Wednesday, May 7, 2014

IWSG: Ballroom Dance Lessons and Writing

During the month of April (and all the A to Z crazy) I joined a dance studio that teaches ballroom dancing. You might be scratching your head trying to figure out how that relates to writing, insecure or otherwise. Let me tell you...

I learned fairly quickly that I have a good sense of rhythm and I follow the lead fairly well. Since I can't afford daily, or even weekly, private lessons that means I have one private lesson for one hour a month. And the rest of the time I participate in Group Classes. They might be teaching dances in which I have a keen interest... and they might not. Thus far, the classes I have attended focused mostly on waltz and east coast swing. I really like both, though they are vastly different from one another. Last night I went to my first Mambo class. It reminds me very much of salsa. The instructor said it was like salsa with cha cha in some way (expression, movement, Manzi can you help with this ???) Since I don't know much about cha cha the explanation was lost on me.

I had my Private Lesson last week.... Oy. We focused on waltz and determining how well I retained what I learned in Group Class. I learned that following isn't as easy as I thought. An underarm turn can go several different ways and I have to know where by monitoring his shoulder tension. Say what??? Yep. I should be able to determine by his shoulder if I am to come all the way around or he will meet me halfway. But wait... it gets worse. Based upon where his hands are at the halfway meet indicates what he has planned next. Once again, this can go two different ways. I can't tell you how many times I thought we were going to meet halfway, but he wanted me to come all the way around and I finished at the halfway meet point. Meanwhile, he was standing to my right (where I should have been). Or I thought I was going all the way around and I crashed into him at the halfway point.

What does this have to do with my writing insecurity?

I was spotty with editing/revising on my WiP in April. Honestly, I wasn't able to juggle the A to Zing with my book (and now dance class) very well. But, when I did sit down and work on it... it felt a whole lot like that waltz session.  Turns out that feeling the pace of the plot is similar to that shoulder tension. It is subtle, but it determines everything. Sometimes I follow it well and the pacing is great. Other times, not so much and it reads like a crash or the reader feels lost in the middle of the dance.

The same goes for my characters. I really like some of the choices that I made. That is when the dance feels really good. You are on the beat. There is a perfect amount of flex in your knees. You move up on your toes and down again and the whole thing is just So.Damn.Graceful. you want to cry with the loveliness of it. Yeah, that is how a waltz should make you feel. It is big and sweeping and elegant and glorious. And then there are those character choices that feel clunky. Out of time. You step with your right foot when you should have used the left.

There is good news and bad news with dancing. The good news is that you only get better with practice. The bad news is that you only get better with practice. Yeah, it was the same news.. That is it. There is no magic wand that turns you into a wonderful dancer. Dang!!!! The same truth applies to writing. You only get better with practice. I have noticed that as I move further into my novel the writing is improving. I red penned like crazy in the first seven chapters. Some pages were so marked that very little survived the "hack." With each chapter, there is less Red Pen.

Aha, there is hope! I have been writing much longer than I have been dancing. And reading longer than that. I might actually become proficient at the writing thing before I die of old age. Not so sure about the dancing... but I am going to stick with it. Practice makes perfect!

This is part of the IWSG, the brainchild of Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you would like to join in the first Wednesday of every month and share your writing insecurities click HERE. The purpose of this group is to offer encouragement. If you don't want to share, but do want to support struggling writers... bless you.


  1. I would be lousy at dancing.
    The more we write, the better we get. We can't just jump to good without putting in the practice time.

  2. What a brilliant post. My expectations when I start something new, anything, is that I should be perfect at it right away. Dang. Then I want to give up when the going gets hard. Dang. This is so wise. We must keep at it and practice practice practice

  3. I know how to do the East Coast Swing and that is IT.

    On the other hand, I'm really good at the dougie, wop, and cat know, the pseudo hip hop stuff ;)

    It's definitely true that we get better with practice. I find each rewrite to be better than the last. SOMEDAY there won't need to be so many rewrites! Maybe I can get the daggum thing right on the first few tries :D


    Writing Through College

  4. Robin
    I am so delighted that you are taking dance lessons. I predict many more than one month. :)
    This is from last year's (2013) A-Z Challenge in my "M is for Mambo."
    Right on, kiddo. Mambo was developed in Cuba by Perez Prado in the 40's and how well I remember it when it came to the states. I fell in love with it immediately. It is the most beautiful and exciting dance because it gives a freedom of movement in musical interruption. BUT American dance teachers couldn't make any money on this dance because you can't teach movement that comes out of a person as free expression SO they rejected the original mambo and changed it into the Salsa. They added breaking steps so the dance could be counted and the changes made can't even be danced to the original mambo music.

