Dancing, Writing, Laughing, Crying (with Amanda Kloots)
Every week my son August and I would watch our favorite ever dancer Amanda Kloots perform on Dancing with the Stars. She was truly amazing, and that’s just one of the reasons I’m so excited she’s joining us today. We talk about her son Elvis, writing through grief, and the joys of working with family. I’m pretty sure I convinced her to star in her own screenplay and cried at least 7 times throughout our conversation, I’m not worried about it!
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Amanda Kloots, Elyse Myers
Elyse Myers 00:15
Okay, actually, can you just pretend that you’re listening to a fully complete theme song here? I got really in my head. And I tried to make it perfect. And I couldn’t. So this is going to be the theme song right here.
Elyse Myers 00:32
Hello, and welcome to another episode of funny because it’s true. I’m Elyse Myers. This week I am talking to dancer, author and host of CBS is the talk Amanda Kloots. Amanda lost her husband, Nick Cordero to COVID-19 in July 2020. And what I love about Amanda is how she uses her creative expression through dance and writing to move through her grieving process. She’s the author of live your life, a recent contestant on Dancing with the Stars, and a badass mom to her four year old son Elvis. So two things. Amanda’s story is beautiful and sad. And you will hear me cry throughout the majority of this interview is just happening. And I’m just calling it out right now. And number two, Amanda was a Broadway dancer and a Rockette which are just fun facts about her that I really think that you should know. Okay, let’s get into the interview. Amanda, hello. Are you having a great week so far? I know. It’s only Monday.
Amanda Kloots 01:29
It’s only Monday. But yeah, it’s a great week. It’s a great week so far. It’s sunny here in LA. So makes me happy. Good.
Elyse Myers 01:35
It’s like 10AM on a Monday morning at this point in our conversation. Imagine if she was like, yeah, it’s gone pretty bad. I would be like, it’s me. It’s my fault. Okay, so to get started, can you tell me your first experience on stage because you’ve been performing since a really young age, right?
Amanda Kloots 01:51
In sixth grade, I was a part of my first musical the high school that I went to eventually was doing a production of Fiddler on the Roof. And they asked some sixth graders to be a part of the production because Fiddler the roof is all about families. And they needed some kids to round out the production. So then I was asked to be in Fiddler on the Roof. And during that show is when I realized that I wanted to be on Broadway one day.
Elyse Myers 02:17
what was it about that show where you were like, this just feels right?
Amanda Kloots 02:21
We were doing the dress for her soul. And I remember we were all on stage. And we were singing the opening number tradition. And my arms went up. And I sang tradition. And I was like, I wouldn’t do this first my life really?
Elyse Myers 02:36
It’s funny, because I was actually introduced to you on Dancing with the Stars. So my son loves dancing with the stars. It’s like a favorite show to watch together. And every time we would watch you dance, he would sit in my lap. And he was still for your dances like only like he would dance along to everybody else’s dances, but you were like, so captivating to him, that he would like sit in my lap and just watch you, you are so in love with what you do. And you’re so good at what you do, that even a two and a half year old can like see it and they don’t know what they’re seeing. But they feel it when they watch you do what you do. And I’m just curious if there was ever a time in your life, where you felt like maybe this like wasn’t the right thing, or you kind of like started to question it.
Amanda Kloots 03:13
A little bit there. I knew I knew I wanted to do Broadway and in the Rockettes. And so once I was doing that for a very long time, I also had a point where I knew I know I won’t be doing this for the rest of my life. I would have like a time where I would probably leave and transition out of out of doing Broadway shows. And into something else.
Elyse Myers 03:37
I was curious because as you say that I was reminded of the one of the performances you did with Dancing with the Stars, it was very, very emotional. And it was very tied to your story. And I just remember there being the room. I just remembered the room that you danced, and it sounded so quiet, and then you finish and it was like roaring applause and it was forever and it just was like, I would imagine that being creative and like storytelling about a real story like is so much and it’s I’m curious if the emotion of that would be hard to overcome to where you master the emotion and then are creative with it. Or if it’s like it gets in the way and you’re like I can’t even do this anymore.
