Archive | June, 2013

Why Writing is a Lot Like Greek Dancing

3 Jun

Apart from writing, my other main hobby is dancing Greek paradosiaka, traditional folk dances, with my performance group Lyra. I started dancing when I lived in Greece and I’ve been doing it now for about three years. Originally I wanted this post just to be a flagrantly off topic one to showcase some of the dances I like, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised I could link my writing life with my dancing life:

1. It looks easier than it is

It’s always hard to describe Greek dancing to people who have never seen it. I tend to go for ‘Irish dancing meets the can-can’, but that’s hardly accurate; in fact, there are so many different styles of dance from all around Greece (and former Greek areas such as Cappadocia) that it’s impossible to find a catch-all description. Usually when I tell people I do Greek dancing every week they raise an eyebrow and say something like, ‘Oh. That’s…niche’. Then, if you show people a video or they watch a performance, they might say it looks easy…and it does – from the outside. When you factor in strage rhythms, endless variations and the necessity of perfect timing, it’s actually far from it.

Of course, if you are a writer you will be familiar with the types of conversation that follow ‘I’m writing a book’. Usually it’s ‘I’ve always wanted to write’. Like dancing, writing seems easy from the outside: think of a story, bash it out and Bob’s your uncle…a multi-million pound publishing deal will fall into your lap. The reality of publishing is a little trickier.

2. Practice makes perfect

I started dancing in Agios Stefanos just over 3 years ago, in a free class for residents of the town. The lowest level class was mainly attended by old people, who were really sweet in welcoming me to the group – although slightly confused as to why an English girl would possibly want to learn to folk dance. I’d never heard this kind of music before, but somehow I managed to learn the basic steps and even performed in a show (the story of which, starring Mystery Spyros, I will tell you later). Then, when I came home to London, I joined Lyra – and was thrown in at the deep end with dancers who have been performing for over 25 years. I was so out of my comfort zone to start with and I could have gone home and never danced again. However, I kept going. By dancing with the experts every week I have picked up so much and now I can hold my own in most dances.

Similarly, in writing, you can’t give up just because things get tough. First manuscript not quite right? Write another one. Still not ready to publish? Write another one. The more you write (and read and critique), the better you will become. There is no quick route to becoming a writer or a dancer. You must write and dance and write and dance and eventually you will be ready to perform!

3. Kefi

When we were getting ready for the dance show in Agios Stefanos, the instructor told me she had found a young man in the advanced group to be my partner – Spyros. Every week she mentioned him, but there was no sign of this guy anywhere…hence why he became known as ‘Mystery Spyros’.

Well, dress rehearsal came around and it was a blisteringly hot day in June. Being a ‘pale and interesting’ English girl, I don’t do so well in high temperatures, so I was flagging a bit by the time the dancing started. Furthermore, Mystery Spyros had finally turned up and I was feeling a bit shy about dancing as a couple with him after we’d only just met.

Spyros did not appreciate my English reserve.

“WHAT IS THIS?!” he growled. “You must look in my EYES! We are supposed to be IN LOVE! Where is your SPIRIT? Your KEFI?”

Needless to say I didn’t feel much like being ‘in love’ with Spyros after such a rude outburst. But come the performance I dug deep, summoned my kefi and danced my milk white stockings off – surprising Mystery Spyros in the process.

Although he expressed himself a little forcefully, Spyros was actually right. In order to make the performance great, I needed to put aside my reserve and bring out the kefi that would give the dance its sparkle. Writing is exactly the same. It can’t be mechanical. You have to find that inner passion, that inner joy, that makes your words sing.

4. Keeping it fresh

As  I said above, there’s a huge variety of dances from all over Greece. Island dances, like the Ikariotikos at the top of the page, are light and bouncy, whereas the Pontic (above) are stampy and scary. In a typical dance session we cover the whole range, moving from highly choreographed Cappadocian to sweet and simple kalamatiano. This is one of the best things about Greek dancing – you never get bored with one thing!

In writing, we can’t switch so easily from one type to another. But I like to keep things fresh by challenging myself to write a different sort of character, say, or using another point of view, or even switching sub-genres completely. In doing so I push myself to develop as a versatile author and usually learn something in the process.

5. Escapism

You can’t dance OR write and be worrying about something else at the same time!!!

I hope you’ve learned something about Greek dancing in this post, if not about writing 🙂 Do you have a passion for something outside writing? Does it help you understand the writing process?

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