Dance is art created as a choreographic artist’s response to something that lies in the world around them: in their head, in their heart, in the music they set their steps to. Dance writing, for me, is my artist/writer’s response to the piece of art onstage in front of me. Beyond the education via editing that I get from Brendan Kiley through my work for the Stranger, I am not a trained arts writer–I have never taken a class on non-academic writing. In my professional life, I spend my days in front of a computer painfully squeezing out analyses of other people’s scientific research into digestible paragraphs. But I am, foremost, a dancer. I have not been on stage since 1997, but dance is in my blood, in my posture, in the way I look at the world and at my body and at the hundreds of performances I’ve taken in over the last 25 years. I write about dance as a dancer seeking to explain what a piece of art looks and feels like, in order that people who read my reviews might absorb one interpretation of a performance and seek out their own viewing experience and response.
There are two primary ingredients to writing about dance: telling readers what happened onstage and what you think about it. For dancers writing about dance there is the added challenge of translating our own language into something the general public can understand. But then there is the challenge of just writing: getting past that painful period of time in front of the computer screen, hands resting on the keyboard or reading the entire internet or changing playlists or making more tea or panicking in front of a deadline or succumbing to tears and rivers of snot because even though the thoughts and responses are there, putting them into sentences is sometimes completely and utterly impossible. I combat this weekly tragedy by changing up my mission and switching from dance writer to conversationalist. Dance is a social conversation, why shouldn’t dance writing be the same thing?
Breaking through writer’s block: dance writing as a social conversation focuses on how to surmount the challenge of writer’s block by looking at how we talk about dance and how to communicate that onto paper. We’ll look at an excerpt from a dance performance and spend five to ten minutes writing a few sentences about it: what it looked like, the quality of the dancing and the value of the choreography to the field of dance. We’ll read our sentences aloud, talk about how what we’ve written contributes to public understanding and entertainment (yes, entertainment! People want to read things that are interesting and entertaining, not dry and academic). Then we’ll watch a different piece and break into groups to discuss it, building that oral conversation into a cohesive piece of writing.
Join Melody for Breaking through writer’s block: dance writing as a social conversation, a Velocity STANCE Workshop February 10, 6-7:30PM in Steward Studio (sliding scale $10-15). Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. Limited space available! (15 workshop participants)
STANCE workshop teaching artists are generously donating their time. All income goes directly to supporting STANCE: Journal of Choreographic Culture.
MELODY DATZ pursued a career in classical ballet until the late 1990s when she gave it up in favor of a convoluted but fascinating career in Holocaust history, research ethics and freelance writing. She writes about dance, books, travel and public health for the Stranger, STANCE Journal of Choreographic Culture, Destination Guides and other publications. melodydatz.com
Photo courtesy the artist