Put some shimmy into your writing
When I started bellydancing lessons in January 2011, I had no intention of dancing in public. I was ticking an item off my bucket list, I thought it would be fun and a good way to exercise, and I wanted to expand my circle of friends.
Towards the end of that year another student suggested that I should participate in the end of year school concert. I freaked out. I had a mini meltdown in class. I didn’t want the pressure of performance.
I talked to my teacher, expecting she’d say ‘you don’t have to dance if you don’t want to’, instead she said something I wasn’t expecting. She said, ‘You should dance. You’re ready.’
Ready? I certainly didn’t feel ready.
But I cobbled a costume together and I got up and danced. On stage. In front of real people. It was scary and I had a cold which got worse as the night went on. So bad that by the time my second dance was on, I was out of it on cold and flu tablets and almost missed the cue.
Since then I have danced in every end of year concert. I never feel ready, but I get on stage anyway.
Just like my manuscript never feels quite ready for submission.Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith, get up on stage and shimmy, and send that manuscript out.
Writing is a lot like bellydancing.
First there’s hours and hours of practice. When talking about writing, we often use analogies — you wouldn’t expect to sit down at the piano and play like a concert pianist straight away, or jump on the tennis court and hit an ace. An author said you need to write a million words before you are competent. Bellydancing is the same. You need to practice your hip drops and shimmies and many other moves before you become adept.
Secondly, you need to learn the craft. I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic teacher, Xaeda, who not only teaches us individual dance steps, she also teaches us about the different rhythms of Arabic dance, and the history of the dance.
For the last 15 years, I’ve been learning the craft of writing. I’ve taken many workshops, read many ‘how to’ books, and I try to incorporate what I’ve learned into my writing. I’ve been a member of Romance Writers of Australia since 2007, and take every opportunity to learn from the wonderful authors and writers within the organisation.
You need to find role models. Watch concerts, your teacher, your fellow students. Copy their moves. You will still find your individual style, just as modeling your writing and behaviour on your author heroes (both published and aspiring) will help you develop your own voice.
A beautiful costume makes all the difference to your dance. Imagery, description, and layering build your story. There is a difference between a makeshift costume and a custom designed costume. Dress your story up, put on the bling. In dance the costume makes all the difference – it’s the shift between practice and class, and performance. You feel different when you’ve got the sparkle on.
When you’re dancing, you need to focus not only on your own moves, but when you’re in dancing in a group, you need an awareness of what everyone is doing around you. But you can only ever have that awareness from your own position on stage. It is impossible to see the dance from the audience’s perspective.
You are just one small (but important) piece of the choreography that adds to the picture as a whole and you must rely on your teacher/choreorapher/bellydance goddess to ensure that all the parts are working together as a whole.
In writing, you can get so caught up in the minutiae, that it becomes impossible to see the big picture and how the story is working as a whole.
Beta readers and critique partners are an important part of the writing process. They can be utilised during the writing on a scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter basis. But to get a complete sense of the story and a reader response, the beta readers need the complete manuscript.
Everything is subjective — so while one beta reader may love and relate your story and be able to give constructive criticism, another may find nothing that will resonate. Some readers are just not YOUR reader. You need to pick and choose the feedback that works for you and your story.
10 Things a Writer can learn from Belly-dancing
1. Language is a series of words (dance moves) that can be arranged in endless, beautiful combinations.
2. Find the dancers/writers that move with ease and appoint them as your role models.
3. Everything feels better when it’s dressed in its best – including your manuscript
4. It is impossible to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of your story – find some great critique parners and/or beta readers – they can give you the audience perspective.
5. Bellydancing takes practice, and so does writing. Flex your muscles.
6. Eventually the basic movements will become part of your muscle memory and you will be able to execute them without thinking. The same applies to writing technique. The more you write, the more grammar, style, pacing and your voice will become second nature.
7. Both dance and writing have the power to move the audience. Include emotion to draw your audience into the dance/story.
8. The only way to overcome self-doubt in dance or writing is to put yourself into an open forum. Share your writing when it’s polished, seek feedback, seek performance opportunities. Shimmy like there’s someone watching and write like there’s someone reading.
9. Every dancer and writer has a unique style. Don’t try to be exactly like someone else. Find your own voice and dance your own journey.
10. If you want to dance, then get up and dance, join a class, do a shimmy. Don’t just talk about it. If you want to write, stop talking about it and BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard). JUST DO IT.
The next Sacred Lotus Hafla/Gala Showcase will be held on Saturday August 1st, 2015 7.30 pm at the Sawtell Golf Club. Come and see us shimmy.