Saturday, March 10, 2012

Prompt #94 – The Dance

While reading Yeats a few nights ago, I came across a line in “Among School Children” that really resonated for me: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Having performed and taught ballet and jazz for many years, I sometimes created choreography to be danced while poems were read. There was always a connection. The Yeats line made me think, “How can we know the poet from the poem?” and then,  “How can the poet teach us the dance?” I began to search for poems about dance and was happy to discover quite a few.
A lot has been written about the psychology of movement, about dance as an effective supplementary therapeutic technique, and about how the “emotion of movement” holds court with expression of feeling that goes back to the beginnings of artistic expression. People dance all around the world and, although not everyone participates in dance, all societies include dance among their art forms (from ritual dance to dance for entertainment). Crossing cultures and times, dance offers opportunities to tap into emotions, to create, and to encourage interpersonal associations. Dance also serves the poet as both subject and metaphor. 


For this prompt, let’s “dance a poem.” Samuel Beckett wrote, “Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.” With that in mind, you might begin by writing first – free write, that is. Don’t plan anything, just think “dance” and begin a free write to see where your thoughts go. After writing for several minutes, take a short break, and then go back and read what you’ve written. Is there anything you might develop into a poem? Of course, if you have something specific in mind at the start, skip the free write – go ahead and “dance” with your idea.

If the free write doesn’t work for you, and you can’t “dance up” an idea, some alternatives and suggestions follow.

1. Compare something in your life (a relationship, an occasion, or an experience) to a specific dance. Some title ideas: Why My Life Is A Foxtrot, Jitterbug Jibe, Disco Days, The Boyfriend Ballet, Swing Season, Belly Dance (How I lost 25 Pounds). An alternative here might be to write a poem entitled "Break Dance" about someone who left you with a broken heart (or you might write about an experience that caused you emotional pain).

2. Write a poem about an actual dance: the first girl or guy you ever danced with, a dance or prom that you attended, a dance recital in which you performed, or a dance performance that you attended (i.e. a professional dance company or your child’s first dancing school recital).

3. Re-read Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poem “My Daughter at 14, Christmas Dance, 1981” (see examples above), and write about a similar or related “dance experience” that reveals something about parenthood.

4. If you’ve ever taken a dance class, you might write about that. Or, how about a humorous poem that describes your two left feet?

5. Use this quote as inspiration for a poem: “If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance.” (George Bernard Shaw)

6. Write a poem about animals dancing (i.e., deer in a meadow, puppies at play, dolphins at sea, a herd of gazelles on the African plain).

7. Write a poem about team players in dance “formation” (football, soccer, baseball, hockey).

8. Re-read Mary Oliver’s poem “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” (see examples above) and use the title as inspiration for a poem of your own – think, perhaps, in terms of the mortal dance we all share.

9. Try to include some dance terms or dance imagery. You’ll find a list of terms and definitions that might be helpful at:

10. Use dance as an extended metaphor (just be wary of clichés such as “the dance of life,” “dancing with the devil,” and “the last dance.”).

 Waltz, leap, pirouette, tango into a poem!
As Lord Byron wrote, “On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined.” 


  1. WOW! You've done it again, Adele. This prompt is really fantastic, especially with all the wonderful example poems and all the options for writing. I love the photo AND the Byron quote at the end!

    Thanks, as always,

    1. Thanks, Jamie! You're such a loyal follower -- I'm really grateful and so glad that you enjoy the prompts.

  2. A wonderful prompt! I don't have time for a new one. But here's a two verse limerick I wrote a couple of years ago:

    We Don’t Think We Can Dance, But We Do It Anyway
    By Madeleine Begun Kane

    My husband and I like to dance.
    Are we good? Oh no way — not a chance.
    I am not being humble
    In saying we stumble
    And often trip over our pants.

    But we’re working on rumba and swing.
    Plan a do-over class in the spring.
    And to those who might think
    That we really do stink,
    Just be glad we’re not trying to sing.

    We Don’t Think We Can Dance, But We Do It Anyway

    1. Hi Madeleine,

      Thanks for posting your poem. I love the humorous approach and the dance-like rhythm and meter. Great "dismount."

