Originally posted on May 21, 2015
After spending decades as a dancer and choreographer, I often get puzzled expressions from folks when I tell them I’m now writing fulltime. “Don’t you get antsy?” they ask. “All that ‘butt-in-chair’ time after years of leaping around?”
Well, yes. I’m only too glad to get up from my desk and go for a swim after several hours of writing. But I do have to say that being a dancer can be pretty good preparation for the writing life.
For one thing, we’ve got the discipline part down. As a dancer, I never had the option of saying, “Hmmm… just not feeling it today. I guess I’ll skip those pliés.” Nope, whether or not I felt inspired, I headed for the studio and took class. It’s the same for writers. We don’t always “feel like writing,” but it’s the daily practice of our craft that produces results. And once we get started, on the days that things are going well, we can have the opposite problem. Shutting down the computer to attend to the rest of our lives can feel like an unwanted interruption.
Dancers are also pros at dealing with critiques and coaching. We know that’s how we get better, and we know there is always more. It’s good to have a second eye, or a third, or a fourth before the curtain goes up. So it is for writers. Long before our creations go out into the world, we need to have other people look over our messy drafts and help us as we muddle through the revision process. I’m sure there must be a writer somewhere who gets it right the first time. I’ve just never met him. Or her.
Rejection is familiar to dancers as well. Dancers don’t always get the part or the spot in the dance company they dreamed of joining. There are simply too many strong dancers for too few spots. I can’t say I ever learned to enjoy rejection. But, at least when I became a writer, I’d had plenty of experience. It wasn’t quite such a shock—more like, Oh yeah, I remember that after inhaling several bags of Oreos, I decide three days later that I’m probably going to live.
But of course, there’s the real biggie when it comes to jumping ship from dancing to writing. They’re art forms! The medium is different, but they both involve perseverance in learning and practicing craftsmanship and technique. And those are in service of the end goal—expressive communication and sharing with others. As a choreographer, I was preoccupied with shaping my work—with its overall ebb and flow and rhythm. It’s pretty much the same deal now that I’m a writer.