Monday, September 15, 2008

YOU CAN'T JUST WRITE

by Gina Sestak

Sometimes it seems as if all we writers ever do is write. We picture ourselves hunched over a keyboard, minds awash with scenes of murder and mayhem while our less creative, rational brain puzzles out the complex interaction of nouns and verbs. Well, let me tell you something: You can't just write. No matter how great the imagination, every once in awhile a writer has to dip into the real world and do something. We need to venture forth and experience things for ourselves.

Hence the past weekend, which I spend at a gathering in rural Pennsylvania learning folk dances.

That's the real world? you ask.

Kinda. Sure. It's just a step or two removed -- no pun intended!

And folk dance camp is the perfect place for a writer. Think about it -- or rather, don't think about it. Get up and dance. There is something liberating about rhythmic motion. It clears the mind and lifts the spirits. It's even exercise. Plus, it's fun, in that non-verbal way that sliding down a sliding board is fun. Fun like grown-ups hardly ever get to have.

Perhaps I should back up a pace or two and explain. Recreational folk dancing involves doing traditional dances of various nations. People of all ages participate and, since many dances are done in a line (think Zorba the Greek) or circle, you do not need to have partner. You do not have to be graceful enough to avoid stepping on a partner -- as long as you move in the same general direction as everybody else, you'll do no harm.

I've been dancing for several years with a group that meets every Tuesday night in Oakland, the same group that sponsored the dance camp. We spent the weekend dancing in a big old barn in SNPJ, Pennsylvania. Yes, that really is the name of the place -- it's an acronym for the Slovenian words for Slovene National Benefit Society, which runs the recreational center.

So, what does one do at a folk dance camp? you are probably wondering.

Well, you, uh, dance.

There's more to it than that, of course. Two guest instructors, David Vinski and Lee Otterholt, took turns teaching. There was a lot of hand-holding, hopping, stepping, turning, and stomping, with the occasional clap, shout or whistle thrown in, all done to energizing music. There were also meals and parties, drinking and dancing 'til the wee hours.

If you think you might like that kind of thing, why not come dancing Tuesday night?

Or, if you'd rather stay at your keyboard, Yemenite on down and help me plot out "Murder at the Folk Dance Camp." I can almost see it now . . .

10 comments:

Tory said...

Folk dancing was my life for 15-20 years, and we frequently talked about who would write the "folk dance novel." A friend of mine from Boston dance days even sent me a xerox of an unpublished manuscript of one. Not great, in my opinion, and that was before I became a writer. And a friend of mine (Allison Tompson) says she's written a mystery set at English Country Dancing.

I've always wanted it to be a romance, myself, but that's just me . . .

Go ahead, Gina, go for it!

Joyce said...

Sounds like you had a great time, Gina!

Martha Reed said...

Gina, I think you're right - you have to leave the keyboard and get out into the real world. You never know what or where inspiration will strike. I have great good luck on the bus. It doesn't get any more real than that.

Sounds like you had fun - and the sliding board image was great. Let's save sled riding for January ... here it comes!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Okay, I really enjoy, So You THinnk You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, but I think I stay behind the keyboard and watch them on TV.

My wife and I danced "DISCO" way back in the 70's, and had a pretty good routine. It takes too many beers to muster up the courage. I'm hoping there's no dance floor at Bouchercon.

nancy said...

Didn't Ngaio Marsh or Josephine Tey write a mystery about Morris dancing? Wait--Dorothy Sayers? I'm thinking the title was Nine Tailors. No, wait, I just Googled it and can't find an answer, but it might be buried in this article, except I can't stand the snotty tone of the author: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=3499

PS. I was once capable of doing teh Scottish sword dance. Shhh....

Martha Reed said...

Alastair McLean wrote about a type of folk dancing in Puppet on a Chain - his best seller. I remember that much from the 70's!

Gina said...

Nancy, whenever I think of the Scottish sword dance, I think of that episode of "I Love Lucy" about the little town in Scotland planning to feed her to a two headed dragon. There was a sword dance in that, which make you wonder why nobody thought to use the swords to slay the dragon . . .
Wilfred, there are tricks to not feeling self-conscious. It helps if you have very low self-esteem - that way, you know nobody expects you to do well, so there is nothing to lose!
The sword dance could provide a possible murder weapon, but that might be too obvious. Maybe the victim could be stomped or, in one of those circle dances that go faster and faster, flung into a support beam (a constant danger in the SNPJ barn!).

Joyce said...

Hey Will, there's a club in Pittsburgh that has Disco on Saturday nights. I keep threatening my husband that we're going sometime.

And Nancy? Scottish sword dance? Who knew? Can we get a demo at the next meeting?

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I'll work on my favorite John Travolta moves.

Tory said...

_The Nine Tailors_ by Dorothy Sayers was about Morris and English sword dancing. It's been a long time, but I do think the victim was decapitated in the middle of the sword dance.

The Scottish sword dances I've seen lay the swords on the ground and dance around them, but the English Sword dances involve 5-9 dancers interconnected by the swords. So, if someone thought to sharpen the swords . . .