    The average American can't seem to grasp music and put it inside of them and alow it come out in the form of movement. I've always said, if you're counting, you are not dancing. I understand, in the beginning, one may have to count but discard it soon as it blocks the musical beat.

    If you have never seen the movie "Dance With Me" starring Vanessa Williams.... look it up and you will understand what I am talking about. You will love the Cuban dancing in the movie. I have always wanted to go to Cuba just for the dancing but then we couldn't go and now I don't travel anymore.
    Clever the way you bring "practice" into dancing and writing. I imagine the same is true in writing but my interest does not lie there. I do know for sure that practice is the all-important driving force to becoming a dancer.
    I wish you well in all your endeavors.

    1. Thanks, Manzanita. I've learned something today. I always expected there to be some connection between the Mambo and Salsa. So true: if you're counting, you're not dancing.

  5. When it flows, it flows.

    Those dance classes sound like fun. I took a dance class in high school, but that was a very long time ago.

  6. Practice makes perfect. It is such a simple phrase, but oh how true. I'm happy for you.

  7. Yep. It's all a dance. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow!

    Hey, in case you didn't catch my comment in your last post, please send me an email and let me know where you'd like me to send the books. My email address is

  8. Totally, Robin! As I make my red pen of death swipe it's way through the pages of my draft, I can see the difference in my writing. The beginning is so meh, while the end is so WOW. At least to me :)

    co-host IWSG

  9. As every child who ever suffered through musical instrument lesson knows...there's only one way.

  10. By the way...I think the dance lesson thing is great. I wish I'd done that a few hundred years ago.

  11. I commend you for doing the dance lessons....something I have never learned to do but keep thinking someday I may take lessons...yet I am still a wallflower!


  12. Your first Mambo class... Way to go, Robin! Did you say, "by monitoring his shoulder tension"? Come again? See, clearly I don't know diddly squat about dancing. I can shake my legs but basically that's it. Very sad, I know.

    I love the analogy.You might actually become proficient at the writing thing before you can say pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

  13. And enter a count I remember so well from fifth and sixth grade ballroom dancing class, "One two, cha cha cha. Three four cha cha cha." That's all I remember though! Practice is key! Writing or dancing...I'm glad you have found things you love.

  14. My husband I took some dancing lessons, and I'm not sure about that "getting better with practice" thing. I think I am an all around clutz with no sense of balance, and I'm not sure that's ever going to change.

    To prove my point: I am right now covered in horrible black and purple bruises (bruises that made my teaching partner gasp) that I got when I fell off my bike this weekend. The kicker? The bike was stopped. I was getting off when I fell in a ditch.

    For some weird reason, I can ski. That was the one athletic grace I was given. Even walking up a flight of stairs can be tricky sometimes.

    Good luck with your dancing. I will dance vicariously through you.

  15. Today dance lessons, tomorrow "Dancing With The Stars". Good for you. I don't think I'd ever be found taking dance lessons. Since my wife dislikes dancing more than I do I think I'm pretty safe. For me when the dancing starts, I stay on the sidelines or look for a place to be inconspicuous.

    Your analogy was very nicely written.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

  16. Practice, practice, practice! Dancing, sports, etc. can teach us so much about writing.

  17. What a wonderful analogy. I can definitely see the connection between the two.

    Glad you survived April :)

  18. I write way better than I dance (I think?) but for some reason, Sweetie doesn't appreciate it when I ask her to write with me. Even if I let her lead!

    Ha ha I crack me up.

    I always wanted to learn Swing Dance. We took dance classes, years ago, and learned waltz and cha cha. Those must be the basic dances everyone has to learn. And I know the polka from gym class. (This is, after all, Wisconsin.)

    Kudos to you for learning. I'm looking forward to hearing about your book.

  19. That is so cool to be learning something new. I never knew the waltz was so complicated. And it sounds like your plot is too. Very cool.

  20. Alex ~ Even though I have ALWAYS loved to read it wasn't until I began writing that I read two ways at once. On the one hand, I read (still) for enjoyment. The other part of my brain is always thinking about craft. Sentence structure, character development, moving the plot forward... I can't turn it off.

    Karen ~ I think that is human nature. We think if we do something "fairly well" we will become "expert" in no time. Ummm. Not exactly.

    Samantha ~ I love swing. And I agree about editing.

    Manzi ~ Mambo is a dance that I get the luxury/opportunity to learn start to finish. All of the intro classes will be Tues nights of this month, Intermediate will be Wed nights next month, and Advanced Thursday night the month after. So, I "should" know a lot more in three months!

    Diane ~ I took line dance lessons for several years. I also learned to two-step. It only helps minimally.

    JJ ~ Me too. This is a big step for me.