Amanda Kloots 04:16
When I danced that dance on Dancing with the Stars. Alan and I knew that we wanted to dance to live your life we were hoping that we would get the chance to and we knew that it wouldn’t be until like later on in the competition. So we were we kept hoping that I would make it that far. And then when I did and we got to dansette I sat down with Alan and I had we had a full like three hour I told him everything so that he could fully understand as a choreographer, how to choreograph this piece and then as he was choreographing it with me, there were certain things were like, well, you don’t understand like, I would walk into the hospital and I and all, all I could do was hold Nick’s hand. So like, when I’m running to grab your hand, it’s because like, I haven’t seen you in 20 days, and all I can do is grab your head, but you are lifeless, you have no life in your body. So I’m holding your hand I’m holding you up. So we were creating this piece sort of together. And then one day we were, they were filming it for like a behind the scenes thing that they would show. And the emotion of it hit me. You know, because you’re creating, you’re creating, you’re creating, and you’re blocking things a little bit. And I mean, some tears would come up, as we were choreographing, but this one, they were in the studio, they’re filming it, and the light was coming in, and they were doing it slow mo, and then they replayed the slow mo back for us. And I just kind of lost it a little bit. But Alan didn’t see me lose it. And then we had to start from the top. And at the top, he doesn’t see me until like 10 seconds into the dance. And he saw that I was sobbing. And then we finished the dance like through tears. And like, we just held each other and cried for a little while and, and then every time after that, it was impossible for me not to cry during that dance. And then when we performed it on Dancing with the Stars. It was magical. And then the next morning, I woke up and I remember just feeling like, again, this huge layer of healing. And I didn’t expect that at all. I didn’t realize that I needed to dance out this grief. But of course I needed to I’m a dancer, like moving my body helps me with all of my any kind of anxiety, stress, depression. So like, I didn’t realize that dancing, this grief would be a healing process for me. I woke up that next day after performing and I literally felt like a 50 pound weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was like a whole new level of understanding and processing and, and healing for me. And it’s why I’ll be forever grateful to him. And for that show. That show was like the biggest healing journey for me that I am so grateful for because it just it gave me so much I just I love that show so much and you become so tight with everybody. I would do it again and again and again. And again. If I could I wish they would just like.
Elyse Myers 07:38
You’re the only one I think that would really understand and appreciate this story. But the season right after you Alan had a partner that I guess, dropped out and it was like three days before they were supposed to start filming. And I get a text from him saying do you want to be on Dancing with the Stars? And I was like, okay, okay, so the day that this was happening, where Caitlin Bristow and Alan were reaching out to me to see if I could be on Dancing with the Stars. I sent this video to Caitlin in my car just like verbally processing. What was happening. I’m not an athlete, I don’t dance. I do get 10,000 steps a day though. And I wish we were like going back and forth. It was like over a weekend and then the timing would have been so crazy. And then they found someone local, which was like way a better situation for everybody. And it gave me time because I’m the least out of shape person in the whole world. Okay, so I definitely meant to say I am the most out of shape person in the world. But I do like that this mistake made it sound like I was bragging about being extremely fit to Amanda, I told him I was like, the only person I would do it with is you Alan like you are literally I’ve said that ever since I started watching the show like you’re the only person I would want to dance with. And so I would just imagine the trust all that to say the trust that he carries as a person like and I’m hoping it’s like that in person, you know, you see someone you don’t know if it’s real in real life, but like, he himself just carries this air of like, you can trust me and like you’re safe with me and I’ve got you and I really translates to the viewer watching at home and I am so glad that your experience that you had with him was that like he was the person that walked you through that dance and you walked him through that and like that is a very really important part of your journey. I think
Amanda Kloots 09:30
there’s oh gosh, what’s the saying? Like? It might be in that movie Coco but there’s like a thing that you don’t truly die until like the last person on Earth says your name. And so I just kind of feel like I don’t want I don’t want Nick’s spirit to be gone so I just kind of it’s just fun to continually create things that keep his memory and spirit alive and I think I’m doing that partly for Elvis too. So that as he gets older there’s things in this world that are his dad.
