My dad loved to dance, and he must have been pretty good at it. He died long before he should have and my mother would always tell me how much she missed dancing with him. She and he square danced regularly with a group in town for many years. When I was too young to leave at home, I’d go with them to the local dance hall and play outside while they had a good time inside. When I was older, I disrespected square dancing and did not follow in their footsteps.
I, in fact, don’t dance at all, if I can avoid it. I have danced, and have taken lessons, and enjoyed it when I did, but proved I am not a natural. It isn’t lack of ability – once I had gotten the Texas Two-Step down, I did well. That is, until they said that I should turn my partner and do it backwards. Dance backwards? Was I then to count backwards?
Ah – that was the real problem. With regard to music, I had been trained as a musician. Not having a natural talent for that, either, I was able to play because it was based on math. I just had to count to maintain control. And I did, kind of, in most circumstances, sufficiently, I guess. I mean, I was a tuba player - it’s not like I had to learn any melody.
Okay, back to the point. I equivalenced dancing with playing music, and therefore, with counting.
Ask the people that I’ve danced with. Instead of expressions of joy and pleasure, my face was mildly panicked because I was silently counting – 1,2,2,1,2,2 or 1,2,3,1,2,3 or 1,2,1,2. And dancing backwards? How do you know where you’re going? Aren’t you going to run into somebody doing that?
Okay, well, how about dancing to music that has you relatively uncoupled from a partner, like, you know, those people in videos? Yup, I’ve been on a dance floor when that music was playing and it looked like I was having a spasm.
The problem is that my brain is chained to counting – the beat of the music, at some given interval, determines the moves that I make, and I count along until some periodicity makes me change. Some of you might say that I just need to practice more and I would not disagree. Some of you might say that I should take up clogging and I would not disagree. Some of you might say I should stay seated and I would say that you must have seen me dance.
I think my problem is that I learned things backwards. I should have learned to dance on the inside before I tried it on the outside. I needed to embrace the music, let go of my inhibitions, my clumsiness, my shyness, and my embarrassment, and just dance on the inside while I was sitting in a chair, or driving downtown, or hiking. I needed to forge some sort of internal clock that kept a beat so that I didn’t need to count. I needed to forget doing anything with my feet until the musical energy, rhythm, motion, drive, and closed-eye focus spilled out of me, that my body just had to shake and move and jump and shout and lose control.
It should be that way with writing. Practicing to make yourself better will come later. The first thing you have to do is hear the words on the inside, feel the passion of the idea, the richness of the idea, the conviction that words need to be written, and let it all build until all those words burst onto the paper.
Then dance like nobody’s reading.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.