How Learning to Dance Taught Me to Write Fearlessly


I had not danced in 10 years.

There was a reason I was a choir student and taking a creative writing elective, not spending my free time in a dance studio: I was terrible at it, and I knew it.

In high school, it’s hard enough blending in. You typically avoid anything that would bring unwanted attention and embarrassment crashing down on your moody, adolescent head.

It was my second year taking creative writing. Taking summer classes and an extra course in the mornings left room for something fun. I wanted to be a writer because that was what my teachers told me I was good at. I wanted to learn as much as I could before college essay writing season, and picking a new place to call home, and leaving for good.

I did not, however, plan on learning to dance.

So the day we abandoned our notebooks and pens and traveled in a nervous pack to the empty auditorium, I didn’t know what to think. I was a writer, not a dancer. I didn’t understand why we were about to get up there and embarrass ourselves instead of spending the period writing, as usual.

“Everybody grab a partner,” our teacher called out, and of course, everyone paired themselves off except for me. No one notices the shy girl in the back of the room.

Suddenly I went from doing everything in my capacity to avoid becoming the center of attention to walking to the middle of the stage, with our teacher as my partner, as we demonstrated how to waltz.

Well, he tried. I just stared at my feet and tried not to die.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we went back to the auditorium again the next class period, and the next. We danced with partners and in groups. The class was made up of freshmen through seniors, but that divide shattered completely once we all realized it was either dance even though everyone’s watching or suffer a failing participation grade.

I hated every minute of it. I really did. And I regret that now.

I didn’t get the lesson he was trying to teach us back then. I just wanted to sit at my desk and work on strengthening my action verbs. I had no interest in letting loose, discovering what it was like to close your eyes and stop caring about what everyone else was thinking about you.

Even though I hated it, those class periods filled with music and laughter and dancing did remind me that creativity comes in many forms. Writing is a skill, an art, but if all you do is sit around and try to measure your own progress, you’re going to get bored.

But there was something even more important he wanted us to remember.

In high school, you’re supposed to start figuring things out. You’re supposed to start learning to act like an adult, sort of. College is coming. Maybe your parents want you to get a part-time job for the experience. You have to take X number of classes to graduate, math included. It isn’t always fun, and when you look back on those three-and-a-half or four years, you probably won’t recall much of what you learned.

Except waltzing. Which I still remember to this day.

I remember how he had to yank us out of our element to bring our hearts to life.

I remember how, after those class periods, I treated every lesson he ever taught me like gold.

I learned to be brave—in the stories I write, in the places I travel, in the choices I make as an adult with no sense of direction. Or rhythm.

I learned you have to feel like an idiot sometimes. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll spell a word wrong and everyone will call you out on it. You’ll pitch an idea and no one will give it a second glance. But you have to learn to live with that.

You have to learn that even though you’re not good at everything, at some things, you have potential.

So I don’t dance well. Still. At all.

But writing? I think I can do that.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of zaimoku_woodpile [Flickr].

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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