Elyse Myers 10:06
All right, more about Amanda’s son Elvis right after the break What kind of kid is obvious? Is he super adventurous? Or like, what does he like?
Amanda Kloots 10:29
Elvis is such a cool little kid. He’s chill. He’s super chill. He loves to laugh. He’s very funny. He has a good comedic instincts already. He loves to go on adventures. He loves to play. He loves music. He loves being around people and around me. And you know, he’s he. He’s been around a lot of adults his whole life. So I think he feels very comfortable being around like older people. Yeah, he’s, he’s a unique child, because I think how he’s been raised with everything that has happened to him in just a short amount of for years. It’s cool, because he’s developed into this really cool little kid. He definitely hasn’t been sheltered, that’s for sure.
Elyse Myers 11:21
Unfortunately, he has not been sheltered. Do you find that your guys’s relationship has like, become something unique because of the nature of how we grew up and not, you know, not really having his dad like, it has that kind of formed your relationship?
Amanda Kloots 11:37
100%, it’s, we have a very unique bond. And not to make you cry. But I noticed that as soon as the day I came home to him after my husband passed in the hospital, I walked in the door. My girlfriend was holding him. And I grabbed him and I carried him into my room. And I was hugging him. And I said to him, I said, it’s you and me, buddy now. And we passed out and took a nap for three hours together. And I swear to God, he understood in that moment, he understood it’s, it’s you and me. But I swear to God, He knew exactly what he just he knew he’s always been an old soul like the child. As soon as I held him and I looked into his eyes, I looked at Nick and he said that he’s an old soul. But he just got it. I mean, at one years old, too. I grabbed him. And in the middle of the night, it was like 11 o’clock in the morning. So like not even naptime. You know, but to grab him and for him to like, literally, lay with me and like cuddled me, like held me at one years old, for three hours straight. Yeah, it was beautiful. And we just yeah, we’re a little team. I always say that to him. I tell him, you and me. We’re a team forever. And he gets it like I don’t know, he just knows we definitely have a very special bond.
Elyse Myers 13:12
And this is where I start audibly crying at Amanda in her general direction, and it never really stops. I think there’s so much to like, kids understand so much more than you give them credit for as well. Like, my son will pick up on things that I’m just like, how did you know that I say that or do that. Like, don’t do that in your presence. It’s like they are just little sponges. And did Elvis inspire any of the cause? You wrote a children’s book, right? Did he inspire that children’s book? And like, because it’s your guys’s story, right?
Amanda Kloots 13:45
Yeah. Oh, yeah, he inspired. I mean, you know, your children inspire so much. It’s crazy. And from the second he was born, I started thinking of children’s books, ideas, because you know, I’m on a walk and I start doing things because you’re just entertaining them. And then you’re like, wait, this did it. This could be a children’s book.
Elyse Myers 14:06
really quick. I ended up actually making my own children’s book during Jonas’s first father’s day after we had August, because I kept getting served those ads, like pay for a premade book that’s specifically made for you, but also not at all. I was like, You know what, I can just do a better I’ll make my own. So I ended up just making my own book from scratch for Jonas, because I liked it better. And if that’s not like my entire personality, summed up in a single sentence. I don’t really know what is.
Amanda Kloots 14:34
We do this bedtime routine, especially at that point in his life. You know, children’s books take a very long time. So when I thought of this idea, it was a couple years ago and he was I think, one and a half, maybe almost two. And you know, I’m constantly trying to think of ways to incorporate Nick into Elvis his life because he doesn’t have memories with his dad. And so I one night, I was like, do you want me to tell you your dream that you’re gonna have tonight. And so I just started telling him, You know, I’d started making up a crazy dream that had to do with trash talks and airplanes and the beach, all the things that he loved. And then I, I, every night would make it that Nick would pick him up on the dream, and Nick would drop him off and say good night, and then I would walk in in the morning, and I would ask him to tell me all about what happened. And so I just started making it a way for him to be able to connect with his dad at night, and go on adventures. So yeah, I mean, Elvis completely inspired it. He’s the illustrations are Elvis. So me and yeah, you know, I don’t know, I write what I know. I definitely as a writer, I like to write what inspires me in what I know best.
