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  • Writer's pictureDawn Matthews

What Writing and Dancing Have in Common

Updated: Apr 17

I’ve been thinking recently about dancing and what lessons it can teach me for life. I realised that as a writer, there’s a huge comparison to be drawn between great dancing, and great writing. The thing they both have in common? They both require the right music for it to flow naturally. Think about it – if you’re trying to dance the cha-cha-cha, the beats need to go one, two, cha-cha-cha – otherwise it is difficult to make your feet hit the beats where they should. The same thing goes for a line dance, or any other type of sequence dance or choreographed routine, and that’s the same for writing too.

What do writing and dancing have in common - blog banner - images show a couple dancing ballroom, and a woman writing on a small typewriter

The thing with writing is, unlike dancing a certain style – at least for me – is that it isn’t as easy to determine what sort of music is going to work for me on any given day. There are just too many variables to influence my choice. My mood, what else is going on around me, what I am supposed to be writing about and so on. Since I live right next to a moderately busy road, I need to be able to block the sound of passing cars and pedestrians out, and that means I have to block that out – and music is a great way to do that.

I can only speak for how things work for me, but generally, I need to be able to hear ‘the voice in my head’ when I’m writing, since that’s where my words come from. Not everyone has an internal dialogue, from how I understand it, and of course, I can only understand from the perspective of someone who has one! But because I have that, it means that most days, there’s a good chance that I won’t be able to listen to anything with words – or at least, not songs that are sung in English. My brain just can’t seem to listen to the words of the song at the same time as listening to my internal dialogue. If I’m writing technical documentation, or I’m writing about a subject that I know less about, then there’s absolutely no way that I can listen to songs with words, because I need all of my language ability (and to think harder!) for that. Listening to the lyrics on top makes it impossible for me.

So, if I can’t listen to music with lyrics doesn’t work, what do I do? Well, sometimes – as it does with dancing – if I’m listening to songs that I don’t know the words to then it can work and I can get the slow, but not always. I’ve even tried to listen to Latin music, and opera sometimes, and my brain seems to be set on listening to those words instead of my internal dialogue or will try and understand what the song might be about – which means I just can’t hit the word count I’m aiming for.

Classical music, movie or video game scores, and electronic dance music with no lyrics are my go-to when I’m having a day that my brain is busy or struggling to listen to my own words. Whether I choose a playlist on Amazon Prime, Spotify, or simply let YouTube run from a certain piece, tracks with no words are the way forwards.

Some days, it will take me several attempts to figure out what the right type of music even is for that day, and it can be really tricky if my mood is upbeat, but I need to focus. Playlists that I want to sing along to, such as the Disney Party playlist, or one full of disco anthems, just don’t work – if I can’t even listen to the lyrics and write, then I certainly can’t sing when I’m trying to write!

The flip side of that, is that – again, in my experience – is that modern jive and Ceroc work so much better when there are words. The playful, joyful nature of dancing modern jive and Ceroc means that when people get going and are really feeling the music, many will start singing along without even thinking about it. I can think of several dancers that sing all the time as they’re dancing – and that’s so great for the soul, and the mind-body connection that keeps us feeling happy.

Sometimes, there are people that try dancing, but find they don’t like the music. When that is the case, a different venue, or a different style can be the answer. I reckon modern jive DJs must have a really hard time, and it is impossible for them to play tracks that will suit all the dancers, all the time, because there are so many different types of music that you can dance modern jive to. There’s such a wide range that works, from 1950s rock and roll, to electronic dance music, to Latin music tracks, as well as the pop music that is currently in the charts.

Where this is the case, changing to a different venue can be the answer – simply a different DJ that different tastes. But if the dance style isn’t quite right either, then switching to a different style might be the solution. If modern jive doesn’t quite suit, then perhaps Ceroc might be. If a slightly slower style is desire, then a smooth jive or SILC class might be right, or perhaps a blues style. You can find all kinds of playlists on Spotify that can give you an insight into what types of tracks might be played at different types of classes.

That’s similar to the days that I find I can’t concentrate, or can’t hear my internal dialogue properly. On those days, I switch to a different task, or piece of work that doesn’t require my words. Knowing when to hit pause on the piece I’m working on is key, because taking that break means I am more likely to be able to crack it when I come back to it. “Creative rest” is really important for writing – as for other creative endeavours – and, that can be the case for dancing too. After dancing modern jive and Ceroc for 15 years, I started ballroom and Latin lessons for an hour a week – and it has really reinvigorated my love of dance again.

What has been the point of this post then, apart from to draw the comparisons between dancing and writing? Well, simply to acknowledge that if something in your life, your work, or your dancing isn’t working out, then you might just have to change the track, or perhaps the genre entirely. It might not be that you change tack forever – but the old adage a change is as good as a rest is definitely worth considering, whether you’re dancing, writing, or working on something else entirely.

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