    Sherry ~ I will send it tomorrow.

    Elsie ~ Yes, reading from beginning to end is literally watching the evolution of writing. It is a relief that it is beginning to get better.

    LD & LC ~ It is not too late!

    Blue ~ I was talking about the shoulder tension with waltz. However, I suspect that other dances will require it, too.

    Liza ~ I have to be honest... it is good just to leave the house!

    Dianne ~ I think this makes me a horrible person, but I laughed at your falling off the bike story. Parked. Into a ditch. God forgive me, but I am laughing again. No, you probably shouldn't do the dance thing.

    Arlee ~ No DWTS for me. I will be happy just to socially dance. I say that now... who knows maybe some day I will want to be a Dance Goddess. Stay tuned...

    Steven ~ Yes!

    Carrie-Anne ~ It was a close one...

    Briane ~ You are funny. At this studio, the instructor lets you choose four or five dances you want to learn. You can pick anything. But that is for your Private Lessons. When you attend Group Classes, you just learn whatever dance is being taught. Never tell a writer you want to hear about their book... Just sayin'.

    Susan ~ I like to think my plot is twisty and turny... and good. The jury is still out.

  21. I love that you've taken up dancing. Way to reclaim your passion! As for me, I don't follow well, I would poke someone's eye out.

  22. "good" dance partners spend a lot of time recognizing each other's cue's. If you change partners every week, it will be harder to "follow" even a good dancer.

    Same with critique partners, I suppose. You get used to one; the way they comment, what areas they like/dislike, get used to expected arguments. Dancing is dancing, whether in chess, writing, dance or love. In all partnership endeavours, there is a period of trust building; and that takes time and committment on both partners.

  23. HI, Robin,

    A terrific analogy here. All the creative arts are intertwined. You'll get there because you have determination and PASSION... two KEY ingredients for success. Never give up hope.

  24. I think it's awesome that you're participating in group classes, and getting the one-on-one instruction. I bet it's wonderfully satisfying to get a new move down!

  25. Christine ~ Haha. Yeah, I can see that. You made me laugh.

    Donna ~ Oh, you are so right. Last night they taught something called "Tucks" in Swing class. Oh boy. What I am about to say probably won't make sense if you aren't familiar, but the guy leads by bringing tension (felt in the hand connection) for the rock step step. That tension continues with the first triple step and then he is going to drop his hand altogether and the woman does a 360 around on that last triple step. If he doesn't give good tension on the rock step and first triple step, but just drops his hands, his partner will NEVER have the presence of mind to pull off that spin. Unfortunately, most of the guys in my class never "got it."The women did the step because it was what we were practicing, but (most) fellas never correctly led it. And that means, in social dancing (when you don't KNOW it's coming) it isn't gonna happen.

    Michael ~ Well, that and I really LIKE it... ha!

    rosey ~ You bet it is!

  26. ROBIN ~
    I would have sworn that today is Thursday, but according to your blog, it's not.

    Hmmm... Does that mean I don't REALLY have to go to work tonight? Well, that's certainly great news to me.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  27. Hi Robin,

    My kind friend, indeed, like dancing, writing will have times that it seems you are typing with two left feet. You stumble, you might fall, yet you get back up and smile, regardless.

    Your writing shall dance. Sometimes to the sense of ball room dancing. Sometimes the words waltz in your mind and into your written word.

    I'm proud to know that you continue to challenge yourself, Robin. Much fun and wonder your way.

    In kindness,

    Gary :)

  28. Stephen ~ This week has been INSANE. Good to know that SOMEONE eagerly anticipates my Thursday posts. I am posting tomorrow with an apology about the lack of a Thursday post. Well, not exactly an apology. Or even a good explanation. Whatever. I am posting tomorrow.

    Gary ~ Thanks. Typing with two left feet. Yes, I do believe I have experienced that.

  29. Good for you, Robin. I'd love to take dancing lessons.

  30. I love dancing and when I was a teeneger I took ballroom dance lessons with a LOT of my fellow high school pals....loved it! Now I just wish my sweetie knew how to dance and or would take lessons! However- that's small I just Samba or Rhumba while cooking dinner ...cha cha cha!

  31. Stephen beat me to asking where the Thursday post was...oh well, you had a busy April!

  32. Wonderful post! I think it's great that you're taking dance lessons. Such a challenge but it will be worth it when you're twirling around the floor, a vision of grace and elegance :D You'll get there! Just like with writing: some days we got it, some days we don't!

    At least with dancing, there's an instructor. Geez, if I had an instructor to make me write...wait, never mind. I had that in college. Just kidding ;)


  33. I'm glad you're taking dancing. It's great therapy for everything.



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