Elyse Myers 15:57
Have you always loved writing? Is that something you’ve always done?
Amanda Kloots 16:00
No, if you would have asked me five years ago, do you want to be a writer? I’d have been like, What are you talking about? I am terrible with grammar. I’m awful. Like, it’s terrible. But I have found it to be so therapeutic and wonderful and fun. I’ve always been a creator. So I think I enjoy the creative aspect of it. And in creating stories and little worlds and stuff, but no, I never thought I would be an author with two books. That’s insane.
Elyse Myers 16:38
What about you starting on your first book ever? Like, how did you get from I’m literally never going to do this to I’m doing it?
Amanda Kloots 16:46
Yeah. Well Harper Collins called me and said, Would you like to write your story down? This was in the height of COVID. And I said to them, I don’t think I could ever do this without a ghostwriter. Because again, I at that time, I really didn’t believe in myself as a writer, and my little sister who has a book coming out. She’s an amazing writer. And so I said, I’ll do this, but I want Anna Kloots to be my ghostwriter. The book, and HarperCollins agreed. And then Anna and I started writing live your life, which was my first book, my memoir, two weeks after my husband passed away. What I loved the most about it, though, was that it was so therapeutic for me, I would stay up till like one o’clock in the morning, writing down all this information that was stored in my head. And I like could barely see my keyboard because I was crying so hard. But I it was so cathartic to just write down everything, you know, I mean, our thoughts can be so wild, right? I mean, the things that we will think in our own head are sometimes terrifying. So to be able to write it down. And just kind of like freeform just like, you know, spit it out. And then say it back to yourself. It was such a journey for me. And really, really, really helped me through those first, six months after losing Nick and being a widow and just having all this information that I am so grateful that I have now written down because if you asked me today to tell that same story, I would have been like, okay, so um, I mean, I remember things, but you know, you don’t remember details, I was like, at 4:45 I got this is exactly what it was that and he was on this medication and not, you know, I mean, we just, I just knew everything. So it was, I’m very grateful to Harper Collins that they were so strict with such a tight deadline, because it actually was like the best therapy they could have given me.
Elyse Myers 19:02
The two weeks between feels like a really short amount of time. Like, how what did you really just use the book is like a grieving process. Like is that that’s really what that was?
Amanda Kloots 19:16
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I didn’t know at the time. Yeah. I mean, because I had never even tried to write anything down. It was the first time that I realized, oh, wow, I was never a journaler I never kept a diary. Really? Yeah, it just wasn’t me. So this was like, the first time in my life that I was like journaling, you know what I mean? And thank God, it’s a it was a job and I had to because I don’t think I would have done it. Otherwise, like, if nobody would have told me write a book, I wouldn’t have done it. And yeah, I now I write all the time. I you know, notes, you know, in my notes in my phone, if I’m like having a stressful day or if I can’t get some hang out in my head. I’ll just write about it. Yeah. And then it’s amazing how, you know, you come back months later, and you’re like, wow, I was crazy that day.
Elyse Myers 20:09
So I’ve always been a journaler. And it’s something I never read back because it’s like, it’s only to process the moment. You know, I always feel like there’s this like, really crazy connection that happens. When even not typing like writing physically, like right now like it you can’t write as fast as you think. And so every word that you write with your hand, it’s like, it’s slower. So you think more about the words that you’re writing. And it makes you think about how you’re feeling as you’re writing and like that, that practice has always been so helpful for me. So it’s funny because I so I’m currently writing a book, too. It’s not like a I’ve not announced it or anything, but the process of writing it is, is exact, exactly what you just said, is so therapeutic. And it’s funny, because the things that I find it I’m crying over my keyboard about or not even the parts that are sad, it’s the parts I didn’t even realize were sad, or the parts that I didn’t realize were heavy. It’s like, I knew that this moment I was going to write about was heavy. But like the drive there was not heavy. Why am I crying about that? You don’t I mean, it’s like those things. You just discover all these little pieces in your story that you didn’t process because you didn’t think it was a big deal to process because that wasn’t the big thing that happened in the moment. Okay, time for one more break. When we come back, Amanda tells us about developing her book into a screenplay.
