I took my first tap-dancing class when I was a freshman in college. I’d always wanted to do it, but shyness kept me from trying. My mother had been a talented tap dancer in the 40’s and gave up a burgeoning dance career in NYC to marry my dad and have a family. At eighty-four, she still has gorgeous gams* and can hoof with the best of them. I was finally getting my chance.
Tap dancing became highly addictive. I lived for those biweekly lessons in between my literature and writing classes, and practiced in the wee hours of the morning in the dormitory’s shower stalls, much to the amusement and annoyance of my dorm mates. The more I tapped, the more I wanted to. The desire to perfect the rhythm, make the tap resonate and echo quickly became an obsession. This need for memorizing and perfecting a phrase of music and rhythm carried into my poetry writing class and it was hard to separate my passion for the two. It’s funny how similar tap-dancing and poetry actually are.
As I struggled to learn the tap routines, I had to break the steps down: shuffle, ball change, stomp… In our English literature class, we were learning sonnets: the number of beats in iambic pentameter, stressed and unstressed syllables, the way Shakespeare made it seem easy, effortless, like our dance teacher’s demonstration of a dance routine, the evenly spaced measures of movement in a count of eight, performed with an economy of movement,
It was all about putting as much oomph as possible in a single step-or word- but making it look easy. In my dance class we learned different combinations of steps, in poetry class, we learned about limericks, haikus, sonnets, free form, and we tried them all. I heard the rhythm in my head from both art forms: repetition, emphasis, downbeat, cadence, and meter.
During the day I studied poets like Shelly, Byron, and Blake. Their verse, when read so beautifully by my professor, seemed effortless and natural. In another class, T.S. Eliot’s unique style made me feel there was no limit; I could be as creative as I let myself be.
It was an intensely creative time, with the rhythms of my tap shoes and the poetry beating in my head. Poetry writing is an asset to a novelist, that ability to condense a phrase or an idea to its essence, to connect with the senses can only improve our art as we strive to make our fictional world real to our readers, and try to make it seem effortless.
Although I no longer tap-dance, it still helps me identify the rhythm in my writing. As I read my work aloud now, I hear not only the words, but the meter and the tempo of the story as well.
We all move, whether in a walker or wheelchair, a kickboxing class, or a daily stroll in between writing sessions. Listen to your own rhythm; let it resonate in your story. Turn on a Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movie and see how much they express with very few words, and how a simple move can elicit deep emotion. Our characters can do the same if we put a little spring in their step, or even a shuffle or two.
*By the way, back in the forties, legs were called “gams,” and men liked to look at them.
She spent her childhood running wild on an Idaho mountainside. Although she’s lived across the U.S., she is still an Idahoan at heart and a notorious potato pusher. She has a degree in Human Services and worked as a roofer, a hoofer, a computer data entry operator and a stay-at-home mom.
Music has ruled Jennifer’s world since birth. She shimmied out of the womb with a bad case of Boogie Fever, but soon fell in love with the lyrics, how the words fit together perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle. Jennifer has dreamt of writing romances since reading Wuthering Heights at the tender age of twelve, and now lives that dream, using music on a daily basis to uplift and inspire her writing. It’s no coincidence that Ian, the hero in Mercy of the Moon, uses music to win heroine Maggie’s heart.
She lives in rural Florida with her husband and Great Dane puppy, and enjoys frequent visits from her three grandchildren and three grown children. She feverishly lobbies for the return of breeches and would really love to see her husband of thirty-five years in a pair. Jennifer can be found online at: JenniferTaylorWrites.com