By Rissa Medlenka
My experience with dance and writing has brought me to the conclusion that they are more alike than meets the eye, although my personal journey with each could not be more different. I have been training in dance since I was three years old and am still pursuing it in my third year in college. Writing wasn’t something I took seriously until my senior year of high school, a couple of weeks before college applications were due. I grew up with a mother that loved reading and language, and who also supported my love for the arts. This sudden appearance of an opportunity to study creative writing never felt abrupt, but rather a long time coming. Once in college, I was completely immersed into both of these art forms.
Though dance itself seems like a completely different form of art than writing, the vocabulary and ideas logically align. Just as tone, structure, and word choice can either inhibit or enhance a written work, these elements, with the exchange of word choice for movement choice, have a similar effect on dance. It is not just one of these devices that produce a piece, but the ability to intertwine each within another, in writing and dance, to create something visceral and vulnerable.
With all styles of dance, from ballet to modern to hip hop, regardless of the number of dancers in the piece, dynamics (the term typically used for textures within dance) are combined with movement choice. This combination in dance is what I view as tone, which is not unlike the tone of a creative text. The tone of both dance and writing influence the audience’s perception and ability to comprehend what story is being told. The dynamics of a dance are like the raw material; a dancer performing harsh, frantic movements communicates a sense of panic or frustration. Soft, light movements perhaps convey longing or sadness. Happiness or joy is expressed through energetic and spritely movements. These basic examples contribute to how a movement is perceived. It can become more complex and layered, yet easily decipherable. This would be similar to if a character complimented another character’s clothes in a work of fiction. This can be interpreted as either genuine, perhaps if the compliment is accompanied by a shriek of appreciation, or as passive aggressive, if a snicker seems to punctuate the end of the sentence.
Prior to playing with dynamics, movement must be chosen. Movement choice calls for precision and accuracy in the way word choice does. Frequently in dance composition classes I’ve taken, we work with creating base movement and then adding movement in another part of the body or traveling the step through space. Through this process, the layering of limbs and traveling become the adverbs and adjectives of the body.
The arrangement of movements in dance is comparable to a written piece’s structure—the balance between scene and exposition in fiction or the length of lines and stanzas in a poem. Through structure, the audience’s experience is being very carefully modulated. Similarly, a dance composition also focuses on more detailed structures within the larger structure of the work. Refining angles, eye focus, and any other physical detail are the choreographer’s way of tightening up the work – identical to an author’s utilization of diction and syntax to make a sentence its most efficient version of itself. The order of events, placement of movement (words) on the stage (page), and interaction of characters add to the richness and depth.
Stepping away from the technical parallels of these two forms, I find that my creativity in each field is where the most overlap happens. Rather than a huge epiphany while writing completely changing the way I approach dance or vice versa, I see more nuanced correlations. A creative correction from a dance teacher in class inspired a fictional world in which I am currently exploring through multiple short stories. The discipline and patience of each practice challenges me to stay diligent in both. Through the technical base of each form, creativity reigns and fuels itself. Overall, my knowledge of dance and writing do inform one another intuitively. Both tell a larger story. The medium is the only thing that changes.