Elyse Myers 21:45
What was it like working so closely with somebody that you’re close with? Was that hard? Or was that good?
Amanda Kloots 21:51
I mean, Anna and I are super close for seven years apart. But we are very similar people. We work extremely well together. We also can fight though, like, I mean, we can get into heated arguments, and with specifically this book, because then now we’re writing the screenplay of this book. When we work together, there’s a lot of things that she’ll you know, that are very important to me, or like details that I think are very important. And then, you know, she’ll be like, That’s not important that then you know, of course, this is my story, you’re like, excuse me.
Elyse Myers 22:33
The most important thing.
Amanda Kloots 22:36
So we would have a lot of fights about that. And because she is so talented with writing and knowing, you know, exactly how to say words, and it’s and grammar and things. She’s like, you can’t say it that way. Like, like, why not? It’s really because it’s not right. It’s not how you would, you know, that’s not how you would write it, and I go, but I want it to be like my voice. This is how I would say it. She was like, we sometimes can do that. But we sometimes we end up just trust me, you have to write it. You know, give me a minute, leave me alone, I’ll write this paragraph. And then you let me know how it goes. You know, we could have, we could get into heated arguments, but we actually work extremely well together. And I think what we create together is actually really beautiful.
Elyse Myers 23:23
You’re doing a screenplay now?
Amanda Kloots 23:26
Yeah. So now we’re doing the screenplay of that book. And, and it we finally have like a draft that is acceptable to show and share with people and hopefully get a buyer for it. Because you know, it’s down to the prerequisite of 120 pages, which we didn’t know was the what you had to have a script out before you pitch it to people. Our first draft was like 380 pages.
Elyse Myers 23:54
And then wait, do you were able to cut it down?
Amanda Kloots 23:58
Yeah, we had to cut it down. And now since doing that, I will never ever fall in love with a book and go see the movie and leave the movie theater going, you know, that wasn’t as good as the book.
Elyse Myers 24:10
Because you realize they had a they had a limit they could they couldn’t include the things they want to do include.
Amanda Kloots 24:16
It is so hard to take a book and make a screenplay from the book and include all of the things like it is a job that is pretty nearly impossible to do. It’s so hard. There’s really cool things in film, obviously, you know, you can show things. Instead of telling them you’re in a book, you have to tell everything. So there’s beautiful things that you can do cinematically, which are exciting, especially to us as people who lived this and then wrote about it and now trying to create a movie out of what we lived and wrote about it, so it’s nice to have that new way of translating something, but it is so hard and the things that you have to let go of, and just not include because you only have an hour and 45 minutes to tell a story is like, it’s so challenging. And yeah, I will never ever, I will always leave a theater and go you know what, they did a great job.
Elyse Myers 25:27
Do you think that you would play yourself in this movie?
Amanda Kloots 25:28
Oh, no, I don’t think so.
Elyse Myers 25:40
Do you think it would be hard to act in it? Because you’re like reliving it? Um,
Amanda Kloots 25:44
Well, gosh, that’s actually that’s a really good, I never thought of it. I never thought of it necessarily in that direction. As if I, because every time I every time I tell this story. It helps with this therapy. And I never thought of it necessarily in that direction. As if I because every time we every time I tell this story. It helps with this therapy and journey of. And I think that is a huge misconception about grief that, you know, people allow you to talk about, you know, a loss like this. You know, of course, like right, as it happens, but then, you know, a year later, two years later, three years later, I think people are like, you know, cash, it’s, you know, it’s been three years as she’s taking it, okay, like, you know, I mean, I think it just goes away. Yeah, but I think that people get scared to keep talking about their grief, I really do. And what all I can say is what I have learned is that in writing this down, and then doing the audiobook of it, and then dancing it and Dancing with the Stars, and then writing about it again, in a screenplay in this new medium, every single time. It’s like peeling off a huge another level of healing. Every time I do something with this zero story of my life and grief and in what I’ve been through, it’s healing. So of course, it would be 100%. But I also think, I also think being on the sidelines and watch it being creative, but also be extremely healing totally, and just writing in a different way. You know, if or not if, because I like to speak of, like things already happening when this movie happens. You know, I want Nick’s music to be alive. I want his personality and in everything that made him so special to you know, really be seen through this movie.
