappear by a certain age, and when you go and have something ambitious or you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, you’re going to have support. That’s not the case.
Ann Rea: It’s true.
Billie Jordan: Yeah. And so you have to get those skills to drown out and ignore haters because it will happen till you take your last breath. And it’s been a really amazing, because I thought; well I’ll get some hate because I’m doing everything the opposite of what people expect, right? I mean, yeah, I have people go, oh, well even your hip hop style, you should be doing happy, preppy dance- hip hop style? They do gangster, it’s punching, it’s aggressive, it’s angry, because old people are supposed to be sweet and lavender and lace so that’s the difference. So, I look to do the opposite of everything and you’re doing something original, but they get people who say, oh, they shouldn’t be doing this and the 96 year old; oh you’re an embarrassment. You don’t get a lucky break. You’re not going to suddenly find yourself. Embrace what you love.
Ann Rea: There is always going to be a critic, right? I’m so glad you mentioned it. In art, especially, especially everyone is a critic. But do you see them getting off their sorry ass to help a population who’s disenfranchised and alone? What are they doing? So screw it. It doesn’t matter. Your purpose and the passion behind your purpose will carry you through. And those hateful remarks that will come, they’ll just roll off you like water on a duck’s back. You just get to that point it will not stop you.
Billie Jordan: Exactly. I mean, even when we went to Las Vegas, I was trying to raise money to get them over there. So I auctioned them off online. It was like the equivalent of Craig’s list sort of thing, and there was like the worst hating that we received. Like I got emails saying, you guys have had your life, you’re wasting greenhouse emissions to go there. You should kill up and die. You’re a drain on society. So you would think, a group of, I had 27 of them go, 14 of them were in their eighties and nineties. Busting their gut against strokes, heart attacks, five of them had dementia, advanced dementia.
Ann Rea: What fit athletes are meeting those challenges?
Billie Jordan: Yeah. So here they are and you’d think they got a lucky break; not at all. So the other thing is you’re always going to have obstacles. It’s always going to be there. And the wonderful thing about artists is that the more obstacles you have, the greater your character will build and it’s such a wonderful fuel. Like I want the obstacles when there isn’t any… you know because you over come and it’s an enormous sense of achievement. So obviously my dancers have every obstacle that a dancer could face.
Ann Rea: Right.
Billie Jordan: And they over come. And do this and see your life as an artist sees it right to your last breath. Don’t think “well, it’s to this age”. No, plan a long life, plan on lots of years.
Ann Rea: You’re just a true inspiration, Billie. I love what you’re doing. I’m inspired by your story. I identify with part of your story and your courage and you’re tackling such a huge issue, which is ageism. She does it brilliantly in her Ted talk, you should all listen ’cause guess what? We’re all going there. If you’re lucky, right? If you’re lucky, you will make it there. Just so everyone hears me; if you would like to do a consult, it’s on the house so I can help point you in a direction that would help you make some money. I’d like to do that for you just as my contribution. And I am not promising a damn thing, but I want to do something to help you because I believe in what you’re doing so much. It made me cry. It was so inspiring!
Billie Jordan: That is so sweet. I’ve never had a boyfriend because I always thought that I wasn’t worth anything, that nobody would want me, and then about a week ago or about two weeks ago, a guy (a really gorgeous guy in Canada), He saw my Ted talk and then he saw a form I’m in about my journey. And we’ve been… I’ve got a boyfriend.
Ann Rea: YAY! Of course you do! You’re amazing!
Billie Jordan: He’s an artist. He’s gorgeous. He’s amazing, like he really is amazing. I never thought, you know, I’m 46, I thought I would never be worthy or having somebody love me because if your own parents don’t and they abuse you in all ways of abuse, both parents. You don’t, you can’t imagine a stranger doing it. But anyway, it’s very good and I feel like I’m the luckiest person on earth. I would like all people who are vulnerable to have these huge goals and I want to change the way we view aging. I’d love to have like dance crews, mini hip hop dance crews of the elderly in every country on the planet where it is run like a boot-camp. Do you know what I mean? It’s not an army boot camp, but there’s expectations, all of them, so there is a refuge where they will go for four hours every week. They’ll go and they’ll be treated as an equal.
Ann Rea: See, right there in that moment Billie, you just created a vision. All right, so I’m going to give you a homework assignment, not that you asked. I want you to write it down, okay?
Billie Jordan: Okay.
Ann Rea: I want you to write it down and shit. Anyone who’s listening to this, if you’ve been inspired by this or you have your own vision, write it down because that’s the first step in making it real. Otherwise it’s in between your noggin and you’re not really going to take specific action until you write it down, write it down.
Billie Jordan: And then I want them all to learn hip hop and they’ll learn the dancing/the dance routine cause it brings unity and connectivity to towards people. So then have a huge annual event where all the crews can come from all over the world, but not in nice little place, I’m talking about some hostile, crazy environment in the middle of the desert.
Ann Rea: Burning man would be perfect.
Billie Jordan: Oh my God. Exactly. Burning man. Exactly. But you see that’s sort of taken. But something like that, so it’s gotta’ to be an aspirational, crazy, it could be Timbuktu near the center of the world. But that’s where I’d like to do it. It’s got to be like…
Ann Rea: We’re going to talk later. I want you to email me, I’m going to offer you a consult. I’m gonna, again I can’t promise anything, but I’ll make some introductions and then you’ll have to take the ball from there. But you have an amazing story. You have a beautiful, purposeful, passionate, Why that I hope inspires others to reflect upon what their purpose is and get on it because the clock’s ticking and none of us are getting out alive.
Ann Rea: Thank you Billie.
Billie Jordan: Thanks Ann. Bye Bye.
Making Art Making Money