First there were difficulties securing a vehicle, then foot tendinitis, then unprotected chest met deck edge, leading to multiple rib fractures. (At which time my mantra became Go pain killers! Yay for modern pharmacology!)

Between one thing and another, it seemed like life was conspiring to keep me from fitness-dancing. When I restarted this January, I’d gone three years without hipping to a hop.*

Now, six weeks into my classes, it’s become apparent to me that writing and dancing share certain similarities, particularly around the the challenges and benefits of restarting after a lengthy break.

What is a writing life without tenacity? And what is tenacity unless it’s an ability to recommit when one encounters failure or interruption? So if you’re out there, wondering how to begin or resume a project, perhaps this extended metaphor will provide an extra push.

I had no idea how much I missed dancing until I busted my first move.

You’ll see this theme repeated throughout this post in that thinking about an activity is fine—mental rehearsal can be a necessary step to summon courage—but it can never replace action. How could I have forgotten one of the deepest pleasures in my life? The euphoria of moving to a particular bass line? I don’t know, but I managed, and I’m not alone in my retrograde amnesia.

All hail the remodeling abilities of human hearts and neural circuitry.

When you’re learning a dance routine, it’s natural to start with smaller steps, to avoid transferring your weight until you’re sure you’re moving in the right direction. Such measures prevent pileups in the corner.

Also, there is the matter of breathing. In my case, I’m inordinately fond of oxygen, but I found my baseline fitness wasn’t as good as I’d imagined. Dancing left me a sweating, breathless mess.

However, regular practice transforms the once-challenging into the easy, the impossible into the accessible. This happens much faster than I’d anticipated. As of this week, despite the addition of flourishes and stylistic details that would have overwhelmed me in the first days, I’m keeping up with my peers.

Benefits accrue to the dancer long before their “work” holds value to others.

Unless they want to get a side stitch from laughing, no one in their right mind would pay to watch me dance. I don’t expect that will change. But in the studio, in the heat of it, I don’t care.

I’ve already noted the immediate benefits: the collision-avoidance, the fun. I haven’t mentioned the community. Turns out I was missed, and that’s a wonderful feeling to have and to reciprocate. Could I have shared coffee with this group of generous women in the intervening years? Sure, but I would have missed our shared pride, the sense of belonging to a community of practitioners.

Physicality and competence carry over into my non-dancing world.

  • Our atypical winter has meant icy streets and sidewalks for months. With improved balance, I walk with more confidence, knowing I have a better chance of recovering from slips.
  • Movement and musicality have become default responses, not alien or forced. So if a song comes on while I’m prepping dinner, I’ll find myself shimmying between counter and fridge.
  • This weekend, the ToolMaster caught me doing an arabesque in the laundry room. I’d developed a back kink, and the arabesque works. Go figure. Before dancing, I suspect my pain would have stayed below the threshold of awareness for hours, altering my mood, mobility, and thoughts with unconscious suffering. With my newfound body-awareness, however, it was a simple matter to notice the pain and apply the remedy.
  • Similarly, I’ve been tracking my writing, and despite the classes eating into my time, my word count has actually increased. I attribute this to heightened mental clarity and the ability to call on a heftier sensory repertoire when facing the page.

Lastly, dance provides a unexpectedly deeper understanding of voice.

These dance classes take place all over our city, and the owner strives to provide standardized instruction. She wants students to be able to switch classes without becoming confused or lost. In a sense, there’s one curriculum and one test of competency.

Doesn’t that sound like the opposite of art?

Watch us, though, and you’ll soon get a different idea. For example, while we execute the same basic steps, the woman who dances to my left maintains an erect carriage. Her movements are fluid and graceful, even when she’s doing chest pops. She cannot present an unpointed toe. To my right, the polar opposite. This woman attacks the dance, lunges deep. She snickers a little during the chorus.

In a “laboratory” that pushes for conformity of movement and an informal dress code, where all sweat and strain to the same tracks, given forty different “subjects”, you’ll see forty different results. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit this is an expression of voice. As you might expect, some are more naturally pleasing than others.

Unboxeders, do you participate in non-writing art? Do you find it influences your writing? If so, how?

*No bling was harmed in the making of this article. Though Jan’s class includes a range of dance styles, from salsa to jazz, she’s chosen to write mainly of hip-hop, the hope being she’ll sound edgy and contemporary.

About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.