March 4, 2010
Wendy Wax: Ballroom and Belly Dance
Wendy Wax took ballet once upon a time and worked in radio during and after college. Her books include 7 DAYS AND 7 NIGHTS, THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER, and the just released MAGNOLIA WEDNESDAYS. However, she is no belly dancer like the book's stars.
I took eight years of ballet, performed in local musical theater, and grew up with a mother who loved to dance and could follow anyone’s lead. I fell in love with musicals the first time I watched Gene Kelley, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain, and for a time I thought it completely normal that people could be going about their business and just suddenly break into song and dance.
So when I was looking for a setting for my next novel, a place where the characters I’d started to envision could meet and bond, I thought ‘what about a ballroom dance studio?’
I assumed that the research would not only be fun, but easy. I figured I’d take a few classes and brush up on my dancing skills. Maybe I’d find a new pastime or hobby. Who knew, I might be good enough to compete in some way or audition for Dancing with the Stars.
Shockingly (at least to me) this was not the case. In fact, the friend I badgered into attending class with me was far better than I was and the instructor made a big fuss over her. At a practice party I attended on my own, I stepped on a pretty large number of toes and apparently sat in the wrong section. Which meant people kept asking me to dance even though I kept stepping on their toes.
My dreams of personal dancing glory began to fade even as my conviction grew that I’d chosen the perfect environment for my characters to meet and bond and grow.
I interviewed the owner of Atlanta Dance, the dance studio where I observed and took class and was fascinated with everything she told me about the running of the studio. I watched the diverse group of students and teachers, and started to imagine Vivien, Melanie, Ruth and Angela there. I began to picture Melanie, the suburban widow and mother who owned the studio and her estranged sister Vivien, connecting and better understanding each other in that environment and then bonding with the others.
I watched videos and looked at diagrams in books. And when I wanted to find a way for the protagonists to get to know each other better, I changed the weekly class to a belly dance class. Which I decided to observe and not try myself. (I don’t think my stomach muscles have it in them anymore!)
I’m really thrilled with how the ballroom dance environment contributed to Magnolia Wednesdays and the growth of my characters. I also discovered in my brief, if embarrassing, foray into class that it’s virtually impossible to worry about work or obsess over other details of your life while learning how to tango. Or bellydance.
You have to concentrate fully if you’re going to learn the steps without falling on your face. Or maiming someone unfortunate enough to be partnered with you.
It’s kind of like writing. When you put yourself completely into the story and your character’s lives, everything else just kind of disappears. And you hardly ever step on anyone’s toes.