    2. What a great fun & funny poem! Thanks for sharing it Madeleine!


  3. As close as I can get, from my archives. But this wonderful prompt and the example poems inspire me to write something new. I insert your ideas into my brain for percolation!


    Theresa is large and dark
    And sits outside the library
    When the library is closed.
    She sits and sings,
    Or just shakes
    From what her brain does to her body.

    Theresa is large and dark
    And exchanges a kind greeting
    When she is not shaking,
    When she is not dangling
    From the end of some string,
    Pulled by whatever demon has her.

    Dance with me,
    She said.
    And though I was never a dancer
    And afraid,
    We danced ‘round and ‘round
    In a clear blue sky,

    Theresa is large and dark
    And wears a towel wrapped around her head,
    An exotic headdress,
    And a necklace of silver napkin rings.
    Her possessions are packed in a plastic laundry basket,
    Notebooks filled with carefully drawn letters,
    Favorite words written small and large,
    Black and blue ink,
    Over and over again.

    Theresa is large and dark
    And sits outside the library
    Where she sings
    And shakes,
    Where she finds heaven
    And hell
    In equal measure.

    1. VERY nice, Russ! Thanks so much for the kind words and for sharing once again! Enjoy the percolation!

  4. Thank you to Russ and Madeleine for posting their wonderful poems! Interesting to read the contrast between the serious and the humorous.


  5. Everyone is so polite and supportive here. It is a sweet little corner of the universe Adele has created. For those of use who took so many poetry classes in college, so long ago, this site is a wonderful return to that atmosphere of ideas, energy and encouragement.


    It's a fun and funny poem from Madeleine with such age-appropriate rhymes! I started out life as a musician and so never learned to dance. I was always playing at the dances. I admire Madeleine's courage!

    And I notice she also uses her middle name. When I was a newspaper reporter I never dared to use my middle name, knowing how instantaneously it would be seen as pretentious. I began life as an orphan, adopted by dysfunctional and abusive parents. My wonderful grandparents who lived next door, Herman and Bess Allison, gave me a place of refuge, a place of love, and so, saved me. It is my small tribute to them that I employ my middle name in all my post-journalism career work.

    1. I'm so glad you've found a comfortable place here on the blog! I know readers look forward to your poems even if they don't all post comments.

      Thank you for sharing about your family and about using your middle name -- such a wonderful way to remember and honor your grandparents.

      Thanks again!

    2. You're so right, Russ! this is a great place to learn, to share, and to enjoy poetry!


  6. Always such richness - ideas for poems, poems to read, and lovely sharing!

    Thank you, Adele!

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  7. I am so glad to have found you and your blog and wish it had been sooner.
    Check William Carlos Williams' ekphrastic poem 'The Dance,' which was inspired by Brueghel's picture 'The Kermess'. I find myself moving with the poem as I read it.


    1. THANKS, Margo! Welcome to the blog -- I'm so glad you're enjoying it, and many thanks for the link to William Carlos Williams' wonderful ekphrastic poem. It's nice to "meet" you here!

  8. I found you via Margo - a lovely site. I love to dance, but old bones and dodgy heart make it a dance of the mind and tapping toes more than of the body graceful. One of your suggested methods reminded me of a poem I wrote to one of Brenda W's Wordle prompts:

    A Precious Memory

    Red plush curtains in a gilded proscenium
    jerk back with a whirr to reveal a marvelous set.
    Scattered clouds on a sickly blue backdrop,
    reprehensible so-called trees and a cliché rising sun
    render trite the scene for what is to come.
    Honky-tonk tones from an out-of-tune piano
    bash out the familiar air,
    as one by one the cast appear,
    blink at the spotlight and start to dance.
    I scan faces as they twist and twirl -
    Ah, there she is, my darling girl, not quite in time
    and wobbling slightly, keeping up bravely.
    I glow with pride
    as eighteen four-year-old teddy bears
    begin their picnic.

    1. So nice to "meet" you here, vivinfrance!

      Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for posting your lovely poem (filled with such striking imagery)!

      I hope you'll visit often and share your thoughts and poems with us!