The Dancing Writer –why tango dancing and novel writing go together.
Dancing and writing seem to be the activities of two completely different types of people. And in a way, that’s true.
Here’s me, the novel writer: A figure hunched over my laptop, usually distorting my body into strange angles. After hours of sitting at my desk, I have lost touch with my physical self completely. I’m usually wearing my dog-walking jeans and scruffy top, or even a pair of pyjamas. I don’t look in the mirror, and that’s just as well. I’d see a wild woman with no make-up, hair scrunched up, glasses sliding to the end of her nose, brow furrowed in concentration. If I get hungry, I grab the quickest comfort food, usually coffee and toast and honey. I type and munch, honey dripping onto the key board. I’m lost in the story, lost in the puzzle of constructing sentences, rearranging words, making a character speak.
After a days’ writing, it would be easy to stay in my head, in a state of body-denial. I could float through domestic demands, cooking on autopilot, walking the dogs in a dream. But the lure of tango stops me. As soon as I think about slipping on my dance shoes and stepping into the music, I snap back into my body.
Here’s me, the tango dancer: my mind empty of words, so that I can focus with every fibre on trying to become the dance. I need strength, balance and co-ordination. My whole body is alert. I listen to the music, to my partner. Nothing else exists.
Dancing and writing have always been my passions: jotting down short stories and poems when I was a child; then working as a journalist before becoming an author. Like lots of young girls, I did weekly ballet lessons. After I moved to London, I booked in for jazz classes at the Pineapple Studios, wearing the obligatory leg warmers, headband, and high-cut leotard. The place was scarily cool; and the routines almost impossible to follow. I found ceroc in my twenties and liked my first taste of partner dancing. My 30s were a dance desert while I had kids and took a second degree; dancing confined to boogying around the kitchen table on my own, a baby on my hip. Then a new friend and neighbour began to turn up for the school run on a Friday morning with a huge smile on her face. When I asked why, she confided that she went salsa dancing on a Thursday. ‘I’m coming with you next week!’ I responded instantly.
Salsa is everything they say it is – steamy, sexy, sociable. And lots of fun. I was hooked. But it was when I discovered tango that I fell in love.
It’s a beautiful, sensuous dance, full of drama and poetry. And the music is layered, deep, irresistible. Tango is also difficult. The tango scene isn’t as friendly as some other dance scenes. There is a certain amount of elitism. It’s not a dance you can pick up quickly either. It takes years to get any good. You can’t rush, it has to seep into you gradually, so that you understand it instinctively, from the inside. But all of this made sense to me. I’d been writing for years – I knew about patience, about striving and failing and striving again. I knew that anything worth while takes time and a measure of pain.
So although tango requires me to be in my body, and writing requires me to be in my head, I’ve discovered that they make a wonderful combination. Both allow self-expression; both are non-verbal and creative. They come from connection – to music, self, story, another. And perhaps most important of all, they are about living in the moment, because in both cases, you simply can’t allow yourself to be anywhere else. For me, they compliment each other perfectly and bring huge joy.