Elyse Myers 27:53
So I don’t know if you’ve heard this analogy of the ball in the box, when it comes to grief, I’m sure you have. But just in case anyone listening hasn’t, it’s this box, and the ball inside of the box starts very, very big. And there’s a little button inside the box on the side, it’s like a pain button. And because the ball starts very large, and you know, at the beginning of your grieving process, you’ve just lost this really important person to you, the ball is bound to hit that little pain button. Anytime it moves anytime it’s shaken around the box. But as time goes on, that ball becomes smaller, because you’ve done the work of grieving, and it’s intentional. And also with time, there’s a lot of factors that go into grieving, you like start to experience grief as a smaller and smaller ball, it like might not get in the way of every other aspect of your life. And it might not hit that pain button all of the time. And everything that you do the pain button still there. And every time you hit it, it’s still going to feel the same. But you’ll just hit it less and less and less as the ball gets smaller. And so you start to go back to some old routines and like your loss is still very present and it hurts when you’re confronted by the reality of it. It just hurts less frequently. And so when I heard that analogy for the first time, it was really powerful for me. I didn’t know if you had been familiar with that yet.
Amanda Kloots 29:13
Yes, there’s a part of grief where life continues on and you have to move forward. But the thing is, is as you’re moving forward, you know, I’ll just use my life as an example. I take Elvis to school every day and you know, I turn and sometimes I walk out of the building and I just think to myself, gosh, I wish you know Nick we’re here to take him to school too and see how cute he is in his class or, you know, I’m sure like, you know, on his first day of kindergarten I’ll be a mess. You know, they mean like, or, you know, his graduation from high school you know, I you life keeps happening you keep moving forward, but that’s why grief never goes away. Because you are, you know, you’re constantly triggered by it. Yeah, as the as life is moving forward these new experiences that you wish that your mom was that you wish that your dad was that you wish that your husband was still at. And, and so you constantly have to keep rallying your spirit. And that’s why I think it’s so important to continue to heal and continue any kind of therapy that you can to help yourself because it doesn’t just stop and anyone who thinks like, okay, it’s been a year I’ve dealt with it, and now I can move forward. It’s like, if that works for you. That’s amazing. I mean, the thing is appealing, I think people think like, for some reason, it can feel like a word that stops like, oh, I found healing, but I don’t think it ever stops. I think we just keep finding new levels of it. And as we go through life, like you just have to continually heal yourself. I am shocked if that helps. You know, I just think that, I think, I think the way to truly keep moving forward is to also truly keep moving forward in your, in your healing with grief.
Elyse Myers 31:10
Yeah, well, I think that you being like, so open with your story is such a big deal. And I think that like, your lightness, talking about your story is not like, it doesn’t matter. It’s like there is such an obvious healing that has happened in your life with the writing and with the performing of it all. It’s like, it’s just really wild. It’s really encouraging to watch your life and watch you, you know, parent, Elvis, and live this incredible life and do so many things and also be healing at the same time. Like that’s gonna give a lot of people permission to do the same thing, even in a smaller scale. And so, it’s a really big deal. And I’m just really grateful that you’re continuing to do that.
Amanda Kloots 31:49
Thank you very much. I mean, we gotta, we gotta keep on.
All right, thank you so much for listening to my episode with Amanda Kloots.. Please check out her and Nick Story by reading her book, live your life. And if you like this show, give us a rating and a review. It helps other people find us. Alright, more next week bye. There’s more funding because it’s true with Lemonada Premium, get access to all of Lemonada’s Premium content, including my five questions with Amanda Kloots. Coming out this Friday. Subscribe now and Apple podcasts. Funny Cuz It’s True is a Lemonada Media and Powderkeg production. The show is produced by Claire Jones, Zoe Dennis and […], our associate producer is Tiffany Buoy. Rachel Neil is our senior director of new content and our VP of weekly production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Paul Feig, Laura Fisher, […] and me Elyse Myers. The show is mixed by Brian Castillo and Johnny Evans. Our theme song music was written by me and scored by